Union of Holland and Belgium:
In the time of Charles V (1519-55) the Netherlands consisting of 17 provinces was under Spain.
However, there was a revolt in the time of Philip II (1555-98) of Spain, and ultimately the seven Northern provinces won their independence and came to be known as the United Provinces of Holland and the rest of the 10 provinces remained a part of Spain.
The Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 which ended the War of Spanish Succession gave the 10 provinces of Belgium to Austria and the same came to be known as the Austrian Netherlands.
During the French Revolutionary War, the Austrian Netherlands were conquered by the French and they remained a part of France for 20 years. Holland was also conquered by France and for many years continued to be a part of France.
After the fall of Napoleon in 1814, the ruler of Holland was restored and he gave a new constitution to the people. The Congress of Vienna decided to set up a strong barrier State on the north-east of France and consequently united the Austrian Netherlands or Belgium with Holland.
It was the realisation of Pitt’s most cherished schemes. However, the statesmen assembled at Vienna ignored certain realities. National and religious differences separated the two halves. For centuries, the two parts had been separated and consequently there was not much in common between the two countries. The people of Holland were Protestants and those of Belgium Catholics.
They also differed in the matter of language. The French language was not only the language of the literature of the Belgians, but also the spoken language of the upper classes. Though the Flemish portion of the population was related to the Dutch, Dutch element had not developed itself with distinctness.
According to Prof. Fyffe, the antagonism between Belgium and Holland, though not insuperable, was sufficiently great to make a harmonious union between the two countries a work of great difficulty and the government at The Hague did not take the right course to conciliate its opponents.
A commission was appointed to draw up a constitution for the United Kingdom and in spite of the protests of the people of Belgium, both Holland and Belgium were given equal representation in the States-General unmindful of the fact that the population of Belgium was much more than that of Holland.
Although the people of Belgium rejected the constitution, yet the game was enforced. During the next 15 years, the people of Belgium were excluded from official posts which, in most cases, were given to the people of Holland. No wonder, these foreigners were not welcomed in Belgium. The States-General invariably met in the Dutch territory and never in Belgium.
This also was considered to be a grievance. The Dutch language was made the official language for the whole kingdom and this was resented by the people of Belgium. The financial policy of the Dutch government was considered to be unjust to the people of Belgium. Taxes which the people of Belgium disliked were imposed but resisted. Heavy punishments were, inflicted on journalists found guilty of seditious writings.
The debt burden of the two countries was not equal and Holland owed more debts than Belgium. As taxation to meet the debt charges was levied uniformly over the United Kingdom, the people of Belgium protested. The imposition of new taxes on flour and meat in 1821 added to the trouble. The religious differences separated the two parts completely. At the time of the union, the Catholic bishops of Belgium protested against the grant of religious toleration to the Protestants.
The Church in Belgium was determined to retain its control over education, but the government tried to transfer the same into secular hands. The one really irreconcilable enemy of Holland was the Church in Belgium. The Clerical Party in Belgium made an alliance with the political opposition to drive out the Dutch from Belgium.
For some months before the July Revolution of France in 1830, the antagonism between the Belgians and their government was so violent that no great shock from outside was necessary to produce an outbreak. The July Revolution gave the necessary spark. The performance of a revolutionary opera gave the signal for the beginning of the revolt.
The revolt was deliberately planned by Polignao and stirred up the foreign agitators, most of whom were Frenchmen. The French felt sympathy with the Belgian rebels because they weakened the barrier State and created an opportunity for the annexation of Belgium. The revolt spread from the cities to the countryside.
The king of Holland agreed to set up a separate State for Belgium but that did not satisfy the people of Belgium. The appearance of the Dutch troops at Brussels destroyed all hopes of peace. There was some inconclusive fighting. On the withdrawal of the troops, a provisional government was set up which declared the independence of Belgium.
There was a possibility of the crown prince of Holland being accepted as the head of the newly-created State. However, the violence of the revolt the activity of French emissaries and volunteers and the bombardment of Antwerp by the Dutch soldiers destroyed all hopes of a peaceful settlement.
