|The Celtics occupied much of
northern Europe from about 400 BC until they there subdued by
Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire. The area was conquered and
made a Roman province, remaining under Roman rule for centuries.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, a Germanic tribe called
the Franks took control of the region. Under the rule of Clovis
I, the Franks established the Merovingian dynasty around 500
AD. Towards the end of the 6th century,
St Gery, the bishop of Canbria, built a chapel on the swampy lands
by the Senne River that is now Brussels. Legend has it that Brussels
grew out of the settlement around the chapel. The Merovingian’s
ruled until 751 AD when they were overthrow by Pepin the Short and
Pepin founded the Carolingian Dynasty. The Carolingian
Dynasty ruled from 751 until 987 AD. Pepin’s son
Charlemagne accomplished great feats during his rule,
pushing back the Moors. His kingdom spanned into Italy
and southern Germany. The Pope crowned Charlemagne emperor
of the west in 800 AD. After Charlemagne’s death,
the empire was divided by the River Scheldt under the
Treaty of Verdun in 843. Both of Charlemagne’s
grandsons acquired a region. Lothair I took the Lorraine
while Charles the Bald took West Francia. Consequently,
history took two new paths.
Bruges and Ghent were developing as strongholds and
in 977 the Duke of Lorraine moved to the St. Gery island
(now Brussels). Two years later, Brussels was officially
founded. Towards the end of the 11th century, the Count
of Leuven built his fortress in Brussels. Brussels was
developing primarily because it was the main trade route
between Cologne and Bruges. The merchant class had emerged
and was gaining power in the beginning of the 1300’s.
Ghent and Bruges had grown to become practically independent
In 1302, Flemish workers, drastically under matched,
took on the French army under Philip IV and won. The
Flemish victors collected hundreds of pairs of golden
spurs from the French, which they paraded victoriously.
The battle became known as the Battle of the Golden
Spurs. Flanders earned their independence. However,
French supporters later leveraged their power and in
1329 Flanders again became part of France.
During the Hundred Years’ War, Flanders sided
with the French and the English responded by cutting
off trade relations with Flanders. Merchants and workers
suffered financially. The region fell into a period
of unrest. A series of conflicts broke out between workers,
merchants, and the Flemish aristocracy.
In 1355, Duke Jean II died without a male heir. His
daughter Jeanne succeeded him and married Wencesles
of Luxembourg. They moved their court from Leuven to
Brussels. In 1384, the throne of Flanders was passed
on to Philip the Bold of Burgundy. The Burgundians gained
control of most of what is Belgium today.
During the 15th century, the Burgundian empire had
grown vast under the rule of Philip the Good. The empire
spanned central eastern France, modern day Belgium and
the Netherlands. Philip was a beloved ruler and the
empire prospered during his rule. Philip resided in
Brussels and the city became a magnet for artists, poets,
and composers. Brussels’ Grand Place began to
take shape during this time. After Philip’s death,
his son Charles the Bold tried to expand the empire
but was killed in battle leaving the door open for the
French to seize the French part region of Burgundy.
Charles’ daughter Mary was only left the Low Countries
to rule. She married Maximilian I of the ruling German-Austrian
family and later the Holy Roman Emperor. After Mary’s
death, the Low Countries were passed onto her son Philip
the handsome. Philip married Joanna of Castile and they
ruled Castile together for 1 year before Philip died.
The unified kingdom was passed to their son Charles
V. After his grandfather Maximilian’s death, Charles
V also became the Holy Roman Emperor. Hence, Charles
V ruled Austria, Germany, Burgundy, and the Low Countries.
During his rein, he was by far the most powerful ruler
in Europe. However, the advances in learning during
the Renaissance along with the spread of reformation
made ruling the vast empire too difficult. Charles announced
from his palace in Brussels that he was abdicating.
He passed his Spanish crown to his son, Philip, and
the crown of the Holy Roman Empire to his brother, Ferdinand.
Philip II decided to rule from Spain. Philip II was
a devoted Catholic and preferred residing in a location
that was predominantly Catholic. The Protestants living
in Belgium and the Low Countries resented him for this.
This resentment soon turned into rebellion. The leader
of the rebellion was William the Orange. William won
numerous battles against the Spanish rule and gained
control of the Low Countries and much of Belgium. Philip
II responded by sending a massive army battle William.
Ultimately, Philip regained control of the Belgium.
This region became known as the Spanish Netherlands.
