Shelled Buildings at Moelingen, 1914

Shelled Buildings at Moelingen, 1914

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Shelled Buildings at Moelingen, 1914

Here we see shelled buildings at the village of Moelingen (or Mouland), a village that was attacked early in the German invasion of Belgium in 1914.

Moelingen -->

Moelingen [2] (French name Mouland [3] ) is a village in the municipality of Voeren, which is part of the province of Limburg in Belgium.

Until 1977 Moelingen was a municipality of its own. In that year it became part of the Voeren municipality.

In this village, like in all of the Belgian (as well as the neighbouring Dutch) province of Limburg, predominantly "Limburgs" is spoken, a Low Frankish dialect, closely related to Flemish. [4]

Kingdom of Kongo 1390 – 1914

The Kingdom of Kongo was a large kingdom in the western part of central Africa. The name comes from the fact that the founders of the kingdom were KiKongo speaking people, and the spelling of Congo with a C comes from the Portuguese translation. Kingdom was founded around 1390 CE through the political marriage of Nima a Nzima, of the Mpemba Kasi, and Luqueni Luansanze, of the Mbata, which cemented the alliance between the two KiKongo speaking peoples.[i] The Kingdom would reach its peak in the mid 1600s[ii]. The Kingdom of Kongo would eventually fall to scheming nobles, feuding royal factions, and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, initiating its eventual decline.

The Kingdom was centered around the great city of Mbanza Kongo, located in what is now northern Angola, (location: 6°16′04″S 14°14′53″E), which was later renamed to São Salvador. In 1888, what was left of the Kingdom of Kongo was made a vassal state to Portugal, and in the early 1900s it was formally integrated into the Portuguese colony in Angola[iii].

Early history and formation 1390 - 1491

Understanding the early history of the Kingdom of Kongo is complicated by the lack of written sources from the time, as well as the problematic fact that almost all of the later accounts were produced by Europeans[iv]. This means that there is a need to be critical about European accounts, as they were writing from the perspective of conquerors and outsiders. A further issue is that local chroniclers (those writing from an insider’s perspective), such as the Congolese historian Petelo Boka , made assumptions based on the organisation of clans in more recent history[v].

It is generally acknowledged, however, that the establishment of the Kingdom of Kongo came about through both the voluntary and involuntary inclusion of neighbouring states around a central core state[vi]. Much of the early territorial expansion of the Kingdom of Kongo came through various voluntary agreement with smaller neighbouring states. Some historians prefer to call state entities similar to the Kingdom of Kongo as ‘commonwealths’ rather than Kingdoms, as they were built, in part, on mutual agreement, marriage alliances and cooperation rather than conquest[vii]. Later territorial expansion in the Kingdom came to a larger degree from conquest.

The founding myth of the Kingdom of Kongo begins with the marriage of Nima a Nzima to Luqueni Luansanze, the daughter of Nsa-cu-Clau the chief of the Mbata people[viii]. Their marriage would solidify the alliance between the Mpemba Kasi and the neighbouring Mbata people, an alliance which would become the foundation of the Kingdom of Kongo. Nima a Nzima and Luqueni Luansanze had a child named Lukeni lua Nimi, who would become the first person to take the title of Mutinù (King)[ix]. Lukeni lua Nimi is presumed to have been born between 1367 and 1402 CE[x]. Historians therefore also date the founding of the Kingdom of Kongo to sometime around 1390 CE.

It is estimated that the core of the Kingdom began in the province of Mpemba Kasi in the south of Kongo, and that Lukeni lua Nimi built the capital city of Mbanza Kongo[xi]. There is speculation, however, that earlier rulers controlled a larger territory before Lukeni lua Nimi became king, and that he simply moved the capital city to that area[xii]. This was also in this period that the neighbouring province of Mbata came under the protection and voluntary subordination of the Kingdom of Kongo[xiii]. It is presumed, but not known for certain, that the Kingdom of Kongo had similar protection treaties with other smaller neighbouring states[xiv].

The early Kingdom was to some degree founded on conquest, but was largely made up of voluntary protection arrangements. With help from the Mbete and other allied provinces, the Kingdom of Kongo then conquered Mpangu and Npundi to the south[xv]. These provinces would be governed by governors who received their orders from the King.

Both Npundi and Mbata later expanded their own territories, which would in turn expand the boundaries of the Kingdom of Kongo[xvi] and Bby 1490 the Kingdom of Kongo was estimated to have around 3 million subjects in total[xvii]. The Kingdom of Kongo is believed to have had six Kings (including Nima a Nzima, despite never taking the title of King) before 1490[xviii].

The Establishment of the Catholic Church in the Kingdom of Kongo

The first meeting between Portuguese explorers and King Nzinga a Nkuwu of the Kingdom of Kongo was in 1482[xix]. Eight years later King Nzinga a Nkuwu would ask, for unknown reasons, to be baptised, and in the process would change his name to João I[xx]. The Christianisation of Kongo would cause many nobles to change their names to Portuguese variations, and it would also entail the adoption of European titles such as ‘duke,’ ‘count’ and ‘king.’

Most of the nobles converted together with the King, and all baptisms were voluntary and without incident[xxi]. It is unknown what the popular sentiment towards Catholicism was among the general population of the time. There was surely some disagreement over the King's conversion and King João I is said to have renounced Christianity in his later years[xxii]. Around 1506 João I died and was succeeded by his son, Afonso. Like his father, Afonso adopted Christianity, despite this conflicting with his brother’s desire to retain their traditional faith. There was an ensuing struggle in which Afonso and the Christians emerged victorious[xxiii].

In the centuries to follow there would be continued conflict over religion in Kongo. The Portuguese clergy would denounce several Kings of Kongo to the Pope in Rome. King Diogo I (who ruled Kongo from 1545 - 1561) was chastised by the clergy for turning away from the church and supporting an anti-Portuguese agenda, while King Álvaro III (who ruled from 1614 – 1622) was denounced for his control over local clergy[xxiv]. Many historians and social scientists argue that the Catholic Church was never as hegemonic in the Kingdom of Kongo as the Portuguese clergy was reporting[xxv]. They argue that Christianity was seen by the Kongolese as another cult which existed parallel to a multitude of other cults and religious practices[xxvi]. Some of the practices of Christianity were localised and assimilated into the already existing religious practices and beliefs within the Kingdom of Kongo.

Thus,there was no full-scale conversion to Catholicism, but rather an adoption of Christian rituals without disrupting the already existing beliefs of the area. The Portuguese missionaries and clergy were largely forced to overlook the continuation of local beliefs as opposed to the Americas, where large scale and complete conversions were the norm, the Kingdom of Kongo was religiously and culturally strong, and the missionaries were allowed to stay only through the allowance of the King[xxvii]. This meant that the missionaries were required to tread carefully and much more diplomatically in their treatment of local beliefs.

16th century cathedral (built in 1549), which many Angolans claim is the oldest church in sub-Saharan Africa Image source

Slavery in Kongo

Little is known of slavery in the Kingdom of Kongo before contact with the Portuguese in 1482[xxviii]. A number of sources state that there was an established tradition of making slaves out of people displaced by conquest in the early 1400s[xxix]. This is potentially explained by the fact that the export of slaves was central to the ability of Kongo to maintain its relationship with Portugal[xxx], which meant that Kongo needed to have a constant supply of slaves. The usage of slaves would, during this early period of slave trade, become more common within the Kingdom as well[xxxi] , although the export of slaves to Europe and the Americas would later be the cause of much instability and strife in the Kingdom.

The Portuguese began trading in Kongolese slaves very quickly after their contact with the Kingdom of Kongo. The Kongolese King would protect his own subjects, called gente or ‘freeborn’ Kongolese, from slavery[xxxii]. In the 1500s this was not a problem as the Kingdom of Kongo was experiencing a rapid population and territorial expansion through various conquests, thus providing a steady supply of foreign-born slaves[xxxiii]. Most of these slaves came from wars waged against the neighbouring Mbundu kingdom of Ndongo in around 1512[xxxiv]. While most slaves were exported to Portugal, King Afonso of Kongo retained many slaves for himself. Both King Afonso and later kings would keep slaves, particularly enslaved criminals, but these slaves were freeborn Kongolese and therefore could not be sold to other parties[xxxv].

In 1526 correspondence between the Portuguese King Joao III, and the Kongolese King Afonso, showed that the Portuguese would kidnap many freeborn Kongolese to sell into slavery (including the children of nobles)[xxxvi]. While various Kongolese nobles were sometimesimplicated in the trade of freeborn Kongolese, much of this unsanctioned slave trade is attributed to Portuguese merchants who kidnapped people off the streets and from their homes[xxxvii]. Inability to protect his subjects became an issue on the domestic front for King Afonso, as it caused him to lose legitimacy in the eyes of his people[xxxviii].

From 1568–1570, during the reign of king Álvaro I, the Kingdom of Kongo experienced a large scale conflict called the Jaga invasion[xxxix]. The source of the Jaga invasions is hotly debated by historians, but it is assumed that the Jaga were in some way related to the Yaka ethnic group. During the invasion they managed to capture the capital city of Mbaza Kogno[xl].The conflict caused an economic crisis in the Kingdom, the severity of which caused fathers would sell their sons, and brothers to sell their brothers into slavery as a means of survival[xli]. An unprecedented amount of freeborn Kongolese were sold to the Portuguese during this time, including princes and nobles.

The Kings of Kongo proclaimed upon their coronation their duty to protect all of their subjects, rich and poor. As such, they swore to protect even their enslaved subjects, and the Kings who reigned during the 1500s were mostly successful in preventing their subjects from being transported across the Atlantic as slaves[xlii]. Following the widespread selling of slaves during the Jaga invasion, for example, King Álvaro became incensed by the sale of his subjects. He thus sent an emissary to São Tomé, where the slaves where held prior to transportation across the Atlantic, to ransom them[xliii]. Most of the people enslaved during in the aftermath of the Jaga invasion were allowed to return home and the nobles were integrated into the administration of the King. This indicates that when the central authority of the King was strong, he was in fact able to protect his subjects.

However, after 1590 several civil wars and rebellions weakened the King’s authority and caused an increasing amount of Kongolese subjects to be enslaved[xliv]. A major obstacle for the Kingdom of Kongo was that slaves were the only commodity which foreign powers were willing to trade for, and this meant that Kongolese kings had no international currency other than people[xlv]. Slaves became the tool through which Kongo developed and sustained their material, cultural and diplomatic ties with the European powers[xlvi]. Kongolese nobles could buy slaves with the local currency, nzimbu shells, and the slaves could in turn be traded for international currency. As an example of how slaves were used as an international currency we can see how the Kongolese authorities paid the Catholic church in slaves for bishops to preform various religious duties in the Kingdom[xlvii].

There needed to be a constant source of slaves for Kings to sell in exchange foreign commodities, the absence of which would prevent them from buying influence with foreign powers such as Portugal and the Dutch. Kongolese kings would desperately need this influence to garner support from European powers for quelling internal rebellions in the Kingdom and to aid them against other colonial empires[xlviii]. To illustrate, in 1641 King Garcia of Kongo required the help of the Dutch military, and paid them in slaves for their assistance in defeating the counts of Soyo (a growing city in the northern part of the Kingdom) after they declared independence.

Since the Kingdom of Kongo had stopped their conquests of expansion in the early 1600s, the supply of foreign slaves were drying up. Rebellions like the Soyo rebellion became the Kingdom’s new way of supplying slaves[xlix]. During the mid-1600s it became common practice for freeborn Kongos to become slaves through a variety of infractions, such as disrespecting nobles, stealing from gardens, rebelling against the central authorities, and disciplining seditious nobles[l]. In fact, if several villagers were deemed guilty of a crime, the whole village was sometimes enslaved[li].

The chaos and internal conflict of the late 1600s and 1700s would mean the end of the King's protection of his subjects from slavery in this period every Kongolese person was in danger of being enslaved, and this caused further instability within the Kingdom[lii]. During this period of internal conflict a large amount of captives of war, refugees, and conquered peoples were captured by British, Portuguese and Dutch slave traders and shipped across the Atlantic.

Kongo in 1648 Image source

Internal Conflict, Factionalism and Civil War in the Kingdom of Kongo (1641-1718)

Before 1641 the Kingdom of Kongo had managed to fight off several Portuguese incursions and had remained a strong and centralised state. In the years following 1641 this would change drastically.

Aside from the divisive issue of slavery, the split within Kongo had already begun in 1593 with the internal conflict between Sonyo, one of the richest provinces in the Kingdom of Kongo[liii] and home to the Counts of Soyo, and the Kongolese state[liv]. In 1641 the Soyo declared independence under Count Daniel da Silva, and King Garcia II of Kongo declared war against the rebels[lv]. The same year also saw a rift in the relationship between Portugal and Kongo, when a joint Kongo-Dutch force worked together to expel the Portuguese from Luanda.

More than two decades later, in 1665, the oppurtunistic Portuguese colonisers invaded the Kingdom of Kongo and battled the Kongolese forces in the Battle of Mbwila[lvi]. The Kongolese forces lost and King António I of Kongo was killed by Portuguese soldiers[lvii]. The Portuguese also seized the island of Luanda, an important source of the local currency Nzimbu shells[lviii]. The defeat of Kongolese forces and the death of King António I was to cause further internal strife in the Kingdom.

