Belgium formed part of Roman Gaul and of the Merovingian and Carolingian states. In the Middle Ages it was divided into the county of Flanders (ruled by a count) and the duchies of Hainaut and Brabant (ruled by dukes). Flanders, predominantly Flemish-speaking, was a part of the Kingdom of France. Hainaut and Brabant, including both Flemings and Walloons, belonged to the Holy Roman Empire.
|Important dates in Belgium|
|50's B.C.||Roman forces led by Julius Caesar conquered what is now Belgium.|
|A.D. 400's||Clovis, a Frankish king, founded a kingdom that included the Belgian region.|
|1300's and 1400's||The dukes of Burgundy ruled Belgium.|
|1477||The Habsburg family of Austria gained control of Belgium.|
|1516||Belgium became a Spanish possession.|
|1713||Spain returned Belgium to Austria.|
|1789||Belgium revolted against Habsburg rule in an uprising called the Brabant Revolution.|
|1795||Belgium became part of France.|
|1815||Belgium and the Netherlands were united.|
|1830||Belgium declared its independence from the Netherlands.|
|1885||King Leopold II of Belgium established the Congo Free State, later called the Belgian Congo.|
|1914-1918||Belgium fought on the Allied side in World War I and suffered much destruction.|
|1940-1945||Fierce fighting occurred in Belgium between the Allies and Germany during World War II.|
|1949||Belgium became one of the founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).|
|1957||Belgium helped establish the European Economic Community, which led to the country's eventual membership in the European Community and the European Union.|
|1960||Belgium granted independence to the Belgian Congo.|
|1971||Revisions of the Constitution divided Belgium into three cultural communities based on language.|
|1980||Parliament approved constitutional reforms granting limited self-rule to Flanders and Wallonia.|
|1993||Belgium became a federal state, with separate regional legislatures.|
In the 14th century all these feudal states were acquired by the Valois dukes of Burgundy. In 1477 they were acquired by the House of Hapsburg through marriage, and remained in the family until French conquest forced Austria to cede them (1797). The Congress of Vienna (1814) combined them with Holland to form the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
In 1830 the Belgians revolted and declared their independence. Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg was chosen king in 1831. The Dutch invaded later that year. After years of negotiation, an armistice was arranged. The Treaty of London, signed in 1839, established Belgium as an independent state, whose sovereignty and neutrality were guaranteed by all of the European powers.
In 1885 King Leopold II of Belgium gained personal sovereignty over most of the Congo region in Africa. The ownership of this colony was transferred to the Belgian government in 1908.
In 1914 Germany demanded free passage of its armies through Belgium in order to reach France from the north. Belgium refused, and the Germans invaded. The Belgians resisted fiercely under Albert I, but were compelled to retreat to the coast. Although much of the country suffered under German occupation, stories about German cruelties were greatly exaggerated by the Allies for use as propaganda.
The Treaty of Versailles (1919) gave Belgium some German territory along its eastern border. In 1923, the German colonial possession of Ruanda-Urundi came under Belgian control as a League of Nations mandate.
Throughout the 1920's, the Flemings' struggle to obtain equal status for their language with French, the official language, caused frequent conflict with the Walloons. Laws enacted in the 1930's established Flemish (Dutch) as an official language, permitting its use in schools, law courts, and other government institutions in Flemish provinces.
Germany again invaded Belgium in 1940. Eighteen days after the first attack, King Leopold III surrendered and became a prisoner of war. The Belgian cabinet set up its government in London and a strong underground movement developed in the occupied country. After Allied forces liberated Brussels in 1944, many Belgians said Leopold's resistance to Germany had been too weak, and he was forced into exile. His brother Charles was named regent. By a narrow margin, the Belgians voted for Leopold's return as king in 1950. However, widespread unrest followed, and he abdicated in favor of his son, Baudouin, in 1951.
Meanwhile, Belgium had made a rapid economic recovery following World War II. It was a founding member of the United Nations, NATO, the Benelux customs union, and the European Community (now known as the European Union). Membership in the Benelux union and the European Community contributed greatly to Belgium's rapid postwar recovery.
Belgium gave independence to the Congo in 1960 and Ruanda-Urundi in 1962. The Congo later became the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ruanda-Urundi became the nations of Rwanda and Burundi.
During the 1960's and 1970's, both the Flemings and the Walloons sought self-rule for their regions. The government, however, was unable to devise a satisfactory plan for regional autonomy, and Belgian unity was threatened. Then, in 1980, the parliament enacted legislation establishing regional assemblies in Flanders and Wallonia. Some conflict remained, because Brussels was excluded from the autonomy plan and because the central government still maintained firm control over most of the budget and all national issues.
Continuing differences between the Flemings and the Walloons led to the fall of the government in 1987. After elections, a coalition government was formed. The parliament then enacted legislation prepared by the new government that provided for a regional assembly in Brussels and for increased local control of education, public works, and economic development. Also, a portion of national revenues was passed on to local government bodies.
In 1992 Wilfried Martens, who had been prime minister since 1981, was replaced by Jean-Luc Dehaene. King Baudouin died in 1993 and was succeeded by his brother King Albert II. In the same year, the Belgian government passed a law declaring the country a federal state.
|Monarchs of Belgium|
|Leopold I 1831–65|
|Leopold II 1865–1909|
|Albert I 1909–34|
|Leopold III 1934–44|
|Leopold III 1950–51|
|Baudouin I 1951–93|
|Albert II 1993-|