History of Holland
By George Edmundson
Public Domain Books
Chapter XXXI: The Belgian Revolution, 1830-1842
During the last days of July, 1830, came the revolution at Paris that overthrew Charles X and placed the Duke of Orleans at the head of a constitutional monarchy with the title of Louis Philippe, King of the French. The Belgian liberals had always felt drawn towards France rather than Holland, and several of the more influential among them were in Paris during the days of July. Through their close intercourse with their friends in Brussels the news of all that had occurred spread rapidly, and was eagerly discussed. Probably at this time few contemplated the complete separation of Belgium from Holland, but rather looked to the northern and southern provinces becoming administratively autonomous under the same crown. This indeed appeared to be the only practical solution of the impasse which had been reached. Even had the king met the complaints of the Belgians by large concessions, had he dismissed Van Maanen, removed Libri-Bagnano from the editorship of the National, and created a responsible ministry–which he had no intention of doing–he could not have granted the demand for a representation of the south in the Second Chamber proportionate to the population. For this would have meant that the position of Holland would have henceforth been subordinate to that of Belgium; and to this the Dutch, proud of their history and achievements, would never have submitted. It had been proved that amalgamation was impossible, but the king personally was popular with those large sections of the Belgian mercantile and industrial population whose prosperity was so largely due to the royal care and paternal interest; and, had he consented to the setting-up of a separate administration at Brussels, he might by a conciliatory attitude have retained the loyalty of his Belgian subjects.
He did none of these things; but, when in August, he and his two sons paid a visit to Brussels at a time when the town was celebrating with festivities the holding of an exhibition of national industry, he was well received and was probably quite unaware of the imminence of the storm that was brewing. It had been intended to close the exhibition by a grand display of fireworks on the evening of August 23, and to have a general illumination on the king’s birthday (August 24). But the king had hurried back to the Hague to keep his birthday, and during the preceding days there were abundant signs of a spirit of revolutionary ferment. Inscriptions were found on blank walls–Down with Van Maanen; Death to the Dutch; Down with Libri-Bagnano and the National; and, more ominous still, leaflets were distributed containing the words le 23 Août, feu d’artifice; le 24 Août, anniversaïre du Roi; le 25 Août, révolution. In consequence of these indications of subterranean unrest, which were well known to Baron van der Fosse, the civil governor of Brabant, and to M. Kuyff, the head of the city police, the municipal authorities weakly decided on the ground of unfavourable weather to postpone the fireworks and the illumination. The evening of the 23rd, as it turned out, was exceedingly fine. At the same time the authorities permitted, on the evening of the 25th, the first performance of an opera by Scribe and Auber, entitled La Muette de Portici, which had been previously proscribed. The hero, Masaniello, headed a revolt at Naples in 1648 against foreign (Spanish) rule. The piece was full of patriotic, revolutionary songs likely to arouse popular passion.
The evening of the performance arrived, and the theatre was crowded. The excitement of the audience grew as the play proceeded; and the thunders of applause were taken up by the throng which had gathered outside. Finally the spectators rushed out with loud cries of vengeance against Libri-Bagnano and Van Maanen, in which the mob eagerly joined. Brussels was at that time a chosen shelter of political refugees, ready for any excesses; and a terrible riot ensued. The house of Van Maanen and the offices of the National were attacked, pillaged and burnt. The city was given over to wild confusion and anarchy; and many of the mob secured arms by the plunder of the gun-smiths’ shops. Meanwhile the military authorities delayed action. Several small patrols were surrounded and compelled to surrender, while the main body of troops, instead of attacking and dispersing the rioters, was withdrawn and stationed in front of the royal palace. Thus by the extraordinary passiveness of Lieut.-General Bylandt, the military governor of the province, and of Major-General Wauthier, commandant of the city, who must have been acting under secret orders, the wild outbreak of the night began, as the next day progressed and the troops were still inactive, to assume more of the character of a revolution.
