Belgian revolution

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During the Belgian Revolution of 1830, the predominantly Catholic population of the southern provinces of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands rose against the predominance of the predominantly Protestant northern provinces. Within a few weeks in August and September the uprising led to the division of the kingdom into two states. The predominantly Dutch- speaking Flanders and the predominantly French-speaking Wallonia founded the new Belgium . Only parts of Luxembourg remained in personal union with the Netherlands until 1890 .

From the 14th to the 16th century, all parts of the Netherlands had a common history ( Burgundian , Habsburg or Spanish ). In the course of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation and the Eighty Years' War , the Reformed ( Calvinist ) ruled north broke away as the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands from the Spanish Netherlands in the south. After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, north and south  were reunited - together with the former duchy of Liège and today's Grand Duchy of Luxembourg . The religious, linguistic, and economic divide that led to the separation in 1581/1648 had deepened in the 250 years of separate history. In addition, Wilhelm I wanted to bring Catholic institutions under state control, which caused unease among the Catholic majority population. The gap soon proved to be insurmountable. The result was the bourgeois , liberal revolution , which can also be seen in the European context of the French July Revolution . The young Belgian state achieved full independence by 1839, during which time it established the political system that is still largely in place today.

Belgium and the Netherlands until 1815

Common story

The 17 Dutch provinces and the Diocese of Liège (green), 1477

The territories that now comprise the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg were culturally and politically linked in the Middle Ages and, with the exception of the Diocese of Liège , belonged together as the Burgundian Netherlands from the 14th / 15th century to the 16th century , most recently as the Burgundian Empire to the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation . The county of Flanders and the Duchy of Brabant and their cities ( Antwerp , Bruges , Ghent , Brussels , Ypres , Mechelen ) played a leading role in the Dutch culture and economy. The States General of the Netherlands, first convened in 1464, met in Brussels, the highest court met in Mechelen. The Netherlands passed from the House of Burgundy to the Habsburgs through succession in 1482 and experienced a heyday under Charles V as an important part of his world empire. After his abdication in 1555, the territory came to his son Philip II as the Spanish Netherlands , and thus to Spain .

Separate story

Union of Utrecht (light blue), Union of Arras (yellow) and Diocese of Liège (green), 1579

The separation occurred in the course of the split in faith. Initially, the political elites of the Dutch- speaking provinces as far as the south of the Spanish Netherlands were captured by Calvinism . As a result, the Eighty Years War broke out in 1568 between Spain and the Protestant parts of the country. While the Walloon provinces in the Union of Arras ( Unie van Atrecht in the Netherlands ) expressly made themselves part of Catholic Spain, in 1579 the northern territories, including Flanders and Brabants, united in the Union of Utrecht . In 1581, as the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands , the northern provinces broke away from Spanish sovereignty and from the German Empire, with which they were only loosely connected. The Calvinists pursued a consistent Calvinist confessionalization through the ban of the Catholic Church and the Catholic religious practice implemented in 1581. Associated with it were professional, social and political exclusion for the remaining Catholics.

The fall of Antwerp in 1585 marked a turning point in the history of both countries. With him the south fell permanently to Spain and was re-Catholicized down to the elite . Numerous intellectuals, artists and merchants fled to the north. The consequence was the loss of the dominant position of the Flemish cities and a simultaneous economic prosperity in the north, where the Golden Age was now dawning . While there was an oligarchy of less patrician families in the north, the southern Netherlands were under the Habsburg monarchy. A provincial governor who ruled from Brussels took care of Madrid's interests . Spain's almost uninterrupted war with the Netherlands only ended in 1648 with the Peace of Munster , in which the separation of north and south was cemented. As the Scheldt estuary went to the Dutch, who closed it, Antwerp was cut off from the sea and its trade now completely succumbed. Some of the territories that had been occupied by the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands for a long time, such as North Brabant , were now officially annexed to the republic, which again counted an official minority of 35 percent Catholics. These newly won Catholic areas were treated as subject lands, but the religious minorities and thus also the Catholics were allowed to practice Catholic religion in the republics - in contrast to the seven provinces after 1581 - at least in the private sphere. During this period there were laws against Catholics, but these laws became less and less strict as time went on.

Due to the Habsburg-French conflict , the Spanish Netherlands was a constant arena of armed conflict and lost important areas and cities to France, including Lille , Arras , Cambrai and the county of Artois , in the Peace of the Pyrenees (1659) and in the War of Devolution (1667–1668) . After the War of the Spanish Succession , which was partly fought on Dutch territory , the previously Spanish territory was assigned to the Austrian Habsburgs in the Peace of Utrecht in 1714 as the now Austrian Netherlands .

The development since the French Revolution

Austrian Netherlands and Diocese of Liège, 1786

In 1789/90, after disputes with Emperor Joseph II in Brabant, the revolution under the leadership of Hendrik van der Noot and Jan Frans Vonck resulted in the declaration of independence for the southern Netherlands on January 11, 1790 as Etats Belgiques Unis ( United Belgian States ) . This Confederate republic only existed for a short time, but it was an expression of the strivings for independence that had already developed, which had arisen in contrast to the centralist reform efforts of Joseph II. In this context, various concepts of a “Belgian nation” came up, but it was not possible to agree on a common definition of this term. At least the feeling of togetherness was to remain alive even after the failure of the republic and to break out again under completely different circumstances in the revolution of 1830. At the same time as the revolution in Brabant, there was also an overthrow influenced by the French Revolution in the Principality of Liège .

