Friday, November 8, 2013

Defending the Kingdom of Belgium

I have long found the Kingdom of Belgium very interesting, both for its own history and for the wide array of opinions so many have about the country. For a place that so many are constantly predicting imminent doom for over the inability of the two major regions to come together, I have seen opposition to the Kingdom of Belgium bring together leftist republicans and religious, royal legitimists. An odd pair to be sure. It should go without saying that, in spite of any number of disagreements over one thing or another, I totally support the Kingdom of Belgium and hope it long continues to disprove the naysayer’s and survive. Especially in these modern times when monarchies are so few and far between I would much prefer to see all monarchists come together in defense of the Kingdom of Belgium if only for the sake of defending the principle of monarchy and sparing Europe from yet another, bland, boring republic. When it comes to Belgium, however, the issue is not really the monarchy but Belgium itself. The value of the monarchy has been proven and there is really no “Belgian” republican movement at all but only those who wish to see Belgium itself wiped from the map. So, in this case, one must defend the Kingdom of Belgium rather than the Belgian monarchy specifically.

The primary argument of those opposed to the Kingdom of Belgium is one most are probably familiar with and yet, as is often the case, I find it completely impossible to understand. The argument is that Belgium is not a “real” country but is rather an “artificial state” that was just cobbled together for the sake of political convenience by the British, French and Germans. According to this argument, in 1830 the “Great Powers” of Europe just drew a few lines on the map, named it Belgium and had a respected minor German royal sworn in as King. The people, this line of thinking goes, have nothing in common, do not constitute a natural or valid nation and were just artificially lumped together in 1830 and have been feuding with each other ever since in this political equivalent of a “shotgun marriage”. It is as though Flanders and Wallonia were two teenagers, Flanders being the daughter of The Netherlands and Wallonia being the slightly Latin house boy. Then one day the two teens ran away from home, Wallonia held Flanders down and got her pregnant and as The Netherlands wanted to kill them both, Britain, France and Prussia showed up and said Wallonia had to marry Flanders to make an honest woman of her -or there was going to be trouble. So they settled on a piece of land between The Netherlands and Luxembourg, built a house, had children called Belgians and have been threatening to divorce each other ever since because they never really loved each other anyway.

If that sounds rather silly; it should. The Belgian people may not have had an independent country of their own until 1830 but they had been living together for many, many centuries prior to that. One could go all the way to Roman times and see the area of modern-day Belgium called, basically, Belgium on any map. It is though, admittedly, a tricky subject when it comes to tracing the ancestry of peoples that far back (people are still arguing over whether Charlemagne was French or German and that was many centuries later) but, fortunately, we do not have to go back that far. It was in 1549 that the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, also King of Spain (who was born in what is now Belgium), signed the Pragmatic Sanction that grouped together, roughly, what are the Low Countries of today as the Spanish Netherlands, quite apart from France and Germany. Under the Dukes of Burgundy this area, which had a mixture of languages even back then, even achieved a sort of independence in all but name and were extremely prosperous.

Duke of Parma
Then, there was the Dutch Revolt in which religion came to play a part with Protestantism taking hold in the northern provinces while Catholicism remained dominant in the south. The Dutch proved to be tough and tenacious fighters and seized control of much of what is now Belgium in the course of the conflict. However, things changed when King Philip II of Spain sent in his Italian nephew Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma to take charge of things. He happened to be one of the most brilliant captains in European history and soon he had led the Spanish forces to reclaim Flanders, Brabant and Brussels. In 1585 his forces retook the city of Antwerp and it was with that victory that what we know as Belgium was ensured as a distinct and separate entity from not only France and Germany but The Netherlands as well. In due course it would become known as the Austrian Netherlands because the Hapsburgs of Austria reigned over it but the region, then as now, was still known as Belgium. The people, even during the period of Austrian rule, were likewise still referred to as Belgians.

In fact, not only does the history of Belgium as a unique political entity go back many centuries, so does the history of people of radically different ideas coming together in common cause. For instance, in 1790 there was a short-lived bid for independence when radicals inspired by the revolutionaries in France (and more distantly America) came together with Catholic conservatives opposed to the religious reforms of the Hapsburg Emperor Joseph II to create the United States of Belgium. They even flew a black, yellow and red flag though not exactly the same as the current design and had two official languages; French and Dutch. The revolt was eventually crushed by Emperor Leopold II but given all of that, it seems ludicrous to say that Belgium, a country of French and Dutch speaking peoples with a black, yellow and red tricolor was something invented from scratch in 1830. One could even call it a sort of restoration but as a monarchy instead of a confederate republic. In any event, the point is that Belgium, while not independent, was a distinct place of its own long before 1830. Even immediately before, if one looks at the Napoleonic period one can see military units of the Austrian Imperial forces referred to as Belgian units and when the United Kingdom of the Netherlands was established by the Congress of Vienna, Belgium remained distinct even then. It was, in fact, intended to be a sort of dual-state. Even the troops that fought in the battle of Waterloo were often referred to as the “Dutch-Belgian” troops and both Amsterdam in The Netherlands and Brussels in Belgium were considered capital cities of the new United Kingdom.