This was checked by the action of the municipal authorities and certain of the principal inhabitants, who called together the civic-guard to protect any further tumultuary attacks by marauders and ne’er-do-wells on private property. The guard were joined by numbers of volunteers of the better classes and, under the command of Baron D’Hoogvoort, were distributed in different quarters of the town, and restored order. The French flags, which at first were in evidence, were replaced at the Town Hall by the Brabant tricolor–red, yellow and black. The royal insignia had in many places been torn down, and the Orange cockades had disappeared; nevertheless there was at this time no symptom of an uprising to overthrow the dynasty, only a national demand for redress of grievances. Meanwhile news arrived that reinforcements from Ghent were marching upon the city. The notables however informed General Bylandt that no troops would be allowed to enter the city without resistance; and he agreed to stop the advance and to keep his own troops in their encampment until he received further orders from the Hague. For this abandonment of any attempt to re-assert the royal authority he has been generally blamed.
There is no lack of evidence to show that the riot of August 25 and its consequences were not the work of the popular leaders. The correspondence of Gendebien with De Potter at this time, and the tone of the Belgian press before and after the outbreak, are proofs of this. The Catholique of Ghent (the former organ of Barthels) for instance declared:
There is no salvation for the throne, but in an ample concession of our rights. The essential points to be accorded are royal inviolability and ministerial responsibility; the dismissal of Van Maanen; liberty of education and the press; a diminution of taxation ... in short, justice and liberty in all and for all, in strict conformity with the fundamental law.
The Coursier des Pays Bos (the former organ of De Potter), after demanding the dismissal of Van Maanen as the absolute condition of pacification, adds:
We repeat that we are neither in a state of insurrection nor revolution; all we want is a mitigation of the grievances we have so long endured, and some guarantees for a better future.
In accordance with such sentiments an infuencial meeting on the on the 28th at the townhall appointed a deputation of five, headed by Alexandre de Gendebien and Felix, count de Mérode, to bear to the king a loyal address setting forth the just grievances which had led to the Brussels disturbances, and asking respectfully for their removal.
The news of the uprising reached the king on the 27th, and he was much affected. At a Council held at the Hague the Prince of Orange earnestly besought his father to accept the proffered resignation of Van Maanen, and to consider in a conciliatory spirit the grievances of the Belgians. But William refused flatly to dismiss the minister or to treat with rebels. He gave the prince, however, permission to visit Brussels, not armed with powers to act, but merely with a mission of enquiry. He also consented to receive the deputation from Brussels, and summoned an extraordinary meeting of the States-General at the Hague for September 13. Troops were at once ordered to move south and to join the camp at Vilvoorde, where the regiments sent to reinforce the Brussels garrison had been halted. The Prince of Orange and his brother Frederick meanwhile had left the Hague and reached Vilvoorde on August 31. Here Frederick assumed command of the troops; and Orange sent his aide-de-camp to Baron D’Hoogvoort to invite him to a conference at headquarters. The news of the gathering troops had aroused immense excitement in the capital; and it was resolved that Hoogvoort, at the head of a representative deputation, should go to Vilvoorde to urge the prince to stop any advance of the troops on Brussels, as their entrance into the town would be resisted, unless the citizens were assured that Van Maanen was dismissed, and that the other grievances were removed. They invited Orange to come to Brussels attended only by his personal suite, and offered to be sureties for his safety.
The prince made his entry on September 1, the streets being lined with the civic guard. He was personally popular, but, possessing no powers, he could effect nothing. After three days of parleying he returned to the camp, and his mission was a failure. On the same day when Orange entered Brussels the deputation of five was received by King William at the Hague. His reply to their representations was that by the Fundamental Law he had the right to choose his ministers, that the principle of ministerial responsibility was contrary to the Constitution, and that he would not dismiss Van Maanen or deal with any alleged grievances with a pistol at his head.
William, however, despite his uncompromising words, did actually accept the resignation of Van Maanen (September 3); but when the Prince of Orange, returning from his experiences at Brussels, urged the necessity of an administrative separation of north and south, and offered to return to the Belgian capital if armed with full authority to carry it out, his offer was declined. The king would only consent to bring the matter to the consideration of the States-General, which was to meet on the 13th. Instead of taking any immediate action he issued a proclamation, which in no way faced the exigencies of the situation, and was no sooner posted on the walls at Brussels than it was torn down and trampled underfoot. It is only just to say that the king had behind him the unanimous support of the Dutch people, especially the commercial classes. To them separation was far preferable to admitting the Belgians to that predominant share of the representation which they claimed on the ground of their larger population.
