Summary of The Great History of Belgium by Patrick Weber

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  • Post last modified:May 20, 2024
La grande histoire de la belgique (the great history of belgium) book cover

Summary: 24 min

Book reading time: 7h

Score: 6/10

Book published in: 2015

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  • In Roman times, three people inhabited Gaul: the Gauls, the Aquitaines, and the Belgians.
  • The Roman Republic conquered all of them and the Belgians became Roman in the first century BC, then Catholic in the 3rd century.
  • After the Roman Empire fell, the Franks established themselves in Belgium. The Frank king Clovis unified Gaul then moved into France and established his capital from Tournai to Paris.
  • Clovis’ line of kings was called the Merovingians. It died out and was replaced by the Carolingians, a family from Herstal, Belgium.
  • The greatest Carolingian king Charlemagne became emperor in 800. His kingdom, spanning what’s today France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany was later divided between his three grandsons.
  • Through a series of weddings, wars, and treaties, Belgium split between the Prince-Bishopric of Liège, independent but under the protection of the Holy Roman Empire, and the different Duchies and Counties under the Duchy of Burgundy. The Duke of Burgundy coined the term “Netherlands”, meaning “lower countries”.
  • By a mechanism of succession and weddings, the Netherlands (current Flanders, West of Wallonia, and the actual Netherlands) ended up under the Spanish crown from 1506 to 1713.
  • In 1555, Philip II inherited the Netherlands after his father Charles V abdicated. He expanded the Spanish Inquisition ongoing since 1478 which led to a revolution and a civil war.
  • The seven northern provinces of the Netherlands (what’s today the Netherlands) took their independence in 1579 to form the Dutch Republic, while the south remained under Spanish control.
  • The 1700 War of Succession led the king of Spain Philippe V to renounce the French throne and to accept that the Netherlands go to Austria in 1713.
  • The anti-clerical policy of the Austrian Emperor Joseph II caused the Brabant Revolution in 1787. Belgium got rid of Austria in 1790 and declared itself independent as the “United States of Belgium“.
  • The failure of the conservatives and progressists to agree on anything led the Austrians to invade again that same year.
  • The French armies invaded the country in 1794 and officially annexed it in 1795. For the first time in almost 1000 years, the Prince-Bishopric of Liege was reunited with the United Provinces. Belgium remained French until Napoleon lost in Waterloo in 1815.
  • The Congress of Vienna, which dismembered the French Empire, put Belgium into the hands of the Netherlands. After reforms favoring the Dutch language, Protestantism, and the UK as a trading partner, the Belgians revolted and became independent in 1830.
  • In 1831, the Dutch invaded Belgium who lost the short war. It was forced to give up a part of Limburg and the Duchy of Luxembourg which became a client state of the Netherlands.
  • The Belgians chose for king Leopold I from the Saxe-Cobourg and Gotha house, a German Protestant who had married a British princess (Charlotte). The subsequent kings were Leopold II, Albert I, Leopold III, Baudouin I, Albert II, and Philippe I.

Table of Contents

What The Great History of Belgium Talks About

The Great History of Belgium (La Grande Histoire de la Belgique) is a history book written by Patrick Weber. It tells the story of Belgium from pre-historic times to the beginning of the 21st century.

It’s a bit disappointing, too.

Patrick Weber goes too much into detail and fails to leave the reader with a broad understanding of the history of the country.

By focusing too much on the relationships between the kings, queens, princes, and princesses, the reader misses the significance of important events (Eg: the Eighty Year War) that aren’t even described as such in the book.

The result is a complicated fresco where thousands of small events aggregate to make Belgium what it is today, without any conducting narrative.

As a result, the book is either too short, or too long.

Nonetheless, it’s a good book for people who want to know a little bit more about Belgium. But further investigation will be needed for those who want a broad historical arc of the country.

That’s what I’ve tried to do with this summary.


Get the book here.

