In art the Renaissance was represented by the Flemish Primitives, a group of painters active primarily in the Southern Netherlands in the 15th and early 16thcenturies (for example, Johannes Van Eyck and Rogier Van der Weyden), and theFranco-Flemish composers (e.g. Guillaume Dufay). Flemish tapestries and, in the 16th and 17th centuries, Brussels tapestry hung on the walls of castles throughout Europe.
The Pragmatic Sanction of 1549, issued by Roman Emperor Charles V, established the so-called Seventeen Provinces, or Belgica Regia in its official Latin term, as an entity on its own, apart from the Empire and from France. This comprised all of Belgium, present-day north-western France, present-day Luxembourg, and present-day Netherlands, except for the lands of the Prince Bishop of Liège.
The Burgundian princes from Philip II (the Bold) to Charles the Bold, enhanced their political prestige with economic growth and artistic splendour. These “Great Dukes of the West” were effectively sovereigns, with domains extending from the Zuiderzee to the Somme. The urban and other textile industries, which had developed in the Belgian territories since the 12th century, became the economic center of northwestern Europe.
The death of Charles the Bold (1477) and the marriage of his daughter Mary to the archduke Maximilian of Austria ended the independence of the Low Countries by bringing them increasingly under the sway of the Habsburg dynasty. Mary and Maximilian’s grandson Charles became king of Spain as Charles I in 1516 and Holy Roman emperor as Charles V in 1519.
In Brussels on Oct. 25, 1555, Charles V abdicated Belgica Regia to his son, who in January 1556 assumed the throne of Spain as Philip II.
Independence to World War ]
Most of society was highly traditional, especially in the small villages and rural areas and the quality of education was low. Few people expected that Belgium-seemingly a "sluggish" and "culturally dormant" bastion of traditionalism-would leap to the forefront of the industrial revolution on the Continent. Nevertheless Belgium was the second country, after Britain, in which the industrial revolution took place and it set the pace for all of continental Europe, while leaving the Netherlands behind.
Industrialization took place in Wallonia(French speaking southern Belgium), starting in the middle of the 1820s, and especially after 1830. The availability of cheap coal was a main factor that attracted entrepreneurs. Numerous works comprising coke blast furnaces as well as puddling and rolling mills were built in the coal mining areas around Liège and Charleroi. The leader was a transplanted Englishman John Cockerill. His factories at Seraing integrated all stages of production, from engineering to the supply of raw materials, as early as 1825.
Industry spread through the Sillon industriel ("industrial district"), Haine, Sambreand Meuse valleys. By 1830 when iron became important the Belgium coal industry had long been established, and used steam-engines for pumping. Coal was sold to local mills and railways as well as to France and Prussia.
The textile industry, based on cotton and flax, employed about half of the industrial workforce for much of the industrial period. Ghent was the premier industrial city in Belgium until the 1880s, when the center of growth moved to Liège, with its steel industry.
Wallonia had rich coalfields over much of its area, and the highly folded nature of coal seams meant that it could be found at relatively shallow depths. Deep mines were not required at first so there were a large number of small operations. There was a complex legal system for concessions, often multiple layers had different owners. Entrepreneurs started going deeper and deeper (thanks to the innovation of steam pumping). In 1790, the maximum depth of mines was 220 meters. By 1856, the average depth in the area west of Mons was 361, and in 1866, 437 meters and some pits had reached down 700 and 900 meters; one was 1,065 meters deep, probably the deepest coal mine in Europe at this time. Gas explosions were a serious problem, and Belgium had high fatality rates. By the late 19th century the seams were becoming exhausted and the steel industry was importing some coal from the Ruhr.
Cheap and readily available coal attracted firms producing metals and glass, both of which required considerable amounts of coal, and so regions around coal fields became highly industrialised. The Sillon industriel (Industrial Valley), and in particular the Pays Noir around Charleroi, were the centre of the steel industry until the Second World War.
The nation provided an ideal model for showing the value of the railways for speeding the Industrial Revolution. After 1830, the new nation decided to stimulate industry. It funded a simple cross-shaped system that connected the major cities, ports and mining areas, and linked to neighboring countries. Belgium thus became the railway center of the region. The system was very soundly built along British lines, so that profits and wages were low but the infrastructure necessary for rapid industrial growth was put in place. Léopold I went on to build the first railway in continental Europe in 1835, between Brussels and Mechelen. The first trains were drawn by Stephensonengines imported from Great Britain. The development of smaller railways in Belgium, notably the Liège-Jemappes line, was launched by tendering contracts to private companies which "became the model for the extension of small local railways all over the low countries."
