Brabant Revolution

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Flag of Brabant revolutionaries on the color of this flag is the later flag of Belgium back

On 24. October 1789 that broke Brabant Revolution of. It took place almost at the same time as other revolutions , but had a completely different omen. If the French and Liège revolutions were an expression of social renewal, the aim here was to preserve the existing corporate social order and to defend it against enlightened absolutism . In this endeavor, on January 11, 1790, the United Belgian States emerged from the provinces of the Austrian Netherlands . However, these only lasted a few months, not least because of the quarrels between their founders.

Preliminary remark

Since January 3, 1356, the Joyeuse Entrée , Dutch Blijde Inkomst ("the cheerful assumption of office") guaranteed the estates of Brabant and Limburg their traditional privileges. It gave them the right to approve or refuse taxes and to take part in foreign policy matters, particularly on war and peace. Public offices had to be filled with locals. Brabantans were only allowed to be tried in local courts. The other provinces of the Austrian Netherlands also claimed this right. If the prince violated the Joyeuse Entrée, the estates had the right to refuse to obey him. The interpretation of the provisions was controversial. They were de facto abolished by the reforms of Emperor Joseph II .

Although Joseph's mother Maria Theresa had already pursued similar goals, for example restricted the powers of the Catholic Church, she had proceeded more cautiously. In order to pave the way for a central administration in the spirit of enlightened absolutism, the development of a Belgian national feeling was promoted in the ten provinces that made up the Austrian Netherlands. The pioneers of this patriotism were Patrice-Francoise de Neny , Jean-Baptist Lesbroussart , Corneille-Francoise de Nelis - all of them loyal to the House of Austria , but convinced of the need to modernize administration and economy.

Joseph II: Memorial coin in homage to the Austrian Netherlands, 1781.

Prehistory: The reforms of Joseph II.

When Maria Theresa died on November 29, 1780, her previous co-regent Joseph II assumed sole rule. To Joseph's displeasure, his mother had chosen her favorite daughter Marie Christine and her husband Albert von Sachsen-Teschen , who had previously held this office in Pressburg ( Hungary ), to succeed the governor in Brussels , his uncle Karl von Lorraine , who had recently died . The emperor held the couple back in Vienna because he wanted to find out personally about the state of the Austrian Netherlands before it was installed - as the first sovereign in 222 years. To the cheers of the population, he arrived in Luxembourg on May 31, 1781, and on July 27, he left Brussels for France. The visit to all the important cities, numerous conferences and audiences as well as innumerable petitions gave him a detailed picture of the state of the country.

On July 17, the new governor took the homage of Brussels stands of Brabant meet. At this time (from July 7th to 21st) Joseph made a detour to the United Netherlands and to Aachen and Spa ( Principality of Liège ). Like his predecessors, he did not accept the homage from the other provinces personally, but instead was represented by the governor or the authorized minister.

Church political reforms

The Edict of Tolerance of October 13, 1781 stipulated that from now on Protestants were allowed to practice their religion freely in the Austrian Netherlands, but also, and this was new and a first reason for displeasure, that Protestants had access to citizenship and the guilds. In addition, Protestants were henceforth entitled to acquire academic degrees.

Joseph responded to protests in the spring of 1782 with explanations of the Edict of Tolerance and was apparently able to calm the minds. The Catholic religion remains the dominant state religion. Even Cardinal Johann Heinrich von Frankenberg was appeased in his pastoral letter during Lent .

In 1783 Joseph decided to abolish the contemplative order . He recently responded to protests and the initial refusal of the Brabant Council to publish this edict with explanations that the confiscated assets should be used to create social institutions. But in the following years he also left vacant abbot positions vacant and thus reduced the power of the church in the estates.

Since September 28, 1784, new regulations curtailed the canon of tasks of the Catholic Church. Marriage was made a civil contract and should be valid even without the participation of the church. As early as 1781 Joseph had forbidden appeals to Rome because of dispensaries .

After the announcement in March 1786 that a state general seminar would be set up in Leuven and that the episcopal seminaries would be closed, there were violent protests from Franckenberg and Nelis. Franckenberg opened the general seminar in Leuven with a lecture on December 1, 1786 only after the assurance that he would establish a branch in Luxembourg and that the general seminars would of course continue to be under episcopal supervision. But the agitation against the institution did not stop, several lecturers were accused of Jansenism . A letter to this effect was copied and made public by the papal nuncio in cooperation with Cardinal Franckenberg. Franckenberg was summoned to Vienna, the nuncio expelled and the Bishop of Namur finally made submissive by threatened disempowerment.