Meanwhile at Brussels, owing to the inaction of the government, matters were moving fast. The spirit of revolt had spread to other towns, principally in the Walloon provinces. Liège and Louvain were the first to move. Charles Rogier, an advocate by profession and a Frenchman by birth, was the leader of the revolt at Liège; and such was his fiery ardour that at the head of some 400 men, whom he had supplied with arms from the armourer’s warehouses, he marched to Brussels, and arrived in that disturbed city without encountering any Dutch force. The example of Liège was followed by Jemappes, Wavre, and by the miners of the Borinage; and Brussels was filled with a growing crowd of men filled with a revolutionary spirit. Their aim was to proclaim the independence of Belgium, and set up a provisional government.
For such a step even pronounced liberals like Gendebien, Van de Weyer and Rouppe, the veteran burgomaster of the city, were not yet prepared; and they combined with the moderates, Count Felix de Mérode and Ferdinand Meeus, to form a Committee of Public Safety. They were aided, in the maintenance of order, by the two Barons D’Hoogvoort (Emmanuel and Joseph), the first the commander of the civic guard, and both popular and influential, and by the municipality. While these were still struggling to maintain their authority, the States-General had met at the Hague on September 13. It was opened by a speech from the king which announced his firm determination to maintain law and order in the face of revolutionary violence. He had submitted two questions to the consideration of the States-General: (1) whether experience had shown the necessity for a modification of the Fundamental Law; (2) whether any change should be made in the relations between the two parts of the kingdom. Both questions were, after long debate (September 29) answered in the affirmative; but, before this took place, events at Brussels had already rendered deliberations at the Hague futile and useless.
The contents of the king’s speech were no sooner known in Brussels than they were used by the revolutionary leaders to stir up the passions of the mob by inflammatory harangues. Rogier and Ducpétiaux, at the head of the Liègeois and the contingents from the other Walloon towns, with the support of the lowest elements of the Brussels population, demanded the dissolution of the Committee of Public Safety and the establishment of a Provisional Government. The members of the Committee and of the Municipality, sitting in permanence at the Hotel de Ville, did their utmost to maintain order with the strong support of Baron D’Hoogvoort and the Civic Guard. But it was in vain. On the evening of September 20 an immense mob rushed the Hotel de Ville, after disarming the Civic Guard; and Rogier and Ducpétiaux were henceforth masters of the city. The Committee of Public Safety disappeared and is heard of no more. Hoogvoort resigned his command. On receipt of this news Prince Frederick at Vilvoorde was ordered to advance upon the city and compel submission. But the passions of the crowd had been aroused, and the mere rumour that the Dutch troops were moving caused the most vigorous steps to be taken to resist à outrance their penetrating into the town.
The royal forces, on the morning of September 23, entered the city at three gates and advanced as far as the Park. But beyond that point they were unable to proceed, so desperate was the resistance, and such the hail of bullets that met them from barricades and from the windows and roofs of the houses. For three days almost without cessation the fierce contest went on, the troops losing ground rather than gaining it. On the evening of the 26th the prince gave orders to retreat, his troops having suffered severely.
The effect of this withdrawal was to convert a street insurrection into a national revolt. The moderates now united with the liberals, and a Provisional Government was formed, having amongst its members Rogier, Van de Weyer, Gendebien, Emmanuel D’Hoogvoort, Felix de Mérode and Louis de Potter, who a few days later returned triumphantly from banishment. The Provisional Government issued a series of decrees declaring Belgium independent, releasing the Belgian soldiers from their allegiance, and calling upon them to abandon the Dutch standard. They were obeyed. The revolt, which had been confined mainly to the Walloon districts, now spread rapidly over Flanders. Garrison after garrison surrendered; and the remnants of the disorganised Dutch forces retired upon Antwerp (October 2). Two days later the Provisional Government summoned a National Congress to be elected by all Belgian citizens of 25 years of age. The news of these events caused great perturbation at the Hague. The Prince of Orange, who had throughout advocated conciliation, was now permitted by his father to go to Antwerp (October 4) and endeavour to place himself at the head of the Belgian movement on the basis of a grant of administrative separation, but without severance of the dynastic bond with Holland.
