Belgium - From the Roman Invasion to the Present Day
by Emile Cammaerts
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Illustration: ALBERT I. Frontispiece. Photo Langfier.


From the Roman Invasion to the Present Day



With 36 Illustrations and 9 Maps

T. Fisher Unwin Ltd London: Adelphi Terrace

Copyright by T. Fisher Unwin, 1921 (for Great Britain)

Copyright by G.P. Putnam's Sons (for the United States of America), 1921

First published 1921 Second Impression 1922

(All rights reserved)


We possess happily, nowadays, a few standard books, of great insight and impartiality, which allow us to form a general idea of the development of the Belgian nation without breaking fresh ground. The four volumes of Henri Pirenne's Histoire de Belgique carry us as far as the Peace of Muenster, and, among others, such works as Vanderlinen's Belgium, issued recently by the Oxford University Press, and a treatise on Belgian history by F. Van Kalken (1920) supply a great deal of information on the modern period. To these works the author has been chiefly indebted in writing the present volume. He felt the need for placing the conclusions of modern Belgian historians within reach of British readers, and believed that, though he might not claim any very special qualifications to deal with Belgian history, his knowledge of England would allow him to present his material in the way most interesting to the English-speaking public.

Belgium is neither a series of essays nor a systematic text-book. Chronological sequence is preserved, and practically all important events are recorded in their appointed time, but special stress has been laid on some characteristic features of Belgian civilization and national development which are of general interest and bear on the history of Europe as a whole.

The author wishes to express his sincere thanks to his friend, Professor Van der Essen, who has been good enough to revise his work. He is also indebted to Messrs. Van Oest & Co. for allowing him to reproduce some pictures belonging to l'Album Historique de la Belgique, and to the Phototypie Belge (Ph.B.), Ste anonyme, Etterbeek, Bruxelles, and other holders of copyright for providing him with valuable illustrations.





THE COAL WOOD 29 Celts and Germans—Roman conquest—Roads of Roman civilization—First Christianization—Germanic invasion—Natural obstacle presented by the "Silva Carbonaria"—Origins of racial and linguistic division.


FROM SAINT AMAND TO CHARLEMAGNE 37 Frankish capital transferred from Tournai to Paris—Second Christianization—St. Amand—Restoration of the old bishoprics— Romanization of the Franks and germanization of the Walloons— Unification under Charlemagne—Aix-la-Chapelle, centre of the Empire—First period of economic and intellectual efflorescence.


LOTHARINGIA AND FLANDERS 47 Partition after Charlemagne—Treaty of Verdun—The frontier of the Scheldt—Struggle of feudal lords against the central power—The Normans.


REGNER LONG NECK 52 Policy of the Lotharingian princes—Influence of the German bishops—Alliance with Flanders against the Emperor—Decadence of the central power—Religious reform of Gerard de Brogne—The Clunisians and the struggle for the investitures—The first crusade.


BALDWIN THE BEARDED 60 Policy of the counts of Flanders—Imperial Flanders—The English alliance—First prospect of unification—Robert the Frisian.


THE BELFRIES 66 Origin of the Communes; trade and industry—Resistance of feudal lords; Cambrai—Protection given by the counts of Flanders and the dukes of Brabant—Social transformation extending to the country-side—The meaning of the belfries.


THE GOLDEN SPURS 78 Attraction of Flanders on the rest of the country—Attempts at maintaining neutrality between France and England—Thierry and Philippe d'Alsace—Baldwin IX—Ferrand of Portugal—Bouvines—Increasing French influence—Flemish reaction—"Matines Brugeoises"—Consequences of the Battle of Courtrai—Edward III and Van Artevelde.


THE CATHEDRAL OF TOURNAI 88 Religious spirit of Belgium in the Middle Ages—The Romanesque churches—Introduction of Gothic; Period of transition, early Gothic, secondary period, third period—French and Flemish languages during the Middle Ages—Picard writers in Walloon Flanders—First translations and chronicles in French—Origin of Flemish letters, Willem's Reinaert, Van Maerlant.


THE GREAT DUKES OF THE WEST 102 Decline of the Communes—Policy of the Burgundian dukes: Philip the Bold, John the Fearless, Philip the Good—Territorial unification and political centralization—Philip's external policy—Charles the Bold—Dream of a new central Empire.


THE TOWN HALLS 112 The meaning of Belgium's Gothic Town Halls—Result of a compromise between centralization and local liberties—Decline of the cloth industry—Economic prosperity under the new regime—Transformation of trade—Antwerp succeeds Bruges.


THE ADORATION OF THE LAMB 124 Civilization under Burgundian rule—French and Flemish; bilingualism—Flemish letters: Jean Boendaele, Ruysbroeck—The Brothers of the Common Life—Writers in French: Jean Le Bel, Froissart, Chastellain—Development of music: Dufay, Ockeghem, etc.—Life in fifteenth-century Belgium—The early "Flemish School of Painting"—Its place in the history of Art—The brothers Van Eyck—Origins of the school; sculpture, illuminating.

CHAPTER XII 140 Reaction after the death of Charles the Bold—The "Great Privilege" of Mary of Burgundy—Her marriage with Maximilian; its consequences—Conflict between Burgundian and Hapsburgian policies—Philip the Handsome—Margaret of Austria—Accession of Charles to the Empire—Projects of founding a separate kingdom—Margaret's second governorship.


THE LAST STAGE OF CENTRALIZATION 154 Mary of Hungary—Revolt of Ghent—Complete unification—Augsburg transaction—Pragmatic Sanction—Abdication of Charles V.


ANTWERP 163 Development of modern trade—Rural industry—Humanism and Lutheranism—The placards—Anabaptism—Calvinism.


THE BEGGARS 174 Philip II—Marguerite of Parma and the Consulta—Resistance of the Council of State—The "Compromise"—The Iconoclasts—Catholic reaction.


SEPARATION 182 North and South—The Duke of Alba and the Council of Blood—Requesens—"Spanish Fury"—Pacification of Ghent—Don Juan—Policy of Orange—Archduke Matthias—The Duke of Anjou—The "Malcontents"—Confederation of Arras—Union of Utrecht—"French Fury"—The fall of Antwerp.


DREAM OF INDEPENDENCE 204 Albert and Isabella—Catholic reaction—Siege of Ostend—Policy of the Spanish kings—The Walloon League—The States-General.


THE TWELVE YEARS' TRUCE 213 Period of reconstruction—Ruin of Antwerp—Revival of industry and agriculture—Social conditions under Albert and Isabella—Influence of the Church.


RUBENS 221 Contrast between Flemish Art in the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries—Italian influence—Intellectual action of the Jesuits—Neglect of Flemish—Popular Art: Breughel, Jordaens.


POLITICAL DECADENCE UNDER SPAIN 230 Situation of the Southern Netherlands between the United Provinces and France—Projects of Partition—Muenster Treaty—Wars of the Spanish Succession—The Anglo-Batavian Conference—Treaty of Utrecht—The Barrier system.


THE OSTEND COMPANY 245 Economic Renaissance under the Austrian regime—Efforts to liberate Belgian trade—War of Austrian Succession—Charles de Lorraine—Intellectual decadence—Popular restlessness.


THE BRABANCONNE REVOLUTION 254 Joseph II and Philip II—Strength of the Burgundian tradition— Suppression of the Barrier—The "War of the Cauldron"—The emperor's internal reforms—Popular resistance: Van der Noot and Vonck—The "Etats Belgiques Unis"—"Statists" and "Vonckists"—The Reichenbach Convention—Restoration of the Austrian regime.


LIBERTY, EQUALITY, FRATERNITY 268 Jemappes—Excesses of the "Sans Culottes"—Neerwinden—Treaty of The Hague—Policy of the Convention towards occupied territory—Annexation—The "War of the Peasants"—Napoleonic rule—The Vienna Treaty.


BLACK, YELLOW AND RED 279 The Joint Kingdom—Causes of failure—Belgian grievances—Policy of William I—Reconciliation of Catholics and Liberals—The September days.


THE SCRAP OF PAPER 289 The Conference of London—Attitude of the Belgian delegates—The "Bases of Separation"—The Luxemburg question—The XVIII Articles—Prince Leopold—Dutch invasion—The XXIV Articles—Their final acceptance—Guaranteed neutrality.


NEUTRAL INDEPENDENCE 301 The meaning of neutrality—The question of national defence—Risquons Tout—The policy of Napoleon III—The entrenched camp of Antwerp—British action in 1870—Leopold II and Emile Banning—Liege and Namur—Military reform.


ECONOMIC RENAISSANCE 315 The Belgian Constitution—Influence of neutrality on internal politics—Struggle between Liberals and Catholics—The "School War"—The Labour Party—The Franchise—Economic prosperity: agriculture, industry, trade—The opening of the Scheldt—The search for colonial outlet—Leopold II and the Congo Free State—The Belgian Congo.


