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Battleground Belgium

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Lee, Eun Soo
Term Paper, AP European History Class, December 2008

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. A Brief History of Belgium
III. Dutch Revolt (1568-1648)
III.1 Social Background
III.2 Battleground Belgium during the Dutch Revolt
III.2 Impact on Belgium
IV. Wars of Louis XIV. (1667-1714)
IV.1 Social Background
IV.2 Battleground Belgium in the War of Devolution (1667-1668)
IV.3 Battleground Belgium in the Dutch War of Louis XIV. (1672-1678)
IV.4 Battleground Belgium in the War of the Grand Alliance (1689-1697)
IV.5 Battleground Belgium in the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714)
IV.6 Impact on Belgium
V. Battleground Belgium and Napoleon
V.1 Social Background
V.2 Battle of Waterloo (1815)
V.3 Impact on Belgium
VI. Belgian Revolution (1830-1839)
VII. World War I (1914-1918)
VII.1 Social Background
VII.2 Battleground Belgium in World War I
VII.3 Impact on Belgium
VIII. Comparative Analysis of Battleground Belgium
VIII.1 Intensity of the Wars
VIII.2 Casualties of the Wars
IX. Europe and Belgian Identity
X. Conclusion

I. Introduction
            For a long time, Belgium, a part of Low Countries has been the center of commerce and trade. Also, before its independence, it was under control of foreign dynasties that could not reach the region directly. Because of these two reasons, many dynasties wanted to have the area for themselves. Consequently, Belgium was the battleground of many power-fights. This paper focuses on the battles that happened from the era of Reformation to World War I, the start of modern war.

II. A Brief History of Belgium
            In the ancient times, Belgica was conquered by Julius Caesar. In ¡°De Bello Gallico,¡± Caeser¡¯s chronicle covering the conquest of Belgica, Caesar states ¡°horum omnium fortissimi sunt belgae¡±: Belgae are the bravest of all the Gauls. Back then, Belgica was much larger than present-day Belgium.
            After the fall of Roman Empire, Germanic tribes invaded Roman provinces. Among them, Franks managed to install the kingdom of the Merovingian Dynasty. Although the center of control was at present-day France, the territory included present-day Belgium. After that and Carolingian Dynasty, it was under control of Holy Roman Empire. After a while of that, Belgium was divided into many entities. Before an entity called ¡°Belgium¡± came to exist after the Belgian Revolution, most of the aforementioned territories were ruled by Dukes of Burgundy and Habsburg Kings. (1)

III Dutch Revolt 1568-1648

III.1 Social Background
            The 1500s was the era of Reformation, and Spanish Netherlands was largely Protestant by mid-1500s. Dutch leaders put the good of Dutch before faith, and the merchants, by tradition were more accustomed to variety and tolerance. When Spanish leaders, one of them being Cardinal Granvelle (original name Antoine Perrenot, 1517-1586), forced Catholic doctrines and belittled Protestantism, Dutch revolted. (2) Nobles, including William of Orange, withdrew themselves from the Council, and urged Philip II, the King of Spain, to implement some realistic measures. However, Philip II insisted that strict oppression was the only answer (3). The war was at hand.

