Belgian Revolution Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Dissatisfaction with Dutch rule prompted a Belgian revolt that led to the creation of a new nation with a constitutional monarchy.

Summary of Event

After the victory of revolutionary France over the Austrians at Fleurus in 1793, the Austrian Netherlands, which included what is now Belgium. became an appendage of revolutionary France. Under Napoleon’s rule, economic development was encouraged that would provide the foundations for Belgium’s industrial revolution. By reopening to commerce the important Scheldt River, which had been closed by the Dutch after their revolt splintered the old Spanish Netherlands, Napoleon also laid the basis for the resurgence of Antwerp, and the great impact which that would have on Belgium. Belgian Revolution (1830-1833) William I (king of Netherlands) Netherlands;and Belgium[Belgium] [kw]Belgian Revolution (Aug. 25, 1830-May 21, 1833) [kw]Revolution, Belgian (Aug. 25, 1830-May 21, 1833) Belgian Revolution (1830-1833) William I (king of Netherlands) Netherlands;and Belgium[Belgium] [g]Belgium;Aug. 25, 1830-May 21, 1833: Belgian Revolution[1610] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Aug. 25, 1830-May 21, 1833: Belgian Revolution[1610] [c]Government and politics;Aug. 25, 1830-May 21, 1833: Belgian Revolution[1610] Louis-Philippe Leopold I Rogier, Charles Palmerston, Lord [p]Palmerston, Lord;and Belgium[Belgium]

The powers at the Congress of Vienna Congress of Vienna (1814-1815);and Belgium[Belgium] were anxious to remove the vacuum along France’s northern frontier that had attracted French aggression from the time of Louis XIV. To buttress the area, they ceded Belgium’s eastern cantons—Eupen, Malmedy, and St. Vith—to Prussia, and the rest of Belgium was amalgamated with Holland. It was believed that the commercial economy of the Netherlands would complement the increasingly manufacturing-oriented economy of Belgium.

However, the Belgians themselves became increasingly dissatisfied, and the new construct lasted only about fifteen years. The Dutch king William I William I (king of Netherlands) was Calvinist Calvinism;and William I[William 01] and conservative. He succeeded in alienating Flemish Roman Catholics, the French-speaking Walloons, and the liberals. Dutch became the official language except within the French-speaking Walloon districts. The Dutch were favored in the civil service. Although Belgium had nearly twice the population of the Netherlands, it assigned the same number of representatives in the States General. Finally, passions were driven to a fever pitch by a series of bad harvests and by a crisis of overproduction that crippled the textile Textile industry;Belgian industry of Verviers, Liège, and Tournai.

Efforts by the government to limit freedom of the press in Belgium encouraged Belgian writers, at considerable risk, to heap criticism upon their Dutch masters. Much of this criticism was directed against the government’s policy of burdening the Belgians with half of Holland’s huge national debt. Especially galling to the Belgians was the fact that the government sought to meet this debt by levying taxes on two of the primary necessities of life, flour and meat. These outrageous taxes touched every household and thereby helped to arouse the whole Belgian nation against Dutch rule.

This growing opposition consisted of individuals and groups with widely divergent perspectives, but of particular importance was the catalytic impact of the growing population of young Belgian professionals and intelligentsia, who believed that their future prospects were blocked by the Dutch and antiliberal character of William’s regime. The opposition demanded ministerial responsibility, equal access to employment, and freedom of education and the press. However, their demand for a truly democratic parliamentary regime would have meant the dominance in the Netherlands of Belgium, with its rapidly increasing population.

The July Revolution (1830);and Belgium[Belgium] revolution of July, 1830, in neighboring France abruptly terminated the reign of Charles X and heightened tensions in Belgium. The explosion came on August 25, 1830, with the performance of Daniel Auber’s Auber, Daniel La Muette de Portici Muette de Portici, La (Auber) at Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels. The singing of the patriotic ballad “Amour sacré de la Patrie” (sacred love of fatherland) brought the audience to its feet and into the streets. The demonstration at the opera Opera;La Muette de Portici[Muette de Portici] led to an explosion by the desperate and exasperated proletariat of Brussels. The bourgeois liberals had not foreseen this and were terrified by the specter of anarchy. They were willing to accept an autonomous administration with William’s oldest son Frederick, the prince of Orange, as viceroy.

Were it not for the timidity of Frederick, Dutch authority could have been easily restored on September 1 with the six thousand Dutch troops under his command. The discomfort of the moderates was such that the second Dutch effort on September 23 also would have succeeded had it not been for insufficient Dutch resolve. A provisional government was set up under Charles Rogier Rogier, Charles , independence was proclaimed on October 4, and a national congress was summoned to draw up a constitution Constitutions;Belgian . Belgium;constitutions The very election for a Belgian congress on November 3 demonstrated the lack of enthusiasm for complete separation from the Dutch. Of the forty-six thousand eligible voters, only thirty thousand voted. Many did not vote because of the absence of antirevolutionary and pro-union candidates. Of those who voted, one-third cast blank protest votes.

The stubborn refusal of William to accept the division of his kingdom transformed the Belgian independence movement into an international issue that was to plague Europe for almost a decade. William hoped that Austria, Russia, and Prussia would help him restore the union. Despite the sympathy of those conservative countries, however, no assistance was forthcoming.