By the 1900s, Belgium was a major exporter of trams and other rail components, exporting vast quantities of railway materials. In South America, 3,800 kilometers of track were owned by Belgian firms, with a further 1,500 kilometers in China. One Belgian entrepreneur, Édouard Empain, known as the "Tramway King," built many public transport systems across the world, including the Paris Métro, as well as the tram systems in Cairo, Boulogne and Astrakhan. Empain's firm also built the new Cairo suburb of Heliopolis.
Other important businesses included Cockerill-Sambre (steel), the chemical factories of Ernest Solvay, and the firearms maker Fabrique Nationale de Herstal.
Liberalism and Catholicism
Politics, says Clark, "was dominated by a struggle between two political groups, known as the Catholics and the Liberals. In general terms, the Catholics represented the relatively religious, conservative and rural elements in the society, while the Liberals represented the more secular, more progressive and more urban middle-class elements." Before the arrival of the socialists in the 1890s, the nation was therefore polarised between the conservative Catholic Party and the secular Liberal Party. The Liberals were anticlerical and wanted to reduce the power of the Church. The conflict came to a head during the "First School War" of 1879-1884 as Liberal attempts to introduce a greater level of secularism in primary education were beaten back by outraged Catholics. The School War ushered in a period of Catholic Party dominance in Belgian politics that lasted (almost unbroken) until 1917.
Religious conflict also extended to university education, where secular universities like the Free University of Brussels competed with Catholic universities like theCatholic University of Leuven.
The majority of those in the north of the country spoke Dutch and other Low Franconian languages while those in the south spoke Langues d'oïl such asFrench, Walloon and Picard. French became the official language of government after the separation from the Netherlands in 1830 and Belgian cultural life was especially dominated by the French influence, reinforced by economic domination of the industrial south. Flemish was "reduced to the tongue of a second-class culture." Parts of the Flemish population reacted against this, agitating for the equality of their language with French. This was partly due to a sense of growing Flemish identity, made possible through greater awareness of Flemish culture and history from the 1840s. Flemish victories, like the Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302 were celebrated and a Flemish cultural movement, led by figures like Hendrik Conscience was born. About the same time a Walloon Movement emerged, led by Jules Destrée (1863-1936) and based on loyalty to the French language. Universal suffrage meant the Francophones were a political minority, so the Walloon Movement concentrated on protecting French where it had a majority, and did not contest the expanded use of Dutch in Flemish areas.
The Flemish goal of linguistic equality (especially in schools and courts) was finally achieved by a series of laws in the 1920s and 1930s. Dutch became the language of government, education, and the courts in the northern provinces of East Flanders and West Flanders, Antwerp, Limburg, and eastern Brabant. French remained the official language in Wallonia; Brussels, which had seen a majorlanguage shift to French, became an officially bilingual region. Meanwhile a small separatist Flemish movement had emerged; the Germans had supported it during the war, and in the 1930s it turned fascist. In the Second World War it collaborated with the Nazis.
Foreign relations and military policy
In the mid-1860s during the "Mexican Adventure", around 1,500 Belgian soldiers joined the "Belgian Expeditionary Corps," better known as the "Belgian Legion" to fight for Emperor Maximilian I, whose wife, Charlotte was the daughter of Leopold I of Belgium.
Belgium was not a belligerent in the Franco-Prussian War 1870–71, but the proximity of the war led to the mobilisation of the army. The 1839 international guarantee of Belgian neutrality was not violated.
After the conflict, there was talk of modernising the military. The system of Remplacement (whereby wealthy Belgians conscripted into the military could pay for a "replacement") was abolished and an improved system of conscription implemented. These reforms, led by d'Anethan under pressure from Leopold II, divided Belgian politics. The Catholics united with the Liberals under Frère-Orban to oppose them, and the reforms were finally defeated when d'Anethan'sgovernment fell during an unrelated scandal. Eventually, the military was reformed. The 1909 System instituted compulsory military service of eight years' service on active duty and five years in the reserves. This swelled the size of the Belgian army to over 100,000 well-trained men. Construction of a chain of forts along the border was intensified, and let to a series of very modern fortifications, including the so-called "National redoubt" at Antwerp, at Liège and Namur, many of them designed by the great Belgian fortress architect, Henri Alexis Brialmont.