After both the Austrian and the northern Netherlands were occupied by French revolutionary troops during the First Coalition War in 1794 and 1795, Belgium became part of France for the next twenty years through the Peace Treaty of Campo Formio . In the long term, it became significant that despite initial protests against the incorporation, the Belgian bourgeoisie turned more and more to French culture and language during this phase. The northern Netherlands developed first into the Batavian Republic (1795–1806), dependent on France , then into the Kingdom of Holland under Napoleon's brother Louis Bonaparte (1806–1810), and finally they were also incorporated into the French state. When the continental blockade was imposed on England in 1810 , there was an economic crisis from which the Netherlands could not recover until the French troops withdrew from the Netherlands in 1813 after the Battle of Leipzig .

United Kingdom of the Netherlands 1815–1830

Congress of Vienna

In November 1813, orangist -minded politicians took over public power in The Hague and in December, Hereditary Prince Wilhelm I was proclaimed sovereign Prince of the Netherlands under the guarantee of a free constitution. Even before the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, Great Britain , which wanted its own security to be safeguarded by a balance of forces on the European mainland, convinced the other great powers Austria , Prussia and Russia , the former Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, the former Austrian Netherlands (incl. Luxembourg) and Liège to form the United Kingdom of the Netherlands to create a buffer against both France and Prussia. At the same time, with this territorial gain, the British compensated the Netherlands for taking possession of the Cape Colony .

The hope of the conservatives in Belgium was the restoration of Austrian rule, but since Vienna evidently no longer had any interest in it, it was easy to befriend the alternative of unifying the Netherlands in both the north and the south. The leader of the extras during the Brabant Revolution, Hendrik van der Noot , had already discussed corresponding plans with representatives of the Orangists in exile in London . The association was confirmed at the Congress of Vienna . The compromise proposal of an independent state under an Austrian prince was not approved because such a state was considered too weak.

Common state

The new state was not built as a federal but as a unitary state . This turned out to be a heavy burden as the contrasts between North and South quickly became a problem for the UK. The main factors for this were religious and linguistic differences, the development was exacerbated by economic problems and the failure to meet liberal demands. The imbalance was exacerbated by the fact that the north dominated in all areas, although it had the significantly smaller population with two million inhabitants compared to 3.5 million in the south. “Hollandization” met with double resistance in the south: the Flemish population, especially the clergy, vehemently rejected the Calvinism of the north, and francophone Belgium did not want the Dutch language to be imposed on them. The mental gap between Belgians and Dutch grew so much that an uprising seemed inevitable. The tense situation was aggravated by the July Revolution in France, which plunged all of Europe into revolutionary unrest and radiated particularly to the French-speaking neighbors in the north.

Last but not least, King Wilhelm I's undiplomatic behavior also contributed to the outbreak of the revolution. Wilhelm I was permeated by the conservative state ideas of the Restoration , which also prevailed among the princes of the German Confederation , especially among his Prussian relatives (his mother Friederike Sophie Wilhelmine, who had great influence on him until her death in 1820, was the sister of the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm II. ).

Language conflicts

In 1815 there were 218,000 illiterate people in the south, compared to only 23,000 in the north. The efforts of Wilhelm I concentrated on this field: during his 15-year reign, 1,500 schools were built in the south in which the language of the people was taught; in Flanders and Brussels, Dutch was the school language, in Wallonia French . The number of elementary school students in the southern provinces doubled from 150,000 to 300,000.

The Francophone civil servants and bourgeoisie reacted sensitively to the establishment of the Dutch language in the army, the government and in schools. Not only was Wallonia French-speaking, the bourgeoisie in the Flemish north also spoke French, while the rest of the Flemish population spoke Lower Franconian dialects. Until around 1900, Limburgish , German and French (especially around Maastricht ) were the leading languages in Limburg , while Dutch was only spoken sporadically.


Although the South made up 62% of the population, it only had 50% of the seats in parliament and only one in five ministers was South Dutch. Most of the state institutions were located in the north, where most of the civil servants were also employed.

The contingent that the southern Netherlands had to provide for the military was disproportionately large. At the same time only one in six officers came from the south, most of whom could only be found in the lower ranks of the infantry and cavalry . In the artillery and pioneers , for whom special training was required, the proportion of Belgian officers was even lower.

Religious opposites

In the UK there were 3.8 million Catholics (including 800,000 in the north) versus 1.2 million Protestants . In the south of Spain, the Roman Catholic faith had been the state religion, while Calvinism had previously been the national church in the north. For conservatives on both sides, two religions with equal rights in the kingdom were therefore not desirable. Wilhelm I himself was a supporter of the German Lutheran tradition of the regional church , in which the prince was also head of the church. He tried to free the Catholic Church from the influence of the Roman Curia , appointed bishops himself and sparked a school dispute when he abolished free Catholic education in 1825.

The underrepresentation of the South was not least due to the Catholic bishops, who had forbidden the faithful under threat of excommunication from accepting a state position. This ban had already been issued in 1815 by the French bishop of Ghent, Prince de Broglie . In 1817 the dispute between de Broglie and the House of Orange escalated and he was removed from office and expelled from the country. His personal hatred of the Orange had grown to such an extent that he publicly cursed the unborn child of the pregnant Princess of Orange. In turn, the government used the open resistance of the Catholic Church to ensure that the Dutch-Protestant character of the state apparatus was retained when appointing officials. Nevertheless, King Wilhelm I wanted to adapt the Basic Law so that a Catholic could also become king.