After the death of King António I, two royal factions - the Kimpanzu and the Kinlaza - competed for power and divided much of the country between them[lix].Meanwhile, the civil war between Soyo separatists and the Kingdom of Kongo raged on, while both sides attempted to garner the support of European powers of Holland, Brazil and Portugal to aid them. In 1670, despite having fought each other five years earlier, a joint Portuguese and Kongolese force invaded Soyo and were in turn soundly defeated by Soyo forces[lx].

The Soyo manipulated and exacerbated the post-António I conflict between the Kimpanzu and the Kinlaza with the intention of creating further instability in the Kingdom of kongo[lxi]. During the skirmishes between the Kimpanzu and the Kinlaza, the capital city of Kongo (now called, São Salvador) was sacked in 1669 by the Soyo and then completely destroyed during an attack by Pedro III of the Kinlaza faction in 1678[lxii]. The capital was later rebuilt and some former residents returned, but it would never reach its previous size.

The two factions established separate capitals the Kinlaza faction in the mountain fortress of Kimbangu, and the Kimpanzu faction in the northern town of Mbula[lxiii]. The Kingdom of Kongo experienced a great degree of decentralisation during this period of intrastate war. People and bands of warriors moved vast distances and resettled in new provinces. One general, General Pedro Constantinho da Silva, moved his army across the country and in1705 resettled his whole army in the rebuilt São Salvador[lxiv]. Pedro Constantinho da Silva was defeated by King Pedro IV of the Kinlaza faction in 1709 when he attacked the army outside of the former capital[lxv].

The the period between 1641 and 1718 was marked by several ongoing conflicts between a variety of different factions. There were independence movements such as the Soyo, and there were competing royal dynasties such as the Kimpanzu and the Kinlaza. There were also conflicts between foreign powers such as the Portuguese. In the beginning of the 1700s King Pedro IV had, however, managed to subdue the rival Kimpanzu faction led by King João II[lxvi]. In 1715 João II recognised Pedro IV as the rightful king of Kongo and in the same year, several other internal conflicts came to an end[lxvii].

There is much debate between academics and historians as to why the Kingdom of Kongo fell apart so rapidly in the mid 1600s. Certainly, the pressures of the slave trade and its constant demand for more slaves de-legitimised the power of the king[lxviii]. This weakened the monarchy, as did Portuguese military expeditions against the Kingdom. Further instability stemmed the death of King António I which directly triggered the civil war[lxix]. The third, and some argue, the most plausible reason for the decline of the Kingdom of Kongo was the conflict between the Counts of Soyo and the Kings of Kongo[lxx].

In the 1500s the city of Mbaze Soyo grew very wealthy on the slave trade[lxxi]. The city would at its height have a large population, and was located in the already wealthy province of Sonyo. This created two centres of power one in Soyo, and one in São Salvador[lxxii]. The Counts of Soyo were, for a while, loyal towards the Kings of Kongo (King Pedro II was related to the then count of Soyo). Later counts such as Daniel da Silva, however, became extremely hostile towards the Kingdom of Kongo. By 1680 Soyo had grown so strong and independent they could muster between 20 000 and 25 000 soldiers, and styled themselves the Princes of Soyo[lxxiii].

The rise of a new centre of power together with the external pressures of colonialism and slavery and increasing in the Kingdom all contributed to the cause of the civil war. The Kingdom of Kongo survived after King Pedro IV emerged victorious, but his descendants would only rule directly over a fraction of the previous Kingdom[lxxiv]. The structures of power and prestige established around the city of São Salvador was an important part of what kept the Kingdom together, and by 1718 these structures had been completely destroyed by the civil war.

List of kings and their affiliated faction during the period of internal conflict:

Antonio I (who's death in battle against Portugal sparked the internal conflict)

Alfonso II of the House of Kimpanzu

Alvaro VII of the House of Kinlaza

Alvaro VIII of the House of Kimpanzu

Pedro III of the House of Kinlaza

Alvaro IX of the House of Kimpanzu

Rafael I of the House of Kinlaza

Afonso III of the House of Kimpanzu

Daniel I of the House of Kimpanzu

Garcia II of Kibangu (Ruled around the Kibangu area only)

André I of Kibangu (Ruled around the Kibangu area only)

Manuel Afonso of the House of Kimpanzu (Ruled around the Kibangu area only)

Alvaro X of the House of the Agua Rosada (Ruled around the Kibangu area only)

Pedro III of the House of Kinlaza (Ruled around the Mbula area only)

João Manuel II of the House of Kinlaza (Ruled around the Mbula area only)

Pedro IV of the House of the Agua Rosada (Reunited the Kingdom under one ruler again in 1709)

Flag of Kingdom of Kongo Image source

A Century of Decentralisation and the Decline of the Kingdom (1718 - 1914)

The Kingdom of Kongo was, from the 1700s, a decentralised Kingdom largely dependant on slave labour and armies[lxxv] to maintain control. This century saw the emergence of clans as important political actors, especially because the clans would join together to elect the Kings. As part of a peace agreement between the two warring factions, King Manuel II of the Kimpanzu faction was crowned king in 1718[lxxvi]. The area he would rule over only included São Salvador and Kimbangu. After his death in 1743 King Garcia IV, a member of the Kinlaza faction, assumed power[lxxvii]. During Garcia IV's reign, São Salvador was again recognised as the capital of the entire Kingdom, thus ending the final rivalries of the civil war[lxxviii].

This was not to last, and in 1763 the Kingdom saw renewed internal strife as Alvaro IX and Pedro V both claimed the throne. This contestation led to renewed hostilities between the Kimpanzu and Kinlaza factions, and in 1781 a battle compromising of about 30 000 soldiers was fought outside of São Salvador[lxxix]. The Kinlaza faction emerged victorious and Jose I became King, later passing the crown on to his brother Afonso V in 1785[lxxx]. Afonso V is thought to have been poisoned in 1794 and Henrique I was crowned the King of Kongo[lxxxi].

Henrique I again attempted to centralise power within the monarchy, and as a result he was driven from court at São Salvador[lxxxii]. He returned with an army in 1802 or 1803 only to be defeated and deposed as King[lxxxiii]. In this period of back-and-forth struggle between several factions, who had by now splintered off from the Kimpanzu and Kinlaza factions, São Salvador became an important symbolic centre of power. While it was the capital of the country, it had a mostly token population and kings like Henrique I drew theire power and military forces from outside the city[lxxxiv]. Henrique I was even crowned on the outskirts the city[lxxxv]. This stands in contrast with previous centuries where the majority of power of the Kings and nobles aome from São Salvador itself.

The power struggle between various factions over who was going to rule continued into the 1800s, further eroding the legitimacy and power of the kings[lxxxvi]. In 1842 Henrique II, representing a new faction called the Kivuzi, was crowned King[lxxxvii]. The new faction would be short lived, and disputes about succession continued.

One of the largest changes to happen in the Kingdom of Kongo during the mid 1800s was not political, but economic by 1839 the British had abolished the slave trade, and were patrolling the shores of Kongo to ensure that no ships would transport slaves across the Atlantic[lxxxviii]. This meant that the main source of foreign revenue in the Kingdom was drying up, causing the Kingdom to shift its economic emphasis to trade in ivory and rubber which were becoming dominant parts of the Kingdom’s economic makeup[lxxxix].

The rubber trade in particular was not dependant on large armies and centralised power as the slave trade had been. What was essential for the rubber trade was a small and mobile workforce[xc]. Since the rubber grew inland, large parts of the population moved inland to harvest and sell it to European traders. The larger population-dense villages and cities which had been the main source of power for the Kongo nobility and royalty disappeared[xci]. Mobility had always been an essential part of Kongolese society, and people could break down entire houses and move them at short notice[xcii]. By 1880 most of the Kingdom of Kongo was now made up of small, decentralised trading villages[xciii].

During the Berlin Conference of 1884 – 1885 European powers decided that Portugal would take most of what remained of the Kingdom of Kongo, and Belgium would take the rest. For Portugal to claim their part they were also required to occupy the territory[xciv]. Portugal, however, had limited military success against the Kingdom of Kongo in the past, and they needed an alternative route to conquest. An opportunity for occupation arose in 1883 when King Pedro V was embroiled in fighting a rival faction lead by Alvaro XIII[xcv] Pedro V invited the Portuguese into an alliance to aid him in efforts to supress his rival, and in return Portugal would station soldiers in São Salvador[xcvi]. In 1888 the Portuguese forces defeated Alvaro XIII and occupied São Salvador, making King Pedro V a vassal. The Portuguese demanded rights to collect taxes and trade revenues[xcvii] , which effectively ended the independence of the Kingdom of Kongo. By the early 1900s the Kingdom was integrated into the Portuguese colony of Angola[xcviii].

[i] Thornton, John. 2001. “The Origins and Early History of the Kingdom of Kongo, c. 1350-1550” in The International Journal of African Historical Studies Vol. 34, No. 1 (2001), pp. 89-120. Page 105. ↵

[ii] Heywood, Linda M. 2009. “Slavery and Its Transformation in the Kingdom of Kongo: 1491-1800” in The Journal of African History, Vol. 50, No. 1 (2009), pp. 1-22. Cambridge University Press. Page 13. ↵

[iii] Thronton, John. 2000. “Mbanza Kongo/Sao Salvador: Kongo's Holy City” in Africa's Urban Past (eds.) David Anderson and Richard Rathbone. Oxford: James Currey Ltd. Page 73. ↵

[iv] Thornton, John. 2001. “The Origins and Early History of the Kingdom of Kongo, c. 1350-1550” in The International Journal of African Historical Studies Vol. 34, No. 1 (2001), pp. 89-120. Page 91. ↵

[v] MacGaffey, Wyatt. 2003. “Crossing the River: Myth and Movement in Central Africa” From International symposium Angola on the Move: Transport Routes, Communication, and History,Berlin, 24-26 September 2003. Page 2. ↵

[vi] Thornton, John. 2001. “The Origins and Early History of the Kingdom of Kongo, c. 1350-1550” in The International Journal of African Historical Studies Vol. 34, No. 1 (2001), pp. 89-120. Page 104. ↵

[vii] MacGaffey, Wyatt. 2003. “Crossing the River: Myth and Movement in Central Africa” From International symposium Angola on the Move: Transport Routes, Communication, and History,Berlin, 24-26 September 2003. Page 3. ↵

[viii] Thornton, John. 2001. “The Origins and Early History of the Kingdom of Kongo, c. 1350-1550” in The International Journal of African Historical Studies Vol. 34, No. 1 (2001), pp. 89-120. Page 105. ↵

[xvii] Gondola, Ch. Didier. 2002. The History of Congo. Greenwood Press, London. Page 28. ↵

[xviii] Thornton, John. 2001. “The Origins and Early History of the Kingdom of Kongo, c. 1350-1550” in The International Journal of African Historical Studies Vol. 34, No. 1 (2001), pp. 89-120. Page 105. ↵

[xix] Gondola, Ch. Didier. 2002. The History of Congo. Greenwood Press, London. Page 30. ↵

[xx] Thornton, John. 1984. “The Development of an African Catholic Church in the Kingdom of Kongo, 1491-1750” in The Journal of African History Vol. 25, No. 2 (1984), pp. 147-167. Page 148. ↵

[xxviii] Heywood, Linda M. 2009. “Slavery and Its Transformation in the Kingdom of Kongo: 1491-1800” in The Journal of African History, Vol. 50, No. 1 (2009), pp. 1-22. Cambridge University Press. Page 2. ↵

[xl] Thornton, John. 1977. “Demography and History in the Kingdom of Kongo, 1550-1750” in The Journal of African History Vol. 18, No. 4 (1977), pp. 507-530. Page 519. ↵

[xli] Heywood, Linda M. 2009. “Slavery and Its Transformation in the Kingdom of Kongo: 1491-1800” in The Journal of African History, Vol. 50, No. 1 (2009), pp. 1-22. Cambridge University Press. Page 7. ↵

[liii] Thornton, John. 1977. “Demography and History in the Kingdom of Kongo, 1550-1750” in The Journal of African History Vol. 18, No. 4 (1977), pp. 507-530. Page 519. ↵

[liv] Heywood, Linda M. 2009. “Slavery and Its Transformation in the Kingdom of Kongo: 1491-1800” in The Journal of African History, Vol. 50, No. 1 (2009), pp. 1-22. Cambridge University Press. Page 8. ↵

[lvi] Thornton, John. 1998. Warfare in Atlantic Africa. London: University College of London Press. Page 117. ↵

[lviii] Gondola, Ch. Didier. 2002. The History of Congo. Greenwood Press, London. Page 34. ↵

[lix] Thornton, John. 1983. The Kingdom of Kongo: Civil War and Transition, 1641-1718. Published by: University of Wisconsin Press. Page 110. ↵

[lx] Thornton, John. 1977. “Demography and History in the Kingdom of Kongo, 1550-1750” in The Journal of African History Vol. 18, No. 4 (1977), pp. 507-530. Page 520. ↵