King William meanwhile had already (October 2) appealed to the Great Powers, signatories of the Articles of London in 1814, to intervene and to restore order in the Belgic provinces. The difficulties of the prince at Antwerp were very great, for he was hampered throughout by his father’s unwillingness to grant him full liberty of action. He issued a proclamation, but it was coldly received; and his attempts to negotiate with the Provisional Government at Brussels met with no success. Things had now gone too far, and any proposal to make Belgium connected with Holland by any ties, dynastic or otherwise, was unacceptable. The well-meaning prince returned disappointed to the Hague on October 24. A most unfortunate occurrence now took place. As General Chassé, the Dutch commander at Antwerp, was withdrawing his troops from the town to the citadel, attacks were made upon them by the mob, and some lives were lost. Chassé in reprisal (October 27) ordered the town to be bombarded from the citadel and the gunboats upon the river. This impolitic act increased throughout Belgium the feeling of hatred against the Dutch, and made the demand for absolute independence deeper and stronger.
The appeal of William to the signatory Powers had immediate effect; and representatives of Austria, Prussia, Russia and Great Britain, to whom a representative of France was now added, met at London on November 4. This course of action was far from what the king expected or wished. Their first step was to impose an armistice; their next to make it clear that their intervention would be confined to negotiating a settlement on the basis of separation. A Whig ministry in England had (November 16) taken the place of that of Wellington; and Lord Palmerston, the new Foreign Secretary, was well-disposed to Belgium and found himself able to work in accord with Talleyrand, the French plenipotentiary. Austria and Russia were too much occupied with their own internal difficulties to think of supporting the Dutch king by force of arms; and Prussia, despite the close family connection, did not venture to oppose the determination of the two western Powers to work for a peaceful settlement. While they were deliberating, the National Congress had met at Brussels, and important decisions had been taken. By overwhelming majorities (November 18) Belgium was declared to be an independent State; and four days later, after vigorous debates, the Congress (by 174 votes to 13) resolved that the new State should be a constitutional monarchy and (by 161 votes to 28) that the house of Orange-Nassau be for ever excluded from the throne. A committee was appointed to draw up a constitution.
William had appealed to the Powers to maintain the Treaties of Paris and Vienna and to support him in what he regarded, on the basis of those treaties, as his undoubted rights; and it was with indignation that he saw the Conference decline to admit his envoy, Falck, except as a witness and on precisely the same terms as the representatives of the Brussels Congress. On December 20 a protocol was issued by the Powers which defined their attitude. They accepted the principle of separation and independence, subject to arrangements being made for assuring European peace. The Conference, however, declared that such arrangements would not affect the rights of King William and of the German Confederation in the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg. This part of the protocol was as objectionable to the Belgians as the former part was to the Dutch king. The London Plenipotentiaries had in fact no choice, for they were bound by the unfortunate clauses of the treaties of 1815, which, to gratify Prussian ambition for cis-Rhenan territory, converted this ancient Belgian province into a German state. This ill-advised step was now to be the chief obstacle to a settlement in 1831. The mere fact that William had throughout the period of union always treated Luxemburg as an integral part of the southern portion of his kingdom made its threatened severance from the Belgic provinces a burning question. For Luxemburgers had taken a considerable part in the revolt, and Luxemburg representatives sat in the National Congress. Of these eleven voted for the perpetual exclusion of the Orange-Nassau dynasty, one only in its favour. It is not surprising, therefore, that a strong protest was made against the decision of the London Conference to treat the status of Luxemburg as outside the subject of their deliberations. The Conference, however, unmoved by this protest, proceeded in a protocol of January 20,1831, to define the conditions of separation. Holland was to retain her old boundaries of the year 1790, and Belgium to have the remainder of the territory assigned to the kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815. Luxemburg was again excluded. The Five Powers, moreover, declared that within these limits the new Belgian State was to be perpetually neutral, its integrity and inviolability being guaranteed by all and each of the Powers. A second protocol (January 27) fixed the proportion of the national debt to be borne by Belgium at sixteen parts out of thirty-one. The sovereign of Belgium was required to give his assent to these protocols, as a condition to being recognised by the Powers. But the Congress of Brussels was in no submissive mood. They had already (January 19) resolved to proceed to the election of a king without consulting anyone. The territorial boundaries assigned to Belgium met with almost unanimous reprobation, a claim being made to the incorporation not merely of Luxemburg, but also of Maestrieht, Limburg and Dutch Flanders, in the new State. Nor were they more contented with the proportion of the debt Belgium was asked to bear. On February 1 the Five Powers had agreed that they would not assent to a member of any of the reigning dynasties being elected to the throne of Belgium. Nevertheless (February 3) the Duc de Nemours, son of Louis Philippe, was elected by 94 votes, as against 67 recorded for the Duke of Leuchtenberg, son of Eugène Beauharnais. The Conference took immediate action by refusing to permit either Nemours or Leuchtenberg to accept the proffered crown.