Brussels was established as the capital. Meanwhile,
the northern provinces declared independence and formed
the United Provinces. William of Orange became Governor.
The region fell into a period of peace and prosperity
for several years. Religious wars between the Catholics
and Protestants then began to heat up, which eventually
lead to the Thirty Year War. The United Provinces took
the side of the French. As a military strategy, the
Spanish sealed off Antwarp’s access to the sea
so that goods could not be shipped to the through the
United Provinces to the River Scheldt. Antwerp and Brussels
also suffered as a result.
In 1689, William of Orange became King of England through
marriage. William’s armies put forth efforts to
stop Louis XIV of France from expanding his territories.
Louis XIV then marched on Brussels, destroyed much of
the city, then left. Afterwards, Louis made an attempt
to gain control the Spanish Netherlands from his Grandson
who had been passed the Spanish crown after King Charles
II died without and heir in 1700. England, the Netherlands,
Austria, and Germany opposed Louis, which lead to the
War of Spanish Succession. Shortly after the war ended,
the Netherlands was passed onto the Emperor of Austria,
Charles VI, and thereafter became know as the Austrian
Charles VI died in 1740. His daughter, Maria Theresa,
succeeded him. Maria appointed her brother-in-law, Charles
Lorraine, the keeper of the Austria Netherlands. Charles
later set up a dazzling court in Brussels. Charles hosted
glorious parties and him and his court lived lavishly.
Meanwhile, the people suffered economically. Maria’s
crown passed to her son, Joseph II, after her death.
Joseph was a noble ruler with good intentions. He introduced
many new reforms. One of the more controversial reforms
was to allow Protestants to build churches. Even though
Joseph had good intentions, his reforms were bold and
many considered them to be oppressive. The growing opposition
eventually let to a revolt and Belgium declared its
independence. During this time, Joseph was in weakened
condition. He died in February 1790. His successor,
Leopold II, crushed the revolt and Belgium lost its
In 1792, Napoleon and the French army went to war with
the Austrian rule. The French achieved victory and took
control of Belgium. After Napoleon’s defeat, the
Belgians celebrated believing that they had finally
become an independent nation. However, the Congress
of Vienna decided that instead of granting Belgium independence
they would lump Belgium and the Netherlands together
forming a new nation under the rule of William of Orange.
Unhappy with the Congress of Vienna’s decision,
Belgium again revolted. Despite efforts from William
of Orange, Belgium won their independence in 1831.
Pring Leopold of Saxelobug chosen to be the king of
Belgium. He took the thrown as King Leopold I. Leopold
took as his queen Louis-Marie, the daughter of King
Louis Philippe of France, in 1832 therefore strengthening
Belgium’s relationship with France. The new nation
blossomed due in part to the industrial revolution that
was sweeping through Europe. The first public railway
opened and Brussels University was founded in 1834.
Belgium continued to flourish under Leopold II. The
population, in Brussels, grew from 250,000 to 600,000
during his rule. The coal industry grew to become Belgium’s
main source of income.
In the beginning of the 20th century, Belgium was drug
into WWI despite a declaration to remain neutral. Germany's
invasion of Belgium was met by strong defenses by the
Belgium army under King Albert I. Still, Germany gained
control of Belgium and occupied the region until the
end of the war. Like most of Europe, Belgium faced difficulties
rebuilding after WWI.
In the 1930’s, Germany grew more and more fearful
under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. Germany invaded
the Netherlands and Belgium on May 10th 1944. King Leopold
III surrendered to Germany forces. The Germans occupied
Belgium until September of 1944. Germany bombed Antwerp
and Liege as one Hitler’s last attempts to sustain
power. Ultimately, American troops defeated Hitler’s
forces. After the war, Leopold was looked on unfavorable
for his surrender. Opposition to Leopold’s rule
grew stronger and Belgium was on the brink of civil
war when Leopold abdicated and his son, Baudovin I,
became king. Baudovin heeled the nation and once again
Belgium became a prosperous nation.
Modern political views lead to restructuring of Belgium’s
government. The division between the Flemish north and
the French speaking south made it difficult to select
a center for government. A compromise was reached and
three regional governments, one in Wallonia, Flanders,
and Brussels, were established under the Saint Michel
Accords of 1993.
The creation of the European Union has favored Belgium.
Due to its geographic location, Brussels was made the
headquarters of the European Nation in the 1960’s.