INTELLECTUAL RENAISSANCE 331 Architecture and Sculpture in modern Belgium—The Modern School of painting—A National School of Literature in French and Flemish—The Flemish movement.


CONCLUSION 342 Part played by Belgium in the Great War—German occupation—The "Making of a Nation"—The "Resistance of a Nation"—Result of the Treaty of Versailles—Future of Belgium.



ALBERT I Frontispiece














































The history of the Belgian nation is little known in England. This ignorance, or rather this neglect, may seem strange if we consider the frequent relations which existed between the two countries from the early Middle Ages. It is, however, easy enough to explain, and even to justify. The general idea has been for a long time that the existence of Belgium, as a nation, dated from its independence, and that previous to 1830 such a thing as Belgian history did not even exist. All through feudal times we are aware of the existence of the County of Flanders, of the Duchy of Brabant, and of many other principalities, but, in no official act, does the term "Belgique" occur. Even after the unification of the fifteenth century, when the country came under the rule of the Dukes of Burgundy, the notion of a distinct nationality, such as the French or the British, remains hidden to the superficial student, the Netherlands forming merely a part of the rich possessions of the most powerful vassals of France. Through modern times the Belgian provinces, "les provinces belgiques" as they were called in the eighteenth century, pass under the rule of the kings of Spain, of the emperors of Austria and of the French Republic, to be finally merged, after the fall of Napoleon, into the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The word "Belgium," as a noun, is only found in a few books; "belgique" is a mere adjective applied to the southern portion of the Netherlands.

It must be admitted that the Belgian official historians of the old school did very little to dispel this wrong impression. In their patriotic zeal they endeavoured to picture Belgium as struggling valiantly all the time against foreign oppression. They laid great stress on Caesar's words: "Of all the Gauls the Belgians are the bravest," and pictured the popular risings of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in the same light as the 1830 revolution. If we are to believe them, the Belgian people must have been conscious from their origin of their unity. They considered national princes, such as the Burgundian Dukes, in the same light as Philip II or the Austrian Emperors, and, instead of clearing the air, added to the confusion. Their interpretation of history according to the principles of national liberty of the Romantic period could not be taken seriously, and the idea prevailed that, if the Belgian nation was not merely a creation of European diplomacy, its existence could only be confirmed by the future, and rested on but frail foundations in the past.

This idea was strengthened by the knowledge that the country possessed neither strong natural frontiers, like Great Britain, France, Italy or Spain, nor the bond created by unity of language like Germany. Other European countries, it is true, like Holland or Poland, did not constitute strong geographical units and lacked definite boundaries but their people talked at least the same idiom and belonged, as far as the word may be used in a broad sense, to the same race. Others, like Switzerland, were divided between various languages, but possessed geographical unity. Belgium could not claim any of these distinctive features. Her boundaries remained widely open in all directions. From the cultivated plains of Flanders to the wild hills of the Ardennes she offered the greatest variety of physical aspects. What is more, her people were nearly equally divided, by a line running from the south of Ypres to the north of Liege, between two different languages, two different races. According to recognized standards, the very existence of the Belgian nation was a paradox, and though the history of mankind presents many similar contrasts between the hasty conclusions of the untrained mind and the tangible reality of facts, these cannot be recognized at first, and require a deeper knowledge of the past than that which can be provided by the study of warlike conflicts and political changes.

It was therefore left to the modern school of Belgian historians, and more especially to Professor Pirenne, of Ghent, to place the study of the origin of the Belgian nation in its right perspective and to show that, in spite of diversity of race and language, lack of natural boundaries and centuries of foreign domination, Belgian unity was based on deep-rooted traditions and possessed strong characteristics in every department of human activity which could be recognized from the early Middle Ages to the modern period. By a close study of the economic and intellectual life of the people and of their institutions, Pirenne and his disciples made evident what every artist, every writer had already realized, that, in spite of all appearances, Belgian unity had never been impaired in the past by the language barrier, and that both parts of the country presented common characteristics, common customs, and common institutions which no foreign rule was able to eradicate. They showed furthermore that these characteristics, determined by the common interests and aspirations of the whole people, were so strong that they inspired the policy of many foreign princes who, by their birth, would naturally have been led to disregard them. They may still be found in the country's old charters, in ancient chronicles, in the works of the so-called Flemish School of painting, and in every monument of the past which has survived the devastation of war. To these witnesses Belgian historians will not appeal in vain, when they endeavour to show that the origins of Belgian national unity may be sought as far back as those of any other nation in Europe, and that if more exposed than her powerful neighbours to the vicissitudes of war, Belgium always succeeded in preserving, throughout her darkest days, some living token of her former prosperity and of her future independence.

* * * * *

If, as we trust, the reader is convinced after reading this short sketch of Belgium's history that Belgian nationality is more than a vain word, and that the attitude adopted by the Belgian people in August 1914, far from being an impulsive movement, was merely the result of the slow and progressive development of their national feeling throughout the ages, he will also realize that this development has received many checks, and is therefore very different from that which may be traced in the history of England, for instance, or even in that of France. Nowhere would the familiar image of the growing tree be more misleading. Belgian history possesses some remarkable landmarks, under Charlemagne, for instance, at the time of the Communes, under the rule of the Dukes of Burgundy, under Charles V, and during the recent period of independence. But, between these periods of prosperity and even splendour, we notice some periods of stagnation due to internal strife or even complete decadence, when the country became a prey to foreign invasion. Few peoples have experienced such severe trials, few have shown such extraordinary power of recovery. Peace and a wise government coincide invariably with an extraordinary material and intellectual efflorescence, war and oppression with the partial or total loss of the progress realized a few years before, so that the arts and trades of Belgian cities which shine at one time in the forefront of European civilization seem totally forgotten at another. In more than one way Belgium has lived under a troubled sky, where heavy showers succeed bright sunshine, while the towers of Ypres, Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp, Louvain and Brussels appear and disappear on the horizon.

How can we explain the tragedy of these abrupt changes? How can we justify these sudden alternations in the life of a hard-working and peace-loving people who never indulged in any dreams of imperialism and foreign conquest?

A look at the map will help us to solve the mystery. The plain of northern Europe may be divided into two wide areas, the French plain, whose waters run from East to West into the Atlantic, and the German plain, whose waters run from South to North into the North Sea and the Baltic. These wide expanses are connected by a narrow strip of territory through which all communications skirting the hills and mountains of the South must necessarily be concentrated, and whose waters follow a north-westerly direction towards the Straits of Dover. This small plain, only 90 miles wide from Ostend to Namur, constitutes a natural link between Germany and France, and plays, from the continental point of view, the same part as the Straits, on its northern coast. Even to-day, in spite of the progress of railway communications, the main line from Paris to Berlin passes along the Sambre and Meuse valleys, through Namur, Liege and Aix-la-Chapelle, and the events of August 1914 are only the last example of the frequent use made of this road throughout history, by invaders coming from the East or from the South. For peaceful and warlike intercourse, Belgium is situated on the natural highway connecting the French and German plains. This geographical feature alone would suffice to influence the historical development of the country. But there is another.

It so happens that by an extraordinary arrangement of the map, which one may be tempted to call a coincidence, the sea straits are placed in close proximity to the continental narrows, so that the natural route from Great Britain to central Europe crosses in Belgium the natural route from France to Germany. This appears all the more clearly if we take into consideration the fact that the seventeen provinces extended in the past from the Zuyder Zee to the Somme, and that Bruges, and later on Antwerp, benefited largely from the trade of the Thames. This then is what is meant when Belgium is spoken of as being placed at "the cross-roads of Europe." Most of the continental communications between Great Britain and Germany or Italy, on the one hand, or between France and Germany on the other, were bound to pass through her provinces. She was, and is still to a certain extent, the predestined meeting-ground of British, French and German culture, the market-place where merchandise and ideas from the North, the West, the East and the South may be most conveniently exchanged, and she derives her originality from the very variety of the influences which surround her. The division of languages and races helped her in her task, and, instead of proving an obstacle to national development, contributed to it whenever circumstances proved favourable. The original contribution of the people to this development may be somewhat difficult to define, but the result is no less evident. Belgian, or as it is sometimes called, Flemish culture, though intimately connected with France and Germany, is neither French nor German, still less English. Its characteristics are derived from the combination of various European influences strongly moulded by long-standing traditions and habits. "The will to live together" which, according to Renan, is at the root of every nationality, and proves stronger than unity of race and language, finds nowhere a better illustration than in the strange part played by the Belgian nation in the history of Europe. Common interests, common dangers, common aspirations produced and maintained a distinct civilization which, according to all the laws of materialistic logic, ought to have been wrecked and swamped long ago by the overwhelming influences to which it was subjected.

