Belgian blues

A reminder that frontiers at the heart of Europe can be changed, even after 178 years.

“Belgium is “a country on the edge of the abyss”

“Is there anything more holding Belgium together than “the king, the football team and certain beers”

Georgia at one end, Belgium perhaps at the other. Who’s next?

  • cynic

    In NI the first two are already devisive. We could probably even make the beers sectarian ….Harp …..sounds suspiciously Catholic….Smethwicks ….invented by Monks……

    There is a King Billy beer brewed in Yorkshire and with the man himself on the label but I havent seen much of it here. Appropriately it’s a bitter………

    http://www.croptonbrewery.com/product.asp?strParents=&CAT_ID=91&P_ID=412

  • It was Sammy McNally what done it

    A funny little country that probably wont be greatly missed as it had a number of deeply disturbing links between the police and the most unsavoury crims, some deeply disturbing beers and a deeply disturbing pub game – though that part is a bit of a blur.

    Next up? Somewhere in the Balkans can always be relied upon for a bit of border re-allignment. As my Granny used to remark “Them Balkans are a bit like a six pack of Non Irons”.

  • cynic

    Not sure Sammy …..u have to allow something to a country that can produce a beer called Delirium Tremens … and very nice it is too

  • Once upon a time, when the world was young, I had a partiality for anarchism. Then I discovered girls.

    I suppose an antibody must remain in the blood, because I feel this strange liking for Belgium.

    Not, of course, Douglas Adam’s worst swear-word in the Galaxy. Nor the peculiar sewer smells encountered in most Belgian towns. Nor even the need for a poke of frites smothered in Hellmann’s. And please, please, promise me it’s illegal to carry a ripe Limburger cheese in a taxi.

    No; for a country that can persist for months, even years at a time without a government. As the Economist said, on July 17th (its latest on the saga, to my knowledge):

    Belgian government falls, not many hurt.

    I can understand the NI fascination with Belgium. It has all kinds of superficial parallels: linguistic and cultural divisions which seem to mirror those we know and love. Those parallels, though, are superficial. For one thing: it is the Flemish north (60% of the population) that makes the money, and delivers Belgium’s permanent budget surplus — which is why they’re all so, well, smug. As for the language, they all (including the German-speaking 5%) speak English better than the average Brit (it’s good business to do so, you know). If they decided to use their common second language, all other problems would evaporate.

    Now that I am in my dotage, I relish Belgian bourgeois culture. Of all Belgium, the beastly epitome of the bourgeois is Antwerp. And the bourgeois heart of Antwerp is Nationalestraat. That is the end product, the ultimate entropy of our consumer economy. Yikes!

    Thanks to the one really modern railway we’ve got in Britain, it’s only a couple of hours or so from St Pancras. In terms of time, a lot less than from my home to Belfast.

    No: as Gershwin wisely said, they can’t take this away from me. And, while we’re there, mine’s a Westvleteren (hard to find, but try the Oud Arsenaal in Maria Pijpelincxstraat,
    Antwerp).

    You’ve all been a terrific audience. Goodnight, and thenk yeow.

  • It was Sammy McNally what done it

    Cynic,

    I’m more of a German Beer man meself the Rheinheitsgebot and all that. Often thought it more than a coincidence though that the country that is so very keen on the purity of its beer is also so very keen on the purity of its race.

  • sammaguire

    In NI the first two are already devisive. We could probably even make the beers sectarian ….Harp …..sounds suspiciously Catholic….Smethwicks ….invented by Monks……

    Posted by cynic on Aug 21, 2008 @ 09:20 PM

    Ironically both beers are brewed by a company that refused to appoint a single Catholic manager in almost it’s first 200 years of existence (in a predominantly Catholic city!).

    Apart from the sectarianism any Dublin Catholic like myself will readily admit that “Uncle Arthur” was a model employer in other respects…well ahead of their time in caring for widows of employees and other social issues.