Summary of The Great History of Belgium Written by Patrick Weber

Part I: Pre-Feudal Period

People have been occupying Belgium for at least 300 000 years. Neanderthal bones were found in the Spy Cave dating back to 60 000 years.

Homo Sapiens came to Belgium in -35 000. They lived, among other places, in the cave of Goyet where objects were found.

The Neolithic started in -6000 in Belgium when men stopped hunting and gathering and began to grow food instead.

The Bronze Age began in -1800, but its absence in Belgium meant that it needed to be imported – therefore, it was fairly rare.

Then the Age of Iron developed which allowed for the manufacturing and use of tools

Celtic Belgium

Celtic tribes arrived in Belgium in -800 and handled iron much better than the locals, which didn’t impact their survival whatsoever.

The word “Belgian” (Belge, in French) was invented around that time, but no one knows for sure what it means.

The origins of the Belgian tribes were both Gaullish and Germanic. They had no political or religious unity, and traditions and knowledge were orally transmitted.

Many began to immigrate to England in -200.

Roman Belgium

When Julius Caesar sought to conquer Gaul, it was divided into three parts:

  • The Celts (called the Gauls by the Romans)
  • The people of Aquitaine
  • The Belgians.

Caesar’s conquest of Gaul led the Belgians to unite against him. Ambiorix first, then Vercingetorix lost the war and Gaul became officially Roman. The battles were violent and everything was destroyed.

The Romans built cities in places where the ancient Celtic villages used to stand, and a complete road network. The Roman culture and religion slowly but surely began to replace the Celtic rites.

As time passed, the Empire weakened and Belgium was increasingly the victim of Germanic tribe attacks.

It became Christian at the end of the third century.

The Frank and Merovingian Belgium

The Germans came to Belgium in the fourth and fifth centuries and sought to integrate into Roman life but didn’t really succeed.

Meanwhile, the Franks, whose origin isn’t clear, took place as a confederation of tribes in a territory that corresponds to current Wallonia.

Their king, Childeric I, inaugurated the Merovingian dynasty that ruled over France until the 8th century. His ancestor, Clodion, had made Tournai his capital.

Childeric’s son was Clovis. Clovis married a catholic princess (Clotilde) and converted himself and his kingdom to Christianity after winning a battle he thought he’d lose.

He moved from Belgium to the south to establish his kingdom and switched his capital from Tournai to Paris.

When he died in 511, the kingdom was divided among his sons, according to the Germanic tradition.

The Merovingian kings looked for allies to keep their power and unite the kingdom. They hired palace mayors, some sort of assistants, to tutor their younglings.

These palace mayors acquired more and more power as the kings grew lazier until one family distinguished itself from the pack: the Pippinids – the founder of the Carolingian dynasty.

Carolingian Belgium

The Carolingian dynasty practically took power while a Merovingian was still officially king (the Lazy Kings period).

Pepin of Herstal fought against the Saxons. Then his son, Charles Martel, fought against the Arabs in Poitiers in 732.

In 737, the last Merovingian king died and Pepin the Short (son of Charles Martel) asked the Pope who could be rightfully king. The Pope designated him and he became the first of the Carolingian in 751, then king of the Franks in 754 with his two sons, Carloman, and Charlemagne.

Carloman died in 771 and Charlemagne became Emperor of the Romans in 800, crowned by the Pope in Rome on Christmas day.

When he died, his son Louis I (Louis the Pious) succeeded him but had to fight against barbaric forces. The Empire was divided between his three sons during the Treaty of Verdun in 843.

This act created France and Germany as we know them today. France, which used to be called Gaul, takes the name of “Western France”.

Part II: The Feudal Period

Feudalism developed because decision-making centers were too far away for quick decisions to be taken, which displeased the people.

Kings and local rulers distributed lands to reward those who were faithful to them and ensure that the land wasn’t conquered by somebody else.

This fragmented the territory.

The County of Flanders

In Flanders, the Count seized this opportunity to expand his territory.