* * * * *

As early as the ninth century, under the rule of Charlemagne, these characteristics began to show themselves. The Emperor chose Aix-la-Chapelle for his capital, not only because he possessed vast domains in the region, but also because, from this central position, he was better able to keep in contact with the governors of a vast Empire which extended from the Elbe to Spain and Italy. Aix-la-Chapelle, "the Northern Rome," became the metropolis of commerce as well as the political capital. The various intellectual centres created in the neighbourhood, at the monasteries of Liege, Tongres, and Maesyck attracted English, Irish, French and Italian poets, musicians, lawyers and theologians.

Later, in the twelfth century, when the free Communes developed all over Western Europe and succeeded in breaking the power of feudalism, it was left to Ghent and Bruges to raise the free city to a standard of independence and prosperity which it did not attain in other countries, placed under a stronger central power. In the shadow of their proud belfries over 80,000 merchants and artisans pursued their active trade, and Bruges, "the Venice of the North," became the principal port of Europe and the centre of banking activity.

The part played by the Burgundian Dukes in European politics during the Hundred Years' War is well known in this country, but the importance of their action in unifying the seventeen provinces of the Netherlands is not sufficiently realized. In fact, in spite of their foreign origin, their policy was so much inspired by the interest of the country that they may be considered as national princes. The "Great Dukes of the West" did for Belgium, in the fifteenth century, what Louis XI did for France, and what Henry VIII did for England, half a century later. They succeeded in centralizing public institutions and in suppressing, to a great extent, local jealousies and internal strife which weakened the nation and wasted her resources. Under their rule the Belgian provinces rose to an unequalled intellectual and artistic splendour and gave to the world, by the paintings of the brothers Van Eyck and their school, one of the most brilliant expressions of the early Renaissance.

This prominent situation was maintained, in spite of the fall of the Burgundian dynasty, when, through the marriage of Mary of Burgundy with Maximilian, Belgium passed under the sway of the Hapsburg dynasty. Under Charles V, Antwerp inherited the prosperity of Bruges, and became the principal centre of European commerce. It was visited every year by 2,500 ships, and the amount of commercial transactions made through its exchange was valued at forty million ducats per year.

Even after the disastrous wars of religion which separated the Northern Netherlands, or United Provinces, from the southern provinces, and ruined for two centuries the port of Antwerp, there was a short respite, under the wise rule of the Archdukes Albert and Isabella (1598-1633), during which the art of Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens threw a last glamour on Belgium's falling greatness.

This rapid sketch of the happy periods of Belgian history would not be complete if we did not allude to the wonderful recovery made by the country as soon as the Powers granted her the right to live as an independent State after the unhappy experiment of the joint Kingdom of the Netherlands (1815-1830). Her population increased twofold. The Scheldt was reopened and Antwerp regained most of its previous trade. At the time of the German invasion modern Belgium occupied the first rank in Europe with regard to the density of her population, the yield of her fields per acre, the development of her railway system and the importance of her special trade per head of inhabitants. In spite of her small area, she occupied the fifth rank among the great trading nations of the world, and the names of Maeterlinck, Verhaeren, Cesar Franck and Meunier show that she had reconquered a great part of her former intellectual prestige.

There is one striking resemblance between all periods of Belgian development. Whether in the ninth, the thirteenth, the fifteenth or the nineteenth century, they express the civilization of the time, and succeed in producing a typical example of essentially European culture, imperial under Charlemagne, communal in the Middle Ages, centralized under national princes during the Renaissance, highly industrialized and colonial in modern times. This trait must be considered when Belgium is represented as the "kernel of Europe," as combining the spirit of the North, East and South. It is not enough to say that the country seems predestined to this task by her geographical position and her duality of race and language bringing together the so-called "Germanic" and "Latin" tendencies; it must be added that, whenever historical circumstances allowed it, the people made full use of such advantages. Whether under local princes, or under foreign princes who understood Belgian interests, given peace conditions at home and abroad, the country never failed to rise to the occasion.

But these periods of greatness were short-lived compared with the periods of decadence which succeeded them. After the division of the Empire of Charlemagne the Belgian counties and duchies found themselves plunged in the throes of feudal disputes and divided between the Kings of France and the Emperors of Germany. The power of the suzerain was nowhere weaker than in these distant marches, and the Belgian princes were left free to pursue their quarrels with complete disregard of the common interest. The prosperity of the Communes in the thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth centuries, was rapidly undermined by internal strife and by the difficulties the Counts of Flanders experienced in trying to conciliate their duty to their French suzerain with the interest of the people which prompted an English alliance. The fall of Charles the Bold provoked a fresh outburst of the spirit of local independence, which greatly endangered the country's peace, and, if the situation was restored, under Philip the Fair and Charles V, during the first part of the sixteenth century, the second part of this century witnessed the gradual exhaustion of the Southern Netherlands divided against themselves and subjected to the attacks of both Spanish and Dutch.

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which are for other countries, like France, a period of exceptional national prestige, mark the deepest stage of Belgian decadence and humiliation. The Scheldt was closed, trade and industry were practically dead, foreign troops, French, Dutch, Spanish or Austrian, ceaselessly pursued their work of devastation. A foreign possession, open to the incursions of her possessors' enemies, sacrificed by her masters at every stage of the peace negotiations in order to save their native country, Belgium lost Dutch Flanders, Northern Brabant and part of Limburg to Holland, French Flanders, Franche Comte and Artois to France. The Treaty of Muenster sealed the fate of Antwerp, and the Treaty of the Barriers left the Dutch in possession of all the country's most important fortified positions.

Though it gave back to Belgium her natural frontier in the North and reopened the Scheldt for a short time, the French regime did not greatly improve the economic situation. After the union with Holland (1815), the political struggle which followed prevented the people from enjoying the full benefit of the change, so that we must wait until 1830 before being able to notice any considerable improvement.

* * * * *

This general survey will suffice to show that Belgian history may be divided into periods of progress and decadence. The same may be said, it is true, of the history of all nations. But nowhere else is the difference between the higher and lower levels so pronounced and the intervals between the acts so protracted. As we have already said, the country passes suddenly from the brightest limelight of fame to the darkest recess of mediocrity and oblivion. Some of these contrasts, such as those existing between Charlemagne's united Empire and feudal divisions, are shared by the rest of Europe. Others, at the time of the Renaissance and the Reformation, and when the country came under Spanish, Austrian and French rule, are peculiar to Belgium. To the slow development of national unity, her history adds the obstacles of foreign domination and foreign invasion. The exceptional situation of the country on the map gives equally great chances of ruin and recovery. The same conditions which bring about Belgium's downfall contribute largely to her restoration, the same roads which bring wealth in time of peace, are followed, in time of war, by foreign armies. She is not only the cross-roads of Europe, she is the battlefield of Europe. From Bouvines (1214) to Waterloo and Ypres, almost all the great battles which decided the fate of Europe and determined her balance of power were fought on Belgian soil. Sometimes the inhabitants took a share in the struggle, oftener they were not even given the chance to interfere, while the Powers settled other quarrels at their expense.

The Belgian people have acquired a remarkable reputation for their sturdiness and their power of recovery. But, while they are entirely irresponsible for their weakness, which can only be attributed to the small size and the defenceless character of their country, they cannot be considered as entirely responsible for their strength. A port like Antwerp, if at all accessible, is bound to prosper under any circumstances. A town like Brussels cannot fail to benefit by its unique situation, from an international point of view. With her rich coal mines among her fertile fields, Belgium, considering her size, is perhaps more richly endowed by Nature than any other country in Europe. But such exceptional advantages have been more than compensated in the past by the heavy risks which this richness implied.




It is usually assumed that, while human conditions alter throughout the ages, natural surroundings remain sensibly the same. This may be true with regard to people whose history is only affected by the streams which cross their land and the hills and mountains which protect them by natural barriers. When dealing with a country like Belgium however, widely open on all sides, we cannot be content with such wide generalizations. We must ask ourselves if some important physical features have not been altered by the work of man and if some natural obstacles, which have since disappeared, did not affect the earlier stage of Belgian history.

The traveller who crosses the country to-day from Ostend to Arlon will at once recognize its main features: first a low-lying plain, between the sea and Brussels, then a district of smooth hills, as far as Namur, and finally, beyond the Meuse, the deeply cut valleys and high plateaux of the Ardennes, reaching an average of 1,500 feet above sea-level. In this last region only will the aspect of the country suggest to him the idea of some natural obstacle to free communications, though it could in no way appear forbidding when compared to the mountains of Scotland and Wales.

