United Belgian States

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United Belgian States
Verenigde Belgische Staten
Unrecognized state

Flag Coat of arms
In Unione Salus or Domini est Regnum
"In Union Salvation" and "The kingdom is the Lord's"
The United Belgian States' territory in 1790
Capital Brussels
Languages Dutch, French
Religion Roman Catholic
Government Confederal Republic
 •  1790 François de Nélis
 •  1790 Hendrik van Crumpipen
Prime Minister
 •  1790 Hendrik Van der Noot
Legislature Sovereign Congress
Historical era Brabant Revolution
 •  Manifesto of Brabant 24 October 1789
 •  Treaty of Union 11 January 1790
 •  Battle of Falmagne 22 September 1790
 •  Surrender of Brussels 2 December 1790
Currency See Brabant Revolution coinage

The United Belgian States or United Netherlandish States (Dutch: Verenigde Nederlandse Staten or Verenigde Belgische Staten, French: États-Belgiques-Unis, Latin: Foederati belgii), also known as the United States of Belgium, was a confederation in the Southern Netherlands (modern-day Belgium) which was established after the Brabant Revolution. It existed from January to December 1790 as part of the unsuccessful revolt against the Habsburg Emperor, Joseph II.


Influenced by the Enlightenment, Emperor Joseph II, who became sole ruler of the Habsburg lands after Maria Theresa's death in 1780, decreed a series of large-scale reforms in the Austrian Netherlands designed to radically modernize and centralize the political, judicial and administrative systems.

Characteristically, the well-intentioned but autocratic Emperor abruptly imposed his reforms without even a semblance of consultation with the population, which actually included an influential urban intelligentsia and other segments of the ruling classes who were highly receptive to such innovations. The Emperor's edict of tolerance of 1781 established religious freedom. Another edict in 1784 removed from the Catholic clergy responsibility for the civil registry, and civil marriage was introduced. Under the Edict on Idle Institutions (1780), contemplative religious orders, deemed useless, were dissolved and diocesan seminaries were abolished and replaced by general seminaries in Leuven and Luxembourg. Feudal and trade corporation regulations and jurisdictions were modified or abolished and, to the stupefaction of all segments of the population, the authorities abolished the ancient provinces of Flanders, Brabant, Hainaut, Namur, and Luxembourg, replacing them with 9 circles (German: Kreise), subdivided in 64 districts. Seigneurial jurisdictions and rights, including the corvée, were abolished.[1] As in Hungary, Joseph II attempted to introduce German as the language of administration for the sake of efficiency.


The United Belgian States was a confederal republic of eight provinces which had their own governments, were sovereign and independent, and were governed directly by the Sovereign Congress (French: Congrès souverain; Dutch: Soevereine Congres), the confederal government. The Sovereign Congress was seated in Brussels and consisted of representatives of each of the eight provinces. The provinces of the republic were divided into 11 smaller separate territories, each with their own regional identities:[2]

  1. Flanders
  2. West Flanders
  3. Brabant
  4. Hainaut
  5. The Tournaisis
  6. Namur
  7. Luxembourg
  8. Liège
  9. Limburg
  10. Antwerp
  11. Mechelen

Brabant Revolution[edit]

Main article: Brabant Revolution
Battle of Turnhout, 27 October 1789.
Battle of Ghent, 13 November 1789.
Battle of Falmagne, 22 September 1790.
Surrender of Brussels, 2 December 1790.
Part of a series on the
History of Belgium
Royal Arms of Belgium.svg

In 1789, a church-inspired popular revolt broke out in reaction to the emperor's centralizing and anticlerical policies. Two factions appeared: the Statists who opposed the reforms, and the Vonckists named for Jan Frans Vonck who initially supported the reforms but then joined the opposition, due to the clumsy way in which the reforms were carried out.

The uprising started in Brabant, which in January 1789 declared that it no longer recognized the emperor's rule. The leader of the Statisten faction, Hendrik Van der Noot, crossed the border into the Dutch Republic and raised a small army in Breda in Staats-Brabant, the northern (Dutch Republic) part of Brabant.

In October, he invaded Brabant and captured Turnhout, defeating the Austrians in the Battle of Turnhout on 27 October. Ghent was taken on 13 November, and on 17 November the governors Albert Casimir and Maria Christina fled Brussels. The remains of the imperial forces withdrew behind the citadel walls of Luxembourg and Antwerp.

