The territory that now encompasses Belgium saw itself pass between different hands quite a lot before its fight for independence started in mid-1830, mostly those of the French, Spanish (Hapsburgs) and Dutch. In fact, between 1794 and 1814, it had been part of the French Empire, before Napoleon lost his war and Belgium became part of the Southern Netherlands.
One of the reasons why so many people speak French in Belgium nowadays is due to this fact, as Napoleon's government installed many of its citizens in key civic positions around Dutch-speaking Flanders, Brabant and Limburg (it's also a reason why so many of the upper and middle classes at the time were also French-speaking).
|Once Belgium was integrated into the French Empire, the industrial revolution reached Belgium, and the first steam-powered engines were clandestinely introduced into the country.|
Other important changes introduced by Napoleon's reign: new judicial framework on civil rights (foundation for the future Belgian civil code); Wallonia became the most industrialized region of Europe; the port of Antwerp becomes extra-profitable; obligatory military service; zero political freedom; the use of Dutch is repressed in Flanders and nothing can be printed in that language either. (Source)
In any case, some French immigrants ended up at the head of the Belgian revolution, namely Charles Rogier, the Comte Félix de Mérode, and Alexandre Gendebien. So who were these men?
|Rogier leading the volunteers of Liege (Soubre, 1878)|
The Belgian is neither a Frenchmen, nor a German, nor a Dutchman. A Dutchman is a sophisticated Belgian. = If you want a people that is good, franc, hospitable, laborious, economical, loving of order and steadiness, you will find it in the Belgian: it is a people that is naturally moral.
Belgium is a corner of the earth where work and industry have gathered together to make it one of the destinations the most suitable for man's happiness here on earth; it is un-ruinable.
Revolutions don't happen there, they go there; it is a fixed-term birth. (1)
And when the sh*t hit the fan, so to speak, Rogier found himself leading a militia 300-men strong during the Belgian revolution. He was later rewarded by the future King Leopold I with the governorship of Antwerp.
|Félix de Mérode|
Alexandre Gendebien had actually worked as a lawyer in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, but felt more loyal to his French roots (though he himself was born in Mons, a Belgian town) and wished for Belgium to become once more a part of France. He was a member of the higher strata of the bourgeoisie, and his whole family had, for dozens of years, enjoyed numerous important governmental posts, including on the French National Congress. Though Gendebien had been disappointed in seeing the French flags (placed on windows by French secret agents) replaced the next day by Belgian ones during the revolution, he nevertheless vehemently opposed himself against the dismembering of Belgium proposed in 1831 (whereby Liège would have gone to Prussia, Flanders and Antwerp to Great Britain, and Brussels and Wallonia to France), and instead helped found the Belgian government.
|First Belgian flag which replaced the French ones|
during the first days of the Belgian revolution.
(1) (Transl. from French:) Le belge n’est ni un français, ni un allemand, ni un hollandais. Un Hollandais est un belge perfectionné. = Voulez-vous un peuple bon, franc, hospitalier, laborieux, économe, ami de l’ordre et de la régularité, vous le trouverez dans le Belge : c’est un peuple naturellement moral. = La Belgique est un coin de terre dont le travail et l’industrie réunis ont fait un des séjours les mieux appropriés au bonheur de l’homme, qui existe sur terre : il est inruinable. = Les révolutions ne se font pas : elles arrivent ; c’est un enfantement à terme fixe.
A Throne in Brussels
Charles Rogier (1800-1885), d'après des documents inédits, Volumes 1-2
Charles Rogier Wiki
Felix de Merode Wiki