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Belgian Revolution
Part of the Revolutions of 1830
Wappers - Episodes from September Days 1830 on the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville in Brussels.JPG
Episode of the Belgian Revolution of 1830, Gustaf Wappers (1834), (Museum of Fine Art, Brussels)
Date25 August 1830 – 14 July 1831
LocationNorthwestern Europe: the Netherlands and Belgium
Result Belgian victory; the main European powers recognized Belgium's de facto independence from the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Belgian rebels
 Belgium (from early 1831)
France Kingdom of the French
 United Kingdom of the Netherlands
Commanders and leaders
Baron Surlet de Chokier
Charles Rogier
France Étienne Maurice Gérard
United Kingdom of the Netherlands King William I
United Kingdom of the Netherlands Crown Prince William


France 60,000 men[1]
Netherlands 50,000 men[2]

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 Belgium.

The people of the south were nearly all Catholics; half were French-speaking. Many outspoken liberals regarded King William I's rule as despotic. There were high levels of unemployment and industrial unrest among the working classes.[3]

On 25 August 1830 riots erupted in Brussels and shops were looted. Theatergoers who had just watched a nationalistic opera joined the mob. Uprisings followed elsewhere in the country. Factories were occupied and machinery destroyed. Order was restored briefly after William committed troops to the Southern Provinces but rioting continued and leadership was taken up by radicals, who started talking of secession.[4]

Dutch units saw the mass desertion of recruits from the southern provinces, and pulled out. The States-General in Brussels voted in favour of secession and declared independence. In the aftermath, a National Congress was assembled. King William refrained from future military action and appealed to the Great Powers. The resulting 1830 London Conference of major European powers recognized Belgian independence. Following the installation of Leopold I as "King of the Belgians" in 1831, King William made a belated military attempt to reconquer Belgium and restore his position through a military campaign. This "Ten Days' Campaign" failed because of French military intervention. Not until 1839 did the Dutch accept the decision of the London conference and Belgian independence by signing the Treaty of London.

United Kingdom of the Netherlands

The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Limburg in 1839
1, 2 and 3 United Kingdom of the Netherlands (until 1830)
1 and 2 Kingdom of the Netherlands (after 1830)
2 Duchy of Limburg (1839–1867) (in the German Confederacy after 1839 as compensation for Waals-Luxemburg)
3 and 4 Kingdom of Belgium (after 1830)
4 and 5 Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (borders until 1830)
4 Province of Luxembourg (Waals-Luxemburg, to Belgium in 1839)
5 Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (German Luxemburg; borders after 1839)
In blue, the borders of the German Confederation.

The Dutch overthrew Napoleonic rule in 1813, and after the British-Dutch Treaty of 1814, they named their state the "United Provinces of the Netherlands" or simply the "United Netherlands". 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; 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 Ceylon 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 (modern Belgium). The union of these two areas reverted to the original cultural area of the Netherlands before the 16th century and were called the "United Kingdom of the Netherlands".

Causes of the Revolution

The Belgian Revolution had many causes and consequences; mainly the treatment of the French-speaking Catholic Walloons in the Dutch-dominated United Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the difference of religion between the Belgians 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 Kingdom (despite the fact in that time the Belgian population was larger than the Dutch). Catholic bishops in the south had forbidden working for the new government. This rule, originated in 1815 by Maurice-Jean de Broglie, the French nobleman who was bishop of Ghent, caused an under-representation 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.[citation needed]

The traditional economy of trade and an incipient Industrial Revolution were also centered in the present day Netherlands, particularly in the large port of Amsterdam. Furthermore, although 62% of the population lived in the South, they were assigned the same number of representatives in the States General. 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 Antwerp; 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 Southerners 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 autonomy. 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.[5] On 4 June 1830, this reform was abolished.[6]

Faith was another cause of the Belgian Revolution. In the politics of the south Roman Catholicism was the important factor. Its partisans fought against the freedom of religion proclaimed by William that was at that time still supported by the liberal faction.[7] Over time the (southern) liberal faction began to support the Catholics, partly to accomplish its own goals: freedom of education and freedom of the press.[8]

The Belgian Revolution of 1830 crystallised this antagonism. The language policy of King William was abolished. But no oppression was used. The leading class did not need to be forced to use French.[9]

"Night at the opera"

Charles Rogier leads the 250 revolutionary volunteers from Liège to Brussels (Charles Soubre, 1878)

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 Monnaie 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 who rallied around the newly created flag of the Brussels independence movement which was fastened to a standard with shoelaces during a streetfight and used to lead a counter-charge against the forces of Prince William.

Belgian rebels on the barricade of the Place Royale facing the Parc de Bruxelles in Brussels (1830).

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).[10] The army was withdrawn to the fortresses of Maastricht, Venlo, and Antwerp, 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 the Provisional Government was established under Charles Latour Rogier. A Declaration of Independence followed on 4 October 1830.