[lxi] Thornton, John. 1983. The Kingdom of Kongo: Civil War and Transition, 1641-1718. Published by: University of Wisconsin Press. Page 110. ↵

[lxiv] Thornton, John. 1998. Warfare in Atlantic Africa. London: University College of London Press. Page 118. ↵

[lxvi] Thornton, John. 1983. The Kingdom of Kongo: Civil War and Transition, 1641-1718. Published by: University of Wisconsin Press. Page 113. ↵

[lxviii] Heywood, Linda M. 2009. “Slavery and Its Transformation in the Kingdom of Kongo: 1491-1800” in The Journal of African History, Vol. 50, No. 1 (2009), pp. 1-22. Cambridge University Press. Page 22 . ↵

[lxix] Thornton, John. 1983. The Kingdom of Kongo: Civil War and Transition, 1641-1718. Published by: University of Wisconsin Press. Page 110. ↵

[lxxiii] Thornton, John. 1998. Warfare in Atlantic Africa. London: University College of London Press. Page 117 and 118. ↵

[lxxiv] Thornton, John. 1983. The Kingdom of Kongo: Civil War and Transition, 1641-1718. Published by: University of Wisconsin Press. Page 115. ↵

[lxxv] Heywood, Linda M. 2009. “Slavery and Its Transformation in the Kingdom of Kongo: 1491-1800” in The Journal of African History, Vol. 50, No. 1 (2009), pp. 1-22. Cambridge University Press. Page 19. ↵

[lxxvi] The Kingdom of Kongo: Civil War and Transition, 1641-1718. Published by: University of Wisconsin Press. Page 115. ↵

[lxxvii] Thronton, John. 2000. “Mbanza Kongo/Sao Salvador: Kongo's Holy City” in Africa's Urban Past (eds.) David Anderson and Richard Rathbone. Oxford: James Currey Ltd. Page 73. ↵

Gondola, Ch. Didier. 2002. The History of Congo. Greenwood Press, London.|Heywood, Linda M. 2009. “Slavery and Its Transformation in the Kingdom of Kongo: 1491-1800” in The Journal of African History, Vol. 50, No. 1 (2009), pp. 1-22. Cambridge University Press. Page 2.|MacGaffey, Wyatt. 2003. “Crossing the River: Myth and Movement in Central Africa” From International symposium Angola on the Move: Transport Routes, Communication, and History,Berlin, 24-26 September 2003.|Thornton, John. 1977. “Demography and History in the Kingdom of Kongo, 1550-1750” in The Journal of African History Vol. 18, No. 4 (1977), pp. 507-530. Page 519.|Thornton, John. 1983. The Kingdom of Kongo: Civil War and Transition, 1641-1718. Published by: University of Wisconsin Press.|Thornton, John. 1984. “The Development of an African Catholic Church in the Kingdom of Kongo, 1491-1750” in The Journal of African History Vol. 25, No. 2 (1984), pp. 147-167. Page 148.|Thornton, John. 1998. Warfare in Atlantic Africa. London: University College of London Press.|Thronton, John. 2000. “Mbanza Kongo/Sao Salvador: Kongo's Holy City” in Africa's Urban Past (eds.) David Anderson and Richard Rathbone. Oxford: James Currey Ltd. Page 73.|Thornton, John. 2001. “The Origins and Early History of the Kingdom of Kongo, c. 1350-1550” in The International Journal of African Historical Studies Vol. 34, No. 1 (2001), pp. 89-120.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Windows, Windows. (NOT Microsoft)

Irritated by drafts and sometimes smoky air infiltrating their widows, owners of a nice old home in Irvington thought their best option was to replace them with new top quality windows.

To their surprise, the City of Portland said…not so fast.

Because the 114-year old home is in the Irvington Historic District, the city is fussy about swapping out windows in historic structures. The concern is echoed in districts throughout the country because window sash sizes, shapes and depths contribute to the overall character of historic facades.

The lesson here applies to almost any older house, whether it is in a historic district or not: Repair in most cases is a cheaper, longer-lasting option than replacement. This realization gets lost in the steady drumbeat of advertisements for replacement windows on many media platforms.

While we’re at it, we should say that the worst possibilities as replacements are the widely-advertised vinyl windows that often warp under prolonged sunshine exposure.

The beauty of old windows is that they were made from old-growth timber that is no longer available. A skilled window repair craftsperson can take old windows apart, splice in new wood for parts that may be rotted, and prepare the sash to accept new double-paned glass.

“If they are pre-war windows, you can’t buy quality like that anymore,” said Kristen Minor, chair of the Portland Landmarks Commission.

Maya Foty, is a Landmarks Commission member and an architect who concentrates on preservation projects. She said experience shows restoring historic windows is often less expensive than buying replacements. “It’s hard to argue that replacement gets you better quality,” she said.

Another option available to homeowners wanting to improve window insulation and reduce drafts is an interior storm window that presses into place and seals the edges tightly with compression tubing. These interior storms are invisible from the outside, thus preserving historic appearances.

Preserve Montana, a preservation advocate in the state where weather is more severe than Western Oregon, recently reported the following on window replacements:

“ Research has shown that homeowners never recoup the amount the amount of money spent on window replacement during their lifetime, and that the replacement windows do not last as long as the better built historic windows.

“As any homeowner can attest, the seals on double-glazed windows can fail within 10 years of installation, resulting in condensation forming between the panes. Weatherstripping cracks off, leaving gaps around the window that allow cold air to blow in. And when is the last time you saw a window repair company that you could call to fix them? These windows were created with obsolescence in mind, unlike historic windows.”

The discussion over repair versus replacement could well come before the Portland City Council this fall. City agencies are trying to revamp Portland’s historic code regulations. The Planning and Sustainability Commission in charge of recommending revisions tentatively has suggested much wider use of window replacements on buildings in historic districts.

During a work session with the planning commission, Minor, the landmarks chair, presented the case that repairs are usually less expensive and provide as good or better results. She was disappointed in the Planning Commission's reaction. “I just don’t think they got it,” she said.

The owners of the house in Irvington apparently did get the message. They have dropped their appeal that sought approval for the new replacements.

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— Julius Caesar, De Bello Gallico, Book I, Ch. 1

The Belgae were the inhabitants of the northernmost part of Gaul, which was much bigger than modern Belgium. Caesar used the Latin word "Belgium", to refer to their country within northern Gaul, which was a region now in northern France. [28] Modern Belgium corresponds to the lands of the Morini, Menapii, Nervii, Germani Cisrhenani, Aduatuci, and, around Arlon, a part of the country of the Treveri. All of these except the Treveri formed a less Celtic-influenced "transition zone", north of the area Caesar treated as "Belgium".

After Caesar's conquests, Gallia Belgica came to be the Latin name of a large Roman province covering most of Northern Gaul, including the Treveri. Areas closer to the lower Rhine frontier, including the eastern part of modern Belgium, eventually became part of the frontier province of Germania Inferior, which interacted with Germanic tribes outside the empire. At the time when central government collapsed in the Western Roman Empire, the Roman provinces of Belgica and Germania were inhabited by a mix of a Romanized population and Germanic-speaking Franks who came to dominate the military and political class.

Middle Ages

During the 5th century, the area came under the rule of the Frankish Merovingian kings, who were probably first established in what is northern France. During the 8th century, the kingdom of the Franks came to be ruled by the Carolingian Dynasty, whose centre of power was around the area which is now eastern Belgium. [29] The frankish kingdom had been divided up in many ways, but the Treaty of Verdun in 843 divided the Carolingian Empire into three kingdoms, whose borders had a lasting impact on medieval political boundaries. Most of modern Belgium was in the Middle Kingdom, later known as Lotharingia, but the coastal county of Flanders, west of the Scheldt, became part of West Francia, the predecessor of France. In 870 in the Treaty of Meerssen, modern Belgium lands all became part of the western kingdom for a period, but in 880 in the Treaty of Ribemont, Lotharingia returned to the lasting control of the Holy Roman Emperor. The lordships and bishoprics along the "March" (frontier) between the two great kingdoms maintained important connections between each other. The county of Flanders expanded over the Scheldt into the empire, and during several periods was ruled by the same lords as the county of Hainaut.

In the 13th and 14th centuries, the cloth industry and commerce boomed especially in the County of Flanders and it became one of the richest areas in Europe. This prosperity played a role in conflicts between Flanders and the king of France. Famously, Flemish militias scored a surprise victory at the Battle of the Golden Spurs against a strong force of mounted knights in 1302, but France soon regained control of the rebellious province.

Burgundian and Habsburg Netherlands

In the 15th century, the Duke of Burgundy in France took control of Flanders, and from there they proceeded to unite much of what is now the Benelux, the so-called Burgundian Netherlands. [30] "Belgium" and "Flanders" were the first two common names used for the Burgundian Netherlands which was the predecessor of the Austrian Netherlands, the predecessor of modern Belgium. [31] The union, technically stretching between two kingdoms, gave the area economic and political stability which led to an even greater prosperity and artistic creation.

Born in Belgium, the Habsburg Emperor Charles V was heir of the Burgundians, but also of the royal families of Austria, Castile and Aragon. With the Pragmatic Sanction of 1549 he gave the Seventeen Provinces more legitimacy as a stable entity, rather than just a temporary personal union. He also increased the influence of these Netherlands over the Prince-Bishopric of Liège, which continued to exist as a large semi-independent enclave. [32]

Spanish and Austrian Netherlands

The Eighty Years' War (1568–1648), was triggered by the Spanish government's policy towards protestantism, which was becoming popular in the Low Countries. The rebellious northern United Provinces (Belgica Foederata in Latin, the "Federated Netherlands") eventually separated from the Southern Netherlands (Belgica Regia, the "Royal Netherlands"). The latter were ruled successively by the Spanish (Spanish Netherlands) and the Austrian Habsburgs (Austrian Netherlands) and comprised most of modern Belgium. This was the theatre of several more protracted conflicts during much of the 17th and 18th centuries involving France, including the Franco-Dutch War (1672–1678), the Nine Years' War (1688–1697), the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), and part of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748).

The French revolution and the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Following the campaigns of 1794 in the French Revolutionary Wars, the Low Countries – including territories that were never nominally under Habsburg rule, such as the Prince-Bishopric of Liège – were annexed by the French First Republic, ending Austrian rule in the region. A reunification of the Low Countries as the United Kingdom of the Netherlands occurred at the dissolution of the First French Empire in 1814, after the abdication of Napoleon.

Independent Belgium

In 1830, the Belgian Revolution led to the separation of the Southern Provinces from the Netherlands and to the establishment of a Catholic and bourgeois, officially French-speaking and neutral, independent Belgium under a provisional government and a national congress. [33] [34] Since the installation of Leopold I as king on 21 July 1831, now celebrated as Belgium's National Day, Belgium has been a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, with a laicist constitution based on the Napoleonic code. [35] Although the franchise was initially restricted, universal suffrage for men was introduced after the general strike of 1893 (with plural voting until 1919) and for women in 1949.

The main political parties of the 19th century were the Catholic Party and the Liberal Party, with the Belgian Labour Party emerging towards the end of the 19th century. French was originally the single official language adopted by the nobility and the bourgeoisie. It progressively lost its overall importance as Dutch became recognized as well. This recognition became official in 1898, and in 1967, the parliament accepted a Dutch version of the Constitution. [36]

The Berlin Conference of 1885 ceded control of the Congo Free State to King Leopold II as his private possession. From around 1900 there was growing international concern for the extreme and savage treatment of the Congolese population under Leopold II, for whom the Congo was primarily a source of revenue from ivory and rubber production. [37] Many Congolese were killed by Leopold's agents for failing to meet production quotas for ivory and rubber. [38] In 1908, this outcry led the Belgian state to assume responsibility for the government of the colony, henceforth called the Belgian Congo. [39] A Belgian commission in 1919 estimated that Congo's population was half what it was in 1879. [38]

Germany invaded Belgium in August 1914 as part of the Schlieffen Plan to attack France, and much of the Western Front fighting of World War I occurred in western parts of the country. The opening months of the war were known as the Rape of Belgium due to German excesses. Belgium assumed control of the German colonies of Ruanda-Urundi (modern-day Rwanda and Burundi) during the war, and in 1924 the League of Nations mandated them to Belgium. In the aftermath of the First World War, Belgium annexed the Prussian districts of Eupen and Malmedy in 1925, thereby causing the presence of a German-speaking minority.

German forces again invaded the country in May 1940, and 40,690 Belgians, over half of them Jews, were killed during the subsequent occupation and The Holocaust. From September 1944 to February 1945 the Allies liberated Belgium. After World War II, a general strike forced King Leopold III to abdicate in 1951, since many Belgians felt he had collaborated with Germany during the war. [40] The Belgian Congo gained independence in 1960 during the Congo Crisis [41] Ruanda-Urundi followed with its independence two years later. Belgium joined NATO as a founding member and formed the Benelux group of nations with the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Belgium became one of the six founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 and of the European Atomic Energy Community and European Economic Community, established in 1957. The latter has now become the European Union, for which Belgium hosts major administrations and institutions, including the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and the extraordinary and committee sessions of the European Parliament.

In the early 1990s, Belgium saw several large corruption scandals notably surrounding Marc Dutroux, Andre Cools, the Dioxin Affair, Agusta Scandal and Murder of Karel Van Noppen.

