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The Belgian Revolution was the conflict which led to the secession of the Southern provinces from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands and established an independent Kingdom of Belgiummarker. Much of the population of the south were Roman Catholic, French-speaking, or liberals who regarded King William I's rule as despotic. There were high levels of unemployment and industrial unrest among the working classes. On August 25, 1830, after a performance at the Brusselsmarker opera, a riot erupted, quickly followed by uprisings elsewhere in the country. Factories were occupied and machinery destroyed. Order was restored after William committed troops to the Southern Provinces. Rioting continued and the leadership was seized by extremists, who started talk of secession.

An intense battle took place in Brussels and the Northern troops were forced to withdraw, while the States-General in Brussels voted for secession and declared independence. In the aftermath, a National Congress was assembled and William refrained from future military action and appealed to the Great Powers. The resulting London Conference of major European powers recognized Belgianmarker independence, but after the installation of Leopold I as "King of the Belgians" in 1831, William made a belated military attempt to restore his position in the Ten Days Campaign, which failed as a result of French military intervention. Not until 1839 did the Dutchmarker accept the decisions of the London conference and was Belgian independence ensured.

United Kingdom of the Netherlands

The Netherlands overthrew Napoleonic rule in 1813. In the British-Dutch Treaty of 1814 the names "United Provinces of the Netherlands" and "United Netherlands" were used. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the Congress of Vienna created a kingdom for the House of Orange-Nassau. Thus, combining the United Provinces of the Netherlands with the former Austrian Netherlands, in order to create a strong buffer state north of France, and with the unification of all the provinces the Netherlands was indeed a rising power. Symptomatic of the tenor of diplomatic bargaining at Vienna was the early proposal to reward Prussia for its staunch fight against Napoleon with the former Habsburg territory. When the British insisted on retaining the former Dutch Ceylonmarker and the Cape Colony (which they had seized while the Netherlands was ruled by Napoleon) the new kingdom of the Netherlands was compensated with these southern provinces. The union, called the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, reverted to the original cultural area of the Netherlands before the 16th century.

Causes of the Revolution

The Belgian Revolution had many causes; mainly, the treatment of the French-speaking Catholic Walloons in the Dutchmarker-dominated United Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the difference of religion between the Belgiansmarker and their Dutch king.

The main cause of the Belgian Revolution was the domination of the Dutch over the economic, political, and social institutions of the United Provinces. Catholic bishops in the south had forbidden working for the new government. This rule originated already in 1815 by Maurice-Jean de Broglie, the French nobleman who was bishop of Ghent, and caused an underrepresentation of Southerners in government and the army. The hatred of de Broglie towards the house of Orange was so strong that, in 1817, when the princess of Orange was pregnant, he cursed her unborn child.

The traditional economy of trade and an incipient Industrial Revolution were also centered in the present day Netherlands, particularly in the large port of Amsterdammarker. Furthermore, although 62% of the population lived in the South, they were assigned the same number of representatives in the States General. The North, on the other hand, did pay more than 50% of all taxes. At the most basic level, the North was for free trade, while less developed local industries in the South called for the protection of tariffs. Free trade lowered the price of bread, made from wheat imported through the reviving port of Antwerpmarker; at the same time, these imports from the Baltic depressed agriculture in Southern grain-growing regions.

The more numerous Northern provinces represented a majority in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands' elected Lower Assembly, and therefore the more populous Belgians felt significantly under-represented. However, the Southerners saw the main political domination in the fact that King William I was from the North, lived in the present day Netherlands, and largely ignored the demands for greater self-determination. His more progressive and amiable representative living in Brussels, which was the twin capital, was the Crown-Prince William, later King William II, who had some popularity among the upper class but none among peasants and workers.

A linguistic reform in 1823 intended to make Dutch the official language in the Flemish provinces, since it was the language of most of the Flemish population. This reform met with strong opposition from the upper and middle classes who at the time were mostly French speaking. On 4 June 1830, this reform was abolished.

Faith was another cause of the Belgian Revolution. Roman Catholicism was the main religion of the Southern Netherlands, which was different from that of their King, which was Calvinism. Although there were (and still are) many Roman Catholics in the present-day Netherlands, the South saw itself as purely Catholic and demanded a higher role for the Church and for Catholics in its government. Because of the strong opposition from the church, which saw its political influence shrinking, William never got the chance to show his religious tolerance. He, nevertheless, wanted to change the constitution so that his successor could be Catholic.

The Belgian Revolution of 1830 crystallised this antagonism, with the final arrangements favoring the French-speakers. French became the official language and an active policy of 'francification' was pursued; both Dutch and the Walloon language were banned in schools and government (also in the Dutch speaking northern half of the country). William had organised education so that everyone could be taught in their own language, causing the number of children in primary education to double from 150,000 to 300,000. After the revolution, this trend reversed.

Night at the opera

Catholic partisans watched with excitement the unfolding of the July Revolution in France, details of which were swiftly reported in the newspapers. On 25 August 1830, at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaiemarker in Brussels, an uprising followed a special performance (in honor of William I's birthday) of Daniel Auber's La Muette de Portici (The Mute Girl of Portici), a sentimental and patriotic opera suited to fire National Romanticism, for it was set against Masaniello's uprising against the Spanish masters of Naples in the 17th century. The duet, "Amour sacré de la patrie", (Sacred love of Fatherland) with Adolphe Nourrit in the tenor role, engendered a riot that became the spark for the Belgian Revolution. The crowd poured into the streets after the performance, shouting patriotic slogans, and swiftly took possession of government buildings. The coming days saw an explosion of the desperate and exasperated proletariat of Brussels.