But at the time of the Roman conquest (57 B.C.), Belgium, that is to say the country peopled by various tribes designated by Julius Caesar under the name of "Belgae," was very different from what it is to-day. The flat coast, unprotected against the incursions of the sea, was bordered by wide marshes, while all the southern part of the country was covered by a thick forest, the "Silva Carbonaria," which merged in the wild plateaux of the Ardennes and formed, at the time, a serious obstacle to any incursion coming from the north or the east.

These physical conditions must have favoured the guerrilla warfare waged for four years by the various Celtic tribes against the Roman invader, and it is no doubt partly to them that the old "Belgae" owed their reputation of courage and fortitude. These tribes, occupying the Scheldt and Meuse valleys, formed the rearguard of the Celtic wave of invasion which, coming from the East, had spread across Western Europe. At the time of the Roman conquest they were already closely pressed by a vanguard of Germanic tribes which had settled in Zeeland and on the left bank of the Rhine, so that even at this early stage of Belgium's history we find the dualistic character of Belgian civilization marked in the division of the country into two Roman provinces, "Belgica Secunda," in the west, and "Germania Inferior," in the east.


The immediate effect of the Roman conquest, which was far more rapid than in Britain, was to stop for a time the influx of German tribes by the establishment of a solid barrier along the Rhine. The colonists of German origin were soon absorbed by the old inhabitants of the country, and were subjected with them to the powerful influence of Roman culture. Celts and Germans alike became Belgo-Romans, and adopted the trade and the institutions of their conquerors.

As far as we can make out from the scanty documents at our disposal, Roman civilization moved along the Rhine towards Cologne, whence a great Roman highway was built towards the West, crossing the Meuse at Maestricht and, following the edge of the Coal Wood, through Tongres and Cambrai to Boulogne. This road, known through the early Middle Ages as the "Road of Brunehaut," was for a long time the main way running from east to west in a country where all the important streams, such as the Meuse, the Scheldt and their tributaries, ran from south to north. The extent of Roman influence may be gauged by the position which the various parts of the country occupied towards this highway. Tongres and Tournai still possess Roman remains. The foundations of Roman villas are found in the provinces of Namur, Hainault and Artois, while all traces of Roman occupation have disappeared from Flanders. The sandy and marshy nature of the soil in Northern Belgium may to a certain extent account for this fact, and we know that, in some instances, the stones provided by old Roman structures were used, in the Middle Ages, for the construction of new buildings. But it can nevertheless be assumed that, generally speaking, communications remained the principal factor of Roman civilization in these far-away marches of the Empire, and that Roman influence, so strongly felt on the Rhine and along the Meuse, became gradually less important as the distance increased. The country was almost exclusively agricultural, but it is interesting to note, in view of later developments, that, even at this remote period, the Menapii, who dwelt in Flanders, had acquired a reputation for cattle breeding and manufactured woollen mantles which, under the name of "birri," were exported beyond the Alps.

Though strongly influenced by Rome in their trade and methods of agriculture, the Belgo-Romans had retained their language and religion. Romanization, in the full meaning of the word, only began during the last years of the third century, under the influence of Christianity. During the third century, the bishopric of Treves included the whole of "Germania Inferior." A special bishopric was established subsequently at Cologne, and, about the middle of the fourth century, at Tongres. Others appeared later at Tournai, Arras and Cambrai. This gradual spread of Christianity, which moved along the same roads as Roman civilization, from Cologne towards the West, only reached Flanders half a century later.

The Christianization of the country must have been far from complete when the incursions of the Germanic tribes, greatly encouraged by the gradual decline of the Roman Empire, brought a sudden and dramatic change in the life and development of the two Roman provinces.

* * * * *


During the third and fourth centuries, the pressure of the Germanic tribes, which had been considerably delayed by the Roman conquest, reasserted itself. The Rhine frontier was subjected to repeated assaults, which the depleted legions were no longer in a position to repulse effectively. The Franks attacked from the east and the north through Zeeland, while part of the Saxons who attacked Britain raided at the same time the Belgian coast. In spite of the military successes of the Emperors Constantine and Julian, the situation became so threatening that a second line of defences was fortified on the Meuse and along the great Roman highroad running from Tongres to Tournai. In 358, Julian authorized the Franks to settle in the sandy moors east of the Scheldt (Toxandria), and when, at the beginning of the fifth century, Stilicon recalled the legions in order to defend Italy against the Goths, the German tribes, finding themselves unopposed, invaded the country of the Scheldt and the Lys, reducing into serfdom the old inhabitants who had escaped massacre. The Rhine ceased henceforth to be the Empire's frontier. The latter ran now along the great highway from Tongres to Arras. Before their second line of defences the Romans, under AEtius, put up a last fight, but they were defeated by the Frankish king Clodion, who extended his kingdom along the coast as far as the Somme and established himself at Tournai (431), where his grave was discovered twelve centuries later.


It seemed as if the Franks, in their irresistible advance, were going to wipe out from Belgium and Gaul all trace of Roman civilization, and such a catastrophe would no doubt have occurred, if a natural obstacle had not broken their impetus. We mentioned above that, south of a line running from Dunkirk to Maestricht, the country was covered with a thick forest, the "Silva Carbonaria." This wall of wood did more to stop the invaders than the heroic efforts of AEtius. It sheltered the Celts from the Franks in Belgium as the mountains of Wales and the hills of Cornwall sheltered them from the Saxons in Great Britain. Conquests were pursued by the Frankish kings and their nobles, but the invasion stopped. The movement ceased to be ethnical and became political. The Franks reached the clearings of the forest and nominally subjected Gaul to their power, but they were now in a minority, and the conquered soon succeeded in absorbing the conquerors. It is significant that the "Lex Salica," the oldest document in which the name of the Coal Wood is mentioned, describes it as "the boundary of the territories occupied by the Frankish people." To the north of this boundary the country was entirely in the hands of the invaders; to the south, the "Wala," as the Franks called the Belgo-Romans, succeeded in maintaining themselves and in preserving to a certain extent the Roman language and civilization. The old limit, running in a northerly direction and dividing in the past "Germania Inferior" from "Belgica Secunda," had been bent under the pressure of the Frankish invasions, and ran now from east to west, but the dualism which we noted above had not disappeared. The Franks settled in the north, the romanized Celts or "Walas" occupied the south. The first are the ancestors of the Flemings of to-day, the second of the Walloons, and the limit of languages between the two sections of the population has remained the same. It runs to-day where it ran fourteen centuries ago, from the south of Ypres to Brussels and Maestricht, dividing Belgium almost evenly into two populations belonging to two separate races and speaking two different languages. The ancient forest has disappeared, but its edge is still marked on the map. We cross it to-day without noticing any alteration in the landscape, but the distant voices of the peasants working in the fields remind us of its ancient shadow and impassable undergrowth. The traveller wonders, one moment, at the change, then takes up the road again, adding one further unanswered question to his load of unsolved problems. The historian evokes the terrible years of the fifth century, when the fate of Europe hung in the balance and when the surging waves of Pagan Germanism spent their last energy along that leafy barrier which saved Christianity and Roman civilization, and incidentally gave the Belgian nation its most prominent and interesting character. The singsong of a Walloon sentence may thus suggest the rustling of the leaves and the piping of early birds, while the more guttural accents of a Flemish name remind us of the war-cry of wild hordes and the beating of "frameas."

The Frankish invasions of the fifth century may be considered the most important event of Belgium's early history. Whether the unity of the Belgian nation is questioned or upheld, we must inevitably go back to the cause of its real or apparent division. If such division, from being racial and linguistic, had become political or economic—that is to say, if the language boundary had coincided with some of the boundaries which divided the country at a later stage—the idea that Belgium was born in 1830 and constituted an "artificial creation of European diplomacy" might not be groundless. Here, as in many other countries of Europe, nationality would have been determined mostly by race and language. This, however, is not the case. At no period of Belgian history did any division follow the linguistic frontier. On the contrary, most of the political and ecclesiastical units created during the Middle Ages included both elements of the population, and, through frequent intercourse and common interests, these two people, speaking different languages, became gradually welded into one. When in the fifteenth century the various duchies and counties came under the sway of the dukes of Burgundy, national unity was realized, as it was realized in England or in France at the same time, through the increasing power and centralizing action of modern princes. A few prejudiced writers have vainly endeavoured to exaggerate the racial or linguistic factor, and contended that, in the eyes of science, Belgian nationality could not exist. The duty of a scientist is not to distort the manifestations of natural phenomena in the light of some more or less popular idea. His duty is to explain facts. The development and permanence of Belgian nationality, in spite of the most adverse conditions, is one of these facts. The existence of the Swiss nation, far more deeply divided than the Belgian, shows that it is not unique. But even if it were unique, it ought to be accounted for. It is far easier to indulge in broad generalizations than to devote oneself to a close study of nature or man. It is not the rules, it is the exceptions which ought to retain our attention, for only exceptions will teach us how imperfect are our rules.