It developed and became wealthy.

Politically, it depended on the kings of France, but economically, it depended on England. This created tensions that the Counts had to continually balance, leading to the strengthening of power from the communes (municipalities).

In 1278, the Count Gui de Dampierre took power in Flanders in 1253. He joined forces with the people against the communes and the nobility which kept its allegiance to the French king.

This led to clashes and Philippe IV of France demanded that Dampierre take measures against England.

This led England to try to take Flanders from the French, so the French sent an army to occupy Flanders.

Philippe IV of France eventually annexed Flanders and placed Jacques de Chatillon as governor.

Since the taxes were too high, people quickly revolted.

On the 11th of July 1302, the Flemish fought against Philip IV of France during the Battle of the Golden Spurs and won. The battle wasn’t as much a Flemish VS French battle as it was a battle between the Count (faithful to the French crown) and the businessmen, dependent on England for wool

Two years later, the French invaded again and won.

The Duchy of Brabant

The area located between the Scheldt and the Rhine remained under Germanic Emperors until the lords (particularly of Leuven) took their independence.

They extended their influence to Brussels, Nivelles, and Antwerp.

They became Dukes of Leuven, then Dukes of Brabant.

The Dukes minted their own currencies and created new cities which increased its prosperity.

In 1288, the Duchy of Brabant acquired the Duchy of Limburg. The ambitions of Brabant led to more debt. To avoid social unrest, the Duchy gave more power and freedom to the cities by means of an assembly (called the Kortenberg assembly) that could veto decisions from the Duke.

A charter was established to define the powers of each party, considered like the very first constitution of Brabant.

After wars and the absence of successors, the Duchy ended up under Philip the Good from Burgundy.

The County of Hainaut

The county developed around the castle of Mons.

The Counts fought against the Germanic emperors to remain independent.

Other parts of Belgium were the Duchy of Limbourg, the County and Duchy of Luxembourg, the County of Namur, the Prince-Bishopric of Liege.

Cities did not stop fighting for more rights and freedoms which they often obtained (freedom, business freedom, property rights, establishment of corporations). Corporations ruled over who got to have a job and who didn’t. They each had their own house, saint, banner, etc.

The bourgeois sought to direct their own cities but often had to cooperate with the local lord.

Part III: Burgundian Belgium (1384 – 1477) and the Transition to the Spanish Age (1477 – 1506)

Through a series of marriages, several regions of Belgium (mainly Flemish counties) were placed under the authority of the Dukes of Burgundy (while others remained under the French king).

One of the most remarkable dukes was Philip the Good. He centralized the Belgian/Dutch part of his duchy in Belgium, and invented the term “pays-bas” (lower-countries, which will give “Netherlands”).

He was really rich and financed the arts in Belgium.

His son, Charles the Bold, used force to expand his Duchy and almost managed to be recognized as king by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. But he failed. When he died, the French king occupied Burgundy and got back a lot of territories from them.

image 10
Burgundy under Charles the Bold Source

Charles’ daughter, Mary of Burgundy, inherited a weakened Duchy of Burgundy as the Flemish counties hoped for independence again. She had to make some concessions: French no longer became obligatory and war could no longer be declared without the authorization of the counties. Mary married Maximilian of Austria, a Habsburg, and the heir of the Holy Roman Empire. They had a son, Philip I of Castile, the last Duke to rule over the counties.

Philip I of Castile married Joanna of Castile. Joana inherited Spain in 1500, making Philip I the de facto king of Spain, Burgundy, and its counties.

That’s how Belgium (or a part of it, at least) became Spanish.

Part IV: Spanish Belgium (1506 – 1713)

image 3
The Habsburg possessions when Charles V abdicates. Source.

As we can see on the map, not all of Belgium was concerned by the following events. The Prince-Bishopric of Liège, mainly, remained out of the lot, independent, and neutral, and recognized as such by France and the Holy Roman Empire (the Habsburg dynasty).

