Belgium and the Netherlands

By | December 26, 2021

The Belgian state arose in 1830 following the revolt of the southern provinces, mostly Catholic, of the ephemeral unitary kingdom of the Netherlands, which broke out just over a month after the Parisian July Revolution. That kingdom had been created in 1815 and entrusted to William I of Orange-Nassau, son of the last state-holder of the United Provinces, which were the seven northern provinces, mainly Protestant, of the new kingdom: Gelderland, Holland (v.), Zeeland, Utrecht (v.), Friesland (v.), Overijssel, Groningen (v.). In practice, they constitute the current kingdom of the Netherlands, commonly known as Holland from the name of the most important of the provinces themselves.In 1815, European diplomacy had reconstituted the unity of the ancient Netherlands in favor of the northern provinces. shattered by the anti-Spanish revolt of the second half of the century. 16th, which had concluded with the secession of the United Provinces from the rest of the Netherlands, which remained under the Habsburgs of Spain until 1714 and then passed, until 1794, under the Habsburgs of Austria.

Between 1794 and 1815, both the United Provinces and the Austrian Netherlands had been subject, in various ways, to the republic and then to the French empire. Returning from Elba, Napoleon aimed above all at the reconquest of Belgium. Waterloo was on the road to Brussels.The name of the new kingdom born in 1830, whose crown was offered to Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, derives from that of a composite population of Celtic origin, who had come to Gaul from the other side of the Reno and which, at the time of Caesar, occupied the entire territory N of the Seine and the Marne, the Moselle valley, up to the ocean and the Rhine. Belgica was thus called one of the provinces of Roman Gaul, established at the time of Augustus, which first saw its territory amputated following the constitution of the two Germanys, upper and lower, into autonomous provinces, and was then divided into two distinct provinces by Diocletian: Belgica Prima, with the capital Trier; Belgica Secunda, with its capital Reims. The memory or, at least, the name of the ancient Belgians had always remained alive: in the century. 16th, the lion, the heraldic symbol par excellence of Flanders, becomes the Leo Belgicus of the uprising against the Spaniards; in 1789 the ‘Brabant revolution’ against the Austrian government gave birth for a short time to the United States republic of Belgium. as it was configured as an independent state entity, but as in fact it was already configured when the provinces of which it is composed were subject to Spain and Austria, starting in short from the moment in which the Netherlands had split in two, it is characterized by the fact that it is crossed by a line that separates two different linguistic areas: to the North of this line, in fact, Flemish is spoken, a local variant of Dutch, which is also used as a literary language; to the South we speak Walloon, which is a French dialect, as here is French the literary language in use.

This demarcation line starts from a point on the Meuse river downstream of Liège (v.), Continues towards the West passing S of Brussels (which today constitutes a ‘semi-French’ island) and coincides for the remainder with the upper course of the river Lys. The line in question, which separates the Germanic area from the Romance one, was established in the course of the centuries. 6th and 7th in connection with the greater intensity, to the North, and lesser, to the South, of the colonization of the Salii Franks, Germanic invaders of the country. Together with the two Germanys, Rezia and Noricum, Belgica Secunda (where Flemish is spoken today) is one of the five provinces of the Western Roman Empire in which the language of the invaders prevailed. end of the century 16 °, the split of the Netherlands did not take place respecting the linguistic demarcation line and was not even based on the religious factor, albeit so relevant in the whole affair (there were also Catholics in the N and Protestants in the S), can be easily explained bearing in mind the fact that the partial Spanish reconquest of the revolted Netherlands, led by Alessandro Farnese, victor at Gembloux in June 1578, stopped only in front of the natural obstacle constituted by the courses of two great rivers, the Meuse and the Having consumed the separation in this way, in defiance of linguistic, ethnic or religious faith considerations, it is natural that the action of the two governments – that of the United Provinces and the Spanish and then Austrian ones – was felt in the sense of a forced homogenization of the two respective territorial complexes, which resulted in particular to the detriment of the Catholic minority in the N and went to the South to the detriment of the weight of the provinces where Dutch was exclusively or mainly spoken (Flanders, Brabant, Limburg). The process of ‘ Gallicization then extended to the United Provinces at the time of French domination. It is therefore understood that the fifteen years (1815-1830) in which the unity between the two sections of the ancient Netherlands was re-established, under the hegemony of the Dutch and Protestant elements, marked a strong reaction in the opposite direction, against which, in turn, the revolt of the southern provinces would have broken out in 1830.All this concerns the history of the Belgium and the history, closely related to it, of Holland during the first centuries of the modern age and in the last century. For Belgium 2004, please check