Following Great Britain;and Belgium[Belgium] the Dutch bombardment of Antwerp on October 27, the British called for a conference of the great powers, which met in London and ordered an armistice on November 4. On November 10, the Belgian congress declared the House of Orange deposed but expressed its support for a constitutional hereditary monarchy. Lord Palmerston, Palmerston, Lord [p]Palmerston, Lord;and Belgium[Belgium] who had just taken over the British foreign office, had two goals: to prevent Belgium from falling under the control of France, and to prevent the outbreak of war. Louis-Philippe Louis-Philippe [p]Louis-Philippe[Louis Philippe];and Belgium[Belgium] , who was consolidating his power in France, was inclined to follow the lead of Great Britain. Russia, which was confronted with a Polish insurrection, and Prussia, saddled with war debt, reluctantly acquiesced to this alteration of the Vienna settlement. On December 20, the London Conference declared the dissolution of the kingdom of the Netherlands, and recognized Belgium’s independence on January 20, 1831.

When the Belgian congress chose the second son of Louis-Philippe, the duke of Nemours, to be king of Belgium on February 3, 1831, the French king heeded the warnings of Palmerston Palmerston, Lord [p]Palmerston, Lord;and Belgium[Belgium] and repudiated the offer. The Belgian congress proceeded to draw up a very liberal constitution Constitutions;Belgian Belgium;constitutions patterned on the unwritten constitution of Britain. Finally, on June 4, it chose Prince Leopold Leopold I of Saxe-Coburg as king. An excellent and politic choice, Leopold was not only talented and capable but as the widower of Princess Charlotte of England and the uncle of Victoria—the future queen of Britain—had an English connection. By marrying the daughter of Louis-Philippe in 1832, Leopold also established a French connection.

King William was dissatisfied with the settlement drawn up in London. After he crossed the new Belgian frontier on August 2 and defeated a makeshift Belgian force, a French army, with British approval, forced his army to retire. With William still resisting and refusing to evacuate Antwerp, a combined British and French naval force in conjunction with a French army expelled the Dutch from Belgium. On May 21, 1833, the Dutch were compelled to agree to an indefinite armistice, which, in effect, recognized Belgium’s independence. Finally, on April 19, 1839, William accepted a settlement that recognized a frontier which, with the exception of Limburg and Luxembourg Luxembourg , was basically the frontier of 1790.


The grand duchy of Luxembourg, Luxembourg;and Belgium[Belgium] Belgium;and Luxembourg[Luxembourg] which had been assigned to the Dutch king by the Congress of Vienna Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) , also revolted in 1830 and sought to join Belgium. The Prussian garrison placed in Luxembourg City by the Congress maintained order in the city and its surroundings. The Treaty of London divided the duchy. Although the Belgians claimed all of Luxembourg, only the larger western (French-speaking) section was added to Belgium as the province of Luxembourg. The smaller Lettisch-speaking area remained under William as the grand duchy of Luxembourg. The Belgians also received half of the province of Limburg, but Maastricht remained Dutch. The Scheldt River was declared open to the commerce of both countries and the national debt was divided between the two.

According to article VII of the settlement, Belgium was declared an “independent and perpetually neutral state” with this neutrality guaranteed by the signatory powers. This guarantee became the infamous “scrap of paper” disregarded by the Germans when they invaded Belgium in 1914.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Aronsen, Theo. Defiant Dynasty: The Coburgs of Belgium. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1968. Chatty history of the Belgian dynasty that contains a chapter on the first Belgian king, Leopold I.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carson, Patricia. The Fair Face of Flanders. Ghent, Belgium: E. Story-Scientia, 1974. Contains a brief history of the revolution, its causes, its course, and the international reaction.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chambers, James. Palmerston: “The People’s Darling.” London: John Murray, 2004. Comprehensive biography of Viscount Palmerston, the British diplomat who played a decisive role in the achievement of Belgian independence.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cook, Bernard A. Belgium: A History. New York: Peter Lang, 2002. Broad survey of Belgian history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">De Meeüs, Adrien. History of the Belgians. Translated by G. Gordon. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1962. General history of Belgium that includes a lengthy, detailed, and interesting interpretive treatment of the Belgian Revolution and its aftermath.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kossmann, E. H. The Low Countries, 1780-1940. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1978. This general history of the Low Countries provides a clear and insightful summary of the Belgian Revolution and the regime to which it gave birth. Kossmann points out the inchoate nature of the protests at their outset in August, 1830.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thomas, Daniel. The Guarantee of Belgian Independence and Neutrality in European Diplomacy, 1830’s-1930’s. Kingston, R.I.: D. H. Thomas, 1983. Extensive study of the London Conference that secured both independence and neutrality for Belgium.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Van Houtte, J. A. “The Low Countries.” In The New Cambridge Modern History, edited by C. W. Crowley. Vol. 9. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1965. Chapter 16 clearly describes the religious and linguistic issues that alienated the Belgians from William.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Witte, Els, Jan Craeybeckx, and Alain Meynen. Political History of Belgium from 1830 Onwards. Translated by Raf Casert. Brussels: VUB University Press, 2000. General history of Belgium, from the nation’s founding in 1830 through the late twentieth century.

France’s Bourbon Dynasty Is Restored

Congress of Vienna

Second Peace of Paris

Great Britain Withdraws from the Concert of Europe

July Revolution Deposes Charles X

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Categories: History