In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. Belgium is Number 26 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The book covers physical and political geography, political history, social and political conditions, and economic conditions. The section on geography stresses the lack of strong natural boundaries, the importance of two river systems, the Scheldt and the Meuse, and the division of the population into two ethno-linguistic groups, the Dutch-speaking Flemings and the French-speaking Walloons. The section on political history begins with Philip the Good (reigned 1419−67) and the Burgundian Netherlands and covers the centuries of Hapsburg rule, French rule under Napoleon, establishment of the kingdom of Holland and Belgium in 1815, and the emergence, in 1831, of an independent Kingdom of Belgium. The study emphasizes the country’s high level of economic development, as reflected in the dense network of railroads and canals; well-developed industries in iron and steel, machinery, textiles, and chemicals; and extensive shipping and foreign trade activity, much of it centered on the port of Antwerp. Three appendices cover the formation of Belgium’s frontiers with France, the Netherlands and Germany; the “Flemish movement” and the development of a Flemish national consciousness; and Belgian Socialism. A fourth appendix provides excerpts from treaties and agreements relating to Belgium’s independence and neutrality.

Last updated: September 5, 2014