    I don’t fully know the history of Belgium. Do the Walloons feel French? Do the Flemmish feel Dutch? Like our own little problem I guess the best way to find out is to be there when France or Holland are competing in the World Cup or Olympics etc.

    Gave myself a good link there to wish the 3 boys the best of luck in the boxing tomorrow. I seriously smell gold. At least one…hopefully three!!

  • Gregory Carlin

    I worked in a pickle factory in Goes, it may not be in Belgium, but it is close enouhg that I feel I need to recuse myself.

    Cécile de France is worth going to war over, there are precedents,

    I just looked at a map of Goes, I’m going to be ill, Belgium needs to be shared out, I’d be happy to take a bowl of onion soup of their hands.

  • Damien Okado-Gough

    Belgium is one of the best arguments for a unitary state on the island of Ireland. If anyone thinks that NI can continue as a political entity and achieve some sort of stability they need only be referred to Belgium as the shape of things to come.

  • Damien Okado-Gough

    if we’re lucky, I should add.

  • USA

    Belgians make superb beer. Brugge was a fantastic place to visit. The beer was called Chimas, Leffe was a nice light (lager) beer also.

  • David Hamilton

    I have a few friends in Belgium, both Walloon and Flemish. The only thing they dislike more than each others culture is France and the Netherlands respectively. I feel it’s a fair slice and that even if they were to split (which I doubt) they won’t be annexed by anyone in a great hurry.

    By the by, my impression is the Flemish are much more keen to split than the Walloons if anything.

  • cynic

    “Ironically both beers are brewed by a company that refused to appoint a single Catholic manager in almost it’s first 200 years of existence (in a predominantly Catholic city!).”

    ….. there you go again ….. they give you the stout and you want jobs as well

  • cynic

    “The beer was called Chimas”

    I think is Chimay and comes in different colours of labels rising from a very good 6% alcohol to a wonderful 12%

    And its brewed by Trappist Monks …… well, they needed something

  • mnob

    Of course Damien – it could also be read as the best argument *against* a unitary state.

  • Damien Okado-Gough

    mnob

    [i]Of course Damien – it could also be read as the best argument *against* a unitary state.[/i]

    The Border Commission was set the task of drawing a border to demarcate a northern state which would have a Protestant/Unionist majority large enough to lend the state some stability. They failed to take into account future demographic trends and the current ethnic balance in NI is so precarious as to render the state inherently unstable.

    The very same logic underpinning the task set out for the Border Commission should be applied to our current situation. An all-island state would have an ethnic balance which would provide that state with long-term stability.

  • Buile Suibhne

    Trappist beers render me speechless!
    You can get Leffe in Tesco and sometimes Chimay in the Vineyard on the Ormeau Road.

  • Rooster Cogburn

    I’m some distance from being the only Eurosceptic who positively likes Brussels (some fantastic, cheap, family-run restaurants in humdrum suburbs that put eg London swanky places to shame, middle class drone continues ad infinitum . . .), but as has already been said, Bruges is fantastic. One small thing though, well, two – sammaguire said above, “a company that refused to appoint a single Catholic manager in almost it’s first 200 years of existence (in a predominantly Catholic city!)”. Well, um, yeah, family-run firms do have a habit of appointing, well, family members to manage, and if it’s not a Kefflick family, there we are. Oh, and Dublin in those two centuries gone by was a lot less ‘predominantly catholic’ than it is now. But this, God willing, is hardly the thread to start discussing, ‘where *did* all those pesky Southern Prods go?’

  • My impression is that Tesco is good with “minority” beers, including Leffe and Chimay. I’ve even seem to remember seeing Orval.

    Wetherspoons sell Leffe. I know I’ve seen one of the Antwerp brews (most likely De Koninck, I suppose) on draft at my local Spoons house. Leffe seems to be a favourite among the younger element, so a student bar is a good bet: some even have it on tap.

    Sorry to repeat myself: Antwerp appeals for two main drinking reasons.