When Wilhelm I withdrew grammar school lessons from the clergy in 1825 and allowed them only in state schools, the Catholics even approached the liberals under the influence of the French priest Félicité de Lamennais , who taught a clear separation of church and state, to work together to oppose Wilhelm I. In December 1825, the Catholic politician Baron de Gerlache from Liège called on the Liberals for the first time to unite the two opposition groups. He combined the freedom of instruction demanded by the church with personal freedom of worship and the press. From 1828 the common criticism in the newspapers grew; Liberals and Catholics made a common catalog of demands. This opposition coalition was called unionism , also mockingly called Monsterverbond .

Liberal demands

The anti-clerical liberals, along with representatives of the economy, were initially the only ones from whom Wilhelm I received support. After a number of disappointments, however, the desire for a new state order for a group of young liberals began to grow stronger than their anti-clericalism at the end of the 1820s. This generation did not get to know the privileged position of the church before the French Revolution and was strongly influenced by the French liberals who, together with the church, waged a fight against the absolutist ruling Charles X. Freedom of belief was now also emphasized as an element of freedom of expression and personal freedom. The Swiss-French philosopher Benjamin Constant had a great influence on this group of young liberals, including Joseph Lebeau and the later Prime Minister of Belgium, Charles Rogier from Liège , Louis de Potter from Bruges and Jean-Baptiste Nothomb from Luxembourg .

In 1815 Wilhelm I forced a heavily criticized and very conservative Basic Law draft on the south: while the north gave its approval, he failed in the south. Wilhelm I applied an interpretation mockingly called arithmetique hollandaise and without further ado declared all abstentions to be agreement in principle. In the Basic Law, there was no ministerial responsibility towards parliament, which had neither legislative power nor budgetary rights. In addition, the members of the first chamber were appointed by the King himself for life, following the example of the British House of Lords , those of the second chamber of the States General were elected according to a tiered census suffrage .

The lack of freedom of the press and freedom of assembly was perceived as a particularly serious grievance among intellectuals . This was perceived as an additional means of control by the north.

Economic opposites

The south was industrially more advanced, the north traditionally a seafaring trading nation. While William I initially had support in Belgium, it came mainly from the moderate-liberal part of French-speaking Wallonia, which is oriented towards economic development . In and around Antwerp , too, the opening of the Scheldt resulted in some goodwill.

The industries of the south underwent a metamorphosis within a short period of time: after splitting off from France they had largely lost their most important sales market, but the Belgian economy still grew strongly due to the opening of the Antwerp port and access to the East Indian market. At the end of the 1820s, Ghent was the textile capital of the European continent with 30,000 well-paid workers and shipping in the port of Antwerp increased from 585 ships with 65,000 tons of cargo in 1819 to 1,028 ships with 129,000 tons in 1829.

On the other hand, after the abolition of the continental barrier, Great Britain flooded the continent with cheap products, against which the less mechanized industry of the southern Netherlands compared to England was hardly competitive. Only a little later, a protracted uprising flared up in the East Indies, from which industry suffered further. In addition, there was a bad harvest in 1829, which drove up food prices.

The amalgamation of the very unevenly brought in national debts (1.25 billion florins in the north compared to only 100 million florins in the south), which was borne by both parts of the country, was felt to be unjust . With the Algemeene Nederlandsche Maatschappij , from which the Belgian National Bank later emerged, Wilhelm I set up a counterpart to the Bank of Amsterdam . As a public lender, society should stimulate the economy.

The revolution of 1830

Political crisis

As a result of press censorship , the opposition journalist Louis de Potter was sentenced to prison in 1828 and expelled from the country in 1829.

Ever since Catholics and Liberals came together in the Union in 1825, the kingdom has been in a state of permanent crisis. In 1829 the dispute between the king and liberals became increasingly violent. The king rejected any ministerial responsibility towards parliament and even more decidedly a separation of north and south with their respective government and administration. The regime of Wilhelm I, following the Prussian model, became increasingly authoritarian. The king declared that his sovereignty preceded the Basic Law and that this could therefore not restrict him. In May 1829, in the midst of the political crisis, he appointed his son, the Prince of Orange, who later became King William II , as Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Vice-President of the Council of State, in order to make it clear that the ministers were solely responsible to the King . Under these conditions, criticism of the government meant an attack on the monarchy.

The press, v. a. the Courrier des Pays-Bas , had increasingly raised their voice against Wilhelm I and made ever more extensive demands, which finally prompted the government to act energetically. On December 11, 1829, a reactionary draft press law was published, a royal message that had to be signed by all officials under threat of dismissal within 24 hours and in which they had to affirm their loyalty to the king and their consent to the Basic Law. At the same time, the press was cracked down on and, following a sensational trial, several of the country's most prominent opposition leaders were expelled in March, including Louis de Potter (who had already been sentenced to 18 months in prison in 1828), François Tielemans and Adolf Bartels .

The July Revolution in France

Eugène Delacroix : Freedom leads the people . Contemporary allegorical representation of the July Revolution in France (1830, Louvre Paris)

The July Revolution of July 27, 1830 in Paris had overthrown King Charles X after barely three days and brought the citizen king Ludwig Philipp to power on the basis of a constitutional monarchy . He became a Roi des Français par la volonté nationale . This liberal revolution radiated into Belgium and increased the uneasy mood. Some hoped to be able to count on French military aid if necessary, others relied on internal reforms in the United Netherlands.

