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A Throne in Brussels

Through its entire history, from the early Middle Ages right up to the Belgian Revolution of 1830, Flanders had been one of the most prosperous regions in the whole of Europe. The industrialisation process that Dutch King Willem had started in Ghent, Antwerp and other Flemish cities, was suddenly brought to a halt in September 1830. In the new state, the government’s attention was focused almost exclusively on Wallonia, the southern Francophone part of the country. From the beginning, the Francophone revolutionary elite, the creators of the new state, made very clear to the King what part of the country he had to cater for. When in 1834 Leopold I decided to build the first Belgian railway line between Brussels and Antwerp, Alexandre Gendebien, one of the fathers of the Belgian Revolution, objected that the railroad had to be constructed between Brussels and his Walloon home province of Hainaut, whose economic interests, he said, were being ‘sacrificed’ to those of ‘Orangist Antwerp.’ In a speech in Parliament on 11 March, Gendebien warned the King. ‘Bear this in mind,’ he said, ‘If you refuse to listen to the language of reason, we shall have you hear the language of violence.’ Leopold realised his mistake. From then on he bore Gendebien’s warning in mind, and so did his successors.