History of the Low Countries

By J. C. H. Blom; E. Lamberts et al. | Go to book overview

6 Revolution in the North and South, 1780-1830

J. Roegiers and N. C.F. van Sas

The Dutch Republic teetered at the edge of civil war in the years between 1780 and 1795. Foreign powers intervened twice to affect the outcome: Prussia in 1787 to bolster the conservative forces, and the French Republic in 1795 to support the revolutionary Patriots. In that year, the newly proclaimed Batavian Republic became a French satellite state. In 1806, Napoleon made his brother king of Holland before annexing the whole country into the French Empire a few years later.

Unrest spread through the Austrian Netherlands when Emperor Joseph II attempted to push through the same administrative, legal, and ecclesiastical reforms that he had introduced elsewhere. To prevent this, the region's political and church leaders declared the Republic of the United Belgian States in 1790. Although the great powers of Europe ensured that the republic's existence was shortlived, the Austrians did not long enjoy their return to power. In 1794, French armies invaded the Southern Netherlands, and in the following year, annexed it to France.

After the fall of Napoleon, the great European powers merged the North and South into one United Kingdom, under the Dutch king William I. Influenced by the Enlightenment, the king jealously guarded his royal prerogatives. His policies rejuvenated the economy, but his authoritarian style alienated liberals, and in the South, a coalition of liberals and Catholics began to resist his policies. That their grievances led to the Belgian Revolt of 1830 did not stem from their intentions; rather, the revolt's cause -- and consequences -- had more to do with William I's own actions.

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