While the revolution in France was liberal, the revolutions in Greece , Poland and Italy , which broke out between 1829 and 1831, were dominated by romantically inspired nationalism. The focus here was on the people, who were connected by historical developments and formed a community that had the right to self-government and the formation of a nation.

The August riots

On August 25, 1830, after a performance of the romantic-nationalist opera La muette de Portici ( The Mutes of Portici ) by Daniel-François-Esprit Auber in the Brussels Opera, the audience shouted vive la liberté . After the performance was over, the audience moved out of the theater, letting the crowd that had ironically gathered to celebrate King Wilhelm I's 58th birthday get out of hand. Together they stormed the Palace of Justice . Late in the evening the house of the publisher Libry-Bagnano was looted (possibly on the agitation of French secret agents ) and that of the Minister van Maanen , the driving force behind the king's language policy, was set on fire. The official printing house was destroyed. When the law enforcement officers rushed to use the gun, there were deaths.

The unrest was not entirely unexpected. The day before, wall notices alluded to the planned fireworks in honor of the king: Lundi, 23rd août, feu d'artifice; mardi, 24th illumination, mercredi, 25th revolution. The spark quickly jumped over to workers and the unemployed, and the next day machine hitters destroyed the steam engines and looms in the Brussels factories, which were blamed for the mass unemployment, and looted food depots. From August 27, similar actions took place in Liège , Verviers , Huy , Namur , Mons and Leuven .

The Belgian tricolor from 1830 in a horizontal arrangement

The middle class, which saw itself threatened and determine needed that the government did not get the situation under control, presented in different cities vigilante groups , which brought the situation under control quickly. Having become self-confident through these successes, a group of dignitaries who had met in the Brussels City Hall took the initiative and sent a delegation on August 28 to request Wilhelm I to dismiss Minister of Justice van Maanen and to deal with the grievances in an urgent procedure To discuss States General. At that time, there was no talk of a separation of Belgium from the Netherlands, at most a separation of the administration between north and south, which de Potter had brought into play as early as 1829.

The gathering hoisted the Belgian flag drawn by lawyer and editor Lucien Jottrand and journalist Édouard Ducpétiaux on August 26th . They had used the Brabantian-Hainaut tricolor , which had been the symbol of the Brabant revolution of 1789/90, but arranged it vertically based on the French tricolor . After the independence of Belgium, this flag became the national flag of Belgium.

The September Revolution

The hesitant and clumsy demeanor of Wilhelm I and his sons led to a final break in September 1830. Although he had reintroduced unlimited freedom of speech in June and abolished a controversial philosophical seminar for priests, he did not allow freedom of the press or state reform. While he was sending his son, who later became Wilhelm II , to Brussels for negotiations, his other son, Prince Friederich, stood ready as Commander-in-Chief of the army with a 6,000-strong force in and around Vilvoorde . This occurrence was seen as that of an occupier. For the time being, however, the troops stayed in Vilvoorde and Prince Wilhelm came to the city accompanied by the Brussels vigilante. There they required a tax separation from Belgium and the Netherlands. However, Wilhelm I hesitated and tried to buy time.

While the Belgian delegates of the States General moved to the Hague for an extraordinary session on September 13th , the clashes in Brussels became more violent again. a. armed reinforcements had arrived from Liege since early September. Freikorps were spontaneously set up and commanded by elected or self-appointed leaders.

Gustave Wappers : Scene from the September days of 1830, contemporary history picture from 1835 ( Royal Museums of Fine Arts , Brussels)

On September 23, the army marched into Brussels with 12,000 soldiers. The anger of the people turned into a national uprising, and the troops that had lined up in Warandepark became the target of the vigilante groups and the numerous idealists who had flocked to them . Volunteers also came from abroad: for example, the Légion belge parisienne was set up in France , which was financed from private funds (including by the Count of Merode ) and comprised two battalions of 400 men each. This was done with the consent of the French government, which was considering a possible annexation of Belgium to France.

After four days of fighting, the Dutch army withdrew on the night of September 26th to 27th. Both sides had a total of 1200 dead and numerous injured.

The government troops, two-thirds of which were recruited from southern Dutch people, turned out to be very receptive to revolutionary ideas and quickly fell apart. Orders were refused, and in the end there were massive desertions and arrests of officers from the north of the Netherlands. Despite their colorful mix, the volunteer brigades were therefore almost everywhere successful in taking the positions of the regular troops. With the exception of the municipality of Mook en Middelaar in North Limburg and the cities of Maastricht and Luxembourg (which was a federal fortress of the German Confederation and where therefore Prussian troops were stationed), the entire area of ​​Belgium was in the hands of the Freikorps at the end of October . From 1830 to 1839, some areas that had not belonged to the Austrian Netherlands before 1815 before they were returned to the Netherlands remained de facto under Belgian control.