Van der Noot now declared Brabant independent, and all the other provinces of the Austrian Netherlands (except Luxembourg) soon followed suit. On 11 January 1790 they signed a pact, establishing a confederation under the name Verenigde Nederlandse Staten / États-Belgiques-Unis (United Belgian States) and a governing body known as the Sovereign Congress. The Dutch Act of Abjuration in 1581 and the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 served as models for the Declaration of Independence of Flanders and some of the other provinces between November 1789 and early 1790. Shortly afterwards, the Articles of Confederation served as a model for the Treaty of the United Belgian States of 11 January 1790.

Independently, in 1789, a revolution had broken out in Liège. The revolutionaries established a republic which joined the United Belgian States in a semblance of an alliance.

Realizing the fragility of the new state, Van der Noot approached foreign states for support and suggested a unification with the Dutch Republic, with little success. Furthermore, the Statist and Vonckist factions were in constant conflict, bordering on civil war.

Suppression of the Revolt[edit]

On 27 February 1790 Joseph II died and his brother Leopold II succeeded him as emperor. Leopold II quickly moved to recapture the Austrian Netherlands. On 24 October 1790 imperial troops took the city of Namur, forcing the province of Namur to recognize the authority of the emperor. Two days later, the province of West Flanders followed suit, and by December the entire territory was again in imperial hands.

The Austrian restoration and hegemony however was short-lived as in 1794 during the French Revolutionary Wars the region was overrun by French armies and in 1795 was annexed to France (1 October 1795).


Though short-lived, the United Belgian States had long-lasting repercussions. It had given the Southern Netherlands their first taste of independence, and had sparked a new political idea: the state of Belgium. In 1830, the inhabitants of the Southern Netherlands successfully revolted against the Netherlands during the Belgian Revolution, creating the modern state of Belgium.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bitsch, pp. 56, 62.
  2. ^ "The Brabant Revolution of 1789–1790". World History at KMLA. Retrieved 24 July 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c Roman foederati
  4. ^ The Chamavi merged into the confederation of the Franks; the Tubanti merged into the confederation of the Saxons.
  5. ^ Part of East Francia after 939, divided in Upper Lorraine (as part of West Francia) and Lower Lorraine (as part of East Francia) in 959.
  6. ^ Lower Lorraine—also referred to as Lothier—disintegrated into several smaller independent territories and only the title of a "Duke of Lothier" remained, held by Brabant.
  7. ^ Lordship of Frisia and Lordship of Groningen (including the Ommelanden) after 1524 and 1536 respectively.
  8. ^ Including County of Zeeland, that was ruled by neighboring County of Holland and County of Flanders (until 1432).
  9. ^ Utrecht included Lordship of Overijssel (until 1528), County of Drenthe (until 1528) and County of Zutphen (until 1182).
  10. ^ Duchy of Brabant included since 1288 also the Duchy of Limburg (now part of the Belgian Province of Liège) and the "Overmaas" lands Dalhem, Valkenburg and Herzogenrath (now part of the Dutch Province of Limburg).
  11. ^ The county, later duchy, of Guelders consisted of four quarters, as they were separated by rivers: situated upstream Upper Quarter (the present day northern half of the Dutch province of Limburg), spatially separated from the three downstream Lower Quarters: County of Zutphen (after 1182), Veluwe Quarter and Nijmegen Quarter. The three lower quarters emerged from the historic gau Hamaland (named after the Chamavi tribe), and formed the present day province of Gelderland. Guelders did not include the Cleves enclave Huissen and the independent counties of Buren and Culemborg, that were much later seceded to the province of Gelderland.
  12. ^ Including County of Artois (part of Flanders until 1237) and Tournaisis.
  13. ^ Throughout the Middle Ages, the bishopric was further expanded with the Duchy of Bouillon in 1096 (ceded to France in 1678), the acquisition of the county of Loon in 1366 and the county of Horne in 1568. The Lordship of Mechelen was also part of the Prince-Bishopric of Liège.
  14. ^ The name Seventeen Provinces came in use after the Habsburg emperor Charles V had re-acquired the Duchy of Guelders, and an continuous territory arose.

External links[edit]