International recognition

On 20 December 1830 the London Conference of 1830 brought together five major European powers, including Britain, France and Germany. They recognized the success of the Belgian revolution and permanently guaranteed Belgian independence. On 7 February 1831, the Belgian Constitution was proclaimed and the separation from the Dutch was a fact.

Constitutional monarchy

Louis d'Orléans, duc de Nemours. The man who would not be king.

The Belgian Congress chose Louis, Duke of Nemours, the second son of the French king Louis-Philippe, to be king of Belgium. However, Louis-Philippe rejected the offer, on the advice of British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston. Palmerston and the Great Powers wanted 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 politically astute choice, as Leopold was not only a capable man, 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 makeshift 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, although they continued to hold the citadel in Antwerp and occasionally bombarded the city until French forces forced them out in December 1832. 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

French partition plan

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 Poland and Prussia was saddled with war debt). Britain came to see the benefits of isolating France geographically.

Independent Belgium

"The Scrap of Paper - Enlist Today"; Germany's defiance of the treaty in 1914 outraged British opinion.

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 Flanders, East Flanders, Brabant, Antwerp, Hainaut, Namur, and Liège, as well as half of Luxembourg and Limburg. The Dutch army, however, held onto Maastricht, and as a result the Netherlands kept the eastern half of Limburg and its large coalfields.[11] Germany broke the treaty in 1914 when it invaded Belgium, dismissing British protests over a "scrap of paper."[12]

Accession of King Leopold

Post Independence

Economic changes

The independence of Belgium was a disaster for the important industrial city of Ghent. 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 Antwerp the disaster was even greater. Trade with the colonies fell to zero and the number of ships that entered the port fell to 398. In contrast, in 1829 1,030 ships entered Antwerp, carrying 129,000 tons, double the amount of Rotterdam and Amsterdam together.[citation needed]


As early as 1830 a movement started for the reunification of Belgium and the Netherlands, called Orangism, which was active in Flanders and Brussels. But Industrial cities, like Liège, also had a strong Orangist faction.[13] 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.[14]


File:2005 Belgium 100 Euro 175 Years Belgium front.JPG

"175 Years of Belgium" coin

  • In 2005, the Belgian revolution of 1830 was depicted in one of the highest value Belgian coins ever minted, the 100 euro "175 Years of Belgium" coin. The obverse depicts a detail from Wappers' famous painting "Scene of the September Days in 1830".

See also


  1. A Global Chronology of Conflict: From the Ancient World to the Modern Middle ... , by Spencer C. Tucker, 2009, p. 1156
  2. A Global Chronology of Conflict: From the Ancient World to the Modern Middle ... , by Spencer C. Tucker, 2009, p. 1156
  3. E.H. Kossmann, The Low Countries 1780-1940 (1978) pp 151-54
  4. Paul W. Schroeder, The Transformation of European Politics 1763-1848 (1994) pp 671-91
  5. E.H. Kossmann, De lage landen 1780/1980. Deel 1 1780-1914, 1986, Amsterdam, p. 128
  6. Jacques Logie, De la régionalisation à l'indépendance, 1830, Duculot, 1980, Paris-Gembloux, p. 21
  7. E.H. Kossmann, De lage landen 1780/1980. Deel 1 1780-1914, 1986, Amsterdam, p. 123
  8. E.H. Kossmann, De lage landen 1780/1980. Deel 1 1780-1914, 1986, Amsterdam, p. 129
  9. E.H. Kossmann, De lage landen 1780/1980. Deel 1 1780-1914, 1986, Amsterdam, p. 148
  10. Ministerie van Defensie
  11. Schroeder, The Transformation of European Politics 1763-1848 (1994) pp 716-18
  12. Larry Zuckerman (2004). The Rape of Belgium: The Untold Story of World War I. New York University Press. p. 43. 
  13. , Rolf Falter, 1830 De scheiding van Nederland, België en Luxemburg, 2005, Lannoo
  14. Universiteit Gent

Further reading

  • Fishman, J. S. "The London Conference of 1830," Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis (1971) 84#3 pp 418–428.
  • Fishman, J. S. Diplomacy and Revolution: The London Conference of 1830 and the Belgian Revolt (Amsterdam, 1988)
  • Kossmann, E. H. The Low Countries 1780–1940 (1978), pp 151–60
  • Kossmann-Putto, J. A. and E. H. Kossmann. The Low Countries: History of the Northern and Southern Netherlands (1987)
  • Omond. G. W. T. "The Question of the Netherlands in 1829-1830," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (1919) vol 2 pp. 150–171 in JSTOR
  • Schroeder, Paul W. The Transformation of European Politics 1763-1848 (1994) pp 671–91
  • Stallaerts, Robert. The A to Z of Belgium (2010)
  • Witte, Els et al. (2009). Political History of Belgium: From 1830 Onwards. Asp / Vubpress / Upa. pp. 21ff. 

External links

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