Pursuing their conquests in Gaul, the Frankish kings soon abandoned Clodion's capital and established themselves in Paris. Clovis and his successors, surrounded by their warriors, could not resist the Gallo-Roman influences to which they were subjected. They gave their name to the country they conquered, but adopted its customs and paid but scant attention to their old companions left behind as settlers on the banks of the Scheldt. With the Belgo-Roman population, Christianity had been swept from Northern Belgium, and it took the Church two centuries, after the baptism of Clovis (496), to reconquer the ground she had lost.

This long delay is easily accounted for. The conversion of Clovis and of his followers, which affected so deeply the course of French history, scarcely reacted on the creeds and customs of the Pagan Frankish tribes established in the northern plain. The organization of the Church, which had had no time to consolidate itself, had been utterly shattered by the invasions. Between the fourth and the seventh centuries, the shadow of Paganism spread again across the land in Northern Belgium as in Britain, and when St. Amand arrived in Flanders, he found the Franks as little prepared to receive him as the Saxons had been, a few years before, to receive Augustine.

In Northern Belgium, as in Britain, the work of rechristianization had to be undertaken from outside. The regular bishops, confined to their towns, could not possibly cope with it. Their influence was limited to a small area, and their frequent change of residence suggests that their situation was rather precarious. During the sixth century, the bishops of Tongres established themselves at Maestricht, those of Tournai at Noyon, and those of Arras at Cambrai. Later, Maestricht was abandoned for Liege (early eighth century). The old titles of "episcopi Tungrorum" and "episcopi Morinorum" had lost all meaning since the disappearance of the old Celtic tribes, but the bishops, in preserving them, showed that they still hoped to increase their influence towards the north.

This ambition would have remained an empty wish but for the action of a few ardent missionaries who undertook to convert the German conquerors, in the seventh century, as the vanquished Celts had been converted in the third. We have already drawn the attention of the reader to the simultaneous events occurring on both sides of the sea, in Britain and Belgium, during the early stage of their history—Roman conquest, German raids, retreat of the Celtic population among the forests and the hills—but none of these concomitant events is more striking than the appearance, almost at the same time, of St. Augustine in Kent and St. Amand in Flanders.


The latter's mission, however, was not official. On his way to Rome, he saw in a vision St. Peter, who ordered him to preach the Gospel to the Northern Pagans, and forthwith he established himself at the confluence of the Lys and the Scheldt. In this place he founded two monasteries, which were to be the origin of the city of Ghent (610). Emboldened by his first successes, he attempted, supported by the king, to render baptism compulsory, which caused the Franks to revolt against him. After long wanderings among the Danube tribes, he came back to Flanders as Bishop of Tongres in 641, but soon gave up the cross and the mitre to resume the monk's habit, and sought martyrdom among the Basques. The palm being refused him, he again took the road to Belgium, where he died at the monastery of Elnone, near Tournai, towards 661.

For fifty years, with some intervals, he had worked unceasingly, as a monk and as a bishop, for the conversion of Northern Belgium. His efforts were not nearly so systematic as those of Augustine. He did not organize in the same way his spiritual conquests. He contented himself with bringing Pagans into the fold of Christianity, but did little to retain them there. His burning enthusiasm, however, set an example to many disciples and followers, who wandered after him through the country—St. Eloi along the Scheldt, St. Remacle along the Meuse, St. Lambert among the barren moors of Toxandria and St. Hubert through the forests of the Ardennes. Beside these, English and Irish missionaries took a large share in the conversion of Northern Belgium. The fruit of these individual efforts was reaped by the various bishops who had never ceased to claim the northern plain as an integral part of their dominions, according to Roman tradition. All that was necessary, after Christianity had been reintroduced, was to render again effective a bond which for four centuries had remained purely nominal. The bishopric of Liege extended between the Meuse and the Dyle, within the limits occupied formerly by that of Tongres; that of Cambrai, between the Dyle and the Scheldt (Nervii); that of Noyon, between the Scheldt and the sea (Menapii); and that of Terouanne, along the Yser valley (Morini). Thus were re-established, through the action of the Church, the old frontiers of the Celtic tribes, adopted by the Roman "civitates," long after the disappearance of the Celts and the fall of Rome. Liege was attached to the archbishopric of Cologne, the three others to Rheims, reviving, for ecclesiastical purposes, the old division between "Belgica Secunda" in the west and "Germania Inferior" in the east. This division never changed until the sixteenth century, when the northern part of the country ceased to be under the religious influence of the episcopal cities of the south.


It will be noticed that none of the ecclesiastical boundaries which we have mentioned run in an easterly direction. Instead of coinciding with the language frontier, they cross it everywhere, uniting in the same religious community "Walas" and "Dietschen," Celts and Germans. For eight centuries the Church, which was at the time the supreme moral influence, unconsciously devoted all its energy to bringing together the two groups of population. They met in the same churches, they prayed before the same shrines, they joined in the same pilgrimages, they studied and meditated within the walls of the same monasteries. No wonder if such intercourse succeeded finally in uniting those whom nature had so strongly separated, and in creating in Belgium a new type of civilization neither Celtic nor Frankish, neither romanized nor germanized, but combining some of the strongest qualities of both races and well prepared to act as a kind of intellectual, moral and artistic link between them. This rule suffers only one exception. When the progress of Christianity permitted the foundation of a new bishopric at Utrecht, this religious metropolis was not subjected to any Romanic influence. It remained purely Germanic in character, and, already at this early stage of the history of the Netherlands, gave a distinct character to their extreme northern districts, which reasserted itself so strongly at the time of the Reformation.

The Merovingian kings gave a kind of sanction to this gradual separation of the Salian Franks, established in Northern Belgium, from the bulk of the Germanic tribes. It is significant that the limit which for a time separated their kingdom into Neustria in the west and Austrasia in the east, and which followed, in Eastern Gaul, the language frontier, assumed another course in Belgium, and, instead of running from east to west, as might have been expected, ran north and south along the frontier separating the bishopric of Liege from that of Cambrai, bringing Walas and Franks together on both sides of the line. Another proof of the romanizing influence of the Church may be found in the fact that the Franks established in Belgium forgot their tribal affinities. While in the seventh century Ripuarians, Alamans and Thuringians constituted themselves into so many distinct duchies, no attempt was ever made to found a Salian duchy in Northern Belgium. The very name of Franks ceased to be applied to the Walas' neighbours, and it is as "Dietschen," or "Thiois," that they were known through the Middle Ages.

It ought not to be assumed, however, that the movement was one-sided and that the ancient Franks adopted the religion and, to a certain extent, the language of the southern people without influencing them in their turn. The romanization of the Franks was accompanied by the germanization of the Walloons, who adopted the laws and customs of their conquerors. The latter became, in many instances, the great landowners of this part of the country, while the Frankish settlers, in the North, preserved the economic tradition of their native country and remained small farmers. Even this last contrast gradually disappeared under the influence of powerful landlords and through the foundation of rich monasteries, which gradually drew towards them, as tenants or clients, the bulk of the population in both parts of the country. So that, when the Carolingian dynasty superseded the Merovingian, and when Charlemagne received the imperial crown from the hands of the Pope (800), the work of unification was very nearly accomplished. Through reciprocal influences, Dietschen and Walas lived under the same economic, political, religious and judicial regime. The linguistic distinction, on both sides of the Tournai-Maestricht line, was the only notable difference, and even this distinction tended to disappear through the common use of the Roman dialect.


One thing only remained to be done in order to crown the work accomplished during the two last centuries: the creation of a strong centralizing political power. The country was prepared to play the part which she was predestined to play through natural and racial conditions in the history of Europe, but she was still without guidance, a mere borderland, forgotten and neglected, on the fringe of the Frankish kingdom. The instrument was ready, but no artisan could yet use it. As long as the centre of political activity remained on the Seine, the characteristics of Belgian civilization could not be revealed. As long as the balance between Germanic and romanized culture inclined steadily towards the West, the European qualities of this Germanic, semi-romanized people could not be tested. It would be perhaps too much to say that Charlemagne founded Belgian nationality, in the same way that Clovis established French nationality in unifying Gaul, or that Alfred revealed the English to themselves in his triumphant struggle against the Danes. But, by carrying the frontiers of his Empire as far as the Elbe and establishing his headquarters in the centre of his old domain, at Aix-la-Chapelle, in a central position midway between France and Germany, Charlemagne gave at least an opportunity to almost every trait of Belgian social life to assert itself.