Joseph's church reforms can be traced back in some respects to the ideas of Patrice Francoise De Neny "Eglise Belgique". On behalf of Maria Theresa, he wrote the “Memoires historique et politiques sur les Pais-Bas autrichiens” as a guide and memorandum for Joseph for the political dealings with the southern Netherlands. For De Neny, Belgian particularism and loyalty to the king were not a contradiction in terms. Neny strongly advised against an alignment with the Austrian hereditary lands.

Administrative reforms

In 1784 Joseph asked the magistrates of all cities and towns to draw up lists of the regulations and privileges of the local guilds that they believed were a hindrance to economic development (trade and industry). Most of the magistrates, apart from that of Brussels, complied with this request. The magistrate of Brussels was represented in the estates, while apart from the magistrates of Leuven and Antwerp there was no other representation of the magistrates in the Brabant estates. The result was, as requested, that the privileges of the guilds were a hindrance to progress and trade.

In January 1787 Joseph issued the so-called "January dictates". The provinces should then be divided into nine districts (district chiefs). These circles should be subordinate to an artistic director and twelve representatives. The directorate should be entitled to overturn the decisions of the estates. All county officials should be appointed by the government (not the estates).

Judicial reform

A comprehensive judicial reform was also planned for May 1, 1787. After that, the patrimonial courts in their various forms were to be dropped and the higher courts of justice were to be reorganized. The old structures should be replaced by a clear line of authority. Sixty-three courts of first instance were scheduled. The Supreme Court should have its seat in Brussels and be directly subordinate to the government in Vienna. The salaries of judges should also be determined by the government.

Worsening of the situation (1787 to 1789)


The Council of Brabant refused in January 1787 to recognize the January dictates as legal and to publish them. The assembly of estates protested against the planned changes, declaring them incompatible with the Joyeuse Entrée . After no response from Vienna to the protest by March, the meeting of the estates refused to approve the subsidies and discussed further measures.

In April, at the invitation of Catherine II of Russia , the emperor undertook a trip that took him to the Crimea . In his absence, State Chancellor Kaunitz ran the business.

In April, Henri van der Noot wrote a summary of the protest against the planned changes on behalf of the estates. The meeting of the estates sent the " Memoire sur les droits du peuple brabancon " with nine specified demands to Vienna and declared that they would not approve the taxes until their demands had been met. The demands not only included the cancellation of the planned changes in the judiciary and administration, but also the replacement of defunct abbeys.

The Brabant Council formulated its own protest. Members of the council who were appointed to the new court of appeal refused to take office.

In May 1787, Joseph made an offer of compromise. He promised to withdraw the reforms until he received the approval of the meeting of the estates. The Brabant Council was restituted.

But there were further protests over a Brussels citizen. De Hondt had been arrested for an offense against customs regulations in connection with the Scheldt and taken to Vienna to be tried there.

The governors tried to mediate and suspended the January dictates. You were then summoned to Vienna, as was Plenipotentiary Minister Belgiojoso, who had advocated a moderate stance on the unrest. Count Murray was appointed interim governor.

In June 1787 van der Noot, who until then had only promoted the resistance through pamphlets and other opinion-forming measures, began to organize it militarily. He summoned the leaders of the five Brussels citizen militias, the chairmen of the nine “nations” and other notables. As a result, it was difficult for him to control these forces and thus prevent a revolution from breaking out.

When the emperor found out about these events - it took a courier almost three weeks from Brussels to the Black Sea - he broke off his trip and returned to Vienna at the end of June.

Meanwhile the fronts hardened more and more. Joseph invited a delegation from the estates to Vienna. After an initial refusal, a delegation of the estates was actually sent to Vienna. However, the latter was only authorized to speak out against the reforms and was not allowed to enter into negotiations. The result was correspondingly frustrating for both sides. In the meantime Joseph had set troops on the move towards the Austrian Netherlands.

In August the Ottoman Empire declared war on Russia . This obliged the emperor to provide military support to Catherine II on the basis of a secret treaty. The necessary preparations took up a large part of his time.

