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An overview of the history of Antwerp

I set out to write a post about the Forts surrounding Antwerp, but instead found myself reading quite a bit about the history of Antwerp (and to a less extent, Belgium). It seems that the English Wikipedia articles are at odds with the Dutch articles (ran through Google translate) and other sources, and so I made an attempt at straightening out the history myself before I embark on my post about the Forts. It does mention a couple of forts, as the post was supposed to be about them!

Fort Liefkenshoek was built in 1579 opposite Fort Lillo (built in 1578) in the bend of the river Scheldt. Liefkenshoek and Lillo were built as companions as a means of controlling river traffic in to Antwerp, and protecting Antwerp from Spanish reconquest. In 1584 it fell in to the hands of the Spanish during the 1584 Siege of Antwerp, but control was regained by Antwerp in 1585. This seems moot however as Alexander Farnese took control of Antwerp (for the Spanish) in 1585. The Spanish remained in control of Fort Lillo at this time, and enacted a heavy toll on usage of the river.

In 1609 the Twelve Years’ Truce was signed in Antwerp, agreeing to the cessation of hostilities between the Habsburg rulers of Spain and the Southern Netherlands/the Dutch Republic. In 1638 the Battle of Kallo took place, an effort by the Dutch to retake Antwerp. However, the Dutch were successfully repelled by the Spanish. In this battle, William of Nassau (of the House of Nassau) lost his only son. The Battle of Kallo is considered to be the largest battle of the Spanish-Dutch War.

In 1648 the Peace of Münster treaty was signed. With it, the independence of the United Netherlands was finally recognized by the Spanish crown, formally bringing the Eighty Years’ War to an end. As part of this treaty, The River Scheldt was closed by Antwerp, making Liefkenshoek and Lillo less strategic strong-points.

In 1794-1815 Antwerp was occupied by the French as part of the French Revolution. During this period Antwerp regained access to the sea, and quickly grew as a major port and business center. While under the control of the French, Antwerp became capital of French the département Deux-Nèthes (formed in 1975). After Napoleon was defeated in 1814, the département became part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands as the province of Antwerp.

In 1830, the Belgian Revolution began after riots errupted in Brussels. This uprising is thought to be because of the domination of the Dutch over the economic, political, and social institutions of the Kingdom (despite at that time the Belgian population being larger than the Dutch). Forces were deployed by the Dutch to attempt to combat the initial riots in Brussels, but they were unable to retake control. Because of this, the army was withdrawn to the fortresses of Maastricht, Venlo, and Antwerp. The London Conference of 1830 brought together Austria, Britain, France, Prussia and Russia. They recognized the success of the Belgian revolution from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands and permanently guaranteed Belgian independence. This was then ratified in 1831 when the Constitution of Belgium came in to place, establishing Belgium as a centralised unitary state. In June 1831, the first King of The Belgians came in to power, Leopold I of Saxe-Coburg. The Dutch continued to be strongly opposed to Belgian independence. This led to the Ten Days’ Campaign in August 1831, an attempt by the Dutch to suppress the Belgian Revolution. During this war the Dutch defeated several Belgian forces, and were able to advance deep in to Belgian territory. This resulted in the Belgian government appealing to the French for support. When faced with the French army, the Dutch withdrew. However, they left a garrison in the citadel of Antwerp. In 1832, the Siege of Antwerp took place by the French army. After the siege, France gave control of Antwerp to the Belgians. King Leopold I of Belgium gave France several cannons as thanks, and the Senate of France was offered Gérard an épée d’honneur (Sword of Honour).

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