William I sent his two sons, Prince William, Prince of Orange and Prince Frederik to quell the riots. The affable and moderate Crown Prince William, who represented the monarchy in Brussels, was convinced by the Estates-General on 1 September that the administrative separation of north and south was the only viable solution to the crisis. His father rejected the terms of accommodation that Prince William proposed. King William I attempted to restore the established order by force, but the 8,000 Dutch troops under Prince Frederick were unable to retake Brussels in bloody street fighting (23-26 September). The army was withdrawn to the fortresses of Maastrichtmarker, Venlomarker, and Antwerpmarker, and when the Northern commander of Antwerp bombarded the town, claiming a breach of a ceasefire, the whole of the Southern provinces was incensed. Any opportunity to quell the breach was lost on 26 September when a National Congress was summoned to draw-up a Constitution and a provisional government was established under Charles Latour Rogier. A Declaration of Independence followed on 4 October 1830. On 20 December 1830 The London Conference declared the United Kingdom of the Netherlands dissolved and a month later recognized Belgium's independence. On 7 February 1831, the Belgian Constitution was proclaimed and the separation from the Dutch was a fact. Over the 350 years of shared connections as varied Low Country manifestations the two peoples had drifted apart and after 15 years of tension, the marriage was over.

Constitutional monarchy

The Belgian Congress chose Louis, Duke of Nemours, the second son of the French king Louis-Philippe, to be king of Belgium. However, the French king, heeding the advice of Lord Palmerston of the British Foreign Office, repudiated the offer. Lord Palmerston and the Great Powers desired a strong leader to prevent Belgium from falling under the control of France, and to prevent the outbreak of war. Erasme Louis Surlet de Chokier was appointed Regent of Belgium on 25 February 1831. On 4 June the Congress chose Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg as king — a strong and political choice as Leopold was not only talented and capable but well connected to both Britain and France. Leopold I took the oath as King of the Belgians on 21 July 1831.

Ten Days Campaign

King William was not satisfied with the settlement drawn up in London and did not accept Belgium's claim of independence: it divided his kingdom and drastically affected his Treasury. From 2-12 August 1831 the Dutch army, headed by the Dutch princes, invaded Belgium, in the so-called "Ten Days Campaign", and defeated a make-shift Belgian force near Hasselt and Leuven. Only the appearance of a French army under Marshal Gérard caused the Dutch to stop their advance. While the victorious initial campaign gave the Dutch an advantageous position in subsequent negotiations, the Dutch were compelled to agree to an indefinite armistice. William I would refuse to recognize a Belgian state until April 1839, when he had to yield under pressure by the Treaty of London and reluctantly recognized a border which, with the exception of Limburg and Luxembourg, was basically the border of 1790.

European powers

The European powers were divided over the Belgian cry for independence. The Napoleonic Wars were still fresh in the memories of Europeans, so when the French, under the recently installed July Monarchy, supported Belgian independence, the other powers unsurprisingly supported the continued union of the Provinces of the Netherlands. Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Great Britain all supported the somewhat authoritarian Dutch king, many fearing the French would annex an independent Belgium (particularly the British: see Talleyrand partition plan for Belgium). However, in the end, none of the European powers sent troops to aid the Dutch government, partly because of rebellions within some of their own borders (the Russians were occupied with the November Uprising in Polandmarker and Prussia was saddled with war debt). Britain came to see the benefits of isolating France geographically.

Independent Belgium

On 19 April 1839 the Treaty of London signed by the European powers (including the Netherlands) recognized Belgium as an independent and neutral country comprising West Flandersmarker, East Flandersmarker, Brabantmarker, Antwerpmarker, Hainautmarker, Namurmarker, and Liègemarker, as well as half of Luxembourgmarker and Limburgmarker. The Dutch army, however, held onto Maastrichtmarker, and as a result the Netherlands kept the eastern half of Limburg and its large coalfields.

Accession of King Leopold

After the break-up

Economic changes

The independence of Belgium was a disaster for the important industrial city of Ghentmarker. In 1829 the city's cotton industry processed 7.5 million kilograms of cotton, while in 1832 this was only 2 million kilograms. A direct consequence of the break-up was unemployment for most of the labourers. Wages fell to 30% of their 1829 level. For the harbour city of Antwerpmarker the disaster was even bigger. Trade with the colonies reduced to zero and the number of ships that entered the port fell to 398. In contrast, in 1829 1030 ships entered Antwerp, carrying 129,000 tons, double the amount of Rotterdam and Amsterdam together.


Already in 1830 a movement started for reunification between Belgium and the Netherlands, called Orangism, which was active in Flanders and Brussels. The movement met with strong disapproval from the authorities. Between 1831 and 1834, 32 incidents of violence against Orangists were mentioned in the press and in 1834 Minister of Justice Lebeau banned expressions of Orangism in the public sphere, enforced with heavy penalties.

See also


  1. Jacques Logie, De la régionalisation à l'indépendance, 1830, Duculot, 1980, Paris-Gembloux, p. 21
  2. Ministerie van Defensie
  3. Universiteit Gent

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