If you came here looking for successes of the Concert System of 1815, then you are definitely onto a winner. The Belgian Revolution of 1830 is one of the successes to have come out of the System, with the French -- under Louis Phillippe -- exercising considerable restraint that had heretofore not seen the light of day from the quintessentially filibustering nation that France was in the 19th C.
British author Anthony Wood -- author of Europe 1815-1860 Second Edition -- argues in his book that it used to be said that when France sneezes, the rest of Europe catches a cold. Well, he perhaps was right for, with respect to the 1830 revolution, France had well and truly sneezed a sneeze that was to have ramifications -- one of restraint and respect -- atypical of that of France since Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in June 1815.
One thing that remains clear from 1830 is that summer not only arouses a lot of passion for sea, sun and sand, but revolution. One need look no further than the whole period of 1830 to see how true this is -- France, Belgium, Poland and the potential unrest in Italy that so worried Metternich who was ostensibly one of the prime exponents of the Concert of Europe.
That said, it is Norman Rich who argues that of all the revolutions of 1830, the one that was to prove the most serious threat to the general peace of Europe was an uprising in the Belgian provinces of the Netherlands, whose aim was the breakup of their union with Holland.(p.59) Personally, I am not quite so sure how serious a threat it really was, but certainly, it is significant in that it brought to the fore the capability of the Concert system as a tool of conflict resolution, albeit temporary resolution. Human beings are sufficiently complex for anyone to envisage there being a total peace in any situation. However, what the Belgian revolution showed was that keep a guy locked up for long, suppressed for a sufficiently long time, and by gum, he is gonna rise up, stand up and be counted. That is essentially what happened in Belgium -- and it worked too.
As one would have it, religion played an equally important role in gauging the revolution. For example, William I - king of the Netherlands - was Dutch and a Calvanist whereas the bona fide Belgians were all Roman Catholic. The latter believed that their desires, particularly that of national self-determination, were being subordinated by the desire of a Dutch king who essentially was so far away and seemed to wield considerable power. Quite naturally, the Belgians resented this level of subservience. It is in fact this desire to be noticed that in August 1830, "rioting in the Brussels Opera House gave the local bourgeoisie their opportunity"(Wood, p.72) to revolt. Particularly annoying for the Belgians was the fact that the administration, the economy, and majority of public institutions were dominated by the Dutch, as well as equal number of seats in the lower chamber of the Netherlands parliament.
Inspired by the July revolution in France, the Belgians rose up and in October 1830, proclaimed the independence of the new state of Belgium. This prompted William I to immediately call on the Big Five to honour the guarantees embodied in their 1814-1815 treaties and come to the aid of the Netherlands to suppress the revolution. Who came to the rescue but Tsar Nicholas I, ready to help suppress any unrest. Of the Big Five however, the country that most prevaricated was Britain because basically, she was afraid of a potential Franco-sub hegemony that would arise out of France annexing Belgium. Secondly -- now this is paranoia here -- the Brits were afraid that after this sub-hegemony, France would have the perfect springboard to launch an invasion -- fancy that -- against Britain. Laughable or what? As if the French could have enough power to do so :-/).
In France however, -- check this -- Louis-Philippe, according to Norman Rich, pursued a policy of restraint.(p.60) The reason, he goes on to elaborate, was that Philippe could not afford a conflict or even serious altercation with Britain or any other power. Thus the hero of the hour was none other than LOUIS-PHILIPPE who suggested that the case of Belgium be deliberated through the Congress system as that of Greece had been. Finally, Lord Palmerston, Foreign Secretary, and Talleyrand, the quintessential opportunist, got together to resolve the Belgian crisis. However, do you realize that it took 8 whole years before William decided to recognize Belgium as an independent, sovereign state. And what of Austria, Prussia and Russia?
Well, they had their respective problems to see to. First of all, Austria's Metternich was preoccupied with the potential uprising in Italy whereas Russia had to deal with the revolution in Poland. Thus, as Rich maintains, these powers found themselves obliged to agree to the solution favored by the powers most immediately concerned with the Belgian problem.(ibid)
One date that is highly important in the Belgian revolution is December 20, 1830, because it is on this day that the powers recognized the de facto separation of the Belgian provinces from the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Furthermore, in the summer of the following year -- June 1831 in fact -- the powers announced "the selection of PRINCE LEOPOLD of the tiny German state of Saxe-Coburg as the first king of the Belgians."(Rich, ibid.) It is, perhaps, at this time that some of you may start muttering the word 'Leopold' under your breath. Where could you possibly have heard it before? One clue: Brussels. I can swear that there is a Leopoldstraat somewhere in Brussels. Not only in Bxl apparently. Check this; there are several -- in some of the outskirts of Brussels like Rixensart; Jette, Hoeilaart; Sint-Pieters Leeuw; Evere (Nato HQ); Waterloo; Stockel; Schaerbeek; Zaventem; even in Etterbeek... In short, this little eccentric digression is to illustrate the considerable importance of this King of Belgians -- despite his unpopularity down the annals of history brought about by his ostensible predilection to side with the Liberals during World War One. For more info, ask Dr.Palo.
In any event, the crisis -- as Rich tells us -- was not yet over, for the insatiated and vengeful William I was bent on being intransigent -- simply by refusing the settlement made by the Great Powers. So it was to be that in August 1831, he broke off the armistice with the Belgians, callously launching another attack on the unprepared Belgians. Now, what Britain most feared -- French intervention -- was to come to pass -- quite peacefully too. Again, Louis-Phillippe became the hero of the hour when he merely set out to follow his task under close and eagle-eye scrutiny of the other reluctant and wary Powers who, quite understandably, were afraid that Louis-Phillipe was potentially like Napoleon. Well, they were wrong because he exercised restraint and his actions, in fact, are to be highly commended (personally speaking). This French intervention finally secured the end of the antagonisms and opposition by William I.
That said, most significant in the Belgian revolution is the treaty that was signed on November 15 1831 in LONDON when the great powers, in their signing of the treaty, "provided for the establishment of an independent and neutral Belgium."(p.61) So, finally, this little nation that had been
dogged by war for centuries and ruled over by the Spanish (Spanish Netherlands), United Netherlands...was finally to become an independent state -- free to exercise its right of self-determination like any other country. Somewhat interesting to note is what Rich writes on the same page:
The resolution of the Belgian crisis and avoidance of a general European war over this strategic region once again demonstrated the efficacy of the Congress system: the settlement of international problems at the conference table through negotiation and compromise.
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