History of Belgium
For more information about the history of Belgium, click on the links at the bottom of this page.
Revolution and independence (before 1830)
Belgium became independent in 1830, after being separated from the Netherlands
At the Congress of Vienna, in 1815, Belgium (The Southern Netherlands) and the Northern Netherlands (Holland) were united to form one State, ruled by King William I.
After a series of incidents, the revolution erupted in Brussels in 1830. William I sent in his troops, but they were expelled on September 27th, 1830.
The rebels received support from volunteers outside the city of Brussels. Following this rising Belgium separated from the Northern Netherlands.
A provisional government declared independence on October 4th, 1830. On February 7th, 1831 the national congress adopted a constitution, which for its time, was very progressive.
Belgium is a monarchy. That means that the country is ruled by a king. Underneath, there is a summary of photos from the seven kings of belgium. The dates under the photo’s refer to the period of reign of the king. For more information, click on the photo.
1830 to 1908
In short: The first king of Belgium was King Leopold I.
A diplomatic conference on the future of Belgium opened in London on the November 4th 1831. The great powers of the time recognised the secession of Belgium from the (Northern) Netherlands. Leopold I of Saxe-Coburg became the first king of the Belgians (1831 – 1865).
In 1865 he was succeeded by his son Leopold II (1865 – 1909). Under their reign, Belgium became the second most important industrial power. In 1885 the Belgian parliament agreed that Leopold II should become the head of state of the Congo. In 1908 control of Congo was transferred to the Belgian state.
World War I
Under command of King Albert I the Belgian army halt the enemy at the river Yser near by the North Sea during the first World War (1914-1918).
Although the great powers forced Belgium to remain neutral when it became independent, it couldn’t escape World War I (1914-1918). The Belgian army under the command of King Albert I (1909 – 1934) was too small a match for the Germans, it nevertheless could manage to halt the enemy at the river Yser. Belgium suffered greatly during the war. The Yser region was laid waste.
World War II
The years after the war were very difficult. The international economic crisis affected the country. When Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, the dangers posed by that country rose again. From 1936 onwards Belgium took a neutral stance, just as it had done before the 1914 – 1918 war, but Germany invaded again on May 10th, 1940. After 18 days King Leopold III (1934 – 1951) decided to capitulate. This decision provoked a rupture with the government.
After the World Wars
After the war, the royal question dominated politics. In 1951 Leopold III abdicated in favour of his son Baudouin I.
On August 9th, 1993 his brother Albert II became the sixth king of the Belgians.
The actual king of the Belgians is King Philippe. He was born 15 April 1960. He is the seventh king, having ascended the throne on 21 July 2013. He is married to Countess Mathilde d’Udekem d’Acoz, now Queen Mathilde, with whom he has four children, Elisabeth, Emmanuël, Gabriel and Eléonore. Princess Elisabeth is first in the line of succession.
A federal state
Belgium has a Dutch, a French and a German speaking part. The communities togheter form a federal state.
The question of relations between the communities has played a highly important part in recent Belgian history. Following four state reforms Belgium was transformed into a federal state. Belgium is now a federal state comprising three communities, three regions, and four language areas. For each of these subdivision types, the subdivisions together make up the entire country; in other words, the types overlap.
The language areas were established by the Second Gilson Act (1963). The division into language areas was included in the Belgian Constitution in 1970. Through constitutional reforms in the 1970s and 1980s, regionalisation of the unitary state led to a three-tiered federation: federal, regional, and community governments were created, a compromise designed to minimize linguistic, cultural, social, and economic tensions.
It’s not easy to understand the political situation in Belgium. If you want more information in English, click here.
The political scene is also dominated by economic problems and increased internationalisation. Belgium played an important role in the creation of the Belgian-Luxembourg Economic Union, the Benelux and the European Union. As a member of the United Nations, and in the service of world peace, Belgium often sends its troops on peace missions or sends its observers to areas over the world.