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Eighteenth-Century Life 26.2 (2002) 69-82

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The Entry of Charles-Alexandre de Lorraine into Brussels:
Monarchical Discourse in Public Ceremonies and Theatrical Performances

Christel Stalpaert
University of Ghent

When Emperor Charles VI died on 29 October 1740, via the Pragmatic Sanction he had secured recognition of his daughter Marie-Theresia's rights to the throne; 1 but no one could foresee the awesome challenges that the young queen-empress would have to face. Only a few recognized her succession to the Habsburg dominion; and shortly after the emperor's death the electors of Bavaria and Saxony, the Spanish king, and Frederik II of Prussia claimed their territorial parts of Charles VI's empire and pledged themselves to the candidacy of the Bavarian elector Charles-Albert for the imperial throne. The result was the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748).

Then, on 26 August 1741, the governess of the Austrian Netherlands, Maria-Elisabeth, died quite unexpectedly. Maria-Theresia appointed prince Charles-Alexandre de Lorraine and his wife Maria-Anna (Maria-Theresia's sister) as her representatives in the Netherlands. But because he was leading the Austrian troops against Bavaria, Prussia, and France, Lorraine could not immediately take up his duties as governor; and when he did so early in 1744, he did not occupy the post for long. On 7 May he left to command the Austrian army, even as French troops invaded Flanders. In May 1745, Marshal Maurits of Saxony defeated the English and Austrian [End Page 69] troops and occupied Brussels the following January. Shortly after, he took up residence there as general in command and as representative of Louis XV. After the Treaty of Aix-La-Chapelle (18 October 1748) the monarchy retained the Austrian Netherlands and French troops left Brussels in January. A few weeks later, Charles-Alexandre de Lorraine returned to resume his duties as governor-general.

Scholars such as Manuel Couvreur and Jean-Philippe van Aelbrouck think the French occupation caused fundamental changes in the theatre in Brussels. French taste left its traces in social life and festive culture, including theatre and royal ballets. In addition to his impressive entourageconsisting of ambassadors, princes, court ladies, noblemen, and Madame de Pompadour, the marshal of Saxony drew in actors and actresses from Paris, including his favorite, Charles-Simon Favart (1710-1792). Favart, in replacing D'Hannetaire as manager of the Grand Théâtre, introduced the opéra-comique with its danced interludes whose subjects were analogous to that of the main performance. Couvreur describes the French artistic contribution at Le Théâtre de la Monnaie during the war as introducing a completely new, easier, and more entertaining repertoire than had been experienced before in Brussels. 2 This repertoire remained popular, even after the withdrawal of the French troops in January 1749 and despite the fact that Favart had been deprived of his function as manager of the Grand Théâtre. Van Aelbrouck has remarked how "l'art choréographique évolua progressivement vers les oeuvres de divertissement, au détriment des grands ballets de cour, qui perdirent de leur force à mesure que le répertoire se modifa." 3 As for philosophical changes, however, scholars tend to agree that the French occupation of the Austrian Netherlands did not bring about new ideas and approaches. 4

Given the historians' statements mentioned above, it might be presumed that the public celebrations and the royal ballet created on the occasion of Lorraine's return to Brussels in April 1749 followed French style and manners, and were devoid of Enlightenment ideas. Scholars tend to argue that Favart's introduction of entertaining divertissements and opéra-comiques was largely responsible for the demise of the monarch-complimenting discourse of the royal ballet, which lost much of its ceremonial power before French Enlightenment ideas were introduced; but even before the invasion, French fashion and manners appealed to this region, and as this paper will argue Enlightenment ideas regulated theatrical performances and public celebrations well before 1750. 5 [End Page 70]

Earlier scholarship has depended on...


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