But even the unitary history of the Netherlands does not allow us to go back very far in time. Huizinga (1912) writes: “The bells of Ghent which in January 1386 greeted the entrance of Philip the Ardito of Burgundy and his wife Margaret of Flanders, announced something more than the conclusion of a peace and the advent of a new lord. They announced the birth of a nation, or rather of two twin nations: Belgium and the Netherlands. “Apart from the somewhat premature mention of the birth of the two twin nations, Huizinga means that the formation of the unitary territorial complex, pre-existing to them, it was due to a purely political fact, that is, the intervention in that region, an authentic crossroads of Europe, of the Duke of Burgundy, one of the great feudal lords of the kingdom of France. only with time this would become a proper name), those provinces were simply the lands of par deça with respect to the duchy of Burgundy, It was not the first time that a considerable part of what would become the Netherlands (excluding the northeastern provinces, which would only be annexed by Charles V) had been united under a single ruler. This had already happened when they, starting from 843, had in practice constituted the northern part of the kingdom of Lothair I, a kingdom without even a name to designate it and, therefore, good to be resurrected now that the unity was being restored. It is known in fact that the term Lotharingia (Lorraine) has remained to indicate only the restricted and well-defined region over which one of the sons of Lothair I, Lothair II, reigned. a portion of a much larger territorial complex, there is no doubt that the years of the Burgundian domination, from 1386 to 1477 (death of Charles the Bold), left a very strong unitary mark on the entire area, despite the persistent and non-contrasted bilingualism. And even if French was spoken at the court of Brussels (v.), Which was then affirmed as the political-administrative capital, it was the Germanic-speaking provinces, and in particular Flanders, that clearly emerged from the others in both artistic terms -cultural and economic, because there were cities such as Ghent (v.), and Bruges (v.) which had previously experienced a development equal only to that of the cities of central-northern Italy. So much so that the ‘low countries’, the provinces of par deça, were also called Flanders, in the plural. And actually, after the double parenthesis of the revolutionary and Napoleonic period and the fifteen years of rediscovered, precarious unity between northern provinces and southern provinces, they can be usefully invoked to retrospectively illuminate the history, during the central centuries of the Middle Ages, of the provinces, or historical regions, which have concurrence in forming the current Belgium (v.), Limburg (v.; there is also a Dutch Limburg), Luxembourg (v.; but, immediately after 1830, Belgium had to renounce the territory on which the Duchy of Luxembourg arose as a sovereign state), Namur (v.) A consideration such as the one just expounded may seem obvious and superfluous. But it isn’t, for the simple fact that in the first thirty years of this century one of the greatest historians it produced, the Belgian Pirenne, in his monumental history of Belgium (Pirenne, 1900-1932) set out to highlight – these are words sue – “the character of unity presented by the ancient history of Belgium”, meaning by Belgium the regions which, many centuries later, formed the modern kingdom of Belgium. Pirenne conceived its history when – the initial thrust with which, in reaction to the Dutch domination of the fifteen years prior to 1830, the Flemish provinces had been subjected to an intense work of Frenchization, which had led to the elimination of ‘Dutch by the courts, the army and universities and secondary schools – a revival movement, the’ Flemish movement ‘, as it was called, had engaged in the struggle for the’ renationalization ‘, or’ degallicization ‘, of Flanders and Brabant, a struggle that would have succeeded in the early 1930s, when Pirenne had recently finished his work aimed at contrasting this process which denied the assumptions on the basis of which the nineteenth-century Belgium religious and artistic between the Flemish provinces and the Walloon provinces of what one day would become the Belgium; on the other hand, passing as silently as possible the exchanges between the Flemish provinces and the neighboring provinces, equally of Dutch language and culture, which had separated at the end of the century. 16 ° from the rest of the Netherlands, in the political-military-religious circumstances mentioned above., which took place in a double direction: firstly, offering an interpretative scheme that was also applied to fields other than political-social history, such as the history of art itself, with pseudo-justification, in this case, that the protection of the artistic heritage of Belgium and Holland is entrusted – as is natural – to the respective national bodies; secondly, by inducing Dutch historians to follow the example of Pirenne and to build, therefore, a history of Holland also for the centuries in which the United Provinces, ancestors of modern Holland, they were still to come.

The discussion about the best way to conceive the history of the Netherlands continued for years to revolve around the work of Pirenne and was at times very heated. In controversy with the line consisting in dating back to the most remote Middle Ages the existence of a Belgian space and a Dutch space, the opportunity has been proposed to privilege the centuries-old reality of linguistic areas with respect to the wholly modern reality of national states., also taking into account the fact that, particularly in the central centuries of the Middle Ages, the provinces (in which Dutch was spoken) that showed greater vitality and artistic-cultural creativity were not the northern provinces, destined for a later flowering, but rather the southerners, who, later became part of the Belgium, which would have mortified them throughout the last century, they regained their full identity during the first decades of the twentieth century. In perfect correspondence with such an approach, it is evident that the provinces in which Walloon is spoken end up becoming a chapter of the much wider and more articulated French civilization. Another possibility that has also been thought of, and which has inspired a Dutch publishing enterprise, aims to overcome both the point of view of today’s nation states and that of traditional linguistic areas, proposing a history of the Netherlands in which this expression is used to indicate all the ‘seventeen provinces’ that constituted the ‘low countries’ before the split of the century. 16 ° and which form the od.

Belgium and the Netherlands