Belgium shares borders with France ( 620 km ), Germany ( 167 km ), Luxembourg ( 148 km ) and the Netherlands ( 450 km ). Its total surface, including water area, is 30,689 km 2 (11,849 sq mi). Before 2018, its total area was believed to be 30,528 km 2 (11,787 sq mi). However, when the country's statistics were measured in 2018, a new calculation method was used. Unlike previous calculations, this one included the area from the coast to the low-water line, revealing the country to be 160 km 2 (62 sq mi) larger in surface area than previously thought. [42] [43] Its land area alone is 30,278 km 2 . [44] [ needs update ] It lies between latitudes 49°30' and 51°30' N, and longitudes 2°33' and 6°24' E. [45]

Belgium has three main geographical regions the coastal plain in the northwest and the central plateau both belong to the Anglo-Belgian Basin, and the Ardennes uplands in the southeast to the Hercynian orogenic belt. The Paris Basin reaches a small fourth area at Belgium's southernmost tip, Belgian Lorraine. [46]

The coastal plain consists mainly of sand dunes and polders. Further inland lies a smooth, slowly rising landscape irrigated by numerous waterways, with fertile valleys and the northeastern sandy plain of the Campine (Kempen). The thickly forested hills and plateaus of the Ardennes are more rugged and rocky with caves and small gorges. Extending westward into France, this area is eastwardly connected to the Eifel in Germany by the High Fens plateau, on which the Signal de Botrange forms the country's highest point at 694 m (2,277 ft). [47] [48]

The climate is maritime temperate with significant precipitation in all seasons (Köppen climate classification: Cfb), like most of northwest Europe. [49] The average temperature is lowest in January at 3 °C (37.4 °F) and highest in July at 18 °C (64.4 °F). The average precipitation per month varies between 54 mm (2.1 in) for February and April, to 78 mm (3.1 in) for July. [50] Averages for the years 2000 to 2006 show daily temperature minimums of 7 °C (44.6 °F) and maximums of 14 °C (57.2 °F) and monthly rainfall of 74 mm (2.9 in) these are about 1 °C and nearly 10 millimetres above last century's normal values, respectively. [51]

Phytogeographically, Belgium is shared between the Atlantic European and Central European provinces of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. [52] According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, the territory of Belgium belongs to the terrestrial ecoregions of Atlantic mixed forests and Western European broadleaf forests. [53] [54] Belgium had a 2018 Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 1.36/10, ranking it 163rd globally out of 172 countries. [55]


The territory of Belgium is divided into three Regions, two of which, the Flemish Region and Walloon Region, are in turn subdivided into provinces the third Region, the Brussels Capital Region, is neither a province nor a part of a province.

Province Dutch name French name German name Capital Area [3] Population
(1 January 2019) [5]
Density ISO 3166-2:BE
[ citation needed ]
Flemish Region
Antwerp Antwerpen Anvers Antwerpen Antwerp 2,876 km 2 (1,110 sq mi) 1,857,986 647/km 2 (1,680/sq mi) VAN
East Flanders Oost-Vlaanderen Flandre orientale Ostflandern Ghent 3,007 km 2 (1,161 sq mi) 1,515,064 504/km 2 (1,310/sq mi) VOV
Flemish Brabant Vlaams-Brabant Brabant flamand Flämisch-Brabant Leuven 2,118 km 2 (818 sq mi) 1,146,175 542/km 2 (1,400/sq mi) VBR
Limburg Limburg Limbourg Limburg Hasselt 2,427 km 2 (937 sq mi) 874,048 361/km 2 (930/sq mi) VLI
West Flanders West-Vlaanderen Flandre occidentale Westflandern Bruges 3,197 km 2 (1,234 sq mi) 1,195,796 375/km 2 (970/sq mi) VWV
Walloon Region
Hainaut Henegouwen Hainaut Hennegau Mons 3,813 km 2 (1,472 sq mi) 1,344,241 353/km 2 (910/sq mi) WHT
Liège Luik Liège Lüttich Liège 3,857 km 2 (1,489 sq mi) 1,106,992 288/km 2 (750/sq mi) WLG
Luxembourg Luxemburg Luxembourg Luxemburg Arlon 4,459 km 2 (1,722 sq mi) 284,638 64/km 2 (170/sq mi) WLX
Namur Namen Namur Namur (Namür) Namur 3,675 km 2 (1,419 sq mi) 494,325 135/km 2 (350/sq mi) WNA
Walloon Brabant Waals-Brabant Brabant wallon Wallonisch-Brabant Wavre 1,097 km 2 (424 sq mi) 403,599 368/km 2 (950/sq mi) WBR
Brussels Capital Region
Brussels Capital Region Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest Région de Bruxelles-Capitale Region Brüssel-Hauptstadt Brussels City 162.4 km 2 (62.7 sq mi) 1,208,542 7,442/km 2 (19,270/sq mi) BBR
Total België Belgique Belgien Brussels City 30,689 km 2 (11,849 sq mi) 11,431,406 373/km 2 (970/sq mi)

Belgium is a constitutional, popular monarchy and a federal parliamentary democracy. The bicameral federal parliament is composed of a Senate and a Chamber of Representatives. The former is made up of 50 senators appointed by the parliaments of the communities and regions and 10 co-opted senators. Prior to 2014, most of the Senate's members were directly elected. The Chamber's 150 representatives are elected under a proportional voting system from 11 electoral districts. Belgium has compulsory voting and thus maintains one of the highest rates of voter turnout in the world. [56]

The King (currently Philippe) is the head of state, though with limited prerogatives. He appoints ministers, including a Prime Minister, that have the confidence of the Chamber of Representatives to form the federal government. The Council of Ministers is composed of no more than fifteen members. With the possible exception of the Prime Minister, the Council of Ministers is composed of an equal number of Dutch-speaking members and French-speaking members. [57] The judicial system is based on civil law and originates from the Napoleonic code. The Court of Cassation is the court of last resort, with the courts of appeal one level below. [58]

Political culture

Belgium's political institutions are complex most political power is organized around the need to represent the main cultural communities. [59] Since about 1970, the significant national Belgian political parties have split into distinct components that mainly represent the political and linguistic interests of these communities. [60] The major parties in each community, though close to the political center, belong to three main groups: Christian Democrats, Liberals, and Social Democrats. [61] Further notable parties came into being well after the middle of last century, mainly around linguistic, nationalist, or environmental themes and recently smaller ones of some specific liberal nature. [60]

A string of Christian Democrat coalition governments from 1958 was broken in 1999 after the first dioxin crisis, a major food contamination scandal. [62] [63] [64] A "rainbow coalition" emerged from six parties: the Flemish and the French-speaking Liberals, Social Democrats and Greens. [65] Later, a "purple coalition" of Liberals and Social Democrats formed after the Greens lost most of their seats in the 2003 election. [66]

The government led by Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt from 1999 to 2007 achieved a balanced budget, some tax reforms, a labor-market reform, scheduled nuclear phase-out and instigated legislation allowing more stringent war crime and more lenient soft drug usage prosecution. Restrictions on withholding euthanasia were reduced and same-sex marriage legalized. The government promoted active diplomacy in Africa [67] and opposed the invasion of Iraq. [68] It is the only country that does not have age restrictions on euthanasia. [69]

Verhofstadt's coalition fared badly in the June 2007 elections. For more than a year, the country experienced a political crisis. [70] This crisis was such that many observers speculated on a possible partition of Belgium. [71] [72] [73] From 21 December 2007 until 20 March 2008 the temporary Verhofstadt III Government was in office. This coalition of the Flemish and Francophone Christian Democrats, the Flemish and Francophone Liberals together with the Francophone Social Democrats was an interim government until 20 March 2008. [74]

On that day a new government, led by Flemish Christian Democrat Yves Leterme, the actual winner of the federal elections of June 2007 , was sworn in by the king. On 15 July 2008 Leterme announced the resignation of the cabinet to the king, as no progress in constitutional reforms had been made. [74] In December 2008 he once more offered his resignation to the king after a crisis surrounding the sale of Fortis to BNP Paribas. [75] At this juncture, his resignation was accepted and Christian Democratic and Flemish Herman Van Rompuy was sworn in as Prime Minister on 30 December 2008. [76]

After Herman Van Rompuy was designated the first permanent President of the European Council on 19 November 2009, he offered the resignation of his government to King Albert II on 25 November 2009. A few hours later, the new government under Prime Minister Yves Leterme was sworn in. On 22 April 2010, Leterme again offered the resignation of his cabinet to the king [77] after one of the coalition partners, the OpenVLD, withdrew from the government, and on 26 April 2010 King Albert officially accepted the resignation. [78]

The Parliamentary elections in Belgium on 13 June 2010 saw the Flemish nationalist N-VA become the largest party in Flanders, and the Socialist Party PS the largest party in Wallonia. [79] Until December 2011, Belgium was governed by Leterme's caretaker government awaiting the end of the deadlocked negotiations for formation of a new government. By 30 March 2011 this set a new world record for the elapsed time without an official government, previously held by war-torn Iraq. [80] Finally, in December 2011 the Di Rupo Government led by Walloon socialist Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo was sworn in. [81]

The 2014 federal election (coinciding with the regional elections) resulted in a further electoral gain for the Flemish nationalist N-VA, although the incumbent coalition (composed of Flemish and French-speaking Social Democrats, Liberals, and Christian Democrats) maintains a solid majority in Parliament and in all electoral constituencies. On 22 July 2014, King Philippe nominated Charles Michel (MR) and Kris Peeters (CD&V) to lead the formation of a new federal cabinet composed of the Flemish parties N-VA, CD&V, Open Vld and the French-speaking MR, which resulted in the Michel Government. It was the first time N-VA was part of the federal cabinet, while the French-speaking side was represented only by the MR, which achieved a minority of the public votes in Wallonia. [82]

In May 2019 federal elections in the Flemish-speaking northern region of Flanders far-right Vlaams Belang party made major gains. In the French-speaking southern area of Wallonia the Socialists were strong. The moderate Flemish nationalist party the N-VA remained the largest party in parliament. [83] In July 2019 prime minister Charles Michel was selected to hold the post of President of the European Council. [84] His successor Sophie Wilmès was Belgium's first female prime minister. She led the caretaker government since October 2019. [85] The Flemish Liberal party politician Alexander De Croo became new prime minister in October 2020. The parties had agreed on federal government 16 months after the elections. [86]

Communities and regions

Following a usage which can be traced back to the Burgundian and Habsburg courts, [87] in the 19th century it was necessary to speak French to belong to the governing upper class, and those who could only speak Dutch were effectively second-class citizens. [88] Late that century, and continuing into the 20th century, Flemish movements evolved to counter this situation. [89]

While the people in Southern Belgium spoke French or dialects of French, and most Brusselers adopted French as their first language, the Flemings refused to do so and succeeded progressively in making Dutch an equal language in the education system. [89] Following World War II, Belgian politics became increasingly dominated by the autonomy of its two main linguistic communities. [90] Intercommunal tensions rose and the constitution was amended to minimize the potential for conflict. [90]

Based on the four language areas defined in 1962–63 (the Dutch, bilingual, French and German language areas), consecutive revisions of the country's constitution in 1970, 1980, 1988 and 1993 established a unique form of a federal state with segregated political power into three levels: [91] [92]

  1. The federal government, based in Brussels.
  2. The three language communities:
    • the Flemish Community (Dutch-speaking)
    • the French Community (French-speaking)
    • the German-speaking Community.
  3. The three regions:
    • the Flemish Region, subdivided into five provinces
    • the Walloon Region, subdivided into five provinces
    • the Brussels-Capital Region.

The constitutional language areas determine the official languages in their municipalities, as well as the geographical limits of the empowered institutions for specific matters. [93] Although this would allow for seven parliaments and governments when the Communities and Regions were created in 1980, Flemish politicians decided to merge both. [94] Thus the Flemings just have one single institutional body of parliament and government is empowered for all except federal and specific municipal matters. [B]

The overlapping boundaries of the Regions and Communities have created two notable peculiarities: the territory of the Brussels-Capital Region (which came into existence nearly a decade after the other regions) is included in both the Flemish and French Communities, and the territory of the German-speaking Community lies wholly within the Walloon Region. Conflicts about jurisdiction between the bodies are resolved by the Constitutional Court of Belgium. The structure is intended as a compromise to allow different cultures to live together peacefully. [16]

Locus of policy jurisdiction

The Federal State's authority includes justice, defense, federal police, social security, nuclear energy, monetary policy and public debt, and other aspects of public finances. State-owned companies include the Belgian Post Group and Belgian Railways. The Federal Government is responsible for the obligations of Belgium and its federalized institutions towards the European Union and NATO. It controls substantial parts of public health, home affairs and foreign affairs. [95] The budget—without the debt—controlled by the federal government amounts to about 50% of the national fiscal income. The federal government employs around 12% of the civil servants. [96]

Communities exercise their authority only within linguistically determined geographical boundaries, originally oriented towards the individuals of a Community's language: culture (including audiovisual media), education and the use of the relevant language. Extensions to personal matters less directly connected with language comprise health policy (curative and preventive medicine) and assistance to individuals (protection of youth, social welfare, aid to families, immigrant assistance services, and so on.). [97]

Regions have authority in fields that can be broadly associated with their territory. These include economy, employment, agriculture, water policy, housing, public works, energy, transport, the environment, town and country planning, nature conservation, credit and foreign trade. They supervise the provinces, municipalities and intercommunal utility companies. [98]

In several fields, the different levels each have their own say on specifics. With education, for instance, the autonomy of the Communities neither includes decisions about the compulsory aspect nor allows for setting minimum requirements for awarding qualifications, which remain federal matters. [95] Each level of government can be involved in scientific research and international relations associated with its powers. The treaty-making power of the Regions' and Communities' Governments is the broadest of all the Federating units of all the Federations all over the world. [99] [100] [101]

Foreign relations

Because of its location at the crossroads of Western Europe, Belgium has historically been the route of invading armies from its larger neighbors. With virtually defenseless borders, Belgium has traditionally sought to avoid domination by the more powerful nations which surround it through a policy of mediation. The Belgians have been strong advocates of European integration. Both the European Union and NATO are headquartered in Belgium.

