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Celts and Romans


The Roman advance into the Low Countries was resisted by the Celtic Belgae tribes under Ambiorix. In 57BC, Julius Caesar conquered those he called “the bravest of all the Gauls”.


1C-3CPax Romana - Roman civilisation flourished to the south and west of the Rhine. A great highway ran west from Cologne through Tongeren to Bavai. Frankish (Germanic) tribes settled on the infertile north coast, keeping their Germanic speech; the Belgae in the south spoke Latin. The language frontier established is still largely in place today.

4C-5C — As Roman rule collapsed, the Franks moved south. The Merovingians, founders of the French monarchy, ruled from their capital, Tournai, which the Christian ruler Clovis (c 465-511) made the seat of a bishopric.

The Franks and the Rise of Flanders

8C/9C — The territories making up today’s Belgium flourished in the Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne (758-814). In 843, the Treaty of Verdun divided the Empire between France (west of the Scheldt) and Germania. The middle Kingdom, given to Lothair I, was divided on his death into Italy, Burgundy and Lotharingia. The last frontiers correspond approximately to modern Belgium, minus French-ruled Flanders.

963 — Count Sigefroi of the Moselle founded Luxembourg .

980 — Prince-Bishop Notger gained temporal power over Liège. His successors ruled over this vital Holy Roman Empire province until 1794.

12C-13C — From the 12C to the 14C, trade and industry brought prosperity to the Flemish cities, particularly through the weaving of fine cloth. Flanders became one of the most populous and industrialised regions of Europe.

1300 — The French King Philip the Fair coveted rich Flanders, and although the Flemish citizen-soldiers beat the French nobility in the 1302 Battle of the Golden Spurs near Kortrijk, Flanders was kept under French rule until 1829.

1308 — Henry VII of Luxembourg was elected Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

1337 — The Hundred Years’ War between the English and the French involved the Flemish cities which supported their trading partner, England.

1354 — The county of Luxembourg became a duchy.

1369 — Margaret, daughter of the Count of Flanders, married the Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Bold , marking the start of French Burgundian interest in Flemish affairs.

Foreign Rule

The Dukes of Burgundy

1419-77 — The reigns of the Dukes of Burgundy, Philip the Good and Charles the Bold, brought great prosperity. The Burgundian realm took over Luxembourg (1441), Liège (1468) and other territories. The dukes were major patrons of the arts and their Brussels court became one of the most sumptuous in Europe.

On the death of Charles the Bold in 1477, his heir and daughter, Mary of Burgundy, married Maximilian of Austria, opening the way to Habsburg rule of the Low Countries.

The Habsburgs

1482-1519 — Dynastic marriages allied the Low Countries with Spain. In 1500 Charles I, King of Spain, was born in Ghent to Joanna, daughter of the King of Spain, and Maximilian’s son, Philip the Handsome. Brought up in Flanders, he became Charles V in 1519.

1519-55Reign of Emperor Charles V: His empire, “on which the sun never sets”, included the Burgundian lands, the Austrian Empire and Spain, his American and Asian colonies. He extended the Low Countries both to the north and to the south.

The Spanish Netherlands

1555-98 — In 1555 Emperor Charles V handed over the rule of the Low Countries to his son, Phillip II . An ardent Catholic, Phillip fought the Protestants (iconoclastic Calvinists), who were ransacking the Catholic churches. The nationalistic spirit of the Low Countries was rekindled and the struggle for political liberties kept pace with the Calvinists’ struggle for religious tolerance. In 1567 Philip II made the fearsome Duke of Alba Governor of the Low Countries. Charged with quashing the Calvinistic “heresy” and the Dutch revolt, he had the counts of Egmont and Hornes executed in Brussels and unleashed the “Spanish Fury” in Antwerp and Ghent. Such was the backlash that Philip II was forced to remove his Spanish troops. In 1579, agreements effectively created two different regions: the southern Catholic provinces that chose to stay under Spanish rule, and the seven little northern republics. In 1585 the northern Low Countries declared independence, heralding the start of the United Provinces (the Netherlands) and the Dutch Golden Age.

1598-1621 — Reign of the “Archdukes“ Albert and Isabella, daughter of Phillip II.

1648 — With the Treaty of M­ünster at the end of the Thirty Years’ War, Philip IV of Spain recognised the independent United Provinces, granting them the north of Brabant, northern Limburg and Flemish Zeeland. What was to be Belgium remained under Spanish rule.

1659-95 — In 1659 Louis XIV of France married Maria Theresa of Spain and claimed the Spanish Netherlands. Overwhelming French ambition and the invasion of the Low Countries were bitterly opposed by other European powers, but France gained Artois and vital areas in southern Belgium.

The Treaty of Aachen gave France the frontier cities of Tournai, Kortrijk, Charleroi, and later, Ypres. Luxembourg was annexed in 1684.