The formation of the Belgian state

Provisional government

The provisional government: Alexandre Gendebien, André-Édouard Jolly, Charles Rogier, Louis De Potter, Sylvain Van de Weyer, Feuillien de Coppin, Félix de Merode, Joseph Vanderlinden and Emmanuel-Constant-Prismes-Ghislain van der Linden d'Hoogvorst

During the fighting, an administrative committee was formed on September 23 , which consisted of Brussels dignitaries and tried to direct the uprising. On September 29, the committee announced that it would take over the power of government from the king, proclaimed the independence of the Belgian provinces on October 4, and two days later appointed a commission to draw up a draft constitution. It also appointed a court and general administration and organized elections to a national congress. It now became customary to refer to the Commission as the "Provisional Government". The spontaneously established institution consisted of nine people: Charles Rogier , Louis de Potter , Alexandre Gendebien , Count Félix de Mérode , Baron Emmanuel d'Hoogvorst , André Jolly , Sylvain van de Weyer , Baron Feuillien de Coppin and Joseph Vanderlinden .

The National Congress

Surlet de Chokier (around 1830)

While the military positions consolidated and efforts were made to reach a ceasefire, elections to a national congress were held across Belgium on November 3rd. However, only a good 46,000 taxpaying or academic male citizens over 25 years of age were eligible to vote. H. about one percent of the population. The turnout was 75%. The National Congress met for the first time on November 10th and confirmed the independence of the Belgian state, which was proclaimed on October 4th. An exception was Luxembourg, which was a member of the German Confederation . Erasme Louis Surlet de Chokier was elected first chairman . On February 25, 1831, the provisional government was released from the National Congress. The National Congress lasted until the election of the first parliament on September 8, 1831.

Basic Law

The most important task of the National Congress was to adopt a constitution for the new state. He used the draft of a committee chaired by Baron de Gerlache , which included prominent young lawyers such as Paul Devaux , Joseph Lebeau , Jean-Baptiste Nothomb and Charles de Brouckère . Since December 4th, this draft constitution of the provisional government has been debated in the National Congress, which was already adopted on February 7th, 1831 with few changes as the constitution of the Kingdom of Belgium .

The Basic Law was a synthesis of the French constitutions of 1791 , 1814 and 1830, the Dutch Basic Law of 1815 and English constitutional law. The result went far beyond a simple eclectic body of law. The constitution was based on the separation of powers between the legislature , executive and judiciary as the main principle ; the most important institution was now parliament. In particular, the extensive catalog of basic rights gave it the status of a liberal model constitution.

The king and the ministers formed the executive power, whereby the power of the king was severely limited. No law signed by the king was valid without a countersignature by a minister. The ministers were responsible to the parliament , whose two chambers consisted of the House of Representatives and the Senate . The king had to confirm the laws. The courts were independent and their meetings were held in public. The Court of Cassation also had to check the constitutionality of the executive branch. The citizens were guaranteed far-reaching basic rights: equality before the law, the right to personal freedom, property , confidentiality of letters , freedom of religion , assembly , expression and freedom of the press were enshrined. The right to vote was less modern, albeit relatively progressive by international standards. The deputies were elected according to a census system that allowed only one to two percent of the population to vote (it was linked to an annual tax of between 20 and 100 guilders). The right to stand for election provided for even greater hurdles: Only men who paid at least 1,000 guilders tax were eligible. The minimum age for election to the Chamber of Deputies was 25 and that for the Senate was 40 years. Initially, only 403 people were considered for the Senate, and in 1890 there were only 570, so that aristocratic landowners were clearly over-represented here. The state was organized very centralistically out of concern about separatist tendencies .

Despite the restrictions on the right to vote, the constitution was considered to be the most progressive and liberal of its time and the Belgian state can be regarded as the first parliamentary monarchy after England . The Belgian constitution had a strong influence on the constitutions of the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Sardinia-Piedmont of 1848 and the Prussian constitution of 1850. The Spanish constitution of 1837, the Greek from 1844 to 1864 and the Romanian from 1866 are almost identical copies of the Belgian Constitution. For Belgium, the main features of the constitution from 1831 to the present day.

The monarchy

The staunch Republican de Potter moved in the National Congress for the proclamation of the Republic, but at the request of President Surlet, the assembly decided on November 22, 1830 to establish a parliamentary monarchy with 187 votes to 13. In response to the bombardment of Antwerp from the citadel on October 27, the House of Orange was excluded from the throne, which had initially been considered a natural contender for a Belgian royal title. Numerous names have now been associated with the crown. The Catholic parliamentary group favored the Baron de Mérode , but he had no ambitions and refused. Initially, the crown was offered to the 16-year-old Prince Ludwig , son of the French King Ludwig Philipp , but this was unacceptable for England. As a provisional regent, Surlet de Chokier was named on February 25, 1831. This was the first head of state of the young state; in his place, Étienne Constantin de Gerlache was the new chairman of the congress.

Now (against the protest of the Catholic clergy) the German Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha , who lived in England and had been married to the British heiress Charlotte until her death in 1817, was offered the throne. Leopold had previously turned down the Greek title , but accepted the Belgian title and was elected on June 4, 1831 with 142 out of 196 votes. On July 21st, which has been the Belgian national holiday since then , he swore the oath on the constitution in Brussels' Königsplatz and became the first king of the Belgians.