    One is it must have the highest ratio of watering-holes in the civilized universe. Therefore prices are competitive. The little side-street bars may not be glossy and slick, but many are a revelation. One, the Kulminator, in Vleminckveld, was recommended to me: it has over 500 bottled beers on its list, some so obscure and ancient they are archaeological. Warning: it has curious opening hours, especially at week-ends.

    The other is the local preference for a pale ale over the universal north-east European Piss Pils.

    Let me chuck in a couple of other mentions.

    The Central railway station is ginormous. It was built in the last breath of the nineteenth century, and money was clearly no object. It’s just been restored (except, I think, for the dome). Standing on the platform, one’s feet are on top of the biggest diamond vault in the world (so I was told). They have recently excavated two low-level platforms for the high-speed train link.

    Then there is the Cathedral, a full-blown Gothic gob-smacker. A tower the same height as Salisbury. Three dozen stained glass windows. A roof 120-odd feet up. Three tennis-court sized Rubens, all from 1610-12.

    Finally, Antwerp is just too far for the bus-loads of Saga-louts from south-east England that infest the likes of Bruges and Ghent each and every weekend. Ryanair hasn’t reached it yet (nearest: Brussels, about 30 miles). Another win-win.

  • Prionsa Eoghan

    >>The Central railway station is ginormous. It was built in the last breath of the nineteenth century< >Oh, and Dublin in those two centuries gone by was a lot less ‘predominantly catholic’ than it is now. But this, God willing, is hardly the thread to start discussing, ‘where *did* all those pesky Southern Prods go?’<

  • Malcolm,

    totally agree with the Antwerpophilia. Much as I like Brussels, the best thing about Brussels is the ability to go out for an evening in Antwerp on the train. Great pubs, great streets, great architecture with even a smattering of art deco, the most underrated cathedral in the universe, and if you speak 12 words of touch everyone in the city wants to have your babies, in contrast to Holland where they just laugh at you.

  • Rooster Cogburn

    Prionsa Eoghan: “Just like Derry and other areas Rooster where the Taigs got to uppity, they left to find pastures new”. Yeah, that’s what Murderin’ Marty got, ‘uppity’. Chalk up one more for the, ‘murdering Unionists was just one of those wacky things!’ crowd.

  • Prionsa Eoghan @ 11:32 AM:

    You are, of course, on the button with the late and unlamented Leopold.

    Three weeks back, I was round the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and its gardens, which sit athwart Cap Ferrat. I learned that Béatrice de Rothschild snaffled the site from under Leopold’s prominent nose. He then had to go up the hillside, behind Villefranche, to build his monstrous Via Leopolda (so big it shows on Google Earth without the last three levels of magnification).

    Obviously, Leopold (among his other achievements, patron of a Hampstead BDSM brothel) set the mood for the villa. In passing, a swift cheer for our own Roger Casement, who blew the whistle on Leopold’s private estate of the Congo.

    It was later owned by Agnelli of FIAT (playboy, serial adulterer, his chief side-kicks gaoled for bribed government and links to the Mafia).

    Its subsequent owner, Edmond Safra, was burned to death by his male nurse/bodyguard, back in 1998. Since then, his widow (no. 620 on Forbes world rich list) has been trying to unload the property. Bill Gates’s name was briefly in the frame.

    It was reported a few days ago that it had been sold (£400m or pick another sum of your choice) to a Russian plutocrat. First name up, natch, was Abramovitch (no. 15 on the Forbes rich list: Chelsea FC and currently being sued for fraud by his former business partner, Berezovsky, himself guilty of vast embezzlements). Then the name mentioned was Prokhorov (no. 24 on Forbes). Unfortunately, Prokhorov is charged with running a prostitution ring in Courcheval; and might have problems with French residence.

    Isn’t it instructive for us peasants to have the examples of such great-and-good to look up to?