Charles Quint (known as Charles V in English), the son of Philip I of Castile and Joanna, inherited the whole thing in 1516 when Ferdinand of Aragon, his grandfather, died.

And when Maximilian I died too in 1519, Charles Quint gets also the Holy Roman Empire.

He ends up at the helm of:

  • Spain and its colonies.
  • Burgundy
  • The Netherlands (Belgium + the Netherlands today)
  • A part of Italy
  • The Holy Roman Empire

He fought against the French king Francois I and got new territories in Belgium which enabled him to reunite all of the principalities of the Netherlands, named the seventeen provinces.

The population density and prosperity in the Netherlands were the highest in Europe from 1500 to 1550.

Antwerp developed fast and reached 100 000 inhabitants, a huge number at the time! The city printed the writings of Luther in 1519, which Charles Quint had to fight.

He abdicated in 1555 and left the Netherlands to his son Philip II, then Austria to his brother, Ferdinand.

Philip II was born in Spain, a culture far different from the Netherlands, which made them desire independence (again).

When he waged war against the French, he asked for the Netherlands to participate financially, which they refused given that it was a Spanish-French problem.

In 1478, an Inquisition had begun in Spain (to fight against Judaism and Islam) which Philip II continued all the way up to the Netherlands, against the Protestants. This created tensions with the nobility which wanted to protect the industry, in the hands of many Protestants.

At the time, the Netherlands was governed by Philippe’s half-sister, Margaret, who never managed to negotiate between her intransigent brother who did not want any Protestants in the Netherlands, and the nobility, who asked for tolerance toward Protestantism. The nobles made themselves heard during the “Revolte of the Gueux” in 1566, when a group of them marched to the castle where Margaret was staying to make their demands.

This kicked off the Eighty Years War between the the United-Provinces and Spain.

After receiving the message from the nobility transmitted to Margaret, Philip replaced her with the sinister Duke of Alba in 1567, who killed 8000 people as a part of his repression. He also created new laws and taxes which led to a new uprising. He was replaced in 1573 by Luis de Requesens who died in 1576.

Many others tried to govern the Netherlands which descended into a civil war between Catholics in the south and Protestants in the north. It split in 1579 when the seven northern Protestant provinces established the Dutch Republic (gradually ruled by the House of Orange), and the southern Netherlands…in the south.

The Dutch Republic will never be again under Habsburg domination.

(From then on, the Netherlands of today will be called the Dutch Republic while Belgium of today will be called the Netherlands).

image 4

While the Dutch Republic was thriving with the establishment of the Dutch East India Company, the Netherlands was in disarray as the port of Antwerp was cut from the sea (by the Dutch as an insurance for their independence) and all of the Protestant businessmen had escaped to the north.

Philip II gave the Netherlands to his daughter Isabella, and her husband, Albert of Austria, former viceroy of Portugal.

Technically, the Netherlands was then an autonomous country, but still dependent on Spain.

Albert and Isabelle encouraged Catholicism which developed well, worsening the difference between the North, Protestant, and the South, Catholic. They were well-liked by the people.

The Netherlands was then stuck in between everyone else: UK, France, Spain, the Dutch Republic, and the Holy Roman Empire. Between 1635 and 1713, six wars happened on its territory.

In 1659, Louis XIV (French king) married Maria Teresa, daughter of the Spanish king Philippe IV. She brought to France a few territories in this way.

In 1695, the French destroyed the Grand Place.

In 1700, the last Habsburg king of Spain (Charles II) died and designated Philippe V, Duke of Anjou, as his successor.

The problem was that he was also the grandson of Louis XIV, and no one in Europe liked the idea of a united France, Spain, and Southern Netherlands.

The Holy Roman Empire and the UK opposed Philippe V as Spanish king, which led to the War of Succession.

In the end, Philippe V still became king of Spain but had to renounce the crown of France for him and his children, and leave the Southern Netherlands to Austria.