In September Murray stopped the troop concentrations in a completely misjudgment of the situation, came under pressure from the militias and declared the unreserved suspension of the January dictates, without on the one hand the preconditions set by Joseph had been met and without any indication that Joseph would agree to this The decision had been made so that the Estates would have time to recognize the necessity of these reforms themselves (i.e. actually an adjournment, not a final withdrawal). As a result, Murray was deposed and replaced by Alton . He had already bloodily suppressed the uprisings in Hungary. Belgiojoso was also deposed and replaced by Ferdinand von Trauttmansdorff . However, due to the extensive powers of attorney that Alton received, he had little room for maneuver.

In December 1787, Trauttmansdorff received the order to restore the condition of April 1787. This also included the reopening of the now closed Löwener general seminar.


On January 22, 1788, the ultimatum given by Alton expired that the meeting of the estates had to announce Joseph's December edicts (restoration of the state of April 1787) within 24 hours. When the ultimatum had expired, the soldiers fired at the assembled masses. Several people were killed in the process. The masses reacted intimidated, especially as there were arrests and several magazines (including Feller's) were banned. Van der Noot then fled to England.

From February to December, the emperor was at the head of his army fighting the Turks . The campaign was unfortunate and cost him his health.

In March, the tax approval failed again due to the veto of the third estate. The general seminary was reopened in Leuven, which was recorded by the foreign press as Joseph's victory over ultramontanism . But in the autumn of 1788, the third estate again refused to grant tax.


On April 29, 1789, Joseph astonished with the announcement that in future all Brabant cities will be allowed to send their representatives to the third estate. The Brabant Council was instructed to make this a law. But he resisted, pointing out that this again violated the Joyeuse Entrée . The government in Brussels had not expected that. The tax money for the conflict with Turkey was urgently needed.

In June, Trautmannsdorff demanded from the convened meeting of the estates the immediate approval of taxes, the reorganization of the third estate, the establishment of a new legal system and a provision that the approval of the Brabant Council would no longer be needed for the publication of laws. When the third estate refused to veto it, Alton surrounded the Hotel de Ville with troops and barricaded it. Joseph declared the Joyeuse Entrée and all provincial rights and privileges closed and annulled.

In August Vonck was able to win van der Mersch as commander of the volunteer army. Trautmannsdorff received a warning, Alton applied for military reinforcements. Trautmannsdorff refused to forward the application because he feared the loss of face (his informant system had failed with the secret society “Pro Aris und Focis”). In view of the events in Paris, Joseph prohibited the export of grain and the brewing of beer.

In September, “Pro Aris and Focis” was largely exposed. Troops sent to Liege found no trace of the volunteer army, as they had been warned.

Van der Noot, now in Breda, was still looking for allies in the triple alliance by negotiation. Only Prussia was willing to help the Brabanters in the event that Austria allied with France. The people were now attuned to the "holy war", above all by Feller. Vonck and van der Noot agreed on joint action under van der Noot as the general representative of the Brabant people.

United Belgian States

On October 24, 1789, a small, poorly equipped, but highly motivated patriot army invaded Brabant. The few imperial troops were quickly overcome and driven out. They were only able to hold the fortress in Luxembourg.

On December 18, 1789, van der Noot entered Brussels triumphantly. The Vonckists had little support or support in Brussels and van der Noot was able to present the assumption of sovereignty by the Brabant estates as the will of the people.

There was an open conflict between extras and democrats (Vonckists). The Democrats were hounded as Josephinists and there were even occasional bloody clashes. Vonck and some of his followers fled to France. From Lille they tried to generate a counter-movement against the aristocrats, called extras. They found greater support, especially in Flanders.

In the meantime Leopold II had succeeded his deceased brother Joseph II on the throne.

The Democrats, tired of the rule of the extras, showed themselves ready to negotiate with Leopold.

In the meantime a strong Austrian army was set in motion and the extras under van der Noot and van Eupen sought military support from Prussia and Holland. The clergy moved the rural folk to go to the cities and make solemn oaths of allegiance to the estates. This was accompanied by the handover of flags to rural militias. In pamphlets by the Democrats, these peasants were described as " dressed and armed like jokes ". But all efforts were in vain.

At the end of December 1790, imperial troops marched into Brussels. Congress hadn't managed to rule for even a year.



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