  • Greenflag

    A very brief recent political history of Belgium follows . Readers who find some similarities with Northern Ireland uncomfortable should read no further as it’s Friday and one does’nt want to spoil one’s week end .:)

    Slotting in NI equivalents with Belgium was not easy so if you find it confusing -not to worry so did I 🙂

    The most trauma that the Belgians have inflicted upon themselves has been the language split.( not like Northern Ireland) Carved out of the old Dutch empire, ( Ireland )you have the predominantly Catholic Dutch Flanders in the north( NI in the South and West of NI ) and Liberal French Walloonia ( Unionists )in the south ( NI north East ) and the capital Brussels ( Belfast ) is a region (city on the edge ) unto its own. Hope you are still with me .

    It was the French liberals ( NI Presbyterians )who played the biggest part in the Revolution against the Dutch Prince of Orange (1798 against the Crown ). It was the French capitalist (Unionsts post 1920)who profited most from the new government. Brussels was French. (Belfast and Stormont were Unionist run ) It was understood that you had to speak French ( Protestant Unionsm )if you wanted a position of power.

    Unfortunately two things happened.( same in NI ) Over the last 100 years, industry shifted from the old mining industries of Wallonia ( Northern Ireland )to the manufacturing and shipping of Flanders,( modern high tech Republic of Ireland) thereby re-arranging the economic landscape of Belgium ( Isle of Ireland ). And the Flemish (Northern Catholics ) bred much faster the Walloons.(Northern Protestants ) The Walloons were richer ye see ( the poor have children the rich have money same the world over ) . Suddenly the Dutch speaking Flemings (Northern Nationalists ) had money and more people. Yet the people who ruled them often couldn’t even talk to them.(in NI wouldn’t talk to them ) There were furious battles over education and language . (not much like NI until recent times 🙂
    Since all government positions were assumed to be French speaking (for Unionists ) the Belgium government saw no need for a Dutch university. ( Derry University ) Dutch-speaking soldiers in the Belgium army sometimes had no idea what commands the French-speaking officers were giving them. This caused a few problems during the War.
    ( The English resolved this problem by insisting on orders being given in English and not in Ulster Scots or Irish Gaelic)

    So who helped create this ‘abombination of a nation ? ‘ I mean Belgium not Northern Ireland . Step up our nearest and dearest neighbour Less than Great Britain . And they very consideratly found productive employment for one Leopold Saxe Coburg by installing him as King of the Belgians . Saxe Coburg sounds familiar wonder where I’ve come across it ?

    For reasons which are too long ago and too complex for a Friday blog -the British plus the French wanted to keep the Dutch from getting their hands on Flemish speaking Flanders .

    Modern day Unionists should not be surprised that their Westminster ‘friends ‘ in the 1830’s supported the Catholic Belgians against the Dutch Protestants . I’m assured they don’t do that kind of thing anymore because the UK is now a mature democracy 🙂

    On further reflection the analogy between NI and Belgium doesn’t really work perhaps 50% with the factions overlapping here and there . The perils of comparing green apples with orange oranges (no politcal puns intended )

    This in itself is an indication that a Belgium like solution (present status ) may not work in NI . And when one reads that in order to govern itself Belgium has as many politicians at national and provincial level as the USA which has 30 Belgian population . Can NI under the GFA be far behind ?

    Language divides Belgium not religion . Catholics make up 90% plus of the population with small numbers of others . Islam is the biggest religious minority with 3.5 %

    While the Fleming Catholics are slightly more religious than the Walloons only 4% of all Belgians bother attending Church similar to England .

    Perhaps its just as well that Belgians focus on chocolate and beers and not on God for the Almighty himself would be sorely stretched to come down in favour of one side or the other in this ‘bizarre’ State and might even tender his/her universal resignation if forced to :).

    To add insult to further injury go and see the film ‘In Bruges ‘ with Brendan Gleeson , Ralph Fiennes and Colin Farrell and some odd American tourists .In between the foul language and the gorey details there are some nice shots of this old medieval city .

    And if that does’nt put you off Belgium then you must be a hardcore Belgian lover 🙂

  • Than you, Greenflag @ 01:55 PM for that excellent run-down, as unbiased as ever.

