Alternate History

Flemish Rising (Rise of the Second Empire)

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The Flemish Rising was a series of series and minor revolts in Belgium incited by Flemish nationalist organisations from 1867-1868. The deterioration of the situation led King Leopold II to seek French intervention in 1868, which led directly to the imposition of a French protectorate upon Belgium the same year.


Belgium had been founded following a rising of the French-speaking southern provinces of the Kingdom of the Netherland in 1830. Despite plans by the French minister Charles Maurice Talleyrand to partition the kingdom in cohorts with Britain, the southern Netherlands were made independent as the Kingdom of the Belgians.

Throughout the 19th century, Belgium was dominated by the minority French-speaking population of Wallonia, which became a leading centre of the Industrial Revolution. The region of Flanders was, however, home to a majority of the population, all of whom spoke Dutch. Economic inequality between the two regions was seen as a major trigger of the 1867 uprisings.

French involvement

It emerged years later that Emperor Napoleon III had covertly supported the uprising by channeling funds and, eventually, firearms to the main Flemish grouping, Dutch Action. This involvement began immediately following the conclusion of the War of 1866.

Napoleon III wished to exploit the risings so as to place Belgium within the French sphere of influence. In military terms, Belgian independence caused the Napoleon's new Rhineland territories to form a huge salient, which would be difficult to defend in event of a conflict. Moreover, Belgium had a massive industrial capacity, making it one of Europe's richest regions. Thus, Napoleon III clearly intended to incite a rebellion as a prelude to French "humanitarian" intervention, which would allow him to absorb Belgium into the Empire with little interference from the European powers.

Course of events

January 1867 - The Voice of Flanders newspaper enters publication, voicing out Flemish dissatisfaction with their political status.

March 1867 - The Ghent Conference results in the creation of Dutch Action, led by Willem von Buren. The Conference also produce a list of demands, including complete independence for Flanders.

April 1867 - Demonstrations are carried out throughout the Dutch-speaking provinces, increasing in frequency and size over the month. Amazingly, the Voice of Flanders is now being distributed for free, which raises questions about its source of funding.

3 May 1867 - King Leopold declares that he will not submit to Flemish demands for changes in the political system, and warns against further demonstrations.

15 May 1867 - Brussels Riots. The largest Flemish demonstration yet draws a crowd of more than a hundred thousand, and marches towards the Belgian capital. After repeated demands by the police to turn back, the crowd is fired upon, leading to the deaths of 15 people. Enraged, the Flemings run amok in the city, with the police unable to put down a crowd this massive.

16 May 1867 - A partial mobilization of the army is ordered. Troops enter Brussels and violently put down the riots. Following this, Dutch Action begins to arm its members and prepare for a full-scale rebellion.

June 1867 - Armed uprisings throughout Flanders take the government by surprise. Events have proceeded far more quickly than expected. A full mobilization of the army is ordered.

July 1867 - The army quells the rebellion in most cities, but the nationalists retreat to the countryside to continue the fight. The Belgian Army begins the notorious "combing operations."

August 1867 - Leaflets distributed throughout Flanders announce the Declaration of Independence. An initiative by Dutch Action, it calls all Flemings to arms to achieve full sovereignty. The rebellion grows in strength, drawing in volunteers from the Netherlands as well. The small Belgian Army is by now having difficulty holding on to the countryside.

December 1867 - Assault on Antwerp. The so-called Flemish Army defeats Belgian detachments around Antwerp and surges into the port city. It is a turning point in the conflict. In the following months several more cities are taken by the rebels.

1 January 1868 - New Year's Day Massacre. Rogue sections of the Flemish Army round up several hundred Wallons and execute them in Antwerp. The soldiers involved are immediately court-martialed and hanged themselves, but this and other incidents to come seriously damage Dutch Action's reputation.

3 March 1868 - With most of Flanders under rebel control, the Flemings press towards the capital, and begin a siege. King Leopold and the Belgian government begin requesting French assistance.

15 March 1868 - French demands for Belgium to become a protectorate of the French Empire, and for the Belgian Army to be absorbed, are rejected by Leopold's negotiators. The Siege of Brussels continues.

The fact that the rebels so easily outmatch the Belgian Army is already perceived as a sign of foreign support. At the time, this is believed to come from the Netherlands, but documents later show that Napoleon III authorised the channeling of weapons and funds through the Netherlands and to the rebels.

20 March 1868 - The Belgians are losing the siege, with Brussels almost completely surrounded. With little choice, Leopold submits to French demands and signs the Treaty of Lille.

21 March 1868 - Three corps of the Imperial Army enter Belgium in aid of Leopold. French generals are sent to take command of the remnants of the Belgian Army.

23 March 1868 - The French have marched swiftly through Flanders, and now prepare to attack the two main concentrations of rebel troops at Brussels and Antwerp.

24-26 March 1868 - The French Army defeats the Flemings at the Battle of Brussels, leading to the capture of Dutch Action leader Willem von Buren.

28 March 1868 - Antwerp is besieged.

31 March 1868 - A French naval squadron launches a surprise attack on the Port of Antwerp in concert with an assault by the besieging forces.

2 April 1868 - The last detachments of the Flemish Army surrender in Antwerp.

June 1868 - By now the French have successfully the rebellion throughout the countryside and retaken all the rebel towns. The Flemish Rising is over.


By the Treaty of Lille, Belgium became a French protectorate. The Belgian Army was dissolved and its men absorbed the French military. The ships of the Belgian Navy were added to the French fleet. Moreover, Belgium was forced to pay an "Imperial Tax" which eventually severely debilitated the economy.

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