These acute differences between the Conference and the Belgian Congress were a cause of much satisfaction to the Dutch king, who was closely watching the course of events; and he thought it good policy (February 18) to signify his assent to the conditions set forth in the protocols of January 20 and 27. He had still some hopes of the candidature of the Prince of Orange (who was in London) being supported by the Powers, but for this the time was past.
At this juncture the name of Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, who had resided in England since the death of his wife the Princess Charlotte, was put forward. This candidature was supported by Great Britain; France raised no objection; and in Belgium it met with official support. Early in April a deputation of five commissioners was sent to offer the crown provisionally to the prince, subject to his endeavouring to obtain some modification of the protocols of January 20 and 27. The Five Powers, however, in a protocol, dated April 15, announced to the Belgian Government that the conditions of separation as laid down in the January protocols were final and irrevocable, and, if not accepted, relations would be broken off. Leopold was not discouraged, however; and such was his influence that he did succeed in obtaining from the Conference an undertaking that they would enter into negotiations with King William in regard both to the territorial and financial disputes with a view to a settlement, moyennant de justes compensations.
The Saxe-Coburg prince was elected king by the Congress (June 4); and in redemption of their undertaking the Conference promulgated (June 26) the preliminary treaty, generally known as the Treaty of the XVIII Articles. By this treaty the question of Luxemburg was reserved for a separate negotiation, the status quo being meanwhile maintained. Other boundary disputes (Maestricht, Limburg and various enclaves) were to be amicably arranged, and the share of Belgium in the public debt was reduced. Leopold had made his acceptance of the crown depend upon the assent of the Congress being given to the Treaty. This assent was given, but in the face of strong opposition (July 9); and the new king made his public entry into Brussels and took the oath to the Constitution twelve days later. On the same day (July 21) the Dutch king refused to accept the XVIII Articles, declaring that he adhered to the protocols of January 20 and 27, which the plenipotentiaries had themselves declared (April 15) to be fundamental and irrevocable. Nor did he confine himself to a refusal. He declared that if any prince should accept the sovereignty of Belgium or take possession of it without having assented to the protocols as the basis of separation he could only regard such prince as his enemy. He followed this up (August 2) by a despatch addressed to the Foreign Ministers of the Five Powers, announcing his intention “to throw his army into the balance with a view to obtaining more equitable terms of separation.”
These were no empty words. The facile success of the Belgian revolution had led to the Dutch army being branded as a set of cowards. The king, therefore, despite a solemn warning from the Conference, was determined to show the world that Holland was perfectly able to assert her rights by armed force if she chose to do so. In this course he had the whole-hearted support of his people. It was a bold act politically justified by events. Unexpectedly, on August 2, the Prince of Orange at the head of an army of 30,000 picked men with 72 guns crossed the frontier. The Belgians were quite taken by surprise. Their army, though not perhaps inferior in numbers to the invaders, was badly organised, and was divided into two parts–the army of the Scheldt and the army of the Meuse. The prince knew that he must act with promptness and decision, and he thrust his army by rapid movements between the two Belgian corps. That of the Meuse fell back in great disorder upon Liège; that of the Scheldt was also forced to beat a rapid retreat. Leopold, whose reign was not yet a fortnight old, joined the western corps and did all that man could do to organise and stiffen resistance. At Louvain (August 12) he made a last effort to save the capital and repeatedly exposed his life, but the Belgians were completely routed and Brussels lay at the victor’s mercy. It was a terrible humiliation for the new Belgian state. But the prince had accomplished his task and did not advance beyond Louvain. On hearing that a French army, at the invitation of King Leopold, had entered Belgium with the sanction of the Powers, he concluded an armistice, by the mediation of the British Minister, Sir Robert Adair, and undertook to evacuate Belgian territory. His army recrossed the Dutch frontier (August 20), and the French thereupon withdrew.