    My history master at Dublin’s High School (still, then, in Harcourt Street) seemed to be able to explain most of English involvement with continental Europe by ascribing it to control of the Scheldt Estuary. The French mustn’t have it. The Dutch, after their successful conquest of Britain in 1689, were on “our” side. The Hun only emerged as a major threat in the late 19th century.

    Leopold I, by the way, nearly became Prince Consort to almost-Queen Charlotte Augusta, the Prince Regent’s only (legitimate) off-spring. She died in child-birth in 1817; so Belgium was a consolation prize.

    He repaid the debt by arranging the marriage of his niece, little Vicky, to his nephew, Albert. In some respects, he was ahead of the curve: he was pushing progressive social legislation (on female and child labour especially) long before it became the done thing.

  • Greenflag

    malcolm redfellow .

    ‘The Dutch, after their successful conquest of Britain in 1689, were on “our” side’

    Well for a while anyway 🙂 These things can change . Which is why nowadays we have New York and not New Amsterdam .

    The Netherlands (United Provinces including Flanders ) was the leading maritime power in the world circa early 1700’s . The Netherlands was major investor in early 18th century England and helped provide the capital to underpin the early growth of the industrial revolution . The Dutch ‘energy source ‘ was windpower (windmills) and their maritime fleet. William of Oranges accession to the British throne was preceded by Dutch financial interests moving into England .

    It’s hard to imagine Holland nowadays being a threat to either British or French imperial ambitions in the 1830’s but that’s how it was seen . Neither Britain nor France wanted to see a larger Holland with all Dutch speakers united in the one State .

    ‘He repaid the debt by arranging the marriage of his niece, little Vicky, to his nephew, Albert. In some respects, he was ahead of the curve: he was pushing progressive social legislation (on female and child labour especially) long before it became the done thing.’

    In 1844 Prince Albert such were his ‘progressive credentials ‘ came under suspicion as being the author of a book called ‘Vestiges of a Natural History of Creation ‘ . The book raised much of the then thinking world to fury by it’s suggestion that human beings might have evolved from lesser primates without divine intervention . It’s author was’nt Albert but an unassuming Scottish publisher named Robert Chambers whose reluctance to reveal himself had a practical dimension as well as a personal one for his company was a leading publisher of Bibles . The book was blasted from pulpits all over Britain and the Edinburgh Review devoted nearly an entire issue -85 pages to tearing it to shreds .

    Nowadays in 2008 AD Darwin’s theory is only likley to be shredded in the columns of the Protestant Telegraph or in Creationist tracts of the born agains .

    Whatever happened to the Enlightenment ? Did somebody sometime switch off the light ?

  • Greenflag

    PS

    You have to hand it to that canny Chambers chap all the same . Way ahead of his time .Just like a Scotsman to make money from selling something he did’nt believe in . I fear more and more of the world today are in the same business to judge by the mountains of grot that people buy

    Reggie Perrin would of course not be surprised.

  • Greenflag @ 03:30 PM:

    First, sincere apologies for the redundancy in “successful conquest”. There aren’t many unsuccessful ones.

    Second, we are progressing away from the original topic. What was it, now?

    Anent another thread, and the turn this one has taken on that 1664 land-grab, did everyone do Nathaniel’s Nutmeg? And Russell Shorto’s The Island at the Center of the World? Both pop. history easy-reads, but they made me aware of dimensions of which I was ignorant.

    Why do I guess that Greenflag is itching to remind us that the Dutch Republic repossessed New Amsterdam/New Orange in 1673-4? So I’ll do it for him.

  • Prionsa Eoghan

    >>There aren’t many unsuccessful ones.< >we are progressing away from the original topic. What was it, now?<

  • Neither Britain nor France wanted to see a larger Holland with all Dutch speakers united in the one State .