Part V: Austrian Belgium (1713 – 1794)

The Habsburg Empire was one of the biggest in Europe. People spoke several languages, practiced different religions, and were attached to their local customs, which also made it one of the most fragile.

The Austrian domination was relatively peaceful compared to the Spanish one. But their willingness to centralize everything did not prevent conflicts.

From 1736 to 1780, Belgium was governed by Charles of Lorraine. He developed the economy and was so appreciated that the people offered a statue of him.

It wasn’t the case under his successor Joseph II, whose temperament reminded of Philip II. Convinced by the Enlightenment, he imposed a range of laws that the people didn’t like, among which was the closing of monasteries and the control of the seminary for priests, which led to the Brabant Revolution in 1787 to 1790.

Part VI: French Revolution Belgium (1789 – 1815)

The Revolution of 1787 won’t find any peaceful resolution.

As the Emperor had to face the Turks in the east, the revolutionaries entered Brussels in 1789 which forced the Austrian governor to escape to Vienna.

For the first time, the Netherlands decided to call themselves “United States of Belgium” and became independent (albeit not being recognized by anyone).

However, the country was divided between conservatives with Henri van der Noot, and the progressists (Enlightenment) with Jean-Francois Vonck. Unable to agree with one another on anything, the Austrians (Leopold II, Joseph’s heir) took back the country. They also canceled all of Joseph’s reforms to bring back peace.

During that time, Liège managed to maintain its independence, even though it was loyal to the Holy Roman Empire.

But the pressure of the church on the population was harder and harder. The writers of the Enlightenment became extremely popular, and when France revolted in 1789, so did the city.

While the revolution of the Netherlands was conservative (nobody wanted the Enlightenment measures of Joseph II), the revolution in Liège was fully progressist.

But the different factions failed to get along and the Prince-Bishop came back to the throne, where he died in 1792.

Part VII: French Belgium (1794 – 1815)

Many progressists from the Netherlands and revolutionaries from Liège went to France where they met. In 1792, they wrote a treaty entitled “Manifesto of the United Belgians and Liégeois”.

The French general Dumouriez, who was against the French Revolution, invaded Belgium in 1792, beat the Austrians, and invited Belgium to oppose the French Republic by creating the Republic of Belgium.

In 1793, Austria took back Belgium.

In 1794, France invaded Belgium again, won, and united the Netherlands and the Prince-Bishopric of Liège: for the first time, Belgium was in its full form.

Austria eventually renounced the Netherlands in 1797. The new French régime redesigned Belgium to the image of France, not taking into account the former borders. They also disbanded the clergy, destroyed the cathedral in Liège, and forbade religious signs.

The Belgians were furious. It was Joseph II all over again.

Then Napoleon came to France and appeased the situation by enabling the reintroduction of religion within society.

The economy began to develop (blast furnaces in Liège and around) and the south exported most of its products to mainland France.

In 1815, Napoleon lost in Waterloo. Belgium ended up in the Netherlands which also got back their king and independence (they had been a French client state since 1795).

Part VIII: Dutch Belgium (1815 – 1830)

When Belgium reunites with the Netherlands, it’s the whole seventeen United Provinces all over again (albeit, with what was once the Prince-Bishopric of Liège ).

Unfortunately, the king of the Netherlands, Guillaume VI, was stubborn and non-diplomatic, reminding everyone of Joseph II and Philip II.

  • He universalized the teachings of Protestantism in the entire country which made the Belgians, Catholics, furious.
  • He merged the debt of the United-Provinces with Belgium’s.
  • He favored trade with the UK at the cost of the South.
  • He imposed the Dutch language in the country, despite that neither the north, which spoke their own dialects, nor the south, which spoke, French, wanted to speak it.

Petitions arrived at the parliament. The Belgians wanted more freedom, but the king didn’t budge.

Many left the country as a result. Fifteen years later (1830), everyone was unhappy.

