|Part of the Revolutions of 1830|
Episode of the Belgian Revolution of 1830, Gustaf Wappers
France (from 1831)
|Commanders and leaders|
Leopold I |
Erasme de Chokier
Étienne Maurice Gérard
William I |
France: 70,000 men
The Belgian Revolution (French: Révolution belge, Dutch: Belgische Revolutie/opstand/omwenteling) was the conflict which led to the secession of the southern provinces (mainly the former Southern Netherlands) from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands and the establishment of an independent Kingdom of Belgium.
The people of the south were mainly Flemings and Walloons. Both peoples were traditionally Roman Catholic as contrasted with Protestant-dominated (Dutch Reformed) people of the north. Many outspoken liberals regarded King William I's rule as despotic. There were high levels of unemployment and industrial unrest among the working classes.
On 25 August 1830, riots erupted in Brussels and shops were looted. Theatregoers who had just watched the nationalistic opera La muette de Portici 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.
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 attempt to reconquer Belgium and restore his position through a military campaign. This "Ten Days' Campaign" failed because of French military intervention. The Dutch only accepted the decision of the London conference and Belgian independence in 1839 by signing the Treaty of London.
After the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo 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 addition of those provinces the Netherlands became a rising power. Symptomatic of the tenor of diplomatic bargaining at Vienna was the early proposal to reward Prussia for its fight against Napoleon with the former Habsburg territory.[relevant?] When Great Britain 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 revolution was due to a combination of factors, the main one being the difference of religion (Catholic in today's Belgium, Protestant in today's Netherlands) and the general lack of autonomy given to the south.
Other important factors also played a role in the independence. Among those factors, we can cite:
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 set against Masaniello's uprising against the Spanish masters of Naples in the 17th century. After the duet, "Amour sacré de la patrie", (Sacred love of Fatherland) with Adolphe Nourrit in the tenor role, many audience members left the theater and joined the riots which had already begun. The crowd poured into the streets shouting patriotic slogans. The rioters swiftly took possession of government buildings. The following 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 street fight and used to lead a counter-charge against the forces of Prince William.
William I sent his two sons, Crown-Prince William and Prince Frederik to quell the riots. William was asked by the Burghers of Brussels to come to the town alone, with no troops, for a meeting; this he did, despite the risks. 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 Frederik were unable to retake Brussels in bloody street fighting (23-26 September). 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.
On 20 December 1830 the London Conference of 1830 brought together five major European powers: Austria, Great Britain, France, Prussia and Russia. At first the European powers were divided over the Belgian cry for independence. The Napoleonic Wars were still fresh in the memories of the major European powers, so once the French, under the recently installed July Monarchy, supported Belgian independence, the other European powers unsurprisingly supported the continued union of the Provinces of the Netherlands. Russia, Prussia, Austria, and the United Kingdom all supported the Netherlands, since they feared that the French would eventually annex an independent Belgium (particularly the British: see Flahaut 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 would come to see the benefits of isolating France geographically with the new creation of a new Belgian buffer state between France, the Netherlands, and Prussia. It was for this reason that Britain would eventually sponsor the creation of Belgium.
In November 1830, the National Congress of Belgium was established to create a constitution for the new state. The Congress decided that Belgium would be a popular, constitutional monarchy. On 7 February 1831, the Belgian Constitution was proclaimed. However, no actual monarch yet sat on the throne.
The Congress refused to consider any candidate from the Dutch ruling house of Orange-Nassau. Eventually the Congress drew up a shortlist of three candidates, all of whom were French. This itself led to political opposition, and Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, who had been considered at an early stage but dropped due to French opposition, was proposed again. On 22 April 1831, Leopold was approached by a Belgian delegation at Marlborough House to officially offer him the throne. At first reluctant to accept, he eventually took up the offer, and after an enthusiastic popular welcome on his way to Brussels, Leopold I of Belgium took his oath as king on 21 July 1831.
21 July is generally used to mark the end of the revolution and the start of the Kingdom of Belgium. It is celebrated each year as Belgian National Day.
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 Antwerp Citadel 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.
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.
As early as 1830 a movement started for the reunification of Belgium and the Netherlands, called Orangism (after the Dutch royal color of orange), which was active in Flanders and Brussels. But industrial cities, like Liège, also had a strong Orangist faction. 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.
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' painting Scene of the September Days in 1830.