    I think you’re underplaying – to the point of gross inaccuracy – the domestic factors that led up to it were far more important than any French or British scheming, and by far the most important of those domestic factors was the resentment of Catholic Walloons and also Flemings towards rule by Dutch Calvinists. Couple this to French speakers’ resentment over language issues, and probably more importantly dissatisfaction is both agricultural Flanders and rapidly industrialising Wallonia and with robustly pro-free trade policies pursued by the Netherlands, and you have a heady mix. The French only really become important when the Dutch try and reconquer Belgium they year after independence, and they kick the Dutchmen’s arses.

    The more interesting question is why the Catholic parts of the Netherlands, ruled almost as colonies until the early 20th Century, didn’t join the Belgian revolt. In most cased, these territories had been part of the old United Netherlands since the 16th Century, and even the local nobility were Dutch rather than French speaking. The exception was Maastricht and what is now Dutch Limburg, but that was the one place the Dutch were able to keep and hold by military force.

    Although the language question caused tensions in Belgium from the start, especially after the emergence of a strong Dutch speaking bourgeoisie in the late 19th Century, it only really becomes explosive after secularisation removes Catholicism as a unifying force in the past generation or two. You could make the same argument with respect to Protestantism, secularism, and Great Britain.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if bourgeois inertia held Belgium together for quite a while to come, but equally I wouldn’t exactly be surprised if it fell to bits tomorrow. If it does, things could get genuinely very ugly in the suburban communes around Brussels in a way I don’t think the Belgians themselves entirely grasp.

    My €0.02 worth anyway.

  • Prionsa Eoghan

    There was loads of Belgians at the holiday complex I was at all seemingly Walloons. In a conversation with one family I asked if there were any Flemish speakers in the hotel and was told not as far as they knew as the groups don’t mix well.

    >>bourgeois inertia<

  • Greenflag

    Sammy,

    At the outset I did state it was a ‘brief’ attempt at an analogical history re Belgium /NI/ROI/UK and thus as you say I probably did ‘underestimate’ domestic factors . I was more interested in the ‘result’ and how an accomodation arose , evolved or was imposed with the roles of France and Britain as ‘overseers ‘ or guarantors of Belgian ‘neutrality’.

    I’ve been ‘moved’ to update my admittedly scant knowledge of Belgian and Dutch History and it’s interesting to see the parallels in both countries in socio , political , religious and economic developments with similar movements at a later date and sometimes contemporaneously with Britain and Ireland

    Don’t undersell your contribution . Worth at least €1.50 I’d have thought 😉

    malcolm redfellow ‘

    ‘First, sincere apologies for the redundancy in “successful conquest”. There aren’t many unsuccessful ones.’

    Eh ? The world is littered with them (unsuccessful ones ) and has been since time immemorial 🙁

    ‘Why do I guess that Greenflag is itching to remind us that the Dutch Republic repossessed New Amsterdam/New Orange in 1673-4? So I’ll do it for him.’

    GF never itches 🙂 although he has been seen scratching his head in a vain attempt to pull together the various historical threads which make up the history of the Lowlands 🙂 At this point I’m still not wishing for an earlier melting of the polar ice caps as a potential solution to the Great Belgian Conundrum if only because Anna Bella Plura Livia would simultaneously be Bangla Deshed 🙁

    ‘Second, we are progressing away from the original topic. What was it, now? ‘

    Something to do with beers , chocolates and some mythical ‘ land called Hy Brasil or was it Belg something or other Somehow the mind is drawing a blank as the Belgae recede into the subconscious like perhaps Delaware or Tunbridge Wells or Orpington man 😉 . I know they all mean or stand for something but the question is what ?

  • Greenflag

    Prionsa Eoghan,

    Re Afghanistan

    ‘And now we have a seemingly growing resistance.’

    I haven’t yet reached a stage where I could contemplate a re occupation of Afghanistan by the Taliban . It looks though as if the French , British and Germans and others are hanging in there . The question is how long can they do so ?.

