Apr 192019

The Treaty of London of 1839, also called the First Treaty of London, the Convention of 1839, the Treaty of Separation, the Quintuple Treaty of 1839, or the Treaty of the XXIV articles, was signed on this date in 1839 between various European powers, recognizing and guaranteeing the independence and neutrality of Belgium and establishing the full independence of the German-speaking part of Luxembourg. Article VII required Belgium to remain perpetually neutral, and by implication committed the signatory powers to guard that neutrality in the event of invasion.

Since the Treaty of Vienna in 1815, Belgium had been a part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. In 1830 Catholic Belgians broke away and established an independent Kingdom of Belgium. They could not accept the Dutch king’s favoritism toward Protestantism and his disdain for the French language. Outspoken liberals regarded William I’s rule as despotic. There were high levels of unemployment and industrial unrest among the working classes. There was small-scale fighting, but it took years before the Netherlands finally recognized defeat.

With the treaty, the southern provinces of the Netherlands, independent de facto since 1830, became internationally recognized as the Kingdom of Belgium, while the province of Limburg was split into Belgian and Dutch parts. The Grand Duchy of Luxemburg was in a personal union with the Netherlands and simultaneously a member of the German Confederation. The treaty partitioned the grand duchy which lost two-thirds of its territory to Belgium’s new Province of Luxembourg in what is termed the ‘Third Partition of Luxembourg’. The partitioning left a rump Grand Duchy, covering one-third of the original territory and inhabited by one-half of the original population, in personal union with the Netherlands, under king/grand duke William I (and subsequently William II and William III). This arrangement was confirmed by the 1867 Treaty of London, known as the ‘Second Treaty of London’ in reference to the 1839 treaty, and lasted until the death of William III 23rd November 1890.

Belgium’s de facto independence had been established through nine years of intermittent fighting. The co-signatories of the Treaty of London—Great Britain, Austria, France, the German Confederation (led by Prussia), Russia, and the Netherlands—now officially recognized the independent Kingdom of Belgium, and at Britain’s insistence agreed to its neutrality. The treaty was a fundamental “lawmaking” treaty that became a cornerstone of European international law; it was especially important in the events leading up to World War I.

On 31st July 1914 the mobilization of the Belgian Army was ordered, and the Belgian king at the same time publicly called Europe’s attention to the fact that Germany, Great Britain and France were solemnly bound to respect and to defend the neutrality of his country. When the German Empire invaded Belgium in August 1914 in violation of the treaty, the British declared war on 4th August. Informed by the British ambassador that Britain would go to war with Germany over the latter’s violation of Belgian neutrality, German chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg exclaimed that he could not believe that Britain and Germany would be going to war over a mere “scrap of paper”.

The Treaty of London also guaranteed Belgium the right of transit by rail or canal over Dutch territory as an outlet to the German Ruhr. This right was reaffirmed in a 24th May 2005 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in a dispute between Belgium and the Netherlands on the railway track. In 2004 Belgium requested a reopening of the Iron Rhine railway. This was the result of the increasing transport of goods between the port of Antwerp and the German Ruhr Area. As part of the European policy of modal shift on the increasing traffic of goods, transport over railway lines and waterways was now preferred over road transport. The Belgian request was based on the treaty of 1839, and the Iron Rhine Treaty of 1873. After a series of failed negotiations, the Belgian and Dutch governments agreed to take the issue to the Permanent Court of Arbitration and respect its ruling in the case.

In a ruling of 24th May 2005, the court acknowledged both the Belgian rights under the cessation treaty of 1839 and the Dutch concerns for part of the Meinweg National Park nature reserve. The 1839 treaty still applied, the court found, giving Belgium the right to use and modernize the Iron Rhine. However, Belgium would be obliged to finance the modernization of the line, while the Netherlands had to fund the repairs and maintenance of the route. Both countries were to share the costs of a tunnel beneath the nature reserve.

I have given quite a few classic Belgian dishes in previous posts, any one of which would fit the bill. Here is rabbit with prunes which is only one of many dishes enjoyed by both Flemish and Walloon Belgians.

Konijn met pruimen


4tbsp flour
1 rabbit cut in four pieces
salt and black pepper
4 medium white onions, peeled and finely chopped
2tbsp brown sugar
250 gm stoned prunes, coarsely chopped
2 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
2 cloves
75 cl dark Belgian beer
2 slices bread
Belgian mustard
vinegar (optional)


Season the rabbit pieces on both sides with pepper and salt, then dredge the meat in the flour using a method that suits you. I put the pieces in a big brown paper bag with the flour. Close the top tightly, trapping air in the bag, and shake vigorously.  This will coat the rabbit evenly and leave any excess in the bottom.

Heat a knob of butter in a large casserole over medium heat. Put the rabbit pieces in the pot and let them turn golden brown on both sides, without cooking through. Remove from pot. Add the onions to the same pot. Once they have softened, allow them to lightly caramelize by adding the brown sugar.   Add the prunes to the onions, and put the meat back in the pot with the thyme, bay leaves and cloves. Pour in the beer until all ingredients are covered. Spread a thick layer of spicy mustard on the slices of bread, place the bread on top of the rabbit and put the lid on the pot.

Let the dish simmer for at least an hour on low heat. Do not overcook. Farm raised rabbit should take the same time to cook as chicken. At the end, taste the sauce and if it is too sweet for you, add a splash of vinegar.

Belgians often eat this dish with fries or potato croquettes. It will also work with boiled new potatoes and spring vegetables.