III.2 Battleground Belgium during the Dutch Revolt
            When Dutch revolted, Philip II was determined to make an example to those who would revolt against him, and sent Duke of Alba to Spanish Netherlands to oppress the revolt. Because Duke of Alba was such a horrible administrater, William of Orange, who had left Antwerpen after Spain had taken hold of Spanish Netherlands, returned and tried to get rid of Duke of Alba from Brussels (4). In 1568, with the help of William¡¯s two brothers, William led Battle of Heiligerlee, to victory. This marked the start of War of Dutch Revolution. (5)
            For Southern Netherlands, which surrendered, the war ended with Siege of Antwerpen in 1584-5. When Spanish war against Ottoman Empire ended, Philip II sent Duke of Parma to Low Countries for suppressing the revolt. After recapturing places such as Flanders and Brabant, Parma besieged Antwerpen. After a while, Antwerpen surrendered. After the siege, trade was cut off and Protestants had to leave. (6)
            Although Southern Netherlands was conquered, several more battles happened in or near Southern Netherlands. Several of these battles include Battle of Turnhout and Battle of Nieuwpoort. In both the battles, the rebels won, but hardly achieved anything. (7)
            In 1621, War of Dutch Revolt merged into the 30 Years¡¯ War, as the northern part of Spanish Netherlands - which later became Dutch Republic, along with England and France, helped the Protestant side. (8)
            Also, during the latter part of 30 Years¡¯ War, battles between Spain and France, later in alliance with England, began: Franco-Spanish War, 1635-1659. (9)
            Dutch Revolt came to an end in 1648, with Peace of Westphalia. (10) Northern Netherlands had achieved independence. Franco-Spanish War came to an end with the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659), where Spain ceded territories to France and England, and the marriage contract between Louis XIV and Marie Therese of Spain was made. (11)

III.3 Impact on Belgium
            Before this War, Netherlands, Luxemburg, and Belgium were one and the same entity: The Lowlands. After this War, however, they separated into Northern Netherlands (present-day Netherlands) and Southern Netherlands (present-day Belgium, Luxemburg, and Northern France). This War was significant in that it somewhat introduced the area of modern-day Belgium. Also, Defeat of Antwerpen caused closing of the Schelde, which seriously influenced its commercial trade. (12)
            Why did this war happen in the Spanish Netherlands, and not at other places ? It may be because of the region and characteristic of Spanish Netherlands. From the era of discovery, Dutch had thrived based on its trade. By the time of this war, its merchants were on the height of trade. Because they were traders, they were generally more liberal. Thus, a lot of Dutch left conservative Catholicism in favor of Protestantism. However, it was under control of Philip II, a Catholic. Philip II could not tolerate Protestantism, but he could not lose the abundant wealth of Spanish Netherlands. So he went forth with strong oppression. Liberal people of Spanish Netherlands, who did not take oppression very well, revolted. As Dutch were under foreign reign, the event was unavoidable.

IV. Wars of Louis XIV (1667-1714)

IV.1 Social Background
            France, under Louis XIV, was the greatest power of Europe. With help of his ever-so-famous minister Colbert, he could manage to maintain a large army. Louis XIV was concentrating on expanding French influence, which resulted in a series of wars involving Spanish Netherlands. (13)

IV.2 Battleground Belgium in the War of Devolution (1667-1668)
            Louis XIV was married to Marie Therese, the daughter of Spanish king Philip IV, whose dowry was yet to be paid. When Philip IV died, Louis XIV claimed the Spanish Netherlands as Marie Therese's inheritance. On May 24, 1667, French army led by Turenne attacked Spanish Netherlands, conquering a large segment of Flanders and Hainault. In 1668, another army led by Conde invaded Franche-Comte. The Dutch, shocked by French advance, formed the Triple Alliance with England and Sweden, and demanded peace. In the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, Louis XIV had to give up most of his conquered land, but he did gain some territories along the border. However, his ambition to remove all Spanish holdings on French border was not yet fulfilled, so it led to Dutch War shortly after.

IV.3 Battleground Belgium in the Dutch War of Louis XIV. (1672-1678)
            In the Dutch Republic (Northern Netherlands), the command of the army, by tradition, lay with the Stadholder: the House of Orange. When stadholder Maurice executed Grand Pensionary of the Estates of Holland in 1619, Estates of Holland, who got scared, refused to appoint a stadholder since. Since Dutch Republci was a wealthy country apparently without an army, France saw the chance and invaded it.
            After a series of events, the theater moved from Dutch Republic to Spanish Netherlands. One of the major battles is Battle of Seneffe. In this Battle, French army won over the alliance of Dutch-Emperor-Spain. In the end, Treaty of Nijmegen on August 10, 1678 left many Spanish Netherlands territories, among them Franche-Comt?, in the hand of France. (14)