Assertion of sovereignty

London Protocol (1830)

Since both Great Britain and Prussia absolutely wanted to avoid a strengthening of France, the two great powers enforced the independence of Belgium at a conference in London . Against the interests of France represented by Talleyrand , the British Foreign Minister Lord Palmerston emphasized the principle of national self-determination . Although Russia supported the Dutch king, it was tied to the uprising in Poland and could not provide any support. On December 20, 1830, the major European powers recognized Belgian independence in the London Protocol with the condition that the new kingdom would be strictly neutral. The distribution of the debt burden was regulated extremely unfavorably for the new state, since Belgium was to take on 51.6% of it and an annual debt burden of 14 million guilders. For this, the Netherlands had to guarantee free access to the port of Antwerp through the Scheldt estuary and access to the markets of the Dutch colonies. The borders between the Netherlands and Belgium were to be as in 1790; this meant that Belgium had to give back part of Limburg and Luxembourg to the Netherlands. Since Belgium rejected the protocol, not without overconfidence, the great powers had to negotiate again. The primary aim of diplomacy was to prevent war in Europe at all costs, and this was how Belgium was accommodated on important issues. The affiliation of Maastricht and Luxembourg was kept open and the debt burden was redistributed between both countries. Belgium agreed to the treaty, which in turn presupposed Leopold as a condition for accepting the crown, and war seemed to be averted.

Ten-day campaign, 1831

In Holland, however, after the conclusion of the London Conference and the ensuing enthronement of Leopold, outrage and an increasingly bellicose mood spread, although many Dutch had easily made friends with the secession of the Catholic South. Only the Catholics in the north regretted the loss of the southern part of the country. The public opinion spread in the newspapers saw in the defeat against the southern rebels but also a national disgrace that had to be repaid. Additionally humiliated by the self-overestimating attitude of the young and still unstable Belgian state, William I refused the London Treaty and marched into Belgium on August 2, 1831.

After the military successes during the revolution, the Belgian militiamen were not prepared for an attack by the Dutch troops, who had had to leave the country a few months earlier, demoralized. Therefore, despite the uncertain situation, it had been neglected to set up a powerful regular army. Wilhelm tried to exploit this weakness. After the change of opinion in Holland, it was easy for him to find volunteers with whom he could strengthen his sensitively decimated army, which was additionally supported by student companies.

Dutch troops in Belgium during the ten-day campaign (lithograph 1831)

The appointment of Leopold I as King of Belgium served as an occasion for military intervention in Belgium. Wilhelm I wanted to prevent the new king from consolidating the status quo on an international level. In the early evening of August 2, 1831, the Dutch crossed the border at Poppel in Brabant under the leadership of Prince Wilhelm ; the first skirmishes took place at Nieuwkerk . On August 3, 11,000 Dutch soldiers took Turnhout and the next day Antwerp, where it was looted. By August 12, the Belgian army and vigilante groups lost all along the line, the Dutch troops faced Lions, and the young kingdom seemed to have lost the war. The new Belgian constitution forbade the presence of foreign armies on Belgian territory without the consent of the first and second chambers of parliament. Nevertheless, on August 8, Leopold decided against the will of the government, which, in complete misunderstanding of the situation, considered the Belgian army strong enough to open the border to French troops . A day later, Marshal Gérard set off with 50,000 soldiers. During his campaign, Wilhelm I had relied on the backing of Prussia and Russia, which, however, was to fail. Russia was still bound by the uprising in Poland, and Prussia showed no inclination to allow itself to be drawn into a war for Dutch interests.

However, there was no fighting between French and Dutch troops. A proclamation was immediately published in The Hague, in which it was stressed that the invasion was only intended to give Dutch rights a breakthrough in the divorce of the two parts of the country. The Prince of Orange had the Dutch flag hoisted by soldiers in Antwerp instead of the Belgian tricolor again, to make it clear that it was not a question of occupying Belgium. Prince Wilhelm preceded battles with the French army with an armistice, which was concluded on August 12 through British mediation. The last Dutch soldiers withdrew from Belgium on August 20th.

Only the Dutch troops remaining in the citadel of Antwerp were only driven out by French troops after the siege on December 24, 1832.

The public in Holland was satisfied despite the withdrawal: the Belgians had been taught a lesson; retreating from the French superiority was not considered a disgrace. As a result of the Dutch show of force, the great powers decided to make the terms of the treaty somewhat more favorable for the Netherlands. Nevertheless, it took another eight years before Wilhelm I was ready to sign.

Attempts at annexation by France

At the London conference, the French ambassador, Talleyrand, presented a partition plan that provided for a division of Belgium between the northern Netherlands, France and Prussia. A remaining state should be under British protectorate.
Belgium and the Netherlands after the Treaty of London (1839): Netherlands (1) with Duchy of Limburg (2), Belgium (3) with Province of Luxembourg (4), Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (5) in personal union with the Netherlands (1)

Throughout all of this, Talleyrand kept the idea of ​​annexing at least parts of Belgium in mind. In view of the French troops in Belgium, he presented a detailed plan for the division of the area among the neighboring countries France, Prussia and the Netherlands, in which a "Free State of Antwerp" should be under British protection. In fact, for many Belgians, not least in the provisional government itself, the annexation of Wallonia, or even the whole of Belgium, to France, the real goal of the uprising and the proclamation of Belgian independence was only one step in this direction. These efforts, known as rattachisme , were initially pursued by the later Prime Minister of Belgium, the Liège revolutionary Charles Rogier , who came from France . But the plan was resolutely rejected by Prussia and all other great powers. Since France did not want to and could not put additional strain on the already difficult relations with the powers that be, France continued to provide military support for Belgium, where public opinion was very sympathetic to the “sister revolution” of its francophone neighbor.