Armed forces

The Belgian Armed Forces have about 47,000 active troops. In 2019, Belgium's defense budget totaled €4.303 billion ($4.921 billion) representing .93% of its GDP. [102] They are organized into one unified structure which consists of four main components: Land Component, or the Army Air Component, or the Air Force Marine Component, or the Navy Medical Component. The operational commands of the four components are subordinate to the Staff Department for Operations and Training of the Ministry of Defense, which is headed by the Assistant Chief of Staff Operations and Training, and to the Chief of Defense. [103]

The effects of the Second World War made collective security a priority for Belgian foreign policy. In March 1948 Belgium signed the Treaty of Brussels and then joined NATO in 1948. However, the integration of the armed forces into NATO did not begin until after the Korean War. [104] The Belgians, along with the Luxembourg government, sent a detachment of battalion strength to fight in Korea known as the Belgian United Nations Command. This mission was the first in a long line of UN missions which the Belgians supported. Currently, the Belgian Marine Component is working closely together with the Dutch Navy under the command of the Admiral Benelux.

Belgium's strongly globalized economy [105] and its transport infrastructure are integrated with the rest of Europe. Its location at the heart of a highly industrialized region helped make it the world's 15th largest trading nation in 2007. [106] [107] The economy is characterized by a highly productive work force, high GNP and high exports per capita. [108] Belgium's main imports are raw materials, machinery and equipment, chemicals, raw diamonds, pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, transportation equipment, and oil products. Its main exports are machinery and equipment, chemicals, finished diamonds, metals and metal products, and foodstuffs. [44]

The Belgian economy is heavily service-oriented and shows a dual nature: a dynamic Flemish economy and a Walloon economy that lags behind. [16] [109] [C] One of the founding members of the European Union, Belgium strongly supports an open economy and the extension of the powers of EU institutions to integrate member economies. Since 1922, through the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, Belgium and Luxembourg have been a single trade market with customs and currency union. [110]

Belgium was the first continental European country to undergo the Industrial Revolution, in the early 19th century. [111] Areas in Liège Province and around Charleroi rapidly developed mining and steelmaking, which flourished until the mid-20th century in the Sambre and Meuse valley and made Belgium one of the three most industrialized nations in the world from 1830 to 1910. [112] [113] However, by the 1840s the textile industry of Flanders was in severe crisis, and the region experienced famine from 1846 to 1850. [114] [115]

After World War II, Ghent and Antwerp experienced a rapid expansion of the chemical and petroleum industries. The 1973 and 1979 oil crises sent the economy into a recession it was particularly prolonged in Wallonia, where the steel industry had become less competitive and experienced a serious decline. [116] In the 1980s and 1990s, the economic center of the country continued to shift northwards and is now concentrated in the populous Flemish Diamond area. [117]

By the end of the 1980s, Belgian macroeconomic policies had resulted in a cumulative government debt of about 120% of GDP. As of 2006 [update] , the budget was balanced and public debt was equal to 90.30% of GDP. [118] In 2005 and 2006, real GDP growth rates of 1.5% and 3.0%, respectively, were slightly above the average for the Euro area. Unemployment rates of 8.4% in 2005 and 8.2% in 2006 were close to the area average. By October 2010 , this had grown to 8.5% compared to an average rate of 9.6% for the European Union as a whole (EU 27). [119] [120] From 1832 until 2002, Belgium's currency was the Belgian franc. Belgium switched to the euro in 2002, with the first sets of euro coins being minted in 1999. The standard Belgian euro coins designated for circulation show the portrait of the monarch (first King Albert II, since 2013 King Philippe).

Despite an 18% decrease observed from 1970 to 1999, Belgium still had in 1999 the highest rail network density within the European Union with 113.8 km/1 000 km 2 . On the other hand, the same period, 1970–1999, has seen a huge growth (+56%) of the motorway network. In 1999, the density of km motorways per 1000 km 2 and 1000 inhabitants amounted to 55.1 and 16.5 respectively and were significantly superior to the EU's means of 13.7 and 15.9. [121]

From a biological resource perspective, Belgium has a low endowment: Belgium's biocapacity adds up to only 0.8 global hectares in 2016, [122] just about half of the 1.6 global hectares of biocapacity available per person worldwide. [123] In contrast, in 2016, Belgians used on average 6.3 global hectares of biocapacity - their ecological footprint of consumption. This means they required about eight times as much biocapacity as Belgium contains. As a result, Belgium was running a biocapacity deficit of 5.5 global hectares per person in 2016. [122]

Belgium experiences some of the most congested traffic in Europe. In 2010, commuters to the cities of Brussels and Antwerp spent respectively 65 and 64 hours a year in traffic jams. [124] Like in most small European countries, more than 80% of the airways traffic is handled by a single airport, the Brussels Airport. The ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge (Bruges) share more than 80% of Belgian maritime traffic, Antwerp being the second European harbor with a gross weight of goods handled of 115 988 000 t in 2000 after a growth of 10.9% over the preceding five years. [121] [125] In 2016, the port of Antwerp handled 214 million tons after a year-on-year growth of 2.7%. [126]

There is a large economic gap between Flanders and Wallonia. Wallonia was historically wealthy compared to Flanders, mostly due to its heavy industries, but the decline of the steel industry post-World War II led to the region's rapid decline, whereas Flanders rose swiftly. Since then, Flanders has been prosperous, among the wealthiest regions in Europe, whereas Wallonia has been languishing. As of 2007, the unemployment rate of Wallonia is over double that of Flanders. The divide has played a key part in the tensions between the Flemish and Walloons in addition to the already-existing language divide. Pro-independence movements have gained high popularity in Flanders as a consequence. The separatist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) party, for instance, is the largest party in Belgium. [127] [128] [129]

Science and technology

Contributions to the development of science and technology have appeared throughout the country's history. The 16th century Early Modern flourishing of Western Europe included cartographer Gerardus Mercator, anatomist Andreas Vesalius, herbalist Rembert Dodoens [130] [131] [132] [133] and mathematician Simon Stevin among the most influential scientists. [134]

Chemist Ernest Solvay [135] and engineer Zenobe Gramme (École industrielle de Liège) [136] gave their names to the Solvay process and the Gramme dynamo, respectively, in the 1860s. Bakelite was developed in 1907–1909 by Leo Baekeland. Ernest Solvay also acted as a major philanthropist and gave its name to the Solvay Institute of Sociology, the Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management and the International Solvay Institutes for Physics and Chemistry which are now part of the Université libre de Bruxelles. In 1911, he started a series of conferences, the Solvay Conferences on Physics and Chemistry, which have had a deep impact on the evolution of quantum physics and chemistry. [137] A major contribution to fundamental science was also due to a Belgian, Monsignor Georges Lemaître (Catholic University of Louvain), who is credited with proposing the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe in 1927. [138]

Three Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine were awarded to Belgians: Jules Bordet (Université libre de Bruxelles) in 1919, Corneille Heymans (University of Ghent) in 1938 and Albert Claude (Université libre de Bruxelles) together with Christian de Duve (Université catholique de Louvain) in 1974. François Englert (Université libre de Bruxelles) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013. Ilya Prigogine (Université libre de Bruxelles) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1977. [139] Two Belgian mathematicians have been awarded the Fields Medal: Pierre Deligne in 1978 and Jean Bourgain in 1994. [140] [141]

As of 1 January 2020, the total population of Belgium according to its population register was 11,492,641. [5] The population density of Belgium is 376/km 2 (970/sq mi) as of January 2019, making it the 22nd most densely populated country in the world, and the 6th most densely populated country in Europe. The most densely populated province is Antwerp, the least densely populated province is Luxembourg. As of January 2019, the Flemish Region had a population of 6,589,069 (57.6% of Belgium), its most populous cities being Antwerp (523,248), Ghent (260,341) and Bruges (118,284). Wallonia had a population of 3,633,795 (31.8% of Belgium) with Charleroi (201,816), Liège (197,355) and Namur (110,939), its most populous cities. The Brussels-Capital Region has 1,208,542 inhabitants (10.6% of Belgium) in the 19 municipalities, three of which have over 100,000 residents. [5]

In 2017 the average total fertility rate (TFR) across Belgium was 1.64 children per woman, below the replacement rate of 2.1, it remains considerably below the high of 4.87 children born per woman in 1873. [142] Belgium subsequently has one of the oldest populations in the world, with the average age of 41.6 years. [143]


As of 2007 [update] , nearly 92% of the population had Belgian citizenship, [144] and other European Union member citizens account for around 6%. The prevalent foreign nationals were Italian (171,918), French (125,061), Dutch (116,970), Moroccan (80,579), Portuguese (43,509), Spanish (42,765), Turkish (39,419) and German (37,621). [145] [146] In 2007, there were 1.38 million foreign-born residents in Belgium, corresponding to 12.9% of the total population. Of these, 685,000 (6.4%) were born outside the EU and 695,000 (6.5%) were born in another EU Member State. [147] [148]

At the beginning of 2012, people of foreign background and their descendants were estimated to have formed around 25% of the total population i.e. 2.8 million new Belgians. [149] Of these new Belgians, 1,200,000 are of European ancestry and 1,350,000 [150] are from non-Western countries (most of them from Morocco, Turkey, and the DR Congo). Since the modification of the Belgian nationality law in 1984 more than 1.3 million migrants have acquired Belgian citizenship. The largest group of immigrants and their descendants in Belgium are Moroccans. [151] 89.2% of inhabitants of Turkish origin have been naturalized, as have 88.4% of people of Moroccan background, 75.4% of Italians, 56.2% of the French and 47.8% of Dutch people. [150]


Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French and German. A number of non-official minority languages are spoken as well. [152] As no census exists, there are no official statistical data regarding the distribution or usage of Belgium's three official languages or their dialects. [153] However, various criteria, including the language(s) of parents, of education, or the second-language status of foreign born, may provide suggested figures. An estimated 60% of the Belgian population are native speakers of Dutch (often referred to as Flemish), and 40% of the population speaks French natively. French-speaking Belgians are often referred to as Walloons, although the French speakers in Brussels are not Walloons. [D]

The total number of native Dutch speakers is estimated to be about 6.23 million, concentrated in the northern Flanders region, while native French speakers number 3.32 million in Wallonia and an estimated 870,000 (or 85%) in the officially bilingual Brussels-Capital Region. [E] [154] The German-speaking Community is made up of 73,000 people in the east of the Walloon Region around 10,000 German and 60,000 Belgian nationals are speakers of German. Roughly 23,000 more German speakers live in municipalities near the official Community. [155] [156] [157] [158]

Both Belgian Dutch and Belgian French have minor differences in vocabulary and semantic nuances from the varieties spoken respectively in the Netherlands and France. Many Flemish people still speak dialects of Dutch in their local environment. Walloon, considered either as a dialect of French or a distinct Romance language, [159] [160] is now only understood and spoken occasionally, mostly by elderly people. Walloon is divided into four dialects, which along with those of Picard, [161] are rarely used in public life and have largely been replaced by French.