IV.4 Battleground Belgium in the War of the Grand Alliance (1689-1697)
            Since France was a major threat to all European entities, many coalitions against France formed. One of the major coalitions was the League of Augsburg, which grew to include England, Spain, Sweden, Dutch Republic, and a few of major German states. It was supported by the Habsburg emperor Leopold I. (15) When Louis XIV tried to invade the Palatinate, the War began. (16)
            Spain was unable to defend its territory, so Spanish Netherlands became the main battleground for the war. The French were victorious at Fleurus, Steenkerke, Neerwinden, and they gained Namur.
            Although the Grand Alliance did not defeat France, it succeeded in exhausting France. However, France tried to conquer Europe one more time, in the War of Spanish Succession. (17)

IV.5 Battleground Belgium in the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714)
            When King Carlos II of Spain was about to die without a direct heir, negotiations among countries for the balance of power. However, Carlos II left all his inheritance to Philip of Anjou, the grandson of Louis XIV. Some countries including England, Dutch Republic, and the Holy Roman Empire formed an alliance against Bourbon Dynasty in Spain. The War began. (18)
            Since Spanish Netherlands was a part of Spanish territory, it was involved in the war as well. In 1702, French troops occupied Spanish Netherlands to "secure it for Philip." Dutch, English, and the Empire campaigned in Spanish Netherlands, and won several battles.
            In the end, by the Treaty of Utrecht 1713, outward bulk of Spanish Netherlands was given to Austria, some borderline areas to French, and Obergeldern to Prussia. The map has changed greatly. (19)

Map : Europe around War of Spanish Succession (20)
IV.6 Impact on Belgium
            Wars of Louis XIV were wars caused by ambitions of powerful countries. The main players were Austria, Prussia, England, Spain, France, Dutch Republic and so on. Belgium, a part of Southern Netherlands, did not have a saying in these wars because it was not an independent entity, but a territory of a foreign country. Belgium, which was a wealthy region, and at the same time, a rather helpless region, was bound to be engaged in warfare.
            How did these wars impact Belgium ? The impact of these wars is that for the first time in over 150 years, Southern Netherlands was no longer a territory of Spain. However, although the change sounds huge, it was not a real progress for Belgium. It was merely the change of its name; it was not on its own yet, as it would not be for another 115 years. Although the owner has changed, it was still under foreign power, which made it as vulnerable to foreign wars as before. It still had a long way to go.

V. Battleground Belgium and Napoleon

V.1 Social Background
            Although Austria had taken care of Southern-and now Austrian-Netherlands, a wealthy, but distant territory to the administrative center in Vienna, it was hard to defend and was neglected; it was basically given to Austria by British and Dutch insistence, and its fortress border was garrisoned with Dutch troops.
            In 1784, Emperor Joseph II tried to get Dutch reopen the Scheldt, but when Dutch revolted against this suggestion, he quickly withdrew his suggestion. However, he did manage to make Dutch compensate the loss of Belgians caused by the closed river. This won him popularity.
            However, when he implemented centralization, Belgians revolted, creating United States of Belgium, although it lasted for less than a year; Austria took hold again.
            In 1794, Revolutionary French ¡°liberated¡± Southern Netherlands by annexing it; the loss was formally recognized in 1797 in the Treaty of Campo Formio. (21)

V.2 Battle of Waterloo (1815)
            In Congress of Vienna, Napoleon was given the island of Elba to rule. However, he boldly escaped and went back to Paris. Since he was quite popular in Paris, he could quickly regain the control of the country. Hence, the 100 days started.
            Upon hearing this news, allies against Napoleon quickly raised an army of over 700,000 troops. Napoleon, in return, led an army of 200,000 men and went to Belgian regions to meet the enemy. Napoleon ordered one general to pursue the Prussian army, and faced Wellington. They met near the village of Waterloo. Wellington had hidden the extent of his infantry behind a ridge, so Napoleon did not know what he was facing. Additionally, because the officer he sent to pursue the Prussian army did not complete his orders, so the Prussians came back to reinforce Wellington¡¯s army. Napoleon had no way out; he was ultimately defeated at Waterloo, never to regain his power again. (22)