The Austrian Netherlands

War of the Spanish Succession : Charles II of Spain died childless, leaving as heir Philip of Anjou, the grandson of Louis XIV. The renewed French claim on the Spanish Netherlands was resisted by a European alliance and the resulting war was largely fought on Belgian soil, with the Duke of Marlborough winning notable victories. By the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), France ceded its claims, and the Spanish Netherlands were given to the Habsburg Emperor Charles VI of Austria, who ruled it until 1794. France kept much of western Flanders, including Lille and Dunkirk. But local feeling led to popular resistance. Belgian nationalism finally became a reality.

French Rule

1795-1814 — Republican France annexed the Austrian Netherlands and Liège. French rule brought persecution of the Church and conscription of young men. The situation was eased under Napoleon, who revitalised industry, but French domination was constantly tested.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands

1815The Battle of Waterloo and Napoleon‘s defeat led to the Congress of Vienna. Eupen and Malmédy were annexed to Prussia until 1919.

The European allies made Belgium part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, ruled by the pro-Dutch William I of Orange, who was also Grand Duke of Luxembourg. Hated for his policies and for making Dutch the official language, Brussels rioted and successful resistance led to a National Congress. Now Belgium won independence from Holland, which renounced its claims on Flemish Zeeland, northern Brabant and part of Limburg. The German-speaking part of Luxembourg remained under the rule of William I.

Independent Belgium

1831 — The London Conference recognised Belgian independence. Belgium became a constitutional monarchy under Léopold I (of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha), the first King of the Belgians (1831-65).

1839 — William I accepted Belgian independence. Despite severe economic difficulties (famine in Flanders, 1845-48), Belgium became the pioneer of the Industrial Revolution on the European continent. Luxembourg, tied economically to Germany from 1842, also enjoyed industrial growth.

1865-1909 — Reign of Léopold II. His personal ownership and exploitation of the Belgian Congo led to accusations of maladministration and scandal. The state took over the rich colony in 1908.

1890 — Luxembourg gained independence, ruled by Grand Duke Adolf of Nassau (1890-1905), then William IV (1906-12).

1894 — Universal suffrage was established in Belgium.

1909 — Albert I became King of the Belgians.

1912 — Marie-Adelaïde became Grand Duchess of Luxembourg.

1914-18World War I: Germany invaded Belgium and Luxembourg. The German advance was halted in western Flanders by flooding the polders, and Belgian resistance, led by Albert I , the “Soldier King”, continued throughout the war. The Ypres Salient saw some of the worst fighting.

1919Treaty of Versailles: Belgium regained Eupen, Malmédy, Moresnet and St-Vith.

Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg succeeded her sister Marie-Adelaïde.

1922 — Economic union between Belgium and Luxembourg.

1934 — The popular Albert I died in a climbing accident. Léopold III succeeded him (1934-44).

1939-45World War II: In May 1940 Germany once again violated the country’s neutrality (and Luxembourg’s). After fighting against overwhelming odds, Léopold III surrendered, and remained in the country, a virtual prisoner. A vigorous resistance movement developed. Following the Normandy landings in June 1944, British forces crossed into Belgium on 3 September and liberated Brussels. Wallonia and Luxembourg were liberated by the Americans. In the winter of 1944-45, the German army temporarily retook part of the Ardennes in what became known as the “ Battle of the Bulge” .

1944-51 — Tainted, perhaps unjustly, by his war record, Léopold III was replaced by his brother Charles as Regent.

1948 — The Customs & Excise Union of Benelux links Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg.

1951 — Léopold III abdicated in favour of his son, Baudouin I.

1957 — Belgium and Luxembourg became members of the EEC (European Economic Community). Brussels became the capital of the EEC.

1960 — The economic union of Benelux came into effect.

The government granted independence to the Belgian Congo, which became the Congo-Kinshasa, then Zaïre.

To the Present Day

1964 — Wallonia’s heavy industries, coal and steel, suffered; Flanders prospered with the growth of light industry.

Jean of Nassau, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, succeeded Grand Duchess Charlotte.

1977 – Agreement drawn up to establish the federal regions: Brussels, Flanders, Wallonia.

1989 – The Brussels conurbation officially became the auto-nomous Bruxelles-Capitale Region.

1991-93 — Adoption (1991), ratification (1992) and enforcement (1993) of the Treaty of Maastricht setting up the European Union .

1993 — Baudouin I died and was succeeded by Albert II. Belgium became a federal state.

1996 — The Dutroux scandal (kidnapping, rape and murder of young girls) led to a crisis of confidence in Belgian institutions. Flemings and Walloons united in a mass protest march in Brussels.

2000 — Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg abdicated in favour of his son, Grand Duke Henri.

2002 — Belgium and Luxembourg adopted the euro as their currency.

2008 — A new Belgian government, a coalition of Dutch- and French-speaking parties, ends months of political deadlock which threatened to divide the country.

2009 — The Palais des Congrès reopens in Brussels.

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