United Belgian States

United Belgian States
Verenigde Belgische Staten
Unrecognized state
Flag Coat of arms
In Unione Salus or Domini est Regnum
"In Union Salvation" and "The kingdom is the Lord's"
The United Belgian States' territory in 1790
Capital Brussels
Languages Dutch, French
Religion Roman Catholic
Government Confederal Republic
   1790 François de Nélis
  1790 Hendrik van Crumpipen
Prime Minister
  1790 Hendrik Van der Noot
Legislature Sovereign Congress
Historical era Brabant Revolution
  Manifesto of Brabant 24 October 1789
   Treaty of Union 11 January 1790
  Battle of Falmagne 22 September 1790
   Surrender of Brussels 2 December 1790
Currency See Brabant Revolution coinage
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Austrian Netherlands
Austrian Netherlands

The United Belgian States or United Netherlandish States (Dutch: Verenigde Nederlandse Staten or Verenigde Belgische Staten, French: États-Belgiques-Unis, Latin: Foederati belgii), also known as the United States of Belgium, was a confederation in the Southern Netherlands (modern-day Belgium) which was established after the Brabant Revolution. It existed from January to December 1790 as part of the unsuccessful revolt against the Habsburg Emperor, Joseph II.


Influenced by the Enlightenment, Emperor Joseph II, who became sole ruler of the Habsburg lands after Maria Theresa's death in 1780, decreed a series of large-scale reforms in the Austrian Netherlands designed to radically modernize and centralize the political, judicial and administrative systems.

Characteristically, the well-intentioned but autocratic Emperor abruptly imposed his reforms without even a semblance of consultation with the population, which actually included an influential urban intelligentsia and other segments of the ruling classes who were highly receptive to such innovations. The Emperor's edict of tolerance of 1781 established religious freedom. Another edict in 1784 removed from the Catholic clergy responsibility for the civil registry, and civil marriage was introduced. Under the Edict on Idle Institutions (1780), contemplative religious orders, deemed useless, were dissolved and diocesan seminaries were abolished and replaced by general seminaries in Leuven and Luxembourg. Feudal and trade corporation regulations and jurisdictions were modified or abolished and, to the stupefaction of all segments of the population, the authorities abolished the ancient provinces of Flanders, Brabant, Hainaut, Namur, and Luxembourg, replacing them with 9 circles (German: Kreise), subdivided in 64 districts. Seigneurial jurisdictions and rights, including the corvée, were abolished.[1] As in Hungary, Joseph II attempted to introduce German as the language of administration for the sake of efficiency.


The United Belgian States was a confederal republic of eight provinces which had their own governments, were sovereign and independent, and were governed directly by the Sovereign Congress (French: Congrès souverain; Dutch: Soevereine Congres), the confederal government. The Sovereign Congress was seated in Brussels and consisted of representatives of each of the eight provinces. The provinces of the republic were divided into 11 smaller separate territories, each with their own regional identities:[2]

  1. Flanders
  2. West Flanders
  3. Brabant
  4. Hainaut
  5. The Tournaisis
  6. Namur
  7. Luxembourg
  8. Liège
  9. Limburg
  10. Antwerp
  11. Mechelen

Brabant Revolution

Main article: Brabant Revolution
Battle of Turnhout, 27 October 1789.
Battle of Ghent, 13 November 1789.
Battle of Falmagne, 22 September 1790.
Surrender of Brussels, 2 December 1790.
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In 1789, a church-inspired popular revolt broke out in reaction to the emperor's centralizing and anticlerical policies. Two factions appeared: the Statists who opposed the reforms, and the Vonckists named for Jan Frans Vonck who initially supported the reforms but then joined the opposition, due to the clumsy way in which the reforms were carried out.

The uprising started in Brabant, which in January 1789 declared that it no longer recognized the emperor's rule. The leader of the Statisten faction, Hendrik Van der Noot, crossed the border into the Dutch Republic and raised a small army in Breda in Staats-Brabant, the northern (Dutch Republic) part of Brabant.

In October, he invaded Brabant and captured Turnhout, defeating the Austrians in the Battle of Turnhout on 27 October. Ghent was taken on 13 November, and on 17 November the governors Albert Casimir and Maria Christina fled Brussels. The remains of the imperial forces withdrew behind the citadel walls of Luxembourg and Antwerp.

Van der Noot now declared Brabant independent, and all the other provinces of the Austrian Netherlands (except Luxembourg) soon followed suit. On 11 January 1790 they signed a pact, establishing a confederation under the name Verenigde Nederlandse Staten / États-Belgiques-Unis (United Belgian States) and a governing body known as the Sovereign Congress. The Dutch Act of Abjuration in 1581 and the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 served as models for the Declaration of Independence of Flanders and some of the other provinces between November 1789 and early 1790. Shortly afterwards, the Articles of Confederation served as a model for the Treaty of the United Belgian States of 11 January 1790.

Independently, in 1789, a revolution had broken out in Liège. The revolutionaries established a republic which joined the United Belgian States in a semblance of an alliance.

Realizing the fragility of the new state, Van der Noot approached foreign states for support and suggested a unification with the Dutch Republic, with little success. Furthermore, the Statist and Vonckist factions were in constant conflict, bordering on civil war.

Suppression of the Revolt

On 27 February 1790 Joseph II died and his brother Leopold II succeeded him as emperor. Leopold II quickly moved to recapture the Austrian Netherlands. On 24 October 1790 imperial troops took the city of Namur, forcing the province of Namur to recognize the authority of the emperor. Two days later, the province of West Flanders followed suit, and by December the entire territory was again in imperial hands.

The Austrian restoration and hegemony however was short-lived as in 1794 during the French Revolutionary Wars the region was overrun by French armies and in 1795 was annexed to France (1 October 1795).


Though short-lived, the United Belgian States had long-lasting repercussions. It had given the Southern Netherlands their first taste of independence, and had sparked a new political idea: the state of Belgium. In 1830, the inhabitants of the Southern Netherlands successfully revolted against the Netherlands during the Belgian Revolution, creating the modern state of Belgium.

See also


  1. Bitsch, pp. 56, 62.
  2. "The Brabant Revolution of 1789–1790". World History at KMLA. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
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