During the first part of the ninth century the region of the Scheldt and the Meuse became a beehive of activity. From every part of the world, merchants, theologians, artists and musicians crowded towards the new economic and intellectual centre of Europe. Arnon, a pupil of Alcuin, came to Elnone, the Irish Sedulius to Liege, the Italian Georgius to Valenciennes, while the schools of St. Amand, under Hucbald, acquired a world-wide reputation. Everywhere new monasteries were established, new churches and palaces built. The arts of illuminating, embroidery, carving and stained glass were brought to an unparalleled degree of perfection and refinement. Bishops and abbots competed in attracting to their courts and monasteries the best-known doctors and poets of the time. We have lost most of the artistic treasures and manuscripts of the period through the subsequent Norman invasions. Every vestige of Carolingian sculpture and architecture in Belgium has been destroyed. But, through the works accomplished in other countries and with the help of a few documents such as the inventory preserved in the Chronicle of St. Trond, we are able at least to appreciate not only their intrinsic value, but also the interest they awoke among clerics and laymen. That the great emperor encouraged this movement and took a direct part in it in attracting to the various centres of learning the best masters in Europe is sufficiently shown by his letter to Gerbald of Liege. Under his direction, European civilization was definitely established in the northern plain of Europe and Aix-la-Chapelle became indeed the "Northern Rome." The capital, with Tongres, Liege, St. Trond and other neighbouring cities, formed a centre from which civilization spread east and west towards Germany and France, just as it had spread, a few centuries before, from Central Italy towards the Eastern and Western Mediterranean.


The old Roman road, along which the monasteries founded many hostelries, was followed by streams of travellers of every description. The Meuse, Scheldt and Rhine were dotted with the sails of many ships bringing foreign wares and taking away the products of home industry. The most important of these was a special kind of cloth, "the Frisian cloth," for which the northern plain, covered with rich pastures and producing great quantities of wool, was already renowned. It was a specialized industry, the natural development of the ancient clothmaking of the Menapii mentioned above, and the predecessor of the cloth-weaving for which Flanders acquired a world-wide reputation during the subsequent centuries. The "Frisian cloth" was already exported, by the Rhine, as far as Central Europe and, by sea, towards Great Britain and Scandinavia. Pieces of money from the ports of Sluis and Duurstede have been found in both countries, and the frequency of intercourse with the North was such that a monastery was established at Thourout, near Duurstede, for the special purpose of training missionaries for the conversion of the Danish traders.

It is true that the prosperity realized under Charlemagne was short-lived, and that, a few years later, Northern Europe, and more especially Belgium, became the prey of the Normans, who destroyed most of the literary and artistic treasures accumulated with such enthusiasm during his reign. It is true also that Belgian unity was destined to break up, and that the country was to be divided between Germany and France and their respective vassals. But if Charlemagne came too soon, at a time when ethnographic conditions had not yet been sufficiently stabilized, and if his Empire did not survive him, his influence has nevertheless been felt through many centuries. If his dream of a European Empire could not be realized, the mission assigned to Belgium, as a natural link between East and West, remains even to-day one of the main features of European politics. History has shown that no annexation, no territorial division, of the dualistic country could ever guarantee peace between France and Germany. Such a peace is only possible, if the intervening nation is allowed to play its part in the concert of nations, and it has only been realized, when this part has been played. Belgium will never be what Charlemagne made it, the nucleus of a great Empire; but, unless it remains a free factor in the history of Europe, as it was for the first time under the great emperor, conflicts between the two rivals, abruptly brought together along the same frontier, become inevitable. There is a big jump from the ninth century to the Congress of Vienna, between the glory of Aix-la-Chapelle and the establishment of Belgian neutrality; there has been a great deal of ground covered since, but there is a kind of permanency in human affairs which cannot vainly be disregarded, and the policy of Charlemagne teaches us lessons which no modern statesman ought to ignore.




The central position occupied by ancient Belgium, which had been the cause of its efflorescence in the first years of the ninth century, was also the cause of its decadence after the death of Charlemagne (814). From the competition which arose at the time date the age-long rivalries between France and Germany and the tribulations of the territories lying between them, which, though claimed in turn by both Powers, and including a half romanized and half Germanic population, were neither French nor German, but possessed an individuality of their own. If these territories had been widespread and strongly defended by nature, like ancient Italy in the Mediterranean world, they might have become the seat of a new European Empire, or at least played the part of a strong third partner with which both French and German rivals would have had to reckon. This would have entirely changed the course of European politics and perhaps greatly increased the chances of a peaceful and stable regime. As it was, the intermediate country, widely open in the East and in the West, too weak to resist foreign aggression, became, at best, a weak buffer State, and, at worst, a bone of contention between two powerful hereditary enemies.


The wars and treaties which brought about the division of Charlemagne's Empire show plainly that the creation of a central Power was doomed to failure, this third Power being too vulnerable to resist combined attacks from East and West and being far too heterogeneous to maintain its unity. The treaty of Verdun, in 843, divided the Empire between Charlemagne's three grandsons. Charles received France, Louis Germany, and Lotharius, the youngest, the rich region lying between both countries and extending from Holland to Italy, including the largest portion of Belgium, with the title of emperor. After the death of Lotharius I, his son, Lotharius II, inherited the northern part of his father's domains, which, for want of a better name, was called "Regnum Lotharii"—Lotharingia. But both Charles and Louis were already endeavouring to conquer their nephew's possessions. Soon after his death, they met at Meersen, near Maestricht (870), where the partition of his lands was decided, Charles obtaining the whole of present Belgium, as far as the Meuse. The death of Louis was the signal for a new conflict. Charles was defeated at Andernach by Louis III (876), and the frontier between France and Germany was fixed on the Scheldt, Charles retaining Flanders, Louis obtaining Lotharingia (879). After the short reign of Charles the Fat, who restored for a few years the unity of the Empire, these two parts of Belgium remained thus separated for three centuries. It is important to notice that both included Flemings and Walloons, and that, on either side of the frontier, there was a strong tendency not to let Lotharingia or Flanders be drawn into the circle of German or French policy. The spirit of independence remained alive, and when, in the eleventh century, political conditions became more favourable, an entente between the Belgian princes on both sides of the Scheldt was the natural result of the weakening of the central power. Such an entente brought about finally, in the early days of the fifteenth century, the complete reunion of both parts of the country. So that the history of Belgium, from the tenth century to the early Renaissance, may be considered as the history of a small part of France and a small part of Germany, which, after struggling for independence against their respective masters, gradually joined hands in order to submit themselves to the rule of common national princes.

It would be an error to attribute the separatist leanings of the nobles in Flanders and Lotharingia to national feeling, at a time when this feeling scarcely existed in Western Europe. No doubt, the resistance offered by the Belgian nobles to their foreign sovereigns might be simply represented as the direct effect of the feudal system and of the jealous pride which every vassal entertained towards his suzerain. But, if local ambitions became supreme in Europe in the tenth century, we may at least point out that, owing to the mixed characters of language and race prevailing in Belgium, and to the peculiar position occupied by Flanders and Lotharingia, nowhere were those tendencies more evident than in these distant marches of France and Germany. Just as, at a later stage, Bruges and Ghent became the most accomplished types of the independent mediaeval communes, the counts of Flanders and the princes of Lotharingia offered the most perfect examples of the restless feudal princes.

The origin of feudalism is well known and is common to all European countries. It springs from the weakening of central authority, after the death of Charlemagne, the increasing influence of the big property-owners and the gradual subordination of the small owners to the nobles who gave them the benefit of their protection. Its development was greatly hastened, in Belgium, by the invasions of the Normans. These were particularly severe in a land which had become, under Charlemagne, the richest in Europe, and which was easily reached from the sea, owing to the navigable character of its rivers. They coincided with the Danish invasions in England and with the Scandinavian raids on the coasts of Germany and France. It seemed, at one time, as if the invaders were going to settle in Holland, as they settled later in Normandy. In 834 they established themselves at the mouths of the Meuse, the Rhine and the Scheldt, and, from this centre, pursued their systematic expeditions almost unhindered. Great camps were organized by them at Louvain and Maestricht, at the farthest navigable limit of the Dyle and Meuse, where all the treasures of the surrounding monasteries, churches and palaces were accumulated.

Lotharius II allowed Ruric to establish himself on the lower Meuse, and Godfried, another Norman chieftain, received Friesland from Charles the Fat. When the victory of Arnulf of Carinthia at Louvain (891) put a stop to their activity and compelled them to retreat, the Normans left behind them only barren deserts dotted with ruins, separated by a series of entrenched camps where tenants dwelt under the protection of their masters' strongholds.