King Willem I
When the unrest first began in 1830 that ultimately led to the creation of the modern Kingdom of Belgium, it was not originally all that revolutionary. Many simply wanted to restore things to the way they had been envisioned when Belgium had been passed from the Austrian Emperor to the Dutch King. The first cries were for the autonomy of Belgium rather than for independence, a desire to repeal the laws enacted by King Willem I that favored Protestants over Catholics and the Dutch language over French in Belgium, a predominately Catholic and French-speaking country (even in Flanders at that time, the elite, the educated and the politically involved almost invariably spoke French). The people who made up the Kingdom of Belgium that was born legally in 1830 were not, therefore, a grouping of two alien peoples with nothing in common. They had been together for centuries and were united by religion, a shared history and even by language at least as it concerned those who were active in politics. The French, whose intervention was key in preventing the Dutch army from suppressing the Belgian rebels, had their own agenda but it was certainly not the case that leaders in London, Paris and Berlin simply woke up one morning and decided to create a new country. Their goal was to prevent a long and ugly war that would destabilize Europe. The Belgians were already a “country” and already a people with a long history, the Great Powers simply stepped in to settle the divorce of Belgium from The Netherlands peacefully.

Given all of that history, I fail to see how anyone can call the Kingdom of Belgium an “artificial state”. This was an area that had existed for centuries that was quite distinct from France, Germany and The Netherlands. It had a population which had been governed together for hundreds of years and the differences in language never seemed to matter all that much. During all that time, though it was not official and plenty of other local names were used, the overall area was still often referred to as Belgium and the people as Belgians. They lived and worked together and finally rose up together to claim their independence as a constitutional monarchy. The Great Powers did not cause this to happen, they simply helped settle the matter. They certainly did not “create” the Kingdom of Belgium. Especially early on it was even a far more cohesive country than the Austrian Empire (later Austria-Hungary) or even the Kingdom of Spain. Certainly there were differences in local customs and language when one compared Flanders to Wallonia but the same could be said about England and Scotland (which once spoke a form of Gaelic), Piedmont and Calabria, Prussia and Bavaria or Brittany and Lower Navarre in France.

There is really no justification at all in calling Belgium an “artificial state”. There are plenty of problems in the kingdom today, to be sure, but the difficulties are no reason to simply surrender and see the kingdom destroyed. Personally, I think the only thing Belgium really needs to solve its problems is an old-fashioned religious revival. All throughout Belgian history, the shared faith of the people seemed to be the greatest force holding them together. Observers will note that, in the past, every time there was a major uprising in Belgium it was a reaction against interference in their religion. And the Belgians always won. There was the struggle against the Hapsburg religious reforms, there was the struggle against the French Republic, against Napoleon, against the Dutch King and even after independence there was the reaction to the Liberal governments, the Liberal and Socialist coalition and all were motivated entirely or in large part to some activity that was detrimental to the religious life of Belgium. To this onlooker it seems that it was only when faith ceased to play a central role in daily life that the Belgians began to feud among themselves. However, any country that could see the forces arrayed against them in August of 1914 and stand firm, fighting to the last until victory was won, should be able to get beyond the petty differences of today.

As for the monarchists of the world, at a time when monarchy is such an endangered species and under constant threat all around the world, everyone should be united in support of the Kingdom of Belgium. The Belgian Royals are the only reigning members of one of the most venerable dynasties in all of European history, they are tied by blood or marriage to such historic royal houses as the Bourbon, Hapsburg, Savoy and Hohenzollern. No one should also be under the illusion that what happens to Belgium could not happen to the country you live in. All of the arguments made about the Kingdom of Belgium could easily be made about a great many other monarchies from Canada to Spain to Malaysia. In terms of the policies of passing governments, there is much that I would disagree with most Belgians on, however, governments are transitory things while monarchy is to stand permanent and immovable. If Belgium were to be destroyed, it would only result in one or two more republics and a bureaucratic re-shuffling of EU borders in Brussels which, in fact, might make the EU even stronger with Brussels itself becoming an EU-city state, a sort of “Papal Rome” for the United States of Europe. The Kingdom of Belgium is not an artificial state, it is an old and important piece of western civilization and all monarchists should stand united in support of the King and Kingdom of Belgium.


  1. Dear God, let's hope we don't have to cope with a Republic of Wallonia and a Republic of Scotland at any point. It'd be insufferable.

  2. THANK you!! I will be linking to this piece shortly.


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