Belgium celebrates its National Day on 21 July – the anniversary of the date in 1831 when Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (yes, he was related to the current British royal family) took his oath of allegiance to the constitution of the new Kingdom of Belgium.
Belgium had been fought over for centuries before the nineteenth century, so much so that it was nicknamed “the cockpit of Europe”. It spent most of the Middle Ages and early modern times as part of the Spanish and/or Austrian Habsburg realms. However, after the Napoleonic Wars it became part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Nevertheless, the Belgians feared they would become second-class citizens – for religious, historical and partly linguistic reasons – and broke away in 1830.
A conference in London in December that year declared the United Kingdom of the Netherlands dissolved and recognised Belgium a month later, but it wasn’t until 1839 that the Northern Provinces – now simply the Kingdom of the Netherlands – accepted this in the Treaty of London, which guaranteed Belgian independence and neutrality. (The Treaty was the famous “scrap of paper” which was the direct cause for the UK’s entry into the First World War, when German armies invaded Belgium on their way to France.)