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Belgium: The 1830 Honour flags

Last modified: 2019-01-25 by ivan sache
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Honour flag awarded to the town of Liège - Photo by Jean-Marc Demeyer, 21 February 2004

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History of the 1830 Honour flags

The 1830 Honour flags are described by Roger Harmignies, President of the Heraldry and Vexillology Council of the French Community, in: Belgique : Les drapeaux d'honneur de 1830, Vexillacta [vxL] #3 (March 1999), pp. 7-8.

Belgium gained its independence from the Netherlands in fall 1830: followinng the Dutch withdrawal from Brussels on 27 September, the independence was proclaimed on 4 October. A few months later, on 14 January 1831, the Provisory Government of Belgium created by Decree the Honour star, a token of gratitude awarded to the citizens who had contributed to the independence of the country.
In May, the Congress cancelled the Decree to propose a more elaborated system of national tokens of gratitude: a Honour star for the citizens devoted to the cause of the revolution, a star to be affixed on the monument built Place des Martyrs in Brussels, and Honour flags to be awarded to the volunteers' corpses and to the towns and municipalities which had contributed to the success of the revolution. The Congress approved only the Honour flags, however. On 28 May 1831, Baron Beyts tabled a Bill, which was transformed the same day in the Law on National Awards:

Article 1.
Honour flags shall be awarded to the towns and municipalities whose volunteers went on places threatened by the enemy or contributed in an efficient way to the success of the revolution.
These flags shall have the national colours.
They shall be surmounted by a Belgian lion* , on the basis of which shall be on one side the word LIBERTE** and one the other side the date MDCCCXXX*** .

Article 2.
The Commission awarding these flags shall be constituted of the currently active members of the Award Commission created in Brussels and of nine members of the Congress, appointed by the assembly and representing the different provinces.

Article 3.
The flags awarded by the Commission shall be distributed by the Head of the State, in the name of the Belgian people.

Article 4.
The Decree of the Provisory Government dated 14 January 1831 (Official gazette No. 6) shall be revoked.

*lion belgique, that is the lion from the national coat of arms
**in French, "freedom"
***in Roman numerals, "1830"

A Honour flag was actually awarded to 100 towns and municipalities (see the list below), including Maastricht, Roermond and Venlo (in eastern Limburg, kept by the Netherlands), Luxembourg and Paris (to honour the Parisian legion that came to Brussels in October 1830).

On 27 September 1832, the flags were distributed on Place Royale in Brussels. King Leopold I handed out the flags to delegations made of 3-5 people from each honoured town or municipality, including the Mayor, Municipal Councillors and volunteers .
There were no representatives either from Luxembourg or the three towns of eastern Limburg since those towns were no longer part of the Kingdom of Belgium, according to the 24-Articles Treaty signed by Belgium on 14 October 1831. The flag awarded to Luxembourg, kept by the family of Baron van der Straten, was later given to the Army Royal Museum, where it is still preserved.
Paris should have been represented in Brussels by the Duke of Orléans, son of King of the French Louis-Philippe, but he did not come. What has become of the Honour flags awarded to Paris (but see below) and to the towns of eastern Limburg is unknown.

The official ceremony of distribution of the Honour flags was related in the Moniteur belge (Official gazette) on 28 September and in Le Courrier de la Meuse on 30 September. Each delegation, called according to the alphabetic order, was awarded its Honour flag and certificate. King Leopold said:
"I confide you this flag; the courage you showed is the evidence you will be able to defend it."

On 30 September, ceremonies were organized in most of the honoured towns when the delegations came back.

Ivan Sache, 21 February 2004

Description of the 1830 Honour flags

The honour flags, as described by Harmignies, all have the same design.
The flag is in size 1.20 m x 1.30 m, horizontally divided red-yellow-black, with a garland of golden oak leaves near the borders of the flag and a tricolor fringe around its free edges.
Both the obverse and the reverse of the flag bears the following gilded writings:
- on the red stripe "A LA COMMUNE DE [name]", even if the municipality bore the title of town; - on the yellow stripe, the year "1830" surrounded by two laurel boughs; - on the black stripe, "LA PATRIE RECONNAISSANTE" (the grateful homeland).
Neither the writings nor the exact design of the flag are explicitely prescribed by the Law on National Awards.

The flagstaff is made of glazed wood. The finial is a parallelepipedic pedestal on which is placed a lion standing up on its rearpaws and holding a peak surmounted by a liberty cap in its forepaws. As prescribed by the Law, "LIBERTE" and "MDCCCXXX" are written on two opposed sides of the pedestal.