The Ten Days’ Campaign had effected its purpose; and, when the Conference met to consider the new situation, it was felt that the XVIII Articles must be revised. Belgium, saved only from conquest by French intervention, had to pay the penalty of defeat. A new treaty in XXIV Articles was drawn up, and was (October 14) again declared to be final and irrevocable. By this treaty the northwestern (Walloon) portion of Luxemburg was assigned to Belgium, but at the cost of ceding to Holland a considerable piece of Belgian Limburg giving the Dutch the command of both banks of the river Meuse from Maestricht to the Gelderland frontier. The proportion of the debt was likewise altered in favour of Holland. King William was informed that he must obtain the assent of the Germanic Confederation and of the Nassau agnates to the territorial adjustments.
These conditions created profound dissatisfaction both in Belgium and Holland. It was again the unhappy Luxemburg question which caused so much heart-burning. The Conference however felt itself bound by the territorial arrangements of the Congress of Vienna; and Palmerston and Talleyrand, acting in concert throughout, could not on this matter overrule the opposition of Prussia and Austria supported by Russia. All they could do was to secure the compromise by which Walloon Luxemburg was given to Belgium in exchange for territorial compensation in Limburg. Belgian feeling was strong against surrendering any part either of Luxemburg or Limburg; but King Leopold saw that surrender was inevitable and by a threat of abdication he managed to secure, though against vehement opposition, the acceptance of the Treaty of the XXIV Articles by the Belgian Chambers (November 1). The treaty was signed at London by the plenipotentiaries of the Five Great Powers and by the Belgian envoy, Van de Weyer, on November 15, 1831; and Belgium was solemnly recognised as an independent State, whose perpetual neutrality and inviolability was guaranteed by each of the signatories severally.
Once more the obstinacy of King William proved an insuperable obstacle to a settlement. He had expected better results from the Ten Days’ Campaign, and he emphatically denied the right of the Conference to interfere with the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, as this was not a Belgian question, but concerned only the House of Nassau and the Germanic Confederation. He also objected to the proposed regulations regarding the navigation of the river Scheldt, and refused to evacuate Antwerp or other places occupied by Dutch troops. He was aware that Great Britain and France had taken the leading part in drawing up the treaty, but he relied for support upon his close family relations with Prussia and Russia, with whom Austria acted. But, although these Powers bore him good will, they had no intention of encouraging his resistance. Their object in delaying their ratification of the treaty was to afford time to bring good advice to bear upon the unbending temper of the Dutch king. The Tsar even sent Count Alexis Orloff on a special mission to the Hague, with instructions to act with the Prussian and Austrian envoys in urging William to take a reasonable course. All their efforts ended in failure.
During the first nine months of the year 1832 a vigorous exchange of notes took place between London and the Hague; and the Conference did its utmost to effect an accommodation. At last patience was exhausted, and the Powers had to threaten coercion. The three eastern Powers declined indeed to take any active share in coercive measures, but were willing that Great Britain and France should be their delegates. Palmerston and Talleyrand, however, were determined that the King of Holland should no longer continue to defy the will of the European Great Powers; and on October 22 the English and French governments concluded a Convention for joint action. Notice was given to King William (November 2) that he must withdraw his troops before November 13 from all places assigned to Belgium by the Treaty of the XXIV Articles. If he refused, the Dutch ports would be blockaded and an embargo placed upon Dutch ships in the allies’ harbours. Further, if on November 13 any Dutch garrisons remained on Belgian soil, they would be expelled by armed force. William at once (November 2) replied to the notice by a flat refusal. In so acting he had behind him the practically unanimous support of Dutch public opinion. The allies took prompt measures. An Anglo-French squadron set sail (November 7) to blockade the Dutch ports and the mouth of the Scheldt; and in response to an appeal from the Belgian government (as was required by the terms of the Convention) a French army of 60,000 men under Marshal Gérard crossed the Belgian frontier (November 15) and laid siege to the Antwerp citadel, held by a garrison of 5000 men commanded by General Chassé. The siege began on November 20, and it was not until December 22 that Chassé, after a most gallant defence, was compelled to capitulate. Rear-Admiral Koopman preferred to burn his twelve gunboats rather than surrender them to the enemy. Marshal Gérard offered to release his prisoners if the Dutch would evacuate the forts of Lillo and Liefkenshoeck, lower down the river. His offer was refused; and the French army, having achieved its purpose, withdrew. For some time longer the blockade and embargo continued, to the great injury of Dutch trade. An interchange of notes between the Hague and London led to the drawing up of a convention, known as the Convention of London, on May 21, 1833. By this agreement King William undertook to commit no acts of hostility against Belgium until a definitive treaty of peace was signed, and to open the navigation of the Scheldt and the Meuse for commerce. The Convention was in fact a recognition of the status quo and was highly advantageous to Belgium, as both Luxemburg and Limburg were ad interim treated as if they were integral parts of the new kingdom.