The Normans not only hastened the advent of feudalism, they wrecked Carolingian civilization as effectually as the Franks had wrecked Belgo-Roman culture. Once more the threads had to be picked up one by one, and the fabric of European civilization patiently rebuilt, and once more the Church became the most important factor in this work of reconstruction and succeeded in preserving the spiritual heritage of St. Amand. For the third time, she endeavoured to bring charity, art and culture into a world of violence and barbarism. After civilizing the Pagan Celts in the third century and the Pagan Franks in the seventh, she had now to civilize the Christians of the tenth century, and this was not destined to be an easier task.



Let us now deal briefly with the general course of events in Eastern Belgium, or Lotharingia, attached to the Germanic Empire since 879. It is merely, as we said, the story of the efforts made by the nobles, who appear, for the first time, as a power in the State, to free themselves from the control of their imperial suzerain. The aristocracy was divided between the partisans of the German emperors and those of the local chiefs, and between these parties no compromise was possible.

It would be without interest for the British reader to follow every episode of this quarrel, but some of its aspects cannot be ignored in the study of the formation of Belgian nationality.

Illustration: FEUDAL BELGIUM.


Two features characterize the policy of the native aristocracy: their attachment to the Carolingian dynasty and the way in which they endeavoured to preserve their freedom of action by concluding a series of alliances either with France against Germany or with Germany against France. It is easy to understand that, in these districts, which owed so much to the Carolingian regime, the Carolingian tradition had retained its prestige. The way the descendants of Lotharius had been despoiled of their heritage by Charles and Louis became the pretext for a series of insurrections against the new masters imposed on the country by the second treaty of Verdun. The first of these movements was led by Hugh, a natural son of Lotharius; it failed through the capture of its leader. The second, which was far more important, was led by a native lord, Regner Long Neck, son of one of Lotharius's daughters, who possessed vast domains in Hainault, the Ardennes, the Liege country and on the lower Meuse—that is to say, on both sides of the language frontier. Regner may be considered as a typical representative of this Lotharingian nobility, which, though defeated at first, succeeded in the end in freeing itself from imperial control. Speaking both languages, he was attached neither to the French nor to the German party, but was ready to pass from one to the other according to the interest of his policy, which was merely to preserve his own independence. Regner differed entirely from the other nobles of the Empire, such as the dukes of Saxony, Bavaria, etc., inasmuch as he did not represent any ethnographic group. He was the ideal type of the feudal lord for whom no interest prevails against his own. Thanks to his alliance with the French king, he succeeded in defeating Zwentibold, the son of the emperor, and established his rule over Lotharingia. His capital was at Meersen, near Maestricht, on the language frontier, midway between his Walloon and Flemish possessions. From the point of view of international politics, his son Gislebert is a still more striking personality. Threatened by Charles the Simple, he concluded an alliance with the Emperor Henry, and succeeded thus in shifting his position from France to Germany and from Germany to France no less than four times. He was finally obliged to submit to the emperor, whose power was steadily growing, and married his daughter (925). Having risen against Otto, Henry's successor, he was defeated at Andernach and drowned in the Rhine. Otto experienced further difficulties in controlling his Belgian possessions, and only succeeded by delegating his power to his brother Bruno, Archbishop of Cologne, and germanizing the Lotharingian bishoprics of Liege and Cambrai.

For over a century, the German or germanized high clergy became the strongest supporters of the emperor's influence in the country. Their loyalty never failed, and was emphatically expressed by Wazo, Bishop of Liege, who declared that "even if the emperor had his right eye put out, he would not fail to use the left for his master's honour and service." Bruno and Notger of Liege (974-1005) undertook to reform their clergy and to encourage intellectual culture. Under their guidance, Liege became once more a great centre of learning. Besides theology, grammar, rhetoric and poetry, music and mathematics were taught in the city, which could boast of being a "Northern Athens." The movement reached Cambrai and Utrecht, and one of the most important chronicles of the time, Sigebert's De Scriptoribus Ecclesiasticis—a first attempt towards a universal history of Europe—was written in the monastery of Gembloux. The prestige derived from this intellectual movement helped considerably to increase German influence and brought to Liege a number of foreign students from Germany, France, England, and even from the Slav countries.


For a time, the resistance of the local aristocracy was overcome. Regner of Hainault, nephew of Gislebert, had been exiled by Bruno, the Carolingian dynasty was supplanted in France by the Capetian, and its last representatives, Duke Charles and his son, lay buried side by side in Maestricht. The descendants of Regner Long Neck nevertheless remained powerful, owing, partly, to the marriage of Regner V of Hainault with a daughter of Hugh Capet, and to the marriage of Lambert of Louvain to the daughter of Duke Charles. From the first years of the eleventh century, feudalism prevailed not only in Hainault and Brabant, but also in Namur, Holland and Luxemburg, so that the only means the emperor and his loyal bishops had to maintain their power was by provoking rivalries among the nobles. The title of Duke of Lotharingia was therefore not given to one of Regner's descendants, but to Godfrey of Verdun, who succeeded in defeating his adversaries at Florennes (1015), where he was killed. His successors did not show the same loyalty to Germany, and when the Emperor Henry III attempted to divide the duchy in order to diminish the duke's power, he found himself faced by a powerful confederacy, including not only Godfrey the Bearded, the counts of Louvain, Hainault, Namur and Holland, but also Baldwin V of Flanders (1044).

The date is important, for it marks a turning-point in the mediaeval history of Belgium. For two centuries Flanders and Lotharingia had remained separated, dependent respectively on France and Germany for their political life. By crossing the boundary established by the Verdun treaty and interfering directly in the internal affairs of Lotharingia, Baldwin inaugurated a new policy and rendered possible a system of alliances between the Belgian nobles which brought about the reunion of both parts of the country under the same sovereign and, ultimately, the foundation of Belgian nationality.

The emperors might have resisted more successfully if they had preserved to the last the support of the bishops, who had been for so long their trustworthy agents. In order to understand how they lost this support, we must describe briefly the conditions of religious life during the tenth and eleventh centuries.

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When the Normans left the country, it was again plunged in barbarism. The monasteries were in every way similar to any other feudal residence, and the ascetic rule of St. Benedict was entirely forgotten. The abbots rather distinguished themselves from the other nobles by their greed and violence. They married and indulged in drinking bouts and predatory expeditions. A reform was urgently needed. Once more it was not accomplished by the high clergy, but quite spontaneously by the people themselves, whose faith had survived the ordeal of invasions.


Gerard de Brogne, an obscure nobleman, possessor of the small domain of Brogne, near Namur, after a visit to the Abbey of St. Denys, decided to restore the Benedictine tradition. On his return, he founded an abbey on his own land, gave up the world, and retired with a few disciples to the solitude of the woods. The nobles soon heard of his exemplary life and endeavoured to secure his services. Almost against his will, he was made to go from one monastery to another under the patronage of Duke Gislebert and of Arnulf of Flanders. St. Ghislain, St. Pierre, St. Bavon (Ghent), St. Amand and St. Omer received his visit in turn, and, by the middle of the tenth century, the old rule was re-established from the Meuse to the sea. The bishops of Liege, Cambrai and Utrecht joined in the movement and, with their help and that of the nobility, a number of new monasteries sprang to life in a very short time on both sides of the linguistic frontier. An extraordinary religious revival took place, which was not limited to an intellectual aristocracy, like the reform brought about almost at the same time by Bruno and Notgen in the schools of Cologne and Liege. It was not concerned with science or politics, and was essentially religious and popular in character. The chronicles of the time tell us of many examples of religious fervour. At St. Trond, the people volunteered to bring from the Rhine the stones and pillars for the erection of a new church. Near Tournai, a colony of monks established in the ruins of an old abbey were fed, year after year, by the citizens. At the end of the eleventh century a great procession was instituted in that town, in which the whole population of the neighbouring districts took part, without any distinction of rank or class, the people walking barefoot behind a miraculous image of the Virgin. In order to put a stop to local conflicts, so frequent at the time, it was enough to send a few monks carrying some sacred shrine. At the sight of the relics, the contending warriors laid down their weapons, forgot their quarrels and became reconciled.

Gerard de Brogne prepared the way for the Clunisian reformers, who, coming from Lorraine, spread rapidly during the first part of the eleventh century through Belgium towards Germany. This new movement, however, which became extremely popular not only among the people and the nobility but also among the high clergy, was bound to react on the political situation of Lotharingia at a time when the question of the supremacy of the spiritual over the temporal power was brought to the fore. The Clunisians, like most mystics at the time, were bound to reject any interference of the emperors in the affairs of the Church. They only recognized one power, the spiritual power of the Pope. In the struggle for the investitures, all their influence was thrown against Henry IV and his German bishops. The latter, after a long resistance, were obliged to give way before the popular outcry and the relentless opposition of the feudal lords, who found in the new movement a powerful and unexpected ally. French influence had come once more to their help in their efforts to shake off German hegemony.