Part IX: Revolutionary Belgium

In July 1830, a new revolution began in Paris.

Charles X was replaced by Louis Philippe I.

Simultaneously, an opera called La muette de Portici about Naples fighting for independence against Spain, is programmed in Brussels. The first representation was the spark that lit the fire. People came down the street and attacked the symbols of the Netherlands.

The king, Willem I, sent an army to crush the protests, but, exhausted, had no choice but to leave the country on the 29th of September 1930.

On the 4th of October, a new government declared Belgium independent.

In the beginning, few in Europe wanted to see an independent Belgium since it was established during the Vienna Congress of 1815 which had brought some stability to the continent.

The Conference of London was organized to talk about the future of the country. Only Russia was ready to support the Netherlands until they had to deal with a Polish revolution.

Eventually, both France and the UK came to desire to see Belgium independent – France, to challenge the relevance of the Congress of Vienna of 1815, and the UK, to weaken the Netherlands.

On the 20th of January 1831, Belgium was recognized as independent.

Because the French Revolution had created lots of instability, the country became a monarchy instead of a republic (there were no republics in Europe at the time) and inherited a bicameral parliament.

It was also granted neutrality, guaranteed by the UK.

Originally, the parliament wanted the son of Louis Philippe as king, but he refused, worried that it would anger other countries.

So they chose Leopold I, a German (Protestant) noble from the House of the Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha, born in the Holy Roman Empire (which, in 1830, no longer exists) and who married a British princess (Charlotte, who died giving birth).

Leopold had already refused the throne of Greece which was fighting against the Ottomans. But at 40 years old, he accepted the throne of Belgium, married a French princess (Louise-Marie), and took an oath on the 21st of July 1831.

On the 4th of August, the Dutch attacked. Leopold had no army so he asked for help from France and the UK. France answered but the UK didn’t.

Unfortunately, Belgium lost the short war and had to give back a part of Limburg to the Netherlands. As for the Duchy of Luxembourg, it officially became independent but remained under Dutch influence.

Part X: Belgium of Leopold I (1831 – 1865)

Belgium became a very liberal country with an important freedom of the press (most against the church).

Because of its neutrality, many politicians exiled from their country ended up in Brussels (the most famous one being Marx).

In 1848, France, Italy, Austria, and Poland went through revolutions again. Louis Philippe was chased away from the French throne and Leopold feared the same destiny. But no. On the 29th of March, 2000 French workers invaded Belgium to establish a republic, but were quickly sent home near Mouscron.

The queen Louise-Marie died in 1850.

The country quickly developed its economy thanks to the coal reserves in the south, the central position in Europe, and an effective communication network. In 1835, Belgium built the very first railroad between Mechelen and Brussels.

When the kingdom was created, French was chosen as the sole language because it was an international language and Dutch reminded everyone of the rule of the House of Orange.

But the Flemish quickly organized against that.

In 1847, they published the manifesto of the Flemish movement explaining that Belgium as it is, is a fictitious state due to the imposition of French, a language that the majority of the country did not even speak.

Leopold died in 1865. The people were sad even though they didn’t exactly like their Protestant king.

Leopold was respected, but not loved.

Part XI: The Belgium of Leopold II (1865 – 1909)

Following his (sad) wedding with Marie-Henriette (they didn’t like each other), Leopold II traveled extensively. He insisted that Belgium build more infrastructures and develop further its economy.

Until 1900, Belgium was the second economic power in the world.

Fascinated by the Dutch colonial system, Leopold wanted to see the country triumph; he wanted to establish a Belgian Empire with the Belgian flag floating on all continents.

But the politicians were unfavorable to Belgium having a colony, so Leopold took matters into his own hands and administered the Congo with his own money, thereby becoming its owner in 1885 (he nonetheless sent Belgian civil servants working there).

Leopold used the money he earned from the exploitation of the Congo to build several monuments in Brussels.

