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Belgium: The 1830 Revolution

Last modified: 2011-11-12 by ivan sache
Keywords: liege | soubre (charles) | abts (marie) |
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The first Belgian flag

[First Belgian national flag]

The first Belgian national flag - Image by Ivan Sache, 22 February 2004

The first true Belgian national flag, horizontally divided red-yellow-black, was adopted in 1830 during the revolution that led to the independence of Belgium from the Netherlands.
The sewing of this flag is shown on the painting by E. Vermeersch entitled "Mrs. Marie Abts* sews the first Belgian flag, August 26, 1830". Kept in the Royal Army and Military Museum in Brussels, the painting is made of oil on canvas, its size is 90 x 125 cm. The historical notice on the Museum website says:

On August 26, 1830, after a performance of the Muette de Portici opera at the Monnaie theater in Brussels, civil commotion arises all over. As in 1789, during the Brabantine Revolution, the Brabant colours flew everywhere, superseding the orange Dutch cockade or the French flag.
Lucien Jottrand**, editor of the Courrier des Pays-Bas, is credited for this gesture. He would have asked lawyer Ducpétiaux*** to make a flag with the Brabantine colours.
The latter buys the necessary fabric and asks a seamstress, found by chance on the corner of Rue de la Colline and Rue du Marché aux Herbes to manufacture the first Belgian flag.
Countess Cavens, née Abts, donated the painting to the Museum. The Mrs. Abts in the picture seems to have been her ancestor.

*A modest pair of plaques, accompanied by a rendition of the first Belgian flag (photo) commemorates Mrs Marie Abts (biography) sewing this item. They are placed on a street corner where Mrs Abts's textile shop once stood, not far from the Grote Markt/Grande Place (Market Place) at Brussels. The text says "Here on 26 August 1830 Mrs Abts made the first two Belgian flags".

**Lucien Jottrand (1804-1877) was a Belgian democrat, who promoted the right of vote for the women, a right which was eventually awarded in 1948 only. He was also president of Association Démocratique, founded in Brussels in the autumn of 1847 to unite proletarian revolutionaries (mainly revolutionary German emigrants) and advanced bourgeois and petty-bourgeois democrats. Marx and Engels and the Brussels German Workers' Association, which they led, took an active part in setting it up. On 15 November, 1847 Marx was elected its Vice-President, and under his influence, it became an important centre of the international democratic movement. However, when Marx was banished from Brussels in early March 1848 and the Association's most revolutionary elements were repressed by the authorities, the Belgian bourgeois democrats were no longer able to lead the working masses in the movement against the monarchy, and the Association's activities became narrower and purely local. It ceased its activities in 1849.

***Édouard Ducpétiaux (1804-1868) was a liberal-catholic lawyer. He was the first to advocate a formal international labour body (in 1843) and he was active in setting up the first international conference on such issues, held at Brussels in 1856. Known as a main theorician of pauperism, he wrote several essays and pamphlets on poverty and developed a scheme for an interventionist policy in which the government would accept social responsibility (1843). He realized the first modern survey, statistically representative, of poverty in Belgium in 1855.
Ducpétiaux is mostly known for his actions as Inspector-General of Prisons. After having studied the Pennsylvania System and the English prisons, he promoted the cellular regime and the radial form of the prisons. Although he soon had the satisfaction of seeing his plan succeed so far as to have cellular jail erected, it was only on 4 March 1870 that cellular imprisonment was adopted by law.

Mark Sensen, Jan Mertens, & Ivan Sache, 9 April 2010

Flag of the Liège volunteers

[Liege volunteers' flag]

Flag of the Liège volunteers - Image by Eugene Ipavec, 21 February 2009

The volunteers from Liège, came to help the insurgents, entered Brussels on 7 September 1831. Led by Charles Rogier, future Prime Minister of the young state of Belgium, the 300 men marched under the Liège colours. Vertically divided yellow and red, these colours represented either the Country of Liège or the town.
The painting by Charles Soubre Le départ des volontaires liégeois pour Bruxelles (1830) (Museum of Walloon Art, Liège), made in 1878, depicts the volunteer's departure from Liège. In 1880, Soubre painted Arrivée de Charles Rogier et des volontaires liégeois à Bruxelles (1830) (Army Royal Museum, Brussels). A difference in detail is the presence, in the 1878 painting, of an inscription on the (back of the) flag Vaincre ou mourir pour Bruxelles (To win or die for Brussels). This inscription has disappeared from the later painting, as if the letters had dropped off underway!
It seems the Liège volunteers welcomed the new Belgian flag as it united the Brabant colours of mainly black and yellow with their own.

Jan Mertens, 19 February 2009