    Obama seems to favour ‘winning ‘ in Afghanistan more so than he does in Iraq. I hope he does for that unfortunate country has been a hell hole for the past 25 years ? which is why the Taliban were able to emerge:(

  • Prionsa Eoghan

    >>I haven’t yet reached a stage where I could contemplate a re occupation of Afghanistan by the Taliban.<

  • Worth at least €1.50 I’d have thought

    Bitch! Not even the price of a pint. 😉

    Speaking of which, it’s Friday night so I’m off into town for a few.

    G’night all.

  • Brian Walker

    Well guys, what an erudite hare I set running.
    I’d like to add –

    Malcolm, your old history master was on the money.

    The epic strategic importance to Britain of “ the barrier” i.e the Low Countries including the future Belgium and their waterways, is brilliantly traced in a recent major work of history, “Three victories and a defeat: the rise and fall of the first British Empire 1714–1783. Balance and counterbalance by Brendan Simms (Allen Lane) now in Penguin I think.

    By denying “the barrier” to whichever was the most aggressive continental power of the day by diplomatic and military methods, Britain sought to protect herself from invasion down the centuries.
    In the process she acquired the reputation of “perfidious Albion” for switching between continental Allies who hadn’t been taught balance of power theory.

    From a Spectator review

    “As far back as the 16th century William Cecil called the area comprising modern Belgium ‘the very counterscarp of England’ against Spain. In military fortifications, the counterscarp is the first line of defence. In two centuries the essentials did not change. William III’s invasion of 1688 showed that the Dutch ports were a perfect platform for a hostile power. Britain’s counterscarp in the18th century was not the Channel but the barrier fortresses which protected the Netherlands against France.

    But Britain’s defensive and offensive counterscarps were also diplomatic. The barrier fortresses were part of the Austrian Netherlands, and so Britain had to exert her diplomacy and military power to propping up the entire Habsburg Empire, in Germany and Italy. Moreover, the best way to defend the Low Countries had always been to preoccupy France on the Rhine.

    And when France exerted herself in America she augmented the resources with which to pursue her European and naval ambitions. This was the vicious circle for Britain: America could be lost in Europe and the beneficiary, France, would then dominate Europe.”

    Simms argues that the British clashes with the French in North America for much of C18 were essentially proxy wars to wear down France and her Allies and protect the barrier, which was briefly breached by the coalition which defeated Britain in the American War of Independence. ( But for the French,it was a pyhrric victory).

    The barrier’s importance survived. It took the form of “gallant little Belgium” in 1914. And it was Montgomery’s failure to take Antwerp city but not the Scheldt estuary that weakened his rear before the debacle of Arnhem.

    (I go for those great bars behind the Gran’Place myself.)

  • Prionsa Eoghan

    >>…And it was Montgomery’s failure to take Antwerp city but not the Scheldt estuary that weakened his rear…<

  • Garibaldy

    Simms has a single transferable argument for explaining historical events – the primary importance of foreign policy. The problem is, while it might be true for minor German states in the C18th and early C19th, it’s not true of everywhere all the time.

    The idea that warfare in the imperial theatre 1756-63 was really about the low countries is just silly. For a start, the colonial trade was of central importance to economic development in both France and Britain. In fact, much of British identity was bound up with the prosperity the empire was bringing. Certainly the British did not want the Scheldt opened, but the loss of the imperial possessions would have done much more damage, as people at the time were aware.

  • Prionsa Eoghan

    >>Certainly the British did not want the Scheldt opened, but the loss of the imperial possessions would have done much more damage, as people at the time were aware.<

  • Garibaldy

    Indeed it was PE, the Russians got ticked off with the continental system, started ignoring it, and Napoleon felt he had to invade them. The problem was Napoleon couldn’t enforce the system, and violated it himself when it suited him. I think that his troops wore British clothing/boots sometimes for example. Business is business I guess.

  • Prionsa Eoghan @ 10:17 AM:

    I’ve just put up a posting, which now seems forever lost in the mazes of cyberspace, saying that Brian’s point is spot on. Forgive me if re-appears and I am repeating myself.