He died in 1909, having transformed Belgium into one of the most powerful countries on earth.

Part XII: Belgium of Albert I (1909 – 1934)

Albert was born in 1875, the son of Leopold II’s brother.

He met his future wife, Elisabeth, during the funeral of an Austrian princess in 1897.

They got married in 1900.

image 5

In 1914, preparing to invade France, Wilhelm II demanded that Belgium let its troops walk freely into the country. Willing to safeguard its neutrality status, Albert refused.

So Germany invaded Belgium and the Belgian troops ended up cornered behind the Yser, where they didn’t move from until the end of the war.

Aware of the linguistic tensions, the Germans tried to create a civil war in Belgium by mounting the Flemish against the French, which had consequences at the end of the war.

When Germany lost, the Belgian delegation sought territorial compensation from Germany. Belgium obtained the Rwanda, the Burundi, and a few communes from the east.

The end of WWI will also see the end of three empires: The Romanov in Russia, the Hohenzollern in Germany, and the Habsburg in Austria (and additionally, the Ottoman Empire). Many monarchies became republics.

To rebuild the country, the king asks for a government of “national unity”, that is, with every party in it. The suffrage becomes universal, the Flemish language is recognized, and the right to strike is given.

Meanwhile, the pro-Flemish movement wasn’t doing very well after collaborating with the Germans.

In 1918, the Flemish newspapers demanded that education, the administration, the army, and the justice be in Flemish.

While both languages were tolerated in Flanders, Wallonia only spoke French. The Flemish wanted to extend bilingualism to the entire country, but Wallonia did not.

In 1929, the financial crash on Wall Street seriously degraded the economy in Belgium. People turned to totalitarian leaders everywhere in Europe.

Albert I died in 1934 after a climbing accident. He was the first truly-loved king of Belgium (Leopold II was feared).

Part XIII: The Belgium of Leopold III (1934 – 1951)

Barely a year after coming onto the throne, Leopold III got into a car accident in which his wife Astrid died.

In the early 1930s, a journalist called Léon Degrelle started a new political party of far-right Catholicism. Too extreme, he eventually split from the Catholics and made his own party (Rex) and won the elections, allied to the VNV (Vlaams Nationaal Verbond) in 1936.

At the same time, the country went on strike, worsened by the assassination of a socialist leader.

The government organized a national convention and gave workers more rights.

New elections happened in 1939 in an ultra-tense context in Europe. Germany invaded Czechoslovakia and Italy was about to invade Albania.

The Catholics and liberals win the election; Rex loses. Leopold III is increasingly critical of his politicians.

Germany invaded Poland on the 1st of September 1939 with the USSR, and on the 10th of May, it invaded Belgium.

The government wanted the king to leave the country to avoid falling into German hands, but he refused, preferring to remain with his people like his father Albert I had done.

The government is furious. After 18 days, Belgium is invaded and Leopold III, who is the official leader of the army, surrenders. The government, still furious, estimated that this surrender needed to be countersigned.

The French and the British were also furious given that Leopold warned them after he had taken the decision.

The mother of Leopold, Elizabeth, wrote to the president of the council in France Paul Reynaud to defend Leopold.

Several sources said that Hitler wished that Leopold had left Belgium because he probably wanted to integrate Flanders into his project.

Leopold likely guessed it as it had almost happened during WWI, so he remained to avoid the partition of his country.

While Degrelle and the Rex party were still loyal to the king at the beginning of the war, the Flemish far-right quickly began to collaborate with the Germans.

The antagonistic duality of a government in London and a king hostage at home almost led the country to a civil war.

Initially, everyone was happy that Leopold had stayed in the country…until he began to make some mistakes.

First, on the 19th of November 1940, Leopold met Hitler who told him he was going to create a great Reich and that Belgium would be a part of it.

In 1941, he got married religiously without telling anyone (his wedding should have been approved by the parliament). But Astrid was very much loved, and the people did not appreciate seeing her replaced this way even though Leopold’s new wife swore to refuse the throne and any inheritance for her children.

