Brabant Revolution

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Brabant Revolution
Paul-Jacob Laminit (inc.) Jahann Voeltz (dis.) Combat dans les rues de Gand, novémbre 1789.JPG
Fighting in the streets of Ghent, November 1789
Date January 1789 – December 1790
Location Southern Netherlands
Result Austrian victory
 Holy Roman Empire Brabant rebels

Supported by:
 United Provinces
Republic of Liège

United States of Belgium (starting on 10 January 1790)
Commanders and leaders
Holy Roman Empire Joseph II (until February 1790)
Holy Roman Empire Leopold II (from February 1790)
Holy Roman Empire Albert of Saxony
Jan Frans Vonck
Henri Van der Noot

The Brabant Revolution (January 1789 – December 1790) was a populist revolt which broke out in the Austrian Netherlands against the radical reforms of Emperor Joseph II. Starting out as a movement of protest, the violence developed into a movement for independence. After defeating Austrian forces at the Battle of Turnhout in 1789, a short-lived republic was formed, the United States of Belgium.

The Holy Roman Empire (of which Austria was part) took some time to respond to the crisis as it was embroiled in a war with the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans. However, by the end of 1790, the revolutionaries, wracked by internal division between the "Vonckists" and "Statists", were defeated and the rebellion crushed.


Under Austrian rule, the territory was divided into various smaller separate territories, each with its own distinct regional identity:[1]

Reforms of Joseph II[edit]

In 1786 the Emperor Joseph II began launching a series of liberal reforms in the Austrian Netherlands along the lines of those already introduced in other states of the House of Habsburg, such as the Duchy of Milan. His first reforms included a reform of seminaries in the provinces, followed by the abolition of the Council of Brabant (replaced by a supreme court), which provoked widespread rioting and even a rising in Brussels known as the "Small Revolution" in May 1787.[2]

The suppression of this revolt allowed the Emperor to abolish the Joyous Entry and the rights of the Duchy of Brabant and the County of Hainault in June 1789.[3]

Opposition in Exile[edit]

An original revolutionary flag from the Brabant Revolution at the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History

By 1789, the imperial government lacked the necessary means to repress political opposition, as for about a year its full military resources were committed to the Austro-Turkish War.

The Emperor was unable to prevent political dissidents fleeing from his territory to the neighboring United Provinces to organize resistance. In the city of Breda, the rebels were able to form a kind of government in exile and to organize militarily. In addition to the United Provinces, the rebels were also supported by the Republic of Liège after the revolutionaries in Liège overthrew their Prince-bishop and declared a republic in August 1789.

Battle of Turnhout[edit]

Rebel incursions along the Austrian Netherlands' border with the United Provinces began in the Summer of 1789. On 24 October, a column of Rebel soldiers crossed the border into Austrian territory. After capturing the town of Hoogstraten on 24 October, one of the revolt's leaders, Henri Van der Noot, read a declaration of independence for Brabant known as the Manifesto of the People of Brabant[4] and declared the Austrian government invalid.

The rebel army, led by Jean-André van der Mersch, moved further into the Austrian Netherlands and fought a battle with a numerically superior force at Turnhout on 27 October. Van der Mersch lured the Austrian force sent against him into the town and bitter street fighting ensued. After five hours of fighting, the Austrian force withdrew from the combat.

The commanding general of the imperial army in the Austrian Netherlands, Richard d'Alton, was quick to react, giving orders to his subordinate, Lieutenant-Field Marshal von Arberg,[note 1] retaliate in force in order to revenge the defeat and annihilate the military threat. Van der Mersch retreated across the border but not before the night of 10 November.


Rioting in the town of Ghent in November 1789, following the Battle of Turnhout.

Following the Austrian defeat at Turnhout, riots began in major cities in the Austrian Netherlands.[5] Unable to maintain control in the face of both the Patriot army and the rebels, Austrian forces retreated from the territory to the Duchy of Luxembourg in the south.[5]

On 26 December 1789, the state of Brabant declared its independence from the Holy Roman Empire in Brussels. [5]


  1. ^ Known as Nicolas-Antoine Comte d'Arberg of Valengin and Saint-Empire, (1736–1813), Generalmajor from 1773, Feldmarschalleutnant from 1783. See: Biographical Dictionary of All Austrian Generals


  1. ^ "The Brabant Revolution of 1789–90". World History at KMLA. Retrieved 11 March 2013. 
  2. ^ Pappas, Dale. "Belgium from Revolution to the War of the Sixth Coalition 1789–1814". Retrieved 21 February 2013. 
  3. ^ "The Southern Netherlands, 1789–1795". World History at KMLA. Retrieved 21 February 2013. 
  4. ^ van der Noot, HCN. "Manifeste des Brabançons". Retrieved 20 February 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c "1789". Retrieved 11 March 2013. 


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