Hesbaye (Latinized as Hesbania in medieval documents, modern French Hesbaye, modern Dutch Haspengouw), is the region in the south of the Belgian Limburg containing the cities of Tongeren, Sint-Truiden, Bilzen and Borgloon. The region also covers the east of the Belgian province of Flemish Brabant and Walloon Brabant (with cities like Tienen, Landen and Zoutleeuw) as well as the northwestern part of the province of Liège. From the seventh century it was an important fief in the northwestern marches of the Merovingian kingdom of Austrasia. It lay in "that region where the western foreland of the Eiffel meets the south-western fringe of silva carbonaria, a woodland frequently mentioned in Frankish historiography The Merovingian county was consolidated from the old mark Haspinga of which the final -ga element survives in the -gouw of the modern Limburgish name: Gau (plural Gaue) was an old Frankish term for a political division, equivalent in its etymology to the French pays.

Hesbania (confusingly spelled Hispania in old documents) was perhaps set apart for Lambertus (born 640), son of Guerin, count of Poitiers (ca. 612 in Austrasia, – 677/87). It was mentioned in the division of territories between Charles the Bald and Louis the German in 880. In 1040, the county of Hesbaye was absorbed by the Prince-Bishopric of Liège.

Known counts of Hesbay are Ingerman and his brother Robert, grandfather of Robert the Strong, who founded the dynasty of the dukes of Brabant and the kings of France, also known as Capetians

The fortunes of the line of counts of Hesbaye were cemented when Ermengarde of Hesbaye (778 in Hesbaye — 3 October 818 in Angers), daughter of Ingerman, married Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne.

Today Hesbaye/Haspengouw continues to be rural, with many small villages. Théo Brulard, La Hesbaye. Étude géographique d'économie rurale (Louvain) 1962, attempted to disengage the original aspect of the region from its open, deforested agricultural aspect of modern times, characterising Hesbaye as a human region rather than a natural one.


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