Battle of Waterloo (Hillingford) (23)
V.3 Impact on Belgium
            Napoleonic era, just like to any other region in Europe, had a major impact on Belgium. Belgium, until Napoleonic Era, did not know what it means to be free and on its own; this is clearly shown in the fact that its own nation did not last a year. However, because of Napoleon, they came in contact with the idea of their own state; this became the basis of Belgian Revolution 15 years later.
            Also, Belgian land was a main battleground for 7th Coalition War, in which Napoleon was ultimately defeated; it was at the border of France, and thus, it served as a place where French and foreign army met.
            After Napoleon was defeated, Belgium was given to the United Kingdom of Netherlands, in which the Orange-Nassaus were the royal family. However, Belgium as a part of the United Kingdom of Netherlands was not to last..(24)

VI. Belgian Revolution (1830-1839)
            The Belgians had many complaints about the United Kingdom of Netherlands; it discriminated Belgians, socially and religiously. On the night of August 25 1830, at an opera theater in Brussels, an uprising occurred after the performance of an opera that fired national romanticism. This was the spark for the revolution; people poured out to the streets, taking hold of governmental buildings. The Crown Prince said to his father that separation is their only course of solving this dispute, but William I ignored his son.
            William I tried to suppress the revolution by force, but he was unsuccessful; the king¡¯s troop could not retake Brussels in street fights that occurred from 23 to 26 of September. The Belgians came up with a constitution, and the separation was a fact.
            William I did not like the fact that the country was divided, and invaded Belgium: Ten Days Campaign (August 2-12, 1831). At first, Belgium seemed to lose everything, but the situation changed on August 8, when Belgians asked for French support. Dutch did not dare go on a war with France, so the Campaign failed. However, Antwerpen remained occupied until 1832.
            European powers had divided opinion on Belgium¡¯s independence. They worried that France may take control of Belgium. However, in the end, no one sent troops for oppressing Belgians.
            In the end, it was made independent and neutral by the Treaty of London. (25) It can be inferred that Belgium was made neutral in order to prevent it from getting invaded by foreign power, as it had been for several hundred years.
            Finally, Belgium has found its own entity. Since it is no longer controlled by foreign dynasties, there was no reason for wars like those that happened prior to the Revolution would take place in Belgium. In fact, Belgium is not a major battleground before the outbreak of World War I.

VII. World War I (1914-1918)

VII.1 Social Background
            From 1800s to early 1900s, nations in Europe had seen fervent and uncompromising nationalism, which led to unresolved disputes. Also, there existed a complex system of alliances. There were misconceptions due to misunderstandings in diplomacy, and there were many types of rivalry going on such as colonial rivalry, economic rivalry, and arms rivalry. (26) All these aspects led up to the tension of European continent. Consequently, when Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb, killed the heir to Austro-Hungarian hrone in Sarajevo, a war broke out.

VII.2 Battleground Belgium in World War I
            When Schlieffen, a German officer, planned the Schlieffen Plan, he disregarded Belgium¡¯s neutrality. Hence, Belgium¡¯s neutrality was violated when Germany invaded Belgium right after Belgium decided not to let Germans pass through Belgium and into France.
            By September, almost all of Belgium was invaded by Germans, and many fled to neutral Netherlands. Among the battles that happened in Belgium are Battles of Ypres and Langemarck (27); they were so brutal that the Germans called the First Battle of Ypres ¡°Kindermord bei Ypern¡±: Massacere of the Innocents of Ypres. (28) For four years, the border hardly changed.
            In spring of 1918 when Germans tried to undertook a last attempt to win, they were halted by the allies and pushed back to their lines. In November, the war ended.

