Capital : Brussels/Bruxelles
Size: 11 800 sq m Popn: 9 998 000
Flemish (Dutch names first)
West Vlaanderen (Flandre Occidentale), Oost Vlaanderen (Flandre Orientale), Antwerpen (Anvers), Limburg (Limbourg), Vlaams Brabant (Brabant Flamand)
Walloon (French names first)
Lie'ge (Luik), Luxembourg (Luxemburg), Namur (Namen), Hainaut (Henegouwen), Brabant Wallon (Waals Brabant)
The area now known as Belgium was on the edge of the area of major Celtic settlement, with the first recorded inhabitants a Celtic people, the Belgae. As the Celts to the west and the Germanic tribes to the east expanded, it appears from place-names that the people living there at that time were remnants of a pre-historic people belonging to neither group who were being squashed between them. The territory became part of the Roman province of Gallia in 49 BC and in BC 15, it became one of the Imperial Provinces as Belgica. From the C3rd AD, it was overrun by Germanic tribes and after the Fall of Rome, became incorporated into the Frankish Empire as part of the area called Austrasia. Under Charlemagne, it became the centre of the Carolingian Empire and towns such as Ghent, Bruges and Brussels developed. When Charlemagne's empire was divided in 843, the area became part of Lotharingia.
During the C9th and C10th, the northern coast escaped the major raids of the Magyars from Eastern Europe but was under attack from the Vikings of Denmark who also made settlements there. By the C11th, seven feudal states had formed: the counties of Flanders, Hainaut and Namur, the duchies of Brabant, Limburg and Luxembourg and the bishopric of LiÀ ge, which were all nominally subject to the French kings or the German emperor but were independent in practice. The economy flourished in the C12th and Bruges, Ghent and Ypres became centres of the textile industry, while Dinant and LiÀ ges exploited copper and tin deposits in the Meuse valley. As the French kings began to become more powerful, territory came under their control. Hainaut was added to the French lands by 1314 but Brabant was part of the Holy Roman Empire. Later in the C14th, the rapidly expanding Duchy of Burgundy acquired Flanders (1384) and there were rural uprisings in Ghent. Flanders became an important centre for textile production, and the main town, Bruges, had a 'kontore' of the powerful merchant society, the Hansa.
Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, was killed in battle in 1477 when he was only a few miles short of achieving his aim of joining his southern and northern lands. The duchy was partitioned, with France acquiring some of the western part of territory that is now Belgium and the rest coming under the control of the Habsburg Emperor Charles V, when it was known as the Spanish Netherlands and governed from Madrid from 1555-1700. During the C16th, the religious and secular tyranny of Philip II led to the Netherlands Revolt. In 1648, the independence of the Dutch Republic was recognized but the south was reconquered by Spain. During the late C17th, part of the country was taken by France during the War of Devolution but lost again. A treaty of partition granted the lands to an Austrian archduke in return for Spanish possessions in Italy. The area was governed from Vienna as the Austrian Netherlands from 1700-95 but was again annexed by France in 1792 during the revolutionary period. The Low Countries or Netherlands were divided into three, the present Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Kingdom of Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the Congress of Vienna reunited the North and South Netherlands as one kingdom under William, King of Orange-Nassau. Historical and linguistic differences made it an uneasy union. There was an uprising amongst the largely French-speaking people of the south in 1830 and continuing disturbances led to the Great Power's recognition of the South Netherlands as the independent and permanently neutral kingdom of Belgium, under Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, and a parliamentary constitution was adopted.
Although Prussia had agreed to the treaty recognizing Belgium's neutrality, the kingdom was invaded by Germany in 1914, during the First World War and most of the country was occupied until 1918. After the war, Belgium gained further territory, including the Rhineland, and the Treaty of Locarno established guarantees along the French-German and Belgian-German frontiers. Germany re-occupied the Rhineland in 1936 and Leopold III surrendered when it overran Belgium in 1940. The government escaped to London and a strong resistance movement developed. Leopold's decision to remain in the country during the occupation caused controversy after Belgium was liberated by the Allies in 1944-5 and he abdicated in favour of his son, Baudouin, in 1951.
The prime minister, Leo Tindemans, leader of the Christian Social Party (CVP), resigned in 1978 and was replaced by Wilfried Martens, who had formed four coalition governments by 1980. The new coalition of 1981 under CVP leader Mark Eyskens failed after less than a year and Martens returned to power. Economic difficulties in 1981-2 led to a series of strikes in the public sector but Martens and the various coalitions retained power until January 1992. With the government on the point of collapse, King Albert asked deputy prime minister Jean-Luc Dehaene of the CVP to form a new coalition. It was created in March 1991 and consisted of the main centre-left parties.
Belgium was a founding member of the Benelux Economic Union in 1948, the Council of Europe in 1949 and the European Economic Community in 1957. The capital, Brussels, is the headquarters of NATO and the European Parliament, governing body of the European Community. In 1983-5, there was much debate over whether to allow US cruise missiles to be sited in the country but eventually there was a majority vote in favour in parliament.
The population is 40% French speaking Walloons (in the south), 60% Dutch speaking Flemings (to the north), with around 200 000 German speakers to the east. Flanders is predominantly conservative and Wallonia mainly socialist which widens the divisions between the two groups. In an attempt to improve relations, greater power was transferred to the regions in 1971-3, German-speakers were included in the cabinet and parliament was equally divided between the main languages. Separate regional councils and ministerial committees were set up in 1974 but in 1980, the language conflict escalated into open violence. It was agreed that Flanders and Wallonia should have separate regional assemblies with the power to decide how to spend up to 10% of the national budget, and Brussels was to be governed by a three member executive. The government came under further threat from linguistic divisions in 1983 and in 1992, agreed to introduce a federal system.
This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.
Copies may be made for personal use only.
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