Since the country's independence, Roman Catholicism has had an important role in Belgium's politics. [162] However Belgium is largely a secular country as the constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects this right in practice. During the reigns of Albert I and Baudouin, the Belgian royal family had a reputation of deeply rooted Catholicism. [163]

Roman Catholicism has traditionally been Belgium's majority religion being especially strong in Flanders. However, by 2009 Sunday church attendance was 5% for Belgium in total 3% in Brussels, [164] and 5.4% in Flanders. Church attendance in 2009 in Belgium was roughly half of the Sunday church attendance in 1998 (11% for the total of Belgium in 1998). [165] Despite the drop in church attendance, Catholic identity nevertheless remains an important part of Belgium's culture. [163]

According to the Eurobarometer 2010, [166] 37% of Belgian citizens responded that they believe there is a God. 31% answered that they believe there is some sort of spirit or life-force. 27% answered that they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life-force. 5% did not respond. According to the Eurobarometer 2015, 60.7% of the total population of Belgium adhered to Christianity, with Roman Catholicism being the largest denomination with 52.9%. Protestants comprised 2.1% and Orthodox Christians were the 1.6% of the total. Non-religious people comprised 32.0% of the population and were divided between atheists (14.9%) and agnostics (17.1%). A further 5.2% of the population was Muslim and 2.1% were believers in other religions. [167] The same survey held in 2012 found that Christianity was the largest religion in Belgium, accounting for 65% of Belgians. [168]

Symbolically and materially, the Roman Catholic Church remains in a favorable position. [163] Belgium officially recognizes three religions: Christianity (Catholic, Protestantism, Orthodox churches and Anglicanism), Islam and Judaism. [169]

In the early 2000s, there were approximately 42,000 Jews in Belgium. The Jewish Community of Antwerp (numbering some 18,000) is one of the largest in Europe, and one of the last places in the world where Yiddish is the primary language of a large Jewish community (mirroring certain Orthodox and Hasidic communities in New York, New Jersey, and Israel). In addition, most Jewish children in Antwerp receive a Jewish education. [170] There are several Jewish newspapers and more than 45 active synagogues (30 of which are in Antwerp) in the country. A 2006 inquiry in Flanders, considered to be a more religious region than Wallonia, showed that 55% considered themselves religious and that 36% believed that God created the universe. [171] On the other hand, Wallonia has become one of Europe's most secular/least religious regions. Most of the French-speaking region's population does not consider religion an important part of their lives, and as much as 45% of the population identifies as irreligious. This is particularly the case in eastern Wallonia and areas along the French border.

A 2008 estimate found that approximately 6% of the Belgian population (628,751 people) is Muslim. Muslims constitute 23.6% of the population of Brussels, 4.9% of Wallonia and 5.1% of Flanders. The majority of Belgian Muslims live in the major cities, such as Antwerp, Brussels and Charleroi. The largest group of immigrants in Belgium are Moroccans, with 400,000 people. The Turks are the third largest group, and the second largest Muslim ethnic group, numbering 220,000. [151] [172]


The Belgians enjoy good health. According to 2012 estimates, the average life expectancy is 79.65 years. [44] Since 1960, life expectancy has, in line with the European average, grown by two months per year. Death in Belgium is mainly due to heart and vascular disorders, neoplasms, disorders of the respiratory system and unnatural causes of death (accidents, suicide). Non-natural causes of death and cancer are the most common causes of death for females up to age 24 and males up to age 44. [173]

Healthcare in Belgium is financed through both social security contributions and taxation. Health insurance is compulsory. Health care is delivered by a mixed public and private system of independent medical practitioners and public, university and semi-private hospitals. Health care service are payable by the patient and reimbursed later by health insurance institutions, but for ineligible categories (of patients and services) so-called 3rd party payment systems exist. [173] The Belgian health care system is supervised and financed by the federal government, the Flemish and Walloon Regional governments and the German Community also has (indirect) oversight and responsibilities. [173]

For the first time in Belgian history, the first child was euthanized following the 2-year mark of the removal of the euthanization age restrictions. The child had been euthanized due to an incurable disease that was inflicted upon the child. Although there may have been some support for the euthanization there is a possibility of controversy due to the issue revolving around the subject of assisted suicide. [174] [175] Excluding assisted suicide, Belgium has the highest suicide rate in Western Europe and one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world (exceeded only by Lithuania, South Korea, and Latvia). [176]


Education is compulsory from 6 to 18 years of age for Belgians. [177] Among OECD countries in 2002, Belgium had the third highest proportion of 18- to 21-year-olds enrolled in postsecondary education, at 42%. [178] Though an estimated 99% of the adult population is literate, concern is rising over functional illiteracy. [161] [179] The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), coordinated by the OECD, currently ranks Belgium's education as the 19th best in the world, being significantly higher than the OECD average. [180] Education being organized separately by each, the Flemish Community scores noticeably above the French and German-speaking Communities. [181]

Mirroring the dual structure of the 19th-century Belgian political landscape, characterized by the Liberal and the Catholic parties, the educational system is segregated within a secular and a religious segment. The secular branch of schooling is controlled by the communities, the provinces, or the municipalities, while religious, mainly Catholic branch education, is organized by religious authorities, although subsidized and supervised by the communities. [182]

Despite its political and linguistic divisions, the region corresponding to today's Belgium has seen the flourishing of major artistic movements that have had tremendous influence on European art and culture. Nowadays, to a certain extent, cultural life is concentrated within each language Community, and a variety of barriers have made a shared cultural sphere less pronounced. [16] [183] [184] Since the 1970s, there are no bilingual universities or colleges in the country except the Royal Military Academy and the Antwerp Maritime Academy. [185]

Fine arts

Contributions to painting and architecture have been especially rich. The Mosan art, the Early Netherlandish, [186] the Flemish Renaissance and Baroque painting [187] and major examples of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture [188] are milestones in the history of art. While the 15th century's art in the Low Countries is dominated by the religious paintings of Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, the 16th century is characterized by a broader panel of styles such as Peter Breughel's landscape paintings and Lambert Lombard's representation of the antique. [189] Though the Baroque style of Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck flourished in the early 17th century in the Southern Netherlands, [190] it gradually declined thereafter. [191] [192]

During the 19th and 20th centuries many original romantic, expressionist and surrealist Belgian painters emerged, including James Ensor and other artists belonging to the Les XX group, Constant Permeke, Paul Delvaux and René Magritte. The avant-garde CoBrA movement appeared in the 1950s, while the sculptor Panamarenko remains a remarkable figure in contemporary art. [193] [194] Multidisciplinary artists Jan Fabre, Wim Delvoye and the painter Luc Tuymans are other internationally renowned figures on the contemporary art scene.

Belgian contributions to architecture also continued into the 19th and 20th centuries, including the work of Victor Horta and Henry van de Velde, who were major initiators of the Art Nouveau style. [195] [196]

The vocal music of the Franco-Flemish School developed in the southern part of the Low Countries and was an important contribution to Renaissance culture. [197] In the 19th and 20th centuries, there was an emergence of major violinists, such as Henri Vieuxtemps, Eugène Ysaÿe and Arthur Grumiaux, while Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone in 1846. The composer César Franck was born in Liège in 1822. Contemporary popular music in Belgium is also of repute. Jazz musician Toots Thielemans and singer Jacques Brel have achieved global fame. Nowadays, singer Stromae has been a musical revelation in Europe and beyond, having great success. In rock/pop music, Telex, Front 242, K's Choice, Hooverphonic, Zap Mama, Soulwax and dEUS are well known. In the heavy metal scene, bands like Machiavel, Channel Zero and Enthroned have a worldwide fan-base. [198]

Belgium has produced several well-known authors, including the poets Emile Verhaeren, Guido Gezelle, Robert Goffin and novelists Hendrik Conscience, Stijn Streuvels, Georges Simenon, Suzanne Lilar, Hugo Claus and Amélie Nothomb. The poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1911. The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé is the best known of Franco-Belgian comics, but many other major authors, including Peyo (The Smurfs), André Franquin (Gaston Lagaffe), Dupa (Cubitus), Morris (Lucky Luke), Greg (Achille Talon), Lambil (Les Tuniques Bleues), Edgar P. Jacobs and Willy Vandersteen brought the Belgian cartoon strip industry a worldwide fame. [199] Additionally, famous crime author Agatha Christie created the character Hercule Poirot, a Belgian detective, who has served as a protagonist in a number of her acclaimed mystery novels.

Belgian cinema has brought a number of mainly Flemish novels to life on-screen. [F] Other Belgian directors include André Delvaux, Stijn Coninx, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne well-known actors include Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jan Decleir and Marie Gillain and successful films include Bullhead, Man Bites Dog and The Alzheimer Affair. [200] Belgium is also home to a number of successful fashion designers Category:Belgian fashion designers. For instance, in the 1980s, Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts produced important fashion trendsetters, known as the Antwerp Six. [201]


Folklore plays a major role in Belgium's cultural life: the country has a comparatively high number of processions, cavalcades, parades, 'ommegangs' and 'ducasses', [G] 'kermesse' and other local festivals, nearly always with an originally religious or mythological background. The Carnival of Binche with its famous Gilles and the 'Processional Giants and Dragons' of Ath, Brussels, Dendermonde, Mechelen and Mons are recognized by UNESCO as Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. [202]

Other examples are the Carnival of Aalst the still very religious processions of the Holy Blood in Bruges, Virga Jesse Basilica in Hasselt and Basilica of Our Lady of Hanswijk in Mechelen 15 August festival in Liège and the Walloon festival in Namur. Originated in 1832 and revived in the 1960s, the Gentse Feesten have become a modern tradition. A major non-official holiday is the Saint Nicholas Day, a festivity for children and, in Liège, for students. [203]


Many highly ranked Belgian restaurants can be found in the most influential restaurant guides, such as the Michelin Guide. [204] Belgium is famous for beer, chocolate, waffles and french fries with mayonnaise. Contrary to their name, french fries are claimed to have originated in Belgium, although their exact place of origin is uncertain. The national dishes are "steak and fries with salad", and "mussels with fries". [205] [206] [207] [H]

Brands of Belgian chocolate and pralines, like Côte d'Or, Neuhaus, Leonidas and Godiva are famous, as well as independent producers such as Burie and Del Rey in Antwerp and Mary's in Brussels. [208] Belgium produces over 1100 varieties of beer. [209] [210] The Trappist beer of the Abbey of Westvleteren has repeatedly been rated the world's best beer. [211] [212] [213] The biggest brewer in the world by volume is Anheuser-Busch InBev, based in Leuven. [214]


Since the 1970s, sports clubs and federations are organized separately within each language community. [215] Association football is the most popular sport in both parts of Belgium also very popular are cycling, tennis, swimming, judo [216] and basketball. [217]

Belgians hold the most Tour de France victories of any country except France. They have also the most victories on the UCI Road World Championships. Philippe Gilbert is the 2012 world champion. Another modern well-known Belgian cyclist is Tom Boonen. With five victories in the Tour de France and numerous other cycling records, Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx is regarded as one of the greatest cyclists of all time. [218] Jean-Marie Pfaff, a former Belgian goalkeeper, is considered one of the greatest in the history of association football. [219]

Belgium hosted the 1972 European Football Championships, and co-hosted the 2000 European Championships with the Netherlands. The Belgium national football team reached first place in the FIFA World Rankings for the first time in November 2015. [220]

Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin both were Player of the Year in the Women's Tennis Association as they were ranked the number one female tennis player. The Spa-Francorchamps motor-racing circuit hosts the Formula One World Championship Belgian Grand Prix. The Belgian driver, Jacky Ickx, won eight Grands Prix and six 24 Hours of Le Mans and finished twice as runner-up in the Formula One World Championship. Belgium also has a strong reputation in, motocross with the riders Joël Robert, Roger De Coster, Georges Jobé, Eric Geboers and Stefan Everts among others. [221] Sporting events annually held in Belgium include the Memorial Van Damme athletics competition, the Belgian Grand Prix Formula One, and a number of classic cycle races such as the Tour of Flanders and Liège–Bastogne–Liège. The 1920 Summer Olympics were held in Antwerp. The 1977 European Basketball Championship was held in Liège and Ostend.

A history of great cathedrals that have been lost to fire and war

The fire that engulfed Notre Dame in Paris on Monday, severely damaging a building that had stood for more than eight centuries, felt unprecedented. And in one sense, it was: How else can one describe the gutting of a building that stood witness to so much of Western European history?

But in another sense, Notre Dame is one in a long line of cathedrals that have been ravaged by fire or war.

Old St. Paul’s, London, 1135-1666

Construction began on Old St. Paul’s Cathedral in London (actually the fourth attempt at a church named for Paul in that spot, the previous three having been destroyed) in 1087, the same year much of the city was devastated by fire, and was delayed by a blaze in 1135.

It was then destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666, at which point the old structure was razed in favor of the new St. Paul’s, which still stands today.

St. Martin’s, Utrecht, 1253

St. Martin’s was established by Frankish clergy around 630. It was destroyed by Normans in the 9th century, rebuilt in the 10th — and then partially destroyed by fire in 1253.

The cathedral in all its Gothic glory that exists today was put up in 1254. (That isn’t to say the building was never tested again. Seven centuries later, in 1964, the central nave collapsed because of a storm.)

Notre Dame, Reims, World War I

In 1914, during World War I, more than two dozen German shells hit this cathedral. The wooden scaffolding was set on fire, which in turn lit the oak of the roof. The lead used to seal the roof melted, which in turn set the wooden pews on fire. Stained-glass windows and pillars and statuary were destroyed.

The building was hit again in 1917 and 1918.

Reims was restored and fully reopened in 1938.

Santa Maria Del Mar, Barcelona, 1936

In the late 14th century, the bishop of Barcelona, Pere Planella, consecrated this cathedral. While the basilica withstood different kinds of turmoil through the ages, nothing, per the cathedral’s website, quite compares to July 1936, when Santa Maria Del Mar was set on fire. It burned for 11 days straight.

The baroque altar, among other images and archives of historical significance, were destroyed. However, the walls, columns and some of the stained-glass windows managed to outlast the flames.

Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, World War II

The Cologne Cathedral was tested by multiple wars. In 1794, the Rhineland was occupied by French Revolution troops. The cathedral was used for, among other things, a detention center for prisoners of war. In 1797 and 1798, prisoners used the nave’s wood furnishings for firewood. It wasn’t until 1821 that the Archdiocese of Cologne was reestablished (although the building was used as a parish church beginning in 1801). Nevertheless, the two towers of the cathedral were completed in the 1860s and ’70s.

But the dark days for the cathedral were not over. During World War II, it was damaged by 14 high-explosive bombs and 70 fire bombs. But the medieval windows were removed in time, and other treasured items were protected by sandbags. What’s more, the cathedral workshop managed to restore the choir and transept in time for the 700th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone — that is, by 1948.

St. Mel’s Cathedral in Ireland was built in the 19th century. However, as the result of an accidental fire, it burned on Christmas Day in 2009. Five years later, in 2014, it reopened.

This document was written by Stephen Tonge. I am most grateful to have his kind permission to include it on the web site.

Europe Before 1914: the Main Powers

Triple Entente

Tsar Nicholas II (1894-1917)

Triple Alliance

The direct cause of WWI was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. However historians feel that a number of factors contributed to the rivalry between the Great powers that allowed war on such a wide-scale to break out.

A major historical debate still rages about who has the ultimate responsibility for the outbreak of war. Germany and Austria are usually regarded as the main culprits. However unlike World War Two there is no one easily identifiable bad guy!

Below are some of the main long-term causes that are identified by historians:-

The System of Alliances

Before 1914 Europe's main powers were divided into two armed camps by a series of alliances. These were

  • The Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy (1882)
  • The Triple Entente of Britain, Russia and France (1907)

Although these alliances were defensive in nature, they meant that any conflict between one country from each alliance was bound to involve the other countries. The fact that Germany faced a war on two fronts greatly influenced her actions during the July Crisis.

By 1914 Italy was only a nominal member of the Triple Alliance. She had concluded a secret treaty with France by which she promised to stay neutral if Germany attacked France and when war broke out she stayed out. This meant that Germany had only one dependable ally, Austria-Hungary.

The main rivalries between the powers were:

  • Germany and France over Alsace. This division made an alliance between both countries impossible.
  • Russia and Austria over the Balkans.
  • Britain and Germany over their navies and economic power.

“The alliances created an excessively rigid diplomatic framework, within which relatively small detonators could produce huge explosions” (A.J.P. Taylor)


In all of the Great powers, military spending increased greatly in the years prior to the war. All except Britain had conscription. Over 85% of men of military age in France and 50% in Germany had served in the army or navy. France had the highest proportion of its population in the army.

The armies of both France and Germany had more than doubled between 1870 and 1914. The rivalry between the powers led to a building up of weapons and an increase in distrust.

Colonial rivalry had led to a naval arms race between Britain and Germany. This had seriously worsened relations between both countries. The British-German dispute also led to greater naval co-operation between Britain and France.

In 1880 Germany had 88.000 tonnes of military shipping, Britain 650,000 by 1910 the figures were 964,000 and 2,174,000 respectively.

The launch of HMS Dreadnought in 1906 made matters worse. This ship was fast, heavily armoured with powerful guns and it made all previous battleships obsolete.


Allied to this growing militarism was an intense nationalism in most of the Great powers. Weltpolitik or the desire for world power status was very popular in Germany. The French desire for revenge over Alsace and Lorraine was very strong. In Britain Imperialism and support for the Empire was very evident. This nationalism meant that there was little resistance to war in these countries. Many welcomed what they thought would be a short, victorious war. For example the outbreak of war was greeted by cheering crowds in Berlin, Vienna and Paris. As A P J Taylor wrote “the people of Europe leapt willingly into war.”

Because of the nature of the Alliances most countries had war plans that involved rapid movement of troops when war broke out. This made it very difficult to stop mobilisation of troops once it had begun and gave the military in each country a very important role in any decision-making. For example the Kaiser lost control of events and said to his generals when they made the decision to mobilise "Gentlemen, you will regret this."

The famous German war plan, the Schlieffen Plan, relied on the quick movement of troops and the assumption that once Germany found itself at war with Russia, it would also be at war with France.

  • Concentrating German forces on an attempt to take Paris and so defeat France.
  • When that was achieved troops would be transferred to attack Russia. This is the most famous plan as it came very close to success.

It also meant that once Germany declared war on Russia in August 1914, she would also have to attack France. However in invading France, Belgium's neutrality was violated and this brought Britain into the war.

France had her own plan called Plan XVII (which Niall Ferguson described as “mad strategy”) and so also did Russia (Plan G) and Austria-Hungary (Plans R and B).

All of these plans assumed the co-operation of their respective allies.

Once the first steps towards mobilisation were taken, everyone assumed that it would be fatal to stand still while their potential enemies moved forward.

The Crises before 1914

Between 1900 and 1914 there had been three major crises between the great powers. These crises exposed the differences between the powers and reinforced the hostility between them.

Two were over Morocco (1905, 1911) and the other was over the Austrian annexation of Bosnia (1908).

In 1905 Kaiser Wilhelm II visited the Moroccan port of Tangier and denounced French influence in Morocco. The move was designed to test the strength of the recent Anglo-French entente. The visit provoked an international crisis, which was resolved in France's favour at the Algeciras Conference, 1906.

The result was to bring France and Britain closer together. Edward VII called the German actions "the most mischievous and uncalled for event which the German Emperor has been engaged in since he came to the throne."

This crisis erupted when the Germans sent the gunboat "Panther" to the Moroccan port of Agadir, to protect German citizens there. Germany claimed that the French had ignored the terms of the Algeciras Conference. This provoked a major war scare in Britain until the Germans agreed to leave Morocco to the French in return for rights in the Congo. Many Germans felt that they had been humiliated and that their government had backed down.

The two Turkish provinces had been administered by Austria since the Congress of Berlin. Austria annexed Bosnia after tricking Russia during negotiations between their respective foreign ministers. The action outraged Serbia as there was a large Serbian population in Bosnia. There was a crisis among the Great powers and it brought Europe to the brink of war. Russia bowed to German pressure when they supported Austria and they agreed to the annexation. However she was determined not to be humiliated again.

The effects of these crises had been a hardening of attitudes and an increase in distrust between the different European powers. It led to a strengthening of the different alliances:

  • Britain and France during the Moroccan Crises
  • Austria and Germany during the Bosnian crisis.

The Eastern Question and The Balkans

Throughout the 19th and early 20th century the Ottoman Empire had lost land in the Balkans to the peoples who lived there.
The great powers were also interested in extending their influence in the region. Austrian and Russian relations were poor over their rivalry in the Balkans.

Both hoped to expand there at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. Another important factor was the growth of Slav nationalism among the people who lived there, especially Serbia.

Russia encouraged Slav nationalism while Austria worried that this nationalism could undermine her empire. Russia supported Serbia which was very bitter at the annexation of Bosnia and saw herself as Serbia’s protector.

As a result of the Balkan Wars (1912 - 1913) Serbia had doubled in size and there was growing demands for the union of south Slavs (Yugoslavism) under the leadership of Serbia. Austria had a large south Slav population in the provinces of Slovenia, Croatia, the Banat and Bosnia. Austria was very alarmed at the growing power of Serbia. She felt Serbia could weaken her own Empire.

The Austrians decided that they would have to wage a preventative war against Serbia in order to destroy her growing power. They were waiting for the correct pretext (excuse).When Franz Ferdinand was shot the Austrians saw this as the perfect opportunity to destroy Serbia. But when she attacked Serbia, Russia came to her aid and the war spread.

Domestic issues

Modern historians have drawn attention to the influence of internal politics on the actions of the Great Powers. Socialism had become a very popular political creed in Germany, Austria, Russia Italy and France.

The ruling class in some of these countries hoped that a short victorious war would put an end to class differences and reduce the support for socialism that threatened the existing order.

Other domestic issues that the war drew attention from were:

  • It defused the near civil war situation in Ireland “The one bright spot in this hateful war” (Asquith).
  • The crisis over income tax and the length of military service (France)
  • The unpopularity of the Tsar (Russia).

Underlying the assumptions of all the Great Powers during the July Crisis was the belief that if war did break out it would be a short one. Many in Britain felt that the war would be over by Christmas.

Few predicted the bloodiest war so far seen in history that would lead to:

  • The abdication of the Tsar and a Communist revolution in Russia
  • The fall of the Kaiser's regime in Germany
  • The collapse of Austria-Hungary
  • The end of the Turkish Empire.

Main Events of "The July Crisis"

Mobilisation: preparing the army for war.

Austria presented Serbia with an ultimatum and she was given 48 hours to reply. Although the text was approved on the July 19 it was decided to delay its presentation until the state visit of the French President and Prime Minister to Russia was finished. This was done to prevent the French and Russians from co-ordinating their response. It was presented when the French delegation had left Russia and was at sea.

The Serbs agreed to all of the Austrian demands bar one. The Austrians were so surprised by the humility of the Serbian reply that the foreign minister hid it for 2 days from the Germans. The Kaiser commented that the reply was “a great moral victory for Vienna, but with it, every reason for war disappears."

It must be remembered that once the military machine mobilised the generals took over from the diplomats. James Joll wrote “once the Russians had mobilised the military machine took over from the diplomats.

In German military thinking, once she was at war with Russia, war with France was unavoidable. The Schlieffen plan now came into operation. This involved a concentration of German forces on an attack on France. Delay could be fatal.

Britain declared war on Germany.

World War One had begun.

Lloyd George later remarked that at this time Europe “stumbled and staggered into war”

Leaving Cert Questions: The Causes of World War One

2003 / 1993 “The Causes of World War I were many and complex” Discuss

  • The system of Alliances
  • Militarism / War Plans
  • The Balkans
  • The influence of the different crises prior to 1914 on Great Power relations
  • Domestic Issues (e.g. Home Rule Crisis in Ireland)
  • The July Crisis

1998 Treat as the causes of World War I 1914-1918


Excellent website dedicated to the First World War.
Article from the BBC history website about the causes of the War. Excellent links to other articles about the war.
Student oriented website from the National Archives in Britain.
Very informative micro site from Channel 4.

These materials may be freely used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances and distribution to students.
Re-publication in any form is subject to written permission.

125 years, A Timeline

From humble beginnings in 1891, we have helped pioneer the Malaysia’s oil and gas industry for 125 years.

Shell commenced operations in Malaysia as “Marcus Samuel & Company” setting up oil storage depots at various Straits Settlements ports.

Shell discovers Malaysia's first oil well on Canada Hill in Miri, Sarawak. “Miri No. 1” was spudded on 10 August, and began producing 83 barrels per day in December. Today, a state monument known as “The Grand Old Lady”.

Shell built Malaysia's first oil refinery in Miri. Shell also laid a submarine pipeline in Miri, an innovation breakthrough for transporting crude to tankers at that time.

First petrol pump installed at Foch Avenue, Kuala Lumpur

The first Shell Traffic Games is held, kicking off over five decades of road safety education among school children.

Orient Explorer, the first mobile drilling rig ever used in Malaysia, arrived in Sarawak and began exploring off Baram Point. This led to the discovery of Sarawak's first offshore field, Baram, in 1963.

The first Single Buoy Mooring is installed offshore Miri.

Shell began operating its refinery in Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan.

Shell’s West Lutong oilfield became Malaysia’s first oil producing offshore field

First oil discovery offshore Sabah at Erb West

PETRONAS incorporated under Petroleum Dev Act

1st 2 PSC’s signed with PETRONAS for offshore Sarawak & Sabah

Malaysia shipped first LNG shipment to Japan, by Malaysia LNG - a partnership among PETRONAS, Shell and Mitsubishi.

Shell launched Helix motor oil in Malaysia

Shell Formula diesel launched in Malaysia

Shell Middle Distillate Synthesis (SMDS) plant commissioned, world’s first commercial gas to liquids plant of its kind. Expertise developed here will eventually be sent to help develop Pearl, the world’s largest GTL plant in Qatar.

Inauguration of Shell shared services in Cyberjaya.

Shell Fuel Economy Formula and Shell V-Power Racing launched in Malaysia. Shell V-Power Racing is Malaysia’s only differentiated fuel product nationwide.

Shell Malaysia Sustainable Development Grant programme launched to accelerate the country’s sustainable development progress

Shell V-Power 97 launched in Malaysia

Shell Malaysia hosted inaugural Shell Eco-marathon Asia in Sepang

Shell Business Service Centre (SBSC) upgraded to new green office in Cyberjaya second largest of six global business service centres supporting more than 90 countries.

Gumusut-Kakap, Shell’s first deepwater project in Malaysia, commenced production.

Shell MDS expanded Solid Wax Plant products marketed in more than 50 countries worldwide.

Shell Malaysia launched Asia Pacific Wells Learning Hub in Miri, Sarawak. It is the first of its kind in Asia Pacific and Shell’s third globally.

Shell Malaysia Safety Awards launched to promote industry-wide safety leadership culture.

Shell Malaysia & PDRM Launch 'Go-to-Safety-Point' at Shell stations nationwide to provide temporary help for emergency victims.