Hitler sent flowers to the new couple.

Leopold slowly began to appear as a hostage rather than as a representative of his people. Isolated in his castle, he did not know the struggle of the country.

Degrelle eventually rallied with Hitler, and lots of people left his party.

In 1944, the Germans moved the king and his family to Germany, then Switzerland.

Before that, he wrote a political testament in which he reproached the members of his government for making him reproaches for staying in Belgium.

He won’t thank anyone in the letter which shocked many (including Churchill) for its rigidity.

Leopold won’t come back to Belgium when he’s freed in 1945. The country will have a regent instead, Charles, brother of Leopold.

While the war had ended, the government hesitated to have Leopold back due to his conduct during the war. They organized a referendum in 1950 and 57% of people voted for the return of the king. The Flemish were massively pro, but the French-speaking were against it.

So Leopold, thinking that his presence would calm the atmosphere, came back. It had the exact opposite effect. Understanding that the only way to save his country was to abdicate, he ceded to his son Baudouin in 1951.

Part XIV: The Belgium of Baudouin (1951 – 1993)

Baudouin was 19 when he ascended to the throne. Because he never smiled, he was nicknamed “the sad king”.

He married Fabiola, a Spanish aristocrat as Catholic as he was. The couple never managed to have children.

In 1960, Belgium had to do a census and planned to do so by including the language component.

The nationalist Flemish, whom no one had heard of after the end of the war, suddenly came back, fearing that more people spoke French around Brussels than during the previous census of 1947.

The Flemish eventually managed to get the language variable canceled from the census. The future linguistic borders would be based on the 1947 census.

In 1960, a new law regionalized a bunch of stuff (television, economy, etc) which led to protests by the unions who feared that the social advantages they had acquired would be canceled.

In 1962, protests began in Leuven to expel the French-speaking students from the university.

That same year, the linguistic border was drawn.

In 1979, the Flemish nationalists of the Vlaams Nationaal Partij rebranded into Vlaams Block.

The years 1980s were incredibly violent: terrorist attacks of the Brabant Killers and of the communists anti-imperialist; kidnapping of the former prime minister and “suicide” by his kidnapper in his cell; corruption scandal about the Agusta helicopters; murder of Andre Cools, former president of the socialist party; Dutroux affair, etc.

The accumulation of problems in the country leads to a thirst for change.

At the end of the 1960s, everything in Belgium (political parties, federations, etc) split according to linguistics.

In 1970, the politicians sought to transform the country into a federal state, which displeased the king.

The country was federalized into three communities and three regions. The changes happened without violence (unique case in history) which led the Lebanese and Yugoslavs to come study the Belgian model.

In the 1990s, the country voted for a law authorizing abortion. Baudouin, catholic, refused to sign it.

So the parliament (illegally) voted a law putting Baudouin in an “incapable state of ruling” for the law to pass.

As time passed, Belgians sold more and more of their great companies (Eg: Société Générale).

Baudouin died suddenly on the 1st of August 1993 while vacationing in Spain.

The Queen of England and the Emperor of Japan came to attend his funerals in Brussels.

Because he had no children and because Philippe, his nephew, wasn’t yet ready to become king, his brother Albert II ascended to the throne.

Part XV: The Belgium of Albert II (1993)

Albert didn’t expect to be king. He swore on the 9th of August 1993.

The press quickly began to talk about his private life, including his relationship with his wife the queen (they almost got divorced in the 1960s) and the fact that he had a daughter with a mistress.

In the 1990s, the Dutroux affaire questioned and challenged the whole judiciary system.

The differences between the Flemish and the French-speaking communities kept on increasing in the 2000s and the early and mid-2010s due to the creation of new Flemish nationalist parties like the NVA getting huge scores at the election.

As of today, Belgium is paradoxically increasingly regionalized and integrated into the fabric of the European Union.

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