    The failure to secure Antwerp was one of Montgomery’s greatest, and for once admitted, errors:

    “… a bad mistake — I underestimated the difficulties of opening up the approaches to Antwerp … I reckoned that the Canadian Army could do it while we were going for the Ruhr. I was wrong.”

    This neatly deflects the odium onto Canadian General Crerar, who, apparently missed the key briefing because he was at a Dieppe memorial service.

    It was not as if Montgomery had not been warned. Admiral Ramsay, for the Admiralty, had been loud that Antwerp and Rotterdam were “highly vulnerable to mining and blocking”, and it was necessary to clear the banks of the Scheldt before Antwerp would be of any strategic use. The Belgian resistance had also chimed in. Bletchley Park supplied a full and running commentary.

    Instead, while 11th Armoured rested, refuelled and rearmed at Antwerp (where the port facilities were captured intact), the German General von Zangen managed an orderly retreat of 65,000 men and 225 guns across Beveland to occupy Walcheren. This meant German batteries, along 40 miles of coastline, could interdict access to Antwerp.

    Max Hastings indexes this as “British debacle at Antwerp”, because the two-months delay in opening the port prevented any Anglo-American incursion into Germany in 1944.

  • Prionsa Eoghan

    Malcolm

    Actually now that I have re-read Brian’s quote several times it seems that I was misreading him, though in mitigation his language could have been clearer. Something of which I am guilty of from time to time. Perhaps a comma after Antwerp city would have helped me to understand it properly.

    Anyhow Mea culpa.

  • Harry Flashman

    “I dunno, Afghanistan several times over. Alexander couldn’t do it, the descendants of the great Khan struggled. The Brits were roundly defeated”

    It always amuses me hearing how the British were supposedly “routed” by the Afghans; this completely ignores the fact that a year after the retreat from Kabul (British military casualties, 690 British, 2,840 Indian) the Brits marched back into Afghanistan and kicked seven types of excrement out “Johnny Afghan” and were to do exactly the same thing again twenty years later.

    Curious how no one ever hears about that bit.

    I recall reading a report from the tribal badlands of Afghanistan; an old elder was cursing the fact that Afghanistan hadn’t been ruled by the British, he lamented that his nation was a backward basket case where they couldn’t make so much as a nail whereas neighbouring, formerly British ruled, Pakistan was now a nuclear power.

    Funny old world.

  • Prionsa Eoghan @ 11:40 AM:

    I see where you are coming from on this point. It was not always thus.

    The Scheldt was, historically, London’s main point of access to the markets of Europe, and a crucial cultural channel.

    Chaucer’s Merchant makes that point, back around 1387:

    He wolde the see were kept for any thyng
    Bitwixe Middelburgh and Orewelle.

    Chaucer, a good lad of Ipswich origin, was well qualified for the day-job in the customs office at Aldgate. His interest in things from the Lowlands could have been instrumental in his religious (arguably Lollard) susceptibilities.

    William Caxton (there’s a name of some importance) was at Bruges on behalf of the Mercers’ Company for thirty years, becoming “Governor of the English Nation” there. When the customs at Nieuwpoort seized one of his cargoes in 1453, it contained furs, silks, ermines and saffron.

    Kit Marlowe is at Vlissingen in 1592, up to no good, and on some mission — either anti-Catholic and/or political — that may have led to his assassination (at a Thames-side pub with smuggling and other connections).

    We find Pepys in the 1660s repeatedly concerned with trade and doings around the Scheldt.

    The Antwerp Bourse (a term that derives from the tavern run by the van der Beurze family in Bruges), the oldest in the world until it merged with Brussels in the late 1990s, was established in 1531, and was the main dealing floor for English wool.

    There’s one aspect of this that particularly intrigues me. As I understand, in the 1550s the default of Charles V in repaying loans (needed for his French and Turkish wars) led to the failure of the Fuggers of Augsburg, the biggest corporate operation in Europe, and to the eclipse