There was a danger of all the European Powers being involved in the trouble. The independence of Belgium and the separation from Holland was a violation of the Peace Settlement of 1815 which the European Powers had pledged themselves to maintain. However, there was one relieving factor. Most of the European States had recognised Louis Philippe as the king of France and were inclined to support him on the question of Belgium.
The interests of Louis Philippe demanded the maintenance of peace and he knew that he could not succeed against a combination of all the European Powers if he followed the advice of the revolutionaries and there was a possibility of his losing the throne and his life as well. He was ably assisted by Talleyrand who believed that the crying need of France was to win some ally and thereby end her isolation.
With that object in view, Talleyrand went to London as French ambassador. He interviewed Wellington and William IV and assured them that France was not going to use the Belgian revolt for the purpose of adding to her power.
He propounded his doctrine of non-intervention as one which ought to govern the policy of governments of Europe So complete an understanding was established between France and England that all talk of the European Powers going to war against France on the question of Belgium ended.
The regulation of the affairs of Belgium was submitted to a conference at London. Hostilities were stopped. The independence of Belgium was recognised in principle by the conference before the end of 1830. A protocol defining the frontiers was signed by the powers in January 1831.
However, the matter was far from being finally settled. The problem of providing Belgium with a king had still to be settled. The Governments of Holland and Belgium had still to give their consent to the territorial arrangements drawn up for them. The people of Belgium were inclined to elect the second son of Louis Philippe as their king.
Although Louis Philippe outwardly declared his opposition to it, he secretly encouraged the proposal. The result was that his son. Due de Nemours was elected king in February 1831. This was something which the powers were not prepared to accept and consequently Louis Philippe refused the crown for his son.
The final settlement between England and France was that Leopold of Saxe-Coburg be offered the throne and he should marry a daughter of Louis Philippe. Leopold accepted the crown on the condition that some alterations would be made in the frontiers in favour of Belgium.
The difficulty of arranging the frontier of Belgium arose mainly from the position of the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg. In 1814, this Duchy was given to the Government of Holland. In 1830, the people of this Duchy joined hands with the people of Belgium in their revolt and with the exception of the fortress, the whole of the territory passed into the hands of Belgium. The London conference had declared Luxemburg a part of Holland.
However, when on the request of Leopold they declared that the question of Luxemburg will be discussed at some other future time, the Government of Holland took up arms and sent 50,000 soldiers to Belgium. Leopold appealed to France for help and a French army immediately crossed the frontiers. The Dutch withdrew and the French troops were also recalled. The London conference took up the question once again and recommended the division of Luxemburg between Holland and Belgium.
This was accepted by Belgium but rejected by Holland. The result was that a treaty was made between Leopold and the powers. By the beginning of 1832, the kingdom of Belgium was recognised by all the powers and Palmerston refused to allow France to have any territory from Belgium.
Although the kingdom of Belgium was set up, the problem of overcoming the resistance of the king of Holland had still to be faced. The Dutch king held the fort of Antwerp and refused to listen either to reason or to authority. A French army besieged the fort and the English fleet blockaded the Scheldt River. After a severe bombardment, the fort fell and hostilities ended. Negotiations for peace began once again.
The Belgians were not in a hurry to make peace because they had got what they desired. The king of Holland hesitated through sheer obstinacy. This state of affairs continued for years. However, by the Treaty of London, 1839, the independence and neutrality of the kingdom of Belgium was solemnly recognised and guaranteed by all the powers including Holland. It was the violation of this guarantee by Germany in 1914 that was the immediate cause of Britain’s entry into the war.
It is to be observed that the attitude of Palmerston during the years of the crisis was one of patience and wisdom. He showed infinite patience in dealing with the obstinacy of the Dutch and the irritating intransigence of the Belgians. He had the wisdom to admit that the Settlement of 1814-5 had failed and some other arrangement had to be made in its place.