François de Schoenenberg, Marquis de Brabant

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Gottheil describes extensively the life of one of the members of the Schoenberg Ha Cohen family, dedicating to him a significant part of his book on the familiar history; that was François de Schoenenberg.

"Better overt war than covert peace." - Shlomo Rubin[250].

François de Schoenenberg was a diplomat; strictly speaking, he was a faktor at the service of various kingdoms At the time Gottheil wrote his book[24], there was plenty of information about François de Schoenenberg since his correspondence had been kept in various libraries and archives in the countries he served and on those that were rivals of his own. Our articles on François de Schoenenberg are largely based on the research of Gottheil so, for any references we will point the reader directly to Professor Gottheil's book on the Belmonte family.

However, he notes that despite all this information, he could learn very little about the personal life of the man. Secrecy has always been part of the family and François de Schoenenberg wasn't the exception.

Interestingly, Gottheil also mentioned that he wasn't sure to which branch of the family François belonged to, but assuming that he kept using exclusively Schoeneberg (Schoenberg, in its modern form) he would have belonged to the main branch, indicating also that those using the name Belmonte were generally in somewhat secondary places in the family tree.

However, he describes that then existing documentation and family traditions indicated that François[1.84] was one of the sons of Bartholomew de Schoenberg[1.83], and that he was born probably in 1653.

Shortly after that he was taken to Madrid by blood relatives, where he remained, unmarried, as a Catholic while indeed the Schoenenbergs were actually crypto Jews.

At the time François became a "faktor" other Jews in Amsterdam occupied similar positions: Like Abensur, who was a resident ambassador of Poland, the Curiel family, which served king Alphonso IV of Portugal, the Teixeiras - later relatives of the Schoenbergs – representing the Swedish crown, etc.

The reason for that was that these Jewish faktors were very well educated, were versatile in languages and had widely-ramified commercial connections, so they were especially well-suited for tasks related to the representation of countries. Thorough history it was frequent that kings, sultans and so on used the services of Jews. That, of course, caused some level of resentment among non-Jews.

François de Schoenenberg, slowly began rising above his fellow colleagues, and in the later stages of his life acquired more power, influence and rank than every other faktor present in the city: He became minister plenipotentiary.

One of his contemporary relatives, Baron Manuel de Belmonte[1.85], held a similar position in Portugal, proving that despite that the family left the peninsula because of persecution and migrated to Holland, they were still in touch with relatives in Spain and Portugal, and were very capable of running major activities there.

His diplomatic career started as William III, Prince of Orange, was in power in the Netherlands; in Madrid he acted as his envoy, and since William was ascended to the throne of England in 1668, François became also the representative of Great Britain at the Spanish capital. He then became naturalized as British, in 1694.

After solving some dealings regarding a Dutch armada sent to the Mediterranean - according to Gottheil – he became an Envoy extraoridnary of the Prince of Orange to the King of Spain, probably temporarily. Mostly, he was involved in commercial dealings, but he also dwelved into arms trading and the provision of armies, a trade that continued in the family up to WWII.

Of course, meanwhile he continued representing the British,as is demonstrated by a letter written by Aglionby:

"I doe visitt M. de Schonenberg, who has both hys Majesty's, and the States Generall's caracter uppon him. Hee has assur'd niee hee has noe orders to oppose mee, and say'd if hee had, hee would not complye with them, except hee had at ye same time hys Majesty's. I show'd him, but did not leave with him the draught I sent your Lordship. Hee sayd it was verry strong and hee did not well see what replye would bee made to it. How sincerely this was sayd I will not undertake to pronounce." (sic)[24.5]

Apparently, at the time François de Schoenenberg was protesting about his position in the court, since being Marrano (converso) caused him some difficulties. The Austrian ambassador referred to the issue and apparently proposed an amicable settlement. He said that Schoenenberg was in fact, a Jew, and that the circumstances related to the history of the Jewish people made them only merchants, keeping them away from politics, and becoming quite skilled in their own trades. His cousin (or uncle), Baron Belmonte, residing in Amsterdam, was interested in helping François advance in his career by aiding him with his reputation and economic clout.

Baron Belmonte was held in high esteem by King William and François de Schoeneberg proved so skilled at his work, that so he became envoy in Spain, but had to content himself in the beginning with only the title of "Resident"

Despite troubles an intrigues during his diplomatic life in Madrid and Lisbon, Schoenenberg spent a very fruitful life, providing the Dutch States-General and the British crown with top services. Until his death in 1717 he was held in high-regard by his superiores and friends, and considered as quite an obstacle by his enemies, especially King Louis XIV who in a certain way, flattered him in the letters to his own diplomats by considering Schoenenberg more than just a nuisance.

François de Schoenenberg served the States-General for thirty nine years, and the British crown for twenty. According to Koenen, in 1709 Charles VI made him marquis of a seignority in Brabant[24.6]; he desribed that there was a letter in possession of the Schoenberg family yet, no evidence has been found of that. It might be the case that there was some confusion with the letters pattent of his relative, the Baron of Belmonte, issued the same year.

However, references to him having the title of Count do exist at state-level documents and diplomatic letters, as in this message from king Louis XIV of France to de Blecourt, his agent in Spain, sent on July 15, 1700:

"J'ai fait communiquer le traite dans les principales Cours de I'Europe. Mes ambassadeurs et mes envoyes agissent de concert avec ceux du roi d'Angleterre et des Etats-Generaux dans les Ileux ou ils se trouvent ensemble. II n'y a point de ministre d'Angleterre a Madrid, et le comte de Schoennenberg, envoye des Etats-Generaux, ne fait aucune des fonctions de son caractere depuis le differend survenu a son sujet. Mon intention est cependant que vous lui disiez que je vous ai ordonne de concerter avec lui toutes les demarches qui seront a faire pour I'execution du traite. Je sais qu'il a recu ordre de ses ministres d'en user de meme a votre egard, et cette conduite fera mieux voir encore la parfaite intelligence que je veux entretenir avec ces deux puissances."[24.15] (sic)

Nevertheless, he was referred to since then as François de Schoenenberg, Marquis de Brabant.


Carlos II, king of Spain when F. de Schonenberg went to Madrid.
Carlos II, king of Spain when F. de Schonenberg went to Madrid.
From Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopaedia, public domain[66].



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