Belgium: A Young Nation
The country that
Charlotte, Emily and Patrick Brontë were about to visit in 1842, had only
existed as an independent sovereign state for 12 years. Belgium
was the youngest nation of Europe, having achieved its independence in 1830 when the Belgians were
finally separated from the Protestant Northern Netherlands. The two countries
had been forced into a marriage that was fated to end in divorce.
After the defeat
of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, a treaty was put together at the Congress of
Vienna by the great European powers (Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia)
whereby the Southern and Northern Netherlands were to form a single state, “the
United Kingdom of the Netherlands”. It was merely a
geographical union, aimed at creating a strong buffer state against any future
officially it was now one country, it certainly wasn’t one nation. There was a
great sense of difference and the Belgians felt dominated by the Dutch. (Dutch
was now the official language and Dutch officials held four-fifths of the
The main causes
of friction were religious, political and linguistic. Two main groups, the
Catholics, mainly French-speaking Walloons representing the rural areas, and
the Liberals, an upper-class bourgeois group, resisted the new Dutch rule and
In 1829 the
protesters collected over 300,000 signatures for a second petition and by 1830
the mutual grievances between the Belgians and the Dutch had reached a climax.
A moral divorce had already effectively taken place and the Belgians now wanted
to claim full independence.
The opposition of the Belgians to the absolutist Dutch King steadily
gained ground. In 1828 the Catholics and Liberals formed an alliance, called
‘Unionism’, and drew up a joint set of demands. Within a few months they
managed to gather support from all over Belgium and, with the help of the
press, collected over 40,000 signatures in a first petition.
In July 1830,
just across the border in France,
the French king, Charles X, had been deposed by Revolutionaries. Catholic partisans in Belgium
followed the events with excitement and details of the uprising were soon
reported in the newspapers. It sparked a flame that would lead to a
revolutionary uprising against the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
opening phase was the night of 25th August 1830. During a performance of Daniel Auber's
patriotic opera La Muette de Portici in the Monnaie
Theatre in Brussels, the words:
sacré de la Patrie
l'honneur et la fierté,
Pays je dois la vie,
rendra la liberté "
engendered a riot
that became the signal for the revolution.
When the bell tolled and the conductor Masaniello took up his hatchet
and called "To arms" the public enthusiastically repeated his
cry. Shouting patriotic slogans, the crowd erupted into the street and started
on a rampage and burn down houses of eminent Dutch people. After this the Dutch
lost control over Brussels.
The Belgian Revolution by Egide Charles Gustave Wappers, 1834
King William I
was unwilling to meet the demands of the revolutionaries and wanted to restore
the status quo by force. The situation escalated. Four days in the following
month, from 23 to 26 September, saw the bloodiest fighting in the streets of Brussels.
Volunteers came from all corners of the land and from abroad. They formed
companies and attacked the Dutch, who had their stronghold in the Park.
The stairs of
the Passage de la Bibliothèque, connecting the Rue Royale and the Rue
d’Isabelle, were the scene of heavy fighting. It has been claimed that M.
Heger, who fought with the rebels, fired his gun from the roof of the
Pensionnat, but this may be just a romantic story. It is certain though that he
fought in the nearby Montagne du Parc.
The Dutch were
beaten and the Belgians won their independence, at the cost of 1,300 wounded
and 467 dead. The heroes who fell in the fighting, many of whom were
volunteers, were buried underneath the Place des Martyrs, where a
monument was erected to commemorate them.
click here to read more on the Place de Martyrs
were not only given a monument on the square, but were also appointed an honour
flag. On 14
January 1831, the Provisional Government of
Belgium created the honour star, which was awarded in token of gratitude to the
citizens who had contributed to the country's independence. Honour flags were
to be awarded to the fallen and to the towns and municipalities which had
supported the revolution.
awarded to the municipality of Liege.
A LA COMMUNE DE LIÈGE
On 27 September 1832, in the Place Royale in Brussels, King Leopold I handed out
the flags to delegations saying,“I confide you this flag; the courage you showed is the
evidence you will be able to defend it.”
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