The cessation of hostilities, however, led to a fresh attempt to reach a settlement. In response to an invitation sent by the western Powers to Austria, Prussia and Russia, the Conference again met in London on July 15. The thread of the negotiations was taken up; but the Belgian government insisted, with the full support of Palmerston, that as a preliminary to any further discussion the King of Holland must obtain the assent of the German Confederation and of the Nassau agnates to the proposed territorial rearrangements. William declined to ask for this assent. The Conference on this was indefinitely suspended. That the king’s refusal in August was a part of his fixed policy of waiting upon events was shown by his actually approaching the Confederation and the agnates in the following November (1833). Neither of these would consent to any partition of Luxemburg, unless they received full territorial compensation elsewhere. So matters drifted on through the years 1834-1837. Meanwhile in Holland a change of opinion had been gradually taking place. The heavy taxes consequent upon the maintenance of an army on a war footing pressed more and more upon a country whose income was insufficient to meet its expenses. People grew tired of waiting for a change in the political position that became every year more remote. Luxemburg was of little interest to the Dutch; they only saw that Belgium was prosperous, and that the maintenance of the status quo was apparently all to her advantage. The dissatisfaction of the Dutch people, so long patient and loyal, made itself heard with increasing insistence in the States-General; and the king saw that the time had arrived for abandoning his obstinate non-possumus attitude. Accordingly, in March, 1838, he suddenly instructed his minister in London (Dedel) to inform Palmerston that he (the king) was ready to sign the treaty of the XXIV Articles, and to agree pleinement et entièrement to the conditions it imposed.
The unexpected news of this sudden step came upon the Belgians like a thunderclap. From every part of the kingdom arose a storm of protest against any surrender of territory. The people of Luxemburg and Limburg appealed to their fellow-citizens not to abandon them; and their appeal met with the strongest support from all classes and in both Chambers. They argued that Holland had refused to sign the treaty of 1831, which had been imposed on Belgium in her hour of defeat; and that now, after seven years, the treaty had ceased to be in force and required revision. The Belgians expected to receive support from Great Britain and France, and more especially from Palmerston, their consistent friend. But Palmerston was tired of the endless wrangling; and, acting on his initiative, the Five Powers determined that they would insist on the Treaty of the XXIV Articles being carried out as it stood. The Conference met again in October, 1838; and all the efforts of the Belgian government, and of King Leopold personally, to obtain more favoured terms proved unavailing. An offer to pay sixty million francs indemnity for Luxemburg and Limburg was rejected both by King William and the Germanic Confederation. Such was the passionate feeling in Belgium that there was actually much talk of resisting in the last resort by force of arms. Volunteers poured in; and in Holland also the government began to make military preparations. But it was an act of sheer madness for isolated Belgium to think of opposing the will of the Great Powers of Europe. The angry interchange of diplomatic notes resulted only in one modification in favour of Belgium. The annual charge of 8,400,000 francs placed upon Belgium on account of her share in the public debt of the Netherlands was reduced to a payment of 5,000,000 francs. The Dutch king signed the treaty on February 1, 1839. Finally the proposal that the treaty should be signed, opposition being useless, met with a sullen assent from the two Belgian Chambers. On April 19, 1839, the Belgian envoy, Van de Weyer, affixed his signature at the Foreign Office in London and so brought to an end the long controversy, which had lasted for nine years. There were still many details to be settled between the two kingdoms, which from this time became two separate and distinct political entities; but these were finally arranged in an amicable spirit, and were embodied in a subsidiary treaty signed November 5, 1842.