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Belgium



CURRENCY

1849, 100 centimes = 1 franc.

German occupation of Belgium 1914, as Belgium.



Before 1650

Belgium as it is known today is a comparatively young country, having gained its independence from Holland in 1830, but its history as part of the Low Countries and earlier as part of the Spanish Netherlands has made it an important factor in the European power struggle.


When Belgium was a province of Austria a postal service was established to link Brussels to the parent state as early as 1 March 1500. This was operated by the Count of Thurn and Taxis (Tour et Tassis) and, later in the century, an internal service linking Malines, Ghent and Bruges was added to the Brussels link. In 1543 a second service was established from Liege through the Tyrol to Italy. These services had originally been intended for official mail but prepaid private mail was also allowed. All postal markings were handwritten on the reverse of the letters.


After the death of Charles V in 1558, a Protestant uprising disrupted the postal system and this continued on and off for many years.


1650-1793

During the War of the Spanish Succession in the early part of the 18th century, British troops as well as Austrian fought with the French for control of the country. The French invaded Belgium in 1701 and a new service to replace the Austrian-dominated Thurn and Taxis service was introduced. This operated on French lines. However, in 1714 Belgium, except for the principality of Liege reverted to Austria.


At this time there were 104 receiving offices open to the public, some of which used handstamps as well as manuscript markings.

In 1725 the postal monopoly was returned to the Counts of Thurn and Taxis and Prince Anselme Francois de Taxis was made 'General des Postes'.


In June 1744 the French again invaded Belgium during the War of the Austrian Succession. The Belgian postal system was placed under the French service and all funds were passed to the French Treasury.

By the Treaty of Aix-La-Chapelle in 1748 Austria regained control of Belgium and Prince Anselme replaced the French postal agents with officers of his own. During this war the first military markings appeared on British mail with the introduction of a number of handstruck marks reading AB [Armee Britannique], AA [Armee Autrichienne] and AHO [Armee Hollondaise]. Although usually struck in Germany, examples are also known on letters from Belgium. The Belgian postal service appears to have escaped serious disruption during the Seven Years War (1756-63).

1793-1815

At the outbreak of the French revolutionary war in 1793, Belgium was invaded and became a French province until 1814. It was divided into 9 departements, which used the number 86 and 91-98. These numbers were included in the handstamps, and the Belgian postal service operated as part of the French postal administration. Town handstamps similar to those in use in France were introduced.


After Napoleon abdicated in 1814 the postal service was administered from Prussia, but in June 1815, Napoleon, who had landed in southern France, crossed the frontier into Belgium and was finally defeated at Waterloo.


1815-50


FIRST STAMPS ISSUED 1 July 1849



By the Congress of Vienna, Holland and Belgium with Luxembourg were united under the King of the Netherlands. The King proclaimed that all territories under his government belonged to the kingdom of the Netherlands. Postal services were amalgamated under the Dutch Director-General and in the following 15 years most handstruck markings were translated from French into Dutch or Flemish. These straight-line markings were in turn replaced at the main POs by circular marks which included the dates.


This rapid change from French influence was greatly resented by the Belgians, especially in the southern provinces, and led to a rising against the Dutch in September 1830. On 18 November 1830 a national council proclaimed the country's independence and in the following year Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha became King of Belgium.


Postal services were reorganized: the 9 provinces were grouped into 2 regions and many places reverted to their French names. As there was a Prussian garrison in Luxembourg, the Belgians were alarmed that the Dutch might use their territory to attack. A Belgian force was maintained to cover this possibility and, by 1837, the first Belgian military marking had appeared.


At the same time, the first mail was being carried on the Belgian railroad system. In 1841 the 'Service des Postes sur le Chemin de Fer' was inaugurated and subsequently many train marks began to appear.


Leopold was interested in all modern reforms and in 1849 he decided that Belgium should use postage stamps. This followed his close study of the reforms of Rowland Hill.

1850-71

Belgian stamps followed the British tradition and did not have the name of the country included in the design until after Leopold died in 1865. He was succeeded by Leopold II, and from 1869 the designs included the word 'Belgique'. First stamps were printed in sheets of 200, but these were increased to 300 stamps per sheet from 1863.

Handstamps issued to offices after stamps had been released are interesting. Initially they were circular with the number allocated to the office in a rectangle surrounded by parallel lines. -The offices (1-208) and TPOs had horizontal bars and the distributions (1-145) had vertical ones. Marks with-out number, using horizontal bars, were issued to postmen to cancel letters handed to them for delivery on the same route. These circular obliterators were replaced in April 1864 by a lozenge of dots similar to French types.


Netherlands, Belgium & Luxembourg 1815-52
Click map for larger view

1871-1914

Belgium was one of the first signatories of the GPU in 1874, which became the UPU in 1878.


The Flemings complained that the French name for Belgium - 'Belgique' - was the only name on the stamps, and from 1893 'Belgie' was added. The name has appeared in both languages ever since.


Between 1893 and 1914 an innovation was tried. All stamps were produced with a detachable label inscribed 'Do not deliver on a Sunday' in both French and Flemish. All stamps were printed with these detachable bandalettes, which enabled the sender to indicate whether delivery was to be made on a Sunday.


Belgium's neutrality was guaranteed by the Treaty of London (1839). It was a breach of this treaty which led to the entry of Britain into World War I.


1914-18

Belgium was invaded by the Germans on 1 August 1914 and quickly occupied except for a small, area, the Ypres salient, which remained in Allied hands throughout most of the war, and the enclave of Baarle Hertog surrounded by Holland which remained in Belgian hands throughout the war. Britain entered the war on 4 August.


The government moved to Le Havre in France on 13 October 1914 and continued to print stamps for use in that locality and in unoccupied Belgium. The Germans issued stamps for use in occupied Belgium on 1 October 1914. These continued in use throughout the war and were used concurrently with the stamps of German Western Military Command from 1916. The latter were also used in the occupied area of northern France.


British Field POs were used in Belgium and, in particular, when a force was sent to Antwerp in October 1914.


Following the collapse of the German army, King Albert re-entered Brussels on 22 November 1918.


1919-39

Belgian troops occupied part of the Rhineland until 1930 and overprinted stamps were issued for this area (see Germany 1919-39). The troops themselves had free postage so no stamps were used. Having withdrawn from occupation, Belgium hoped that neutrality would be maintained, especially with the building of the Maginot and Siegfried Lines further south.


1939 to date

Invaded by Germany on 10 May 1940 and quickly overrun. Some British units were moved up from France but once the king surrendered the Belgian army, withdrawal to Dunkirk was necessary. Several British Field POs were either captured or had their handstamps destroyed by staff.


No overprints were issued: King Leopold remained in Belgium at the start of the German occupation though eventually imprisoned in Germany. The liberation began in August 1944, and in September the king submitted to a regency under his brother Charles. When Leopold was released, the Belgian parliament would not accept him and the regency continued until July 1950, when Leopold again tried to return to Belgium. This caused widespread rioting and the king abdicated in favour of his son - Baudouin (died 1993 and was succeeded by his brother, King Albert II).


Belgium is a member of NATO and a founder member of the EEC.


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