The horizontal arrangement of the stripes of the flag seems odd, since a Decree of 23 January 1831, augmented by Instructions of the Department of Navy (15 September) and of the Department of the Interior (12 October) had stated that the stripes of the Belgian national flag should be placed vertically. It is evident, however, that the horizontal arrangement of the stripes of the Honour flag was a tribute to the first emblems of the revolutionary days of August 1830, which had horizontal stripes. Moreover, flags with vertical stripes and flags with horizontal stripes coexisted in Belgium for a few years. The last official flags with horizontal stripes were seen on 24 September 1838 during the inauguration of the War Memorial on the Place des Martyrs in Brussels. Here again, the use of flags with horizontal stripes was deliberate.

Ivan Sache, 21 February 2004

Preservation of the 1830 Honour flags

Harmignies reports that the Army History Division conducted in 1981 a survey on the preservation of the Honour flags. Three-quarters of the municipalities have kept the flag, at least the cloth part. Some of these municipalities still use it during local and national celebrations. The Honour flags of a dozen of municipalities have been lost. A few of those flags disappeared during the two World Wars, for instance the flag awarded to Herve, burnt in 1914. Believed to have been burned in 1914, too, the flag awarded to Dinant was found again in an antique shop in 1958. Due to their bad state, some of the flags are kept in museums. Others were restored, like the flag of Saintes (Tubize), whereas replicas of some others were made, like in Brussels and Verviers.

Ivan Sache, 21 February 2004

The Army Museum at Brussels (horizontal glass case, inv. No. 401891) preserves the central portion of the Honour flag awarded to Paris, labelled: "Fragment of flag destined to the Town of Paris as thanks for the volunteers aiding the Belgian revolution, 1830 (Decision of the National Congress, 28 May 1831)".
We read or see from top to bottom:
1830 [in garland]
Paris is not called a commune (municipality) but a ville (town) and logically it is not the patrie (Fatherland) which is grateful but Belgium. So the complete line would have read "LA BELGIQUE RECONNAISSANTE".

Jan Mertens, 8 January 2010

List of the towns and municipalities awarded a 1830 Honour flags

Jean-Joseph Thonissen (La Belgique sous le règne de Léopold Ier, 1856), gives the list of the towns and municipalities awarded a Honour flag, as published on 28 September 1832 in the Belgian official gazette. In the following, the modern names are used, with the written form of the time given in italics, between brackets; if the place is no longer a municipality, the name of the municipality in which it is currently incorporated is given between square brackets.

Aalst (Alost) | Aarschot (Aerschot) | Andenne | Anderlecht | Ans-et-Glain [Ans, Liège] | Antwerp (Anvers) | Arlon (see video) | Ath |
Bastogne | Binche | Boitsfort [Watermael-Boitsfort / Watermaal-Boosvord] | Boom (see image) | Bouillon | Braine-l'Alleud | Braine-le-Comte | Bruges | Brussels (Bruxelles) |
Charleroi (Charleroy) | Châtelet | Couvin |
Dendermonde (Termonde) | Diest | Dinant | Dison | Dour |
Enghien | Ensival [Verviers |
Fayt [Honnelles or Manage?] | Fleurus (see description) | Fontaine-l'Évêque |
Geel (Gheel) | Gembloux (photos) | Genappe | Geraardsbergen (Grammont) | Ghent (Gand) | Gosselies [Charleroi] | Grâce-Montegnée [Grâce-Hollogne] | Grez-Doiceau |
Halle (Hal) | Hasselt | Herenthout | Hermée [Oupeye] | Herselt | Herstal | Herve | Heverlee (Héverlé) [Leuven] | Hodimont [Verviers] | Huy |
Ixelles |
Jemappes [Mons] | Jemeppe | Jodoigne |
Kortrijk (Courtray) |
La Hestre [Manage] | La Hulpe | Leuven (Louvain) | Leuze | Liège | Lier (Lierre) | Luxembourg |
Maaseik (Maeseyck) | Maffle [Ath] | Meerhout | Menen (Menin) | Meslin-l'Évêque [Ath] | Mol (Moll) | Molenbeek-Saint-Jean (Molenbeck-Saint-Jean) | Mons | Morlanwelz |
Namur | Neufchâteau | Nivelles |
Ostend (Ostende) | Overijse (Overryssche) |
Paris | Péruwelz | Perwez | Phillippeville |
Quaregnon | Quiévrain | Rebecq-Rognon | Roermond (Ruremonde) | Roeselare (Roulers) | Ronse (Renaix) |
Saintes [Tubize] | Saint-Ghislain | Sclayn [Andenne] | Seneffe | Sint-Pieters-Leeuw (Leeuw-Saint-Pierre) | Soignies |
Tervuren (Tervueren) | Tielt (Thielt) | Tienen (Tirlemont) | Thuin | Tournai (Tournay) (replica - see image) |
Venloo | Verviers |
Waterloo | Wavre | Westerlo (Westerloo |

Maastricht, while mentioned by Harmignies, does not appear on this list, but the two other towns of eastern Limburg, Roermond and Venlo, do.

Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, Jan Mertens & Ivan Sache, 19 June 2012