VII.3 Impact on Belgium
            The War was a total disaster for Belgium. Nothing but ruins was left, and its industries were destroyed. (29) Since Belgium did not receive all of the war reparation, Belgium economy was broken, and it had to spend quite a long period of time solely repairing for its losses. (30)
            Belgium, for the first time, was at war as ¡°Belgium¡±; however, since it was neutral by the Treaty of London, it did not prepare itself for a war. Had it not been made neutral back then, maybe it could have fought Germany better than it actually did.
            This war was quite different in nature from the wars prior to it; it was the first ¡°modern¡± war that Belgium has faced. Battleground Belgium has changed a lot.

VIII. Comparative Analysis of Wars in Battleground Belgium

VIII.1 Intensity of the Wars
            Among the wars that took place in current-day Belgium, the longest lasting one was definitely Dutch Revolt, which lasted about 80 years. Also, it was one of the most destructive wars that Southern Netherlands has ever faced. However, it was nothing to compare to World War I; it was by far the most destructive war of all wars that occurred in Belgium, although the length was rather short. (31) This could be due to the fact that weaponry developed greatly during the wars; although World War I was only for about 5 years, the impact was deadly.

VIII.2 Casualties of the Wars
            As mentioned earlier, World War I was by far the most destructive war that Belgium has encountered. The population drop was great; in 1914, there were 7,638,800 inhabitants in Belgium; by 1919, one year after the war ended, the population was 7,407,000 (32). Dutch Revolt resulted in population drop as well; in 1560, Antwerpen had 85,000 inhabitants; in 1615, the population was 54,000 (33). Other wars also caused population changes, although not as great as Dutch Revolt or World War I.
            Economic casualty cannot be ignored. After the Fall of Antwerpen, Scheldt River was closed, crippling Antwerpen¡¯s commerce. Antwerpen, a trading center until then, could no longer function as such; trading center moved to Amsterdam and such. Also, since Antwerpen¡¯s economy was no longer in shape, many skillsmen migrated to Northern Netherlands, which later became Dutch Republic. World War proved to be an economic disaster for Belgium as well; since it was not paid the total amount of war reparation it was to get, it had difficulties repairing for its damages; furthermore, in 1920s, the whole world was hit by Great Depression, and Belgium was not an exception; the period following World War I was a real economic disaster for Belgium.

IX. Europe and Belgian Identity
            Belgium was never an entity until its independence in 1830. In addition, Belgians do not have their own language or ethnicity. Then, what caused Belgium to stand on its own ?
            Right before its independence, it belonged to Napoleonic France, which was right next to Belgium. After Napoleon was ultimately defeated in the Battle of Waterloo, what is now Belgium was given to Netherlands, since Belgian lands was long considered as a part of ¡°Southern Netherlands.¡± However, when Dutch administration discriminated French-speaking population, Belgian Revolution broke out. It was quite obvious that Belgium could not cope with Netherlands, but no one could really risk it being a French territory again, not with the memory of Napoleon fresh in mind. Thus, European powers helped Belgium break away from Netherlands not as a French territory but as a country of its own, and declared it neutral to prevent it being invaded by French, making the power equation overloaded.
            In other words, Belgian identity was created by other European powers in order to keep their power balanced.

VIII. Conclusion
            Since the time of Julius Caesar, Belgium was under the control of non-Belgians until 1830, when they finally gained independence. Since it was always controlled by somebody outside the Belgian land, many foreign powers wanted the land for themselves. The fact that Belgium used to be the center of commerce only made the desire of dynasties more intense. Until the first spark of Belgian Revolution, Belgians were never the owner of Belgium's fate; other countries decided what would become of Belgium. It was a number of ¡°territories,¡± not an ¡°entity.¡± That was the main reason for so frequent wars in Belgium.
            The main powers involved in wars above mentioned are France, England, and Austria. France, because of its vicinity to Belgium, could lay its hands on Belgium whenever it wanted to. While other countries needed to cover some distance, France only had to cross the border. This definitely attributed to the fact that France was one of the main powers in wars in Belgium
            Another main power involved was Spain. By the Pragmatic Sanction of 1549, area around Belgium became ¡°Spanish Netherlands.¡± However, the borderline was constantly changing, mainly due to the attacks of Louis XIV. Since its territory was violated, Spain had no other choice but to join the war.
            One of the other major powers involved was Austria. Austria, a great nemesis of France, was involved in this war to prevent France from getting excessive power.
            In other wars, most of the wars that took place in Belgium were the wars for power balance of Strong countries in Europe.