Final contract from 1839

Belgium's own weakness was clearly demonstrated in the ten-day campaign, and the Netherlands their international isolation. Nevertheless, the reaction in both countries was marked by defiance. After all, Belgium still signed the London Treaty in 1831, but William I held out diplomacy for years. After endless, tough efforts, a solution was finally found in 1839, when it was hardly expected. William I abruptly changed his stance and agreed to sign the 24 Articles of London. As soon as Holland suddenly agreed to the treaty, it was rejected again in Belgium, because they had gotten used to the status quo and were no longer willing to give up occupied territories again. With this attitude, however, Belgium met with the displeasure of the London Conference and had to come to terms with the results negotiated in 1831 for better or worse.

With the so-called final contract , the United Kingdom of the Netherlands also ended legally; the separation was now finally complete. Belgium thus gained national independence, but lost again those parts of its national territory that had not belonged to the Austrian Netherlands in 1790. The province of Limburg was divided: the west remained with Belgium, the east (including Maastricht ) became part of the Netherlands again as a duchy, which was ruled by the Dutch royal family and at the same time became a member of the German Confederation . This was intended to compensate for the fact that a large part of Luxembourg remained as a province with Belgium and thus left the federal government. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg , reduced by two thirds of its territory, remained part of the German Confederation and was also ruled in personal union by the Dutch king. In the process, it gained extensive autonomy and finally achieved full sovereignty in 1890 after the end of the personal union. The northernmost part of Flanders ( Zeeuws Vlaanderen ) at the mouth of the Scheldt also became Dutch again, while the southernmost part ( French Flanders ) remained French, as it had been since 1678.

In addition to the territorial provisions, the treaty stipulated that the Netherlands had to guarantee Belgium free access to the port of Antwerp via the Scheldt and a rail link through East Limburg to the Ruhr area (the so-called Iron Rhine ). All residents of Belgium and the Netherlands should be free to choose which citizenship they wanted to take. The security and strict neutrality of Belgium were confirmed. In addition, the Netherlands has waived around a third of the debt repayments that Belgium has to make and the outstanding payments since 1830.

Domestic Unionism 1830–1839

The foreign policy conflict with the Netherlands had a stabilizing effect on Belgian domestic policy. Under the influence of the king, unionism between liberals and Catholics lasted until 1839 and for some time after that. However, as early as 1834, education and especially university policy had separated the two partners in parts. In addition to the two state universities of Liège and Ghent founded by Wilhelm I in 1817 , the Catholic Church set up a university in Mechelen, which was shortly afterwards moved to Leuven , where the state university had been closed. In response, the Liberals, supported by the Masonic Lodge, founded the Brussels Free University . However, the friction could always be resolved. It was only after the resignation of the last two unionist governments, Nothomb and van de Weyer, in 1845/46, that Leopold I had to set up a cabinet consisting exclusively of clericals under Theux de Meylandt .


Economic consequences for Belgium

The immediate economic consequences of independence for Belgium were devastating: In 1829 the most important industrial city Ghent processed 7.5 million kilograms of cotton , in 1832 it was only two million kilograms. As a direct result of secession, most workers had become unemployed and wages for the remaining jobs had fallen to 30% of the 1829 level.

Things looked even worse for the port city of Antwerp: in 1829 shipping traffic was still 1,028 ships with 129,000 tons of freight. That was twice as much as Rotterdam and Amsterdam raised together. In 1831 only 398 ships came in and trade with the East Indies ceased completely.

The coal mining industry experienced a severe slump. In 1830 around 20,000 miners were employed in 350 mines in the three mountain areas of Mons , Charleroi and Liège . After 1830, sales of the coal mined there in the Netherlands stagnated as a result of the duties to be paid from now on and due to import restrictions imposed by the Dutch government.

On the other hand, great successes could be achieved in the construction of a railway network. In 1835, one of the first routes on the European continent was opened between Brussels and Mechelen and the network was then expanded to become one of the densest in the world. Overall, however, the economic situation remained extremely volatile. On June 5, 1832, the Belgian franc was introduced, and the Banque de Belgique was founded in February 1835 .

Language policy

Languages ​​today: Dutch (yellow), French (red) and German (blue) "(language) community"

As a reaction to the school and language policy of King Wilhelm I, which had enormously promoted the Dutch language, it was one of the first measures of the provisional government to abolish all public schools. Only the French-speaking universities of Ghent and Liège survived and served to create a new elite. As a result, when drafted into the military in 1900, 10.1% were illiterate compared to only 2.3% in the Netherlands, 4.7% in France and only 0.5% in Germany. In 1913 there were fewer primary school children in Belgium (with 7.5 million inhabitants) than in the Netherlands (with 6 million inhabitants). Belgium was thus at the same level in 1914 as in 1814.

In the long term, the language dispute could not be resolved, and in fact it got worse in the Belgian state. In response to the primacy of Dutch in the United Kingdom, the French-speaking Walloons were given preference . In Flanders, too, Dutch was only to be used in primary school, and lessons were in French from secondary school onwards. In practice, Belgium was l'état franco-belge , a Franco-Belgian state. Le Flamand became a dirty word to denote a number of dialects, and in the first few years Dutch was the "language of the Dutch".