Shell Helix Ultra with PurePlus technology launched in Malaysia, based on GTL technology that was developed in SMDS

Shell Malaysia officiated its new offices in Menara Shell, Kuala Lumpur

Malikai Deepwater Project completed record-breaking superlift milestone

Shell Malaysia launched new offices in Plaza Shell, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Shell debuts #ShellSelamatSampai Road Safety programme for students and community.

Pilipinas Shell traces its roots to Asiatic Petroleum Company (Philippine Islands), Ltd. which opened for business in the Philippines and began to import and sell motor gasoline and kerosene in 1914. Asiatic Petroleum Company (Philippine Islands) Ltd. was renamed The Shell Company of the Philippine Islands, Ltd. in the 1940s.

In 1959, Pilipinas Shell was incorporated under the name The Shell Refining Company (Philippines), Inc. in compliance with the then required percentage of Filipino ownership (25%) in large industrial ventures. In 1970, Pilipinas Shell was renamed Shell Philippines, Inc. and was later renamed Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corporation in 1973.

In 1976, Meralco Securities Corporation acquired 25% stake in the Company resulting in the Company being 50% owned.

In February 1987, the Filipino ownership in the Company decreased to 33.33% after a share buyback by the Company of Meralco Securities Corporation’s stake in the Company. In August 2015, the Filipino ownership in the Company decreased to 31.82% following the issuance of additional shares pursuant to a stock rights offering.

Certain key dates and milestones for Pilipinas Shell’s business are set forth below.

The Company began the construction of a crude oil refinery in Tabangao, Batangas.

The Tabangao Refinery commenced commercial operations with a nameplate capacity of 30,000 bpd.

The Company began to partner with the Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc. or the PSFI on programs relating to (i) healthcare and services, sanitation, and safety, (ii) technical, vocational and agricultural skills development, training and employment, (iii) livelihood and entrepreneurship development, (iv) leadership enhancement and attitude development, and (v) environmental stewardship.

The Company commenced the construction of a bigger and more modern Tabangao Refinery. The primary purpose of the construction was to replace two crude distillers built in 1960.

The nameplate capacity of the Tabangao Refinery increased to 110,000 bpd.

The Shell Philippine Petroleum Corporation (“SPPC”), the Philippines only lube oil refinery, was merged with and absorbed by the Company. SPPC was formerly the Philippine Petroleum Corporation, the majority stake of which was acquired by the Shell Group in 1986.

The Company opened a bitumen storage and distribution facility in Villanueva, Misamis Oriental.

The Company inaugurated its Bitumen Solutions Center at the Tabangao Refinery.

The Tabangao Refinery celebrated its 50 th year.

The Company launched three new premium performance fuels, namely, Shell V-Power Nitro + Gasoline, Shell V-Power Nitro + Racing and Shell V-Power Nitro + Diesel.

The Company began the construction of the North Mindanao Import Facility (“NMIF”).

The Company completed the upgrade of the Tabangao Refinery.

The NMIF commenced commercial operations by sending out its first shipment.

Shelled Buildings at Moelingen, 1914 - History

Click on image above to view the 1965 publication

Feb. 5, 1919 article on S. Kirk & Son

From the Maryland Historical Society

In 1861 Samuel Kirk’s sons joined him and their brother in the business. In 1868 the two younger brothers left the firm. This partial receipt shows the name of one brother marked out and the second S in Sons struck out. Since this is only a section of the receipt one must imagine that the other brothers name, missing here was struck out too.

The Established 1817 date is wrong here. the firm was actually formed in 1815. The error was discovered in the early twentieth century when someone took the time to read S. Kirk’s early ledgers.

This transcript is from the Maryland Historical Society, Library of Maryland History.

Samuel Kirk & Son, Inc. Papers, 1834-1979
Maryland Historical Society

Contact Information:
Manuscripts Department
Maryland Historical Society Library
201 West Monument Street
Baltimore MD 21201-4674
Fax: 410.385.2105
[email protected]

NOTE: I have inserted material into this record. That material is in black italics

Baltimore's prominent silver manufacturing company, Samuel Kirk & Son, dates its beginning to 1815 when Philadelphia-trained Samuel Kirk finished his apprenticeship under James Howell and moved to Baltimore. Attracted by the prosperous port, Kirk opened his shop at 212 Market Street (later known as 106 Baltimore Street) with fellow silversmith, John Smith. After the partnership was dissolved in 1821, Samuel Kirk carried on the business alone until his eldest son, Henry Child Kirk, became a partner in 1846.

During this early period Kirk introduced to America the repousse treatment for silverware. Repoussé means formed in relief and refers to a pattern which is beaten or pressed up from the reverse side. Kirk's technique was probably inspired by East India silversmiths, but his patterns were uniquely his own. Eventually he applied this technique to flatware as well as other pieces.

The company prospered greatly. In 1820 Maria Hester Monroe, daughter of President James Monroe, was married in the White House. She chose Kirk Mayflower as her silverware pattern. During his 1824 tour of the United States, General Lafayette ordered a pair of goblets for his Baltimore host, David Williamson. Many of Maryland's prominent families, such as the Carrolls, the Ellicotts and the Ridgelys, were among Kirk's customers.

Samuel Kirk’s son, Henry Child Kirk (1826-1914)started his apprenticeship with his father in 1842 and became a partner in the firm in 1846 at the age of 20. The flatware pattern REPOUSSÉ was introduced in this year as was the pattern MAYFLOWER.

In 1861 and 1863, respectively, two more sons, Charles Douglas Kirk (1840-1880) and Edwin Clarence Kirk (1841-1876) , were admitted as partners, changing the firm's name to Samuel Kirk & Sons. The Civil War and its aftermath created an economic slump in the silver business causing Charles and Edwin to become discouraged. When they withdrew from the partnership, the firm reverted to the name Samuel Kirk & Son.

Samuel Kirk died in 1872 (in a house fire) leaving the business to Henry Child Kirk. The firm's technology advanced as hand-wrought repoussé methods were replaced by the use of cylindrical steel rolls and eventually flat steel dies. The repoussé patterns were cut in reverse in a steel die, then stamped on the softer silver with a heavy drop hammer.

Following family tradition, Kirk's son, Henry Child Kirk, Jr., was admitted as a partner in 1890. Six years later (1896) the firm was incorporated with Henry Child Kirk, Sr., as president, William Higgins Conkling (Kirk's son-in-law) as vice-president, James F. H. Maginn as secretary and Frederick W. Kakel as treasurer.

Business continued to prosper as the firm's clientele spread beyond Maryland. Customers included the Belmonts, Astors and Roosevelts of New York the Lowells, Peabodys and Adamses from Boston the Biddles, Cadwalladers and Ingersolls from Philadelphia and the Hamptons, Lees and Davises from the South.

The company suffered severe blows in 1903 and 1904 from two separate fires. At 9:30 AM on June 30, 1903 a fire ignited when gasoline leaking from a tank in the cellar came into contact with the furnace. Much stock and equipment in the workshop were lost but, fortunately, most of the business records and designs were saved.

The firm had barely recovered when the great Baltimore fire of 1904 struck on February 7. Again, vital records and patterns were saved by a quick arrangement between Henry Child Kirk, Jr. and the express company manager across the street. They used express wagons and Kirk employees to save the records of both businesses.

Samuel Kirk & Son moved into temporary quarters at 309 N. Charles St. until a new building could be completed on the site of the one destroyed. The factory began operating again in May 1904 at Guilford and Girard Aves., then moved to the Baltimore St. building in June 1905. The retail store re-opened there in November.

The beginning of the twentieth century witnessed several changes in the company. In the nineteenth century business had been generated primarily by word of mouth as the founder felt that advertising was associated with commercialism. Placing the company into more modern times at their November 1911 meeting, the Board of Directors authorized spending $1,000 for advertising in the Baltimore newspapers. An additional $1,000 was approved for advertising in September 1912. Samuel Kirk & Son's first retail silverware catalog was produced in 1914 and their first national advertisements appeared in the October 1937 issues of House Beautiful and House and Garden.

In 1911 the company directors began discussing the concept of selling their goods at wholesale prices to authorized dealers, but it was not until 1915 that this method of national distribution began. Another innovation was the purchase in October 1913 of the firm's first automobile delivery wagon.

Henry Child Kirk, Sr. died in 1914 and left a deed of trust placing the business in the hands of five trustees. At the termination of the trust agreement in 1924, the company was reorganized as Samuel Kirk &amp Son, Incorporated with Henry Child Kirk, Jr. as president and treasurer, James F. H. Maginn as vice-president and assistant treasurer, William Higgins Conkling, Jr. (great-grandson of Samuel Kirk) as secretary, and Roderick Douglas Donaldson (grandson-in-law of Samuel Kirk), Martin Laurence Millspaugh (great-grandson of Samuel Kirk), and Charles Markell as directors. Robert E. Coughlan was elected a member of the board soon after.

In addition, the Kirk Realty Corporation was created in 1923 to manage the real estate concerns of the company. A lease was signed with Mano Swartz in October of that year for the four-story building under construction at Charles and Franklin Streets. Swartz agreed to make changes in the building (at Kirk's expense) to accommodate the new tenant's retail operations. At the same time, construction commenced on a new facility at Twenty-Fifth St. and Taylor St. (now Kirk Ave.) for the purpose of handling the wholesale and manufacturing divisions.

The Great Depression of the 1930's had its effect on all businesses including Samuel Kirk & Son, Inc. In spite of the poor economy, the number of agents selling Kirk silver continued to increase and several improvements were made to the factory. Kirk stock generally continued to pay quarterly dividends.

During World War II, Samuel Kirk & Son, Inc. became very involved with the war effort. The War Production Board closely regulated what and how much could be manufactured. Wages and work weeks were controlled. Silver bullion and other raw materials were rationed. In February 1942 Kirk received its first war contract from Liberty Motors and Engineering Corp. Other contracts followed with many companies including American Hammered Piston Ring, Standard Gas Equipment, and Western Electric for manufacturing surgical instruments, metal hardware or performing services such as silver soldering. Production and price controls remained in effect past World War II until the Korean conflict ended in 1953.

The prosperous post-war 1950's saw a shift of population to the suburbs and the rise of shopping centers. Following this trend, Samuel Kirk &amp Son, Inc. opened a branch store in Edmondson Village on June 2, 1953. A second branch opened in Towson, Md. on May 6, 1958. By the early 1960's, however, the retail division was lagging behind the wholesale operation. Kirk closed their three retail stores in January 1963, having arranged to lease retail space in three Stewart &amp Co. stores: downtown, York Road, and Reisterstown Road. The retail division of Kirk closed completely in 1975. The leases were allowed to expire at the Stewart & Co. outlets and the department store absorbed Kirk's retail functions into their own operations.

Late in 1966, S. Kirk Millspaugh, great-great-grandson of the founder, gained a controlling interest in the company by purchasing 80% of the outstanding shares of stock. The Kirk Corporation, as it became known, acted as a holding company which owned several subsidiaries including the original Samuel Kirk & Son, Inc. It began to diversify its interests by acquiring the Coastal Trailer Corporation in the late 1960's and Studebaker Southern, Inc., a Florida-based manufacturer of mobile homes,in 1969.

It was hoped that these companies would provide greater financial opportunities and help maintain overall financial stability during periods of fluctuating economic conditions. However, the anticipated advantages failed to materialize. There was little technical or management crossover between companies which resulted in differences in policies and objectives. A construction slump in 1974-1975 compounded the problem. Studebaker Southern, Inc. was terminated in 1972 and Coastal Trailer Corp. was sold off to its original owners in a 1975-1976 reorganization of the parent company.

Other acquisitions by the Kirk Corp. were more successful due to the similarity of their products: Eisenberg-Lozano, Inc. (an importer of silver plate, stainless and pewter holloware) in 1970 and A. L. Hanle, Inc. (a manufacturer of pewter holloware) in 1971. The name of the latter was changed to Kirk Pewter, Inc. in 1972 and Eisenberg-Lozano became Kirk International, Inc. in 1973. The Kirk Collection was established in 1972 for the production of limited edition collector's pieces. The following year it ceased to be a subsidiary and became a trade style of Samuel Kirk &amp Son, Inc.

In 1968 the Samuel Kirk Museum, Inc. was founded to display Kirk artifacts and develop educational programs on the silver, gold and pewter crafts. The collection was exhibited at the Peale Museum when in Baltimore, but was frequently on tour to art museums throughout the world.

By 1979 the Kirk Corporation found itself in difficult circumstances. The reorganization of 1976 had cost the company a $600,000 commercial loan which increased the company's interest charges and decreased the capital base available for current operations or expansions. The cost of the company's essential raw materials, silver and tin, began to skyrocket and the wildly speculative silver commodity market made it almost impossible to price Kirk's products to meet dealer orders. In addition, the company's manufacturing and office facilities had become severely cramped and a great deal of machinery and equipment needed to be replaced. The high cost of real estate, construction and machinery coupled with the company's reduced financial resources brought the matter to a head.

The Stieff Company, a Baltimore silver and pewter manufacturer since 1892, offered to purchase the assets of the Kirk Corporation. The two companies drew up a proposal which combined management personnel and allowed for the continued production of the Kirk line. The shareholders approved the merger on 10 October 1979 and a new company was born under the name of The Kirk Stieff Company.

Watch the video: Shelled House 1914-1918 (June 2022).


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