1830-1831 The Belgian Revolution

Fifteen years on, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands found itself in a deep crisis. Criticism of King William I’s authoritarian rule grew, primarily in the South. The Belgians revolted in 1830, and created their own state in November 1831.


Army at the ready

The army camp at Rijen. Netherlands, c. 1831

The far-reaching meddling of the Protestant William I irritated various groups in the South, including the Catholics, the French speakers, and the Liberals. However, imminent revolt was still out of the question. This changed after the July Revolution in France of 1830, which saw the overthrow of the French king. Soon thereafter, incidents also broke out in the Southern Netherlands, beginning in Brussels.

The king sent both his sons to Brussels, but to little avail. A truce was ultimately negotiated, after which a long period of political bickering ensued. William I refused to meet the demands of the Belgians, making secession inevitable. In a final attempt to have his way, he deployed the army one more time, part of which was already stationed in Rijen in the province of Noord-Brabant. It crossed into Belgium, at Poppel, on 2 August 1831.

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The Ten Days’ Campaign

The Battle of Bautersem, 12 August 1831, during the Ten Day March. Nicolaas Pieneman, 1833

Battles were fought almost every day to repel the Belgian troops. And, the Dutch army was successful in this. During the Battle of Boutersem, the Dutch also managed to defeat a part of the Belgian forces. During this violent encounter the horse of the commander-in-chief, the prince of Orange, was hit by a cannonball. The prince himself was unharmed. In the painting we see a wounded officer offering the prince another horse. The prince’s own mount (at the left) was later put out of its misery. The next day, 12 August 1831, a battle was fought with another part of the Belgian army near Louvain. The Belgians were on the verge of losing this encounter as well. It was then that the 70,000 men strong French army came to the rescue of the Belgian troops. The prince of Orange ordered a retreat and signed a ceasefire that very same day.

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‘I would rather go up in smoke!’

Explosion of gunboat no. 2 under command of Jan van Speijk on 5 February 1831 at Antwerp. Martinus Schouman, 1832

Jan van Speijk considering whether to throw the match on the powder, 5 February 1831. Jacobus Schoemaker Doyer, 1834

The Belgian War of Independence also provided the Netherlands with a hero in the person of Jan van Speijk. He was in command of a Dutch gunboat that patrolled the Schelde River in Belgium. On 5 February 1831 a gale blew the vessel into the quay at the port of Antwerp, and it was stormed by a group of Belgians. Van Speijk knew what he had to do. Together with his commanders, he had sworn to never let his vessel fall into enemy hands. Shortly before Van Speijk had stated that he would rather blow up the boat along with himself than surrender. He put his words into action. Practically everyone on board, including himself and several unknown Belgians, died in the explosion.



Nutcracker made of iron from gunboat no. 2 commanded by Jan van Speijk.

Box with rose twig made of iron from gunboat no. 2 commanded by Jan van Speijk.

Fragment gun carriage gunboat no. 2 commanded by Jan van Speijk. With a certificate of authenticity

Van Speijk was honoured as a national hero. His embalmed remains were ceremoniously laid to rest in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam in May 1832. Moreover, a national memorial was built for him, namely a lighthouse in Egmond aan Zee.

After the explosion, the remains of the gunboat were recovered from the Schelde and fashioned into all kinds of objects that were sold as relics. They also served as prizes for a lottery held to raise funds for a monument to Van Speijk.