Belgian national consciousness

Jodocus Hondius : Leo Belgicus (1611). During the Renaissance, the term Belgium was still applied to the whole of the Netherlands; in the 19th century it increasingly referred to the southern Netherlands. (Map facing west, i.e. north is on the right)

Belgian national consciousness began to develop even before the revolution of 1830, but the Belgian nation is still a problematic term. Since the founding of the Belgian state, three concepts have been in competition with each other: the Belgian nation, Rattachism oriented towards France and orangism oriented towards the Netherlands .

The Belgian Revolution was more closely related to the liberal French July Revolution than other events of 1830. The uprisings in Poland , Greece and Italy as well as the German Vormärz were strongly influenced by a romantic nationalism. If Italians or Germans defined the cultural nation through language, the language dispute between Flemings and Walloons became a permanent problem for the internal unity of Belgium. Political circles emerged as early as 1830 with the aim of reuniting Flanders with the Netherlands and Wallonia with France. One of these later was Louis de Potter , who as a republican had initially fought for Belgian independence, but then had to evade to France as an opponent of the monarchy and, on his return in 1838, even proposed reunification with the north in view of the limited freedom in Belgium. This first direction of the supporters of a reunification was called Orangisme and finally led to the Vlaamse Bewegungsing , the pro-French one called Rattachisme . When Napoléon III. the annexation of Belgium to France, there was rapprochement with the Netherlands in 1860, and even Prime Minister Charles Rogier, who is considered a Rattachist , now declared that the former United Kingdom must be restored as a confederation under two separate governments. Therefore, he had the national anthem Brabançonne adapted, the text of which had polemicized against the Dutch up until then. In the 1920s, the idea of ​​reunification of Belgium and the Netherlands gained renewed appeal. Today the Flemish population has a positive attitude towards such thought games.

At the same time, Belgium developed into a stable state that has retained the basic principles of its political system established in 1830 to this day. Only the structure of Belgium was modified from a central to a federal state in the late 20th century, and Dutch was able to achieve equality with French in language policy since the 1960s. Although the establishment of a parliamentary monarchy instead of a republic after the bourgeois revolution of 1830 was more of a concession to international politics in order to gain support for state independence, it nevertheless contributed significantly to the stability of the country as an integrative force.

Belgian neutrality

The neutrality of Belgium, which was established in 1830/39, was not broken until 1914 with the invasion of the German Empire following the Schlieffen Plan . Since the London Treaty was still valid, Great Britain was inevitably drawn into the acts of war as a guaranteeing power, so that the violation of neutrality ultimately triggered “the great war” (First World War) . The fact that Belgium had been spared wars for 84 years is one of the great achievements of international diplomacy in the 19th century.


  • Herman Theodoor Colenbrander : memorial stuccos from the Algemeene Geschiedenis van Nederland van 1795 dead 1840 . s'Gravenhage 1905 ff. (in particular the volumes of the series D.9: Regeering van Wilhelm I. 1825-1830 and D.10: Regeering van Wilhelm I. 1830-1840 ).
  • Robert Demoulin: La Révolution de 1830 . Bruxelles 1950.
  • Robert Demoulin: L'influence française sur la naissance de l'Etat belge . In: Revue historique. Alcan, Paris 223.1960, pp. 13-28.
  • Documents of the history of Belgium . Vol. 2 Modern Belgium. From 1830 until today. Information report collection “Ideas and Studies”. No. 109, 1978. Ed. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation. Brussels 1978. (A selection of important sources in excerpts and translations).
  • Rolf Falter: Eight-hearted, de Scheiding van Nederland, België en Luxemburg . Tielt 2005, ISBN 90-209-5836-4 .
  • JS Fishman: Diplomacy and revolution, the London conference of 1830 and the Belgian revolt. Amsterdam 1988, ISBN 90-5068-003-8 .
  • Wolfgang Heuser: No war in Europe. The role of Prussia among the European powers in the creation of the Belgian state (1830–1839) . History Science Series. Vol. 30. Pfaffenweiler 1992, ISBN 3-89085-775-2 .
  • Johannes Koll (Hrsg.): National movements in Belgium. A historical overview. Netherlands Studies, Vol. 37. Münster 2005, ISBN 3-8309-1465-2 .
  • Ernst Münch : The events in Brussels in 1830 . In: Ders: Biographical-historical studies . Hallberger, Stuttgart 1836, Vol. 2, pp. 137-181. Digitized by the Bavarian State Library
  • Verstolk van Soelen: Recueil de pièces diplomatiques relatives aux affaires de la Hollande et de la Belgique . La Haye 1831-1833.

Web links

Commons : Belgian Revolution  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Nederland. In: Encyclopedie van het Christendom in twee delen. Katholiek deel. Amsterdam / Brussels 1956. (Dutch)
  2. ^ William Robert Shepherd : The Historical Atlas, 1926.
  3. Heuser, p. 49.
  4. ^ The coal mines in France . In: New General Geographic and Statistical Ephemeris . Verlag des Landes-Industrie-Comptoirs, Weimar, Vol. 30 (1830), pp. 86–87, here p. 87.
  5. Greta Devos: Belgian initiatieven in de erts- en steenkoolmijnen en in de metal industry in grensgebieden, 19c-begin 20th eeuw . In: Johannes CGM Jansen (ed.): Economische betrekkingen in grensregio's in een industrieel tijdperk 1750–1965 . Eisma, Leeuwarden 1996, ISBN 90-74252-49-4 , pp. 173-193.
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on May 12, 2006 in this version .