The birth of Belgium – archive, 1830

Following a revolution against rule from the Netherlands, a provisional government in Belgium declared its independence on 4 October 1830. See how the Guardian and Observer reported events

After the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, Belgium became part of a single nation called the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, ruled by William of Orange. The traditionally Catholic Belgians in the southern provinces chafed with the largely Protestant people of the north leading to an uprising and declaration of independence on 4 October 1830.

Separation of Belgium from Holland

4 October 1830
The Observer

City, twelve o’clock (this day)
This morning the important news has been received of the decision of the States General in favour of a separation of Belgium from Holland. The States General after many days’ deliberation, met upon the evening of the 29th ult., when several of the Members addressed the Chambers at great length. The majority, however, were in favour of the separation, and at length on the question being put, it was agreed to in the affirmative. There are many statements as to the number of Deputies who voted on either side, but the more general statement is, that there were for the separation 72, against it, 27. The intelligence was immediately communicated express to Brussels, London, and other places. Both Chambers concurred.

The private letters from Antwerp state that information had arrived from the Hague, that the King of Holland did not intend to prosecute hostilities further against the Belgians, and that the troops would be withdrawn.

The Guardian, 9 October 1830.
The Guardian, 9 October 1830. Photograph: Richard Nelsson/The Guardian

Foreign news: The Manchester Guardian

9 October 1830

BELGIUM: The Flanders papers of Friday contain accounts of the spread of the insurrection in the south of Belgium, and record the acts of the provisional government of Brussels. Ghent is to be added to the number of those which have joined the Belgic union. Mons, one of the first line of fortresses on the road to Valenciennes, is in possession of the insurgents. Ath, a strong fortress on the road to Lille, has surrendered to the government of Brussels. Tournay, which has long been distinguished for the strength of its fortifications, has likewise been given up to the provisional government. Thus we see either surrender of the fortresses along the whole frontier of Belgium, from Ostend to Liege, or hear of their intention to surrender. Antwerp, however, is still secure; and we have heard of no defection at Maestricht and some of the other fortresses on the south-east of Belgium.

An episode of the Belgian Revolution against the Dutch government,1830-1831, 19th century.engraving.
An episode of the Belgian Revolution against the Dutch government,1830-1831, 19th century.engraving. Photograph: Dea Picture Library/De Agostini/Getty Images

THE SEPARATION OF BELGIUM FROM HOLLAND: By Dutch papers in the 1st inst., it appears that a separation of the low countries has been carried in both chambers. How much might this decision have effected had it preceded, instead of following, hostilities! The debate, which lasted a considerable time, being concluded, the chamber proceeded to the vote on the two questions. The result of which was, that the first question, relative to the alteration of the fundamental law, was announced in the affirmative by a majority of 50 votes to 44, six members not having voted. The second question, relative to the separation of the two parts of the kingdom, was also carried in the affirmative by a majority of 55 to 43 votes, two members having declined voting; there were 100 members present. The chamber then resolved to send the royal message, with its announcement, to the first chamber.

Editorial: Belgium

9 October 1830

The contest in the Netherlands has terminated in the way which might be anticipated from the facts mentioned in our last. The whole country appears to have declared against the king; and with the exception of Antwerp and Maestricht, and the citadels of one or two other fortified towns, not a place in Flanders now recognises his authority. As the garrisons of the fortresses which he still holds are composed in a great degree of Belgians, and they are everywhere surrounded by a hostile population, it is not at all likely that he will be able to retain those places much longer. Neither is it in the slightest degree probable that any efforts which he can make, will at all avail for the subjugation of his revolted provinces.

The Belgians are not only more numerous than his Dutch subjects, but they are also more warlike, and actuated by an enthusiasm which is wholly wanting on the other side. The king, seeing, no doubt, the hopelessness of any further attempts at coercion, has now consented to name a commission to consider a plan for separating the two countries. If this measure had been resorted to before the absurd and wicked attack upon Brussels, and had been acted upon with honesty and good faith, there can scarcely be a doubt that the Belgians would have consented to continue his subjects; but they will now be inclined to say that the separation of the two countries in a very pretty separation as it stands; and that they have not the slightest need of his assistance, or the assistance of his commission, to complete it. Indeed a proclamation has already been issued by the provisional government, declaring Belgium an independent state.
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Revolution of Belgium

10 October 1830
The Observer

The intelligence from Brussels and other parts of Belgium which we this week lay before our readers prove beyond question that the work of the Revolutionists is fully accomplished, and that unless (which we have as yet no reason to hope for) there be some serious errors and excesses committed by the insurgents, or some great dissensions arise among their leaders, Belgium is irrevocably separated from Holland.

Every post brings an account of the defection of some portion of the Royal troops, or of the surrender of abandonment of some place of strength and importance; while the Provisional Government, in the face of a Dutch army of 15,000 or 20,000 men, have decreed the independence of their country, and are rapidly proceeding to make those arrangements which are at once requisite for the security and the stability of their power. They are labouring to organise a regular military force, appointing commanders of provinces, administrators of the laws, magistrates for police. They have appropriated to their use those revenues, which under the House of Orange were devoted to the service of the State.

The whole question of the independence of Belgium will be the subject of much intricate negotiation during the winter; and as it appears that England and Europe are likely to lose much of the security arising from the barrier fortresses by changing their possessors, we trust some attempt will be made to obtain compensation for the money they have cost us. We believe there was expended on them the whole of the one million and a half of the French contributions paid to England.
This is an edited extract. Read the article in full.

Opera performance sparks a political revolution

4 October 1918
The Manchester Guardian

A rousing production of La Muette de Portici (Auber) on 25 August 1830, is said to have inspired some of the audience to start the riots that ultimately led to Belgian independence.

The London conference of major European powers recognised Belgian independence on 20 January 1831 but the Dutch did not accept the decision until 1839 when they signed the Treaty of London.


compiled by Richard Nelsson

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