1.      Article : History of Belgium before 1830, from Wikipedia
2.      Kagan, Ozment, Turner; 2007; p.400
3.      Article : Dutch Revolt, from Wikipedia
4.      Kagan, Ozment, Turner; 2007; p.400
5.      Article : Battle of Heiligerlee, from Wikipedia
6.      Article : Fall of Antwerpen, from Wikipedia
7.      Article : History of Belgium, from Wikipedia
8.      The Thirty Years War, 1618-1648, from WHKMLA
9.      Franco-Spanish War, 1635-1659, from WHKMLA
10.      Article : Dutch Revolt, from Wikipedia
11.      ibid.
12.      Article : Fall of Antwerpen, from Wikipedia
13.      Kagan, Ozment, Turner; 2007; p.429
14.      Dutch War of Louis XIV., 1672-1678, from WHKMLA
15.      Kagan, Ozment, Turner; 2007; p.433
16.      Merriman; 2004; p.302
17.      War of the Grand Alliance, 1689-1697, from WHKMLA
18.      Kagan, Ozment, Turner; 2007; p.429
19.      War of Spanish Succession, 1701-1714, from WHKMLA
20.      Altered: Spanish War, from History On Maps
21.      Article: Southern Netherlands, from Wikipedia
22.      Merriman; 2004;; pp.549-550
23.      Altered: Pictures of Battles - Drawings and Paintings of Battles, from
24.      Article: Southern Netherlands, from Wikipedia
25.      Article: Belgian Revolution, from Wikipedia
26.      Article: Origins of World War I, from Wikipedia
27.      History of Belgium, 1914-1918, from WHKMLA
28.      Article: First Battle of Ypres, from Wikipedia
29.      History of Belgium, 1914-1918, from WHKMLA
30.      Article: History of Belgium, from Wikipedia
31.      Belgium: Demographic History, from WHKMLA
32.      Population Statistics : Belgium, Historical Demography
33.      ibid.


Note : websites quoted below were visited in December 2008.
1.      Article : History of Belgium before 1830, from Wikipedia (
2.      D. Kagan, S. Ozment, F. Turner "Western Heritage 9th Edition Combined Volume" (2007)
3.      Article : Dutch Revolt, from Wikipedia (
4.      Article : Battle of Heiligerlee, from Wikipedia (
5.      Article : Fall of Antwerpen, from Wikipedia (
6.      Article : History of Belgium, from Wikipedia (
7.      The Thirty Years War, 1618-1648, from World History at KMLA (
8.      Franco-Spanish War, 1635-159, from World History at KMLA (
9.      Dutch War of Louis XIV., from World History at KMLA (
10.      J. Meriman ¡°A History of Modern Europe-From the Renaissance to the Present Second Edition¡± (2004)
11.      War of the Grand Alliance, 1689-1697, from World History at KMLA (
12.      War of Spanish Succession, 1701-1714, from World History at KMLA (
13.      Spanish War, from History On Maps (
14.      Article: Southern Netherlands, from Wikipedia (
15.      Pictures of Battles ? Drawing and Paintings of Battles, from (
16.      Article: Belgian Revolution, from Wikipedia (
17.      Article: Origins of World War I, from Wikipedia (
18.      History of Belgium, 1914-1918, from World History at KMLA (
19.      Belgium: Demographic History, from World History at KMLA (
20.      Population Statistics : Belgium, Historical Demography (

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