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Against the combined action of the Clunisians, the Lotharingian nobles and their new allies, the counts of Flanders, the emperors were still powerless. After the death of Henry III, Count Baldwin V obtained some territories between the Scheldt and the Dendre (Imperial Flanders) and the supremacy over Hainault, through the marriage of his son to Countess Richilda (1051). The Duke of Lotharingia, Godfrey the Hunchback, the last Belgian supporter of imperial rule, after checking the progress of the coalition, died, murdered in Zeeland (1076). His son, Godfrey of Bouillon, sold his land to the Bishop of Liege and left the country as the leader of the first crusade.

The Belgian princes, talking both languages, in close relations with France and Germany, were bound to take an important part in the great European adventure. They were, as far as the word may be used at this period of history, more European than national lords. And it is no doubt owing to this essentially Belgian character, as well as to his personal qualities, that Godfrey was chosen by the crusaders as their chief rather than other princes who, in spite of their greater riches and power, were not so well placed to understand and conciliate rival claims.

The same reasons which made Aix-la-Chapelle the capital of Charlemagne's Empire gave the leadership of the mightiest European expedition of the Middle Ages to a humble and ruined Belgian prince.

The first years of the twelfth century mark the triumph of local feudalism over imperial rule. While Henry IV, under the ban of excommunication, found a last refuge in Liege, his son gave the ducal dignity to Godfrey of Louvain. Thus the house of Regner Long Neck, after two centuries of ostracism, came into its own once more.



While, during the tenth and eleventh centuries, the Lotharingian lords were striving to retain their independence under German rule, the counts of Flanders acquired very rapidly a considerable influence in France, and were practically left free to administer their domains without any interference from outside. No duke, no bishops stood in their way. They were directly dependent on the French kings, and the latter were so weak, at the time, that they could not use the power they possessed. From this point of view the story of the two parts of mediaeval Belgium presents a striking contrast. On one side of the Scheldt, an enfeebled and divided nobility struggled against a powerful suzerain; on the other, a powerless suzerain was vainly attempting to assert his authority over one of his most overbearing vassals.


There is, however, one characteristic which the house of Regner and that of the Flemish counts had in common. Both owed their initial power to their alliance with the Carolingian dynasty. Just as Regner's father had abducted one of Lotharius's daughters, Baldwin Iron Arm succeeded in abducting Judith, daughter of Charles the Bald, and widow of the English king Ethelwulf (862). This gave him a pretext to intervene in French affairs, of which his son Baldwin II (879-918) made full use. After extending his domains as far as the Somme and annexing Walloon Flanders and Artois, this prince consolidated his power by marrying a daughter of Alfred the Great.

Flanders was definitely established as one of the richest fiefs of the French crown, in close contact with England. Like Lotharingia, it possessed two essentially Belgian characteristics. It had neither racial nor linguistic unity, the north being Germanic and the south romanized, and it was placed between two rival Powers, France and England. The counts, or "marchios" as they preferred to call themselves, sought alliance at one time with their suzerain, at another with their neighbour, according to circumstances. When the power of the French kings increased, they leant more and more towards England, as the Lotharingian nobles had towards France when threatened by the German emperors.

Arnulf I, having secured Douai and Arras, turned his attention towards Normandy, but his progress was soon checked in that direction. His seal, which has been preserved, is the oldest feudal seal known, and the story of his life, the Sancta prosapia domini Arnulfi comitis gloriosissimi, was the origin of the collection of annals and chronicles in Latin, French and Flemish which formed, in the sixteenth century, the well-known Excellente Cronijke van Vlaenderen. His son and grandson gave up all attacks against Normandy and endeavoured to extend their possessions towards the east and south. Baldwin IV seized Valenciennes, in Hainault, and held it, for some time, against a coalition including the emperor, the King of France and the Duke of Normandy. He was finally obliged to restore the town in 1007, but, a few years later, succeeded in obtaining a portion of Zeeland and Zeeland Flanders ("Four Metiers"). In spite of the efforts made by the emperors to fortify the line of the Scheldt at Antwerp and Valenciennes, his successor, Baldwin V, the Bearded, crossed the river, and, after pushing as far as the Dendre, obtained from Henry II the investiture of the country of Alost and Zeeland. This was called "Imperial Flanders," as opposed to French Flanders, and the count, though nominally subjected to the rule of king and emperor, acquired from his intermediate position a new prestige. Like the dukes of Burgundy, four centuries later, he only lacked the title of a sovereign. "The kings," according to William of Poitiers, "feared and respected him; dukes, marquises, bishops trembled before him." When Henry I of France died, Baldwin was unanimously chosen to act as regent until young Philip came of age. The latter called him "his patron, the protector of his childhood"; he called himself "regni procurator et bajulus."

The regency ended in 1065, at a time when William of Normandy, who had married one of Baldwin's daughters, was preparing to invade England. The mere threat of a diversion on the Somme would have prevented this expedition, whose consequences were to prove later on so dangerous to France. But Baldwin acted as a Belgian, not as a French prince. It suited his policy to create a rival to his suzerain. Far from hampering William, he allowed a number of his subjects to take an active part in the enterprise.


The marriage of Baldwin's eldest son with Richilda of Hainault and of his second son Robert with Gertrude of Holland suggested the possibility of an early unification of Belgium under the counts of Flanders. According to Gilbert of Bruges, the two sons of Baldwin were "like powerful wings sustaining him in his flight."

The reunion of Hainault and Flanders was, however, destined to be short-lived. Baldwin VI died in 1070, leaving his widow Richilda with two young children; Robert, her brother-in-law, rebelled against her. After his victory at Mont Cassel, where he defeated a French army sent by the king to Richilda's help, he left Hainault to his nephew and took possession of Flanders.

Up to then, the counts had resided most of the time in the southern part of their possessions, where they had their richest domains. Robert the Frisian established his capital at Bruges, whose trade was beginning to develop rapidly, and which had opened relations with England and the Baltic countries. The fact that Robert's first possessions were in Holland might have influenced his choice, but the change marks, nevertheless, an important stage in the evolution of Flanders from a purely agricultural country into an industrial and commercial one. It looked at one time as if war was going to break out between England and Flanders, as the Conqueror, owing to his marriage, had some claims on the country. Robert, who had given his daughter in marriage to King Canute of Denmark, concluded an alliance with him, and even projected a combined attack on the English coast, which, however, never materialized. He proved an irreconcilable enemy to the German emperors, and entered into close relations with the Pope. His pilgrimage to Jerusalem, in 1083, added to his prestige, and the Emperor Alexis, who had received him with great pomp in Constantinople, asked his support against the Turks. The letter which the emperor addressed to him at the time, as to the "staunchest supporter of Christianity," and which was given wide circulation, had a considerable influence in preparing the first crusade, in which his son Robert II (1093-1111) took a prominent part under Godfrey of Bouillon.

The rich and powerful Count of Flanders did not remain in the Holy Land, like the ruined Duke of Lotharingia. His home interests were far too important. He gave up the Danish policy of his father and allied himself to the King of France against the English kings, whose power was rapidly increasing. The French alliance stood him in good stead when, making a pretext of the struggle of the investitures and of his relationship with the Pope, he renewed his ancestor's claim upon the emperor's possessions. More successful than Baldwin IV, he succeeded in detaching the bishopric of Arras from Cambrai, and in spite of the obstinate resistance of Henry IV and Henry V, in obtaining the suzerainty over Cambraisis.


On the other hand, by encouraging and protecting the first Capetians, Robert of Jerusalem and his son Baldwin VII made a very grave political mistake. Too preoccupied by the imminent danger from England, they did not realize that, owing to its geographical position, this country could never threaten Flanders's independence in the same way as France, which had, besides, the right to interfere in its internal affairs. It is, however, characteristic of the Count's policy that, on several occasions, in 1103 and 1109, they signed separate agreements with Henry I, in which they promised him to use all their influence in his favour in case the French king contemplated an expedition against England, and, if their efforts failed, not to give their suzerain more help than they were strictly bound to. Even at the time when the alliance with France was most cordial, the door was never closed on possible negotiations with England. To call such a policy sheer duplicity would be to misunderstand the spirit of the period and the special position in which the Belgian princes, whether of Lotharingia or of Flanders, were placed. Their diplomacy was the necessary result of the central situation occupied by their possessions. Unless they endeavoured to maintain a certain balance of power between their neighbours, they were in direct danger of losing their independence. Periods of hesitation coincided with a divided menace. As soon as the danger became evident on one side, the Belgian princes invariably turned towards the other. The same reasons which bound the descendants of Regner Long Neck to France soon brought about a closer entente between the counts and communes of Flanders and the English kings.

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