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On this date in History, March 16, 1815, the creation of The United Kingdom of the Netherlands. The name of the state was the unofficial name given to the Kingdom of the Netherlands as it existed between 1815 and 1839. The United Netherlands was created in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars through the fusion of territories that had historically belonged to the former Dutch Republic, Austrian Netherlands, and Prince-Bishopric of Liège. The polity became a constitutional monarchy, ruled by Willem I of the House of Orange-Nassau. Until 1806, Willem was formally known as Willem VI, Prince of Orange-Nassau, and between 1806 and 1813 he was also known as Willem-Fredrik Prince of Orange.

Kingdom of the United Netherlands.

Prior to the French Revolution (1792-1802), the Low Countries were a patchwork of different polities created by the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648). The Dutch Republic in the north was independent, while the Southern Netherlands was split between the House of Habsburg as the Austrian Netherlands and Prince-Bishopric of Liège. The former was part of Habsburg Austria and both were member states of the Holy Roman Empire. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, the War of the First Coalition broke out in 1792 and France was invaded by Prussia and the Holy Roman Empire. After two years of fighting, the Austrian Netherlands and Liège were captured by the French in 1794 and annexed into France. The Dutch Republic collapsed in 1795 and became a French client state.

Creation of the United Netherlands

In 1813, the Netherlands was liberated from French rule by Prussian and Russian troops during the Napoleonic Wars. It was taken for granted that any new regime would have to be headed by Prince Willem-Frederick of Orange-Nassau, the son of the last Dutch stadhouder. A provisional government was formed, most of whose members had helped drive out the House of Orange 18 years earlier. However, they realised that it would be better in the long term to offer leadership of the new government to Willem-Frederik themselves rather than have him imposed by the allies. Accordingly, Willem-Frederik was installed as the “sovereign prince” of a new Principality of the United Netherlands. The future of the Southern Netherlands, however, was less clear. In June 1814, the Great Powers secretly agreed to the Eight Articles of London which allocated the region to the Dutch as Willem had advocated.

That August, Willem-Frederik was made Governor-General of the Southern Netherlands and the Prince-Bishopric of Liège–comprising almost all of what is now modern Belgium. For all intents and purposes, Willem-Frederik had completed his family’s three-century dream of uniting the Low Countries under a single rule.

Discussions on the future of the region were still ongoing at the Congress of Vienna when Napoleon attempted to return to power in the “Hundred Days.” Willem-Frederik used the occasion to declare himself king on March 16, 1815 as Willem I.

King Willem I of the United Netherlands

In exchange for the Southern Netherlands, Willem agreed to cede the Principality of Orange-Nassau and parts of the Liège to Prussia on May 13, 1815. In exchange, Willem also gained control over the Duchy of Luxembourg, which was elevated to a grand duchy and placed in personal and political union with the Netherlands, though it remained part of the German Confederation. This ceding of the Principality of Orange-Nassau to Prussia is why the Prussian claimant to the thrones of Prussia and Imperial Germany claim the title “Prince of Orange.”

Constitution and government

Though the United Netherlands was a constitutional monarchy, the king retained significant control as head of state and head of government. Beneath the king was a bicameral legislature known as the States General with a Senate and House of Representatives. From the start, the administrative system proved controversial. Representation in the 110-seat House of Representatives, for example, was divided equally between south and north, although the former had a larger population. This was resented in the south, which believed that the government was dominated by northerners.

Differences between Southern and Northern Netherlands were never totally effaced. The two were divided by the issue of religion because the south was strongly Roman Catholic and the north largely Dutch Reformed. The Catholic Church in Belgium resented the state’s encroachment on its traditional privileges, especially in education. In French-speaking parts of the south, attempts to enforce the use of Dutch language were particularly resented among the elite. Many Belgians believed that the United Netherlands’ constitution discriminated against them. Though they represented 62 percent of the population, they were only allocated 50 percent of the seats in the House and less in the Senate while the state extracted money from the richer south to subsidise the north. By the mid-1820s, a union of opposition had formed in Belgium, uniting liberals and Catholic conservatives against Dutch rule.

The Belgian Revolution broke out on August 25, 1830, inspired by the recent July Revolution in France. A military intervention in September failed to defeat the rebels in Brussels, radicalising the movement. Belgium was declared an independent state on 4 October 1830. A constitutional monarchy was established under Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Elected King of The Belgians, Leopold was initially married to Princess Charlotte of Wales (daughter of George IV) until her death in childbirth in 1817. Leopold I of the Belgians was the Maternal Uncle to Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Paternal Uncle her husband Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Leopold I, King of the Belgians.

Willem I refused to accept the secession of Belgium. In August 1831, he launched the Ten Days’ Campaign, a major military offensive into Belgium. Though initially successful, the French intervened to support the Belgians and the invasion had to be abandoned. After a period of tension, a settlement was agreed at the Treaty of London in 1839. The Dutch recognised Belgian independence, in exchange for territorial concessions. The frontier between the two countries was finally fixed by the Treaty of Maastricht in 1843. Luxembourg became an autonomous state in personal union with the Dutch, though ceding some territory to Belgium.