Belgium under French Administration

The Flemish Peasants War of 1798

In Flemish called the Boerenkrijg

A.) The Pre-History of the Rebellion

The Habsburg (Austrian) Netherlands had revolted in 1789, establishing the United States of Belgium, which had been suppressed by Austrian troops in 1790. In the following years, Belgium repeatedly was occupied by French, and then again by Austrian troops, until the French prevailed; in 1795 the area was annexed by France, which Austria recognized in the PEACE OF CAMPO FORMIO (1797).

B.) The Military Course of Events

The rebellion began on October 12th 1798 and ended on December 5th the same year; the center of the rebellion was in the province of Brabant. As the pamphlets calling for the Flemish to join the rebellion were written in Dutch in patriotic verbage, calling for a united kingdom of the Netherlands, the Boerenkrijg is regarded the origin of Flemish nationalism.
Yet many rebels, most of them were farmers, were more upset about the cancellation of traditional local laws, which had been replaced by uniform French egalitarian law. They also were upset about newly introduced taxation and about CONSCRIPTIONS which deprived them of their sons and farmhands (mandatory military service introduced September 5th 1798).
The conspirators had planned the rebellion to begin on October 25th, hoping for support from the British fleet and from Dutch stadholder-in-exile William V. Yet overly ardent patriots began with rebellious actions ahead of schedule.
British attempts to land a force at the mouth of the Schelde failed Oct. 21-24); the rebels suffered defeats at Ingelmonde, lost Mechelen (Oct. 23rd). A bad defeat came at Diest on November 22nd, where the rebels - in total c. 17,000 strong - lost 1,000 dead. On Dec. 5th the rebel force of 4,000 was forced to leave HASSELT; during the withdrawal, the force was cut in two, the remainder in Hasselt was massacred, those who had managed to move out were pursued and defeated; the rebellion was over.

The total losses in the war, on the rebels side, are estimated at 15,000. The rebels were poorly armed - illustrations show farmers with pitchforks - and untrained, facing French troops regarded the best of their time. The rebel commander in Brabant was EMMANUEL JOZEF VAN GANSEN. Many Flemish patriots fled to the northern Netherlands.

C.) The Legacy

The rebels were treated harshly by the French force of occupation; those captured were executed. Belgium was to remain under French administration until 1813, and again proovided the battlefields in the campaign of 1815.
The rebellion failed in its object to expel the French. The modern Flemish Movement sees its origin in the the Boerenkrijg (Flemish Peasants War) . At the Vienna Congress in 1815 the southern Netherlands was attached to the (northern) Kingdom of the Netherlands, thus realizing the wish of the Flemish rebels. Yet in 1830 Belgium would separate from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the Flemish would find themselves citizens of a centralist state in which French was the official language.

De Boerenkrijg: voor Vrijheid en Recht., by Wim van Dijck, extensive, in Dutch
200 jaar geleden had de BOERENKRIJG plaats (1798-1998), by Marc Alcide, in Dutch
Het Land van Bornem, , historical account exclusively on events in connection with the Flemish Peasants War, in Dutch
Article Belgium, in Catholic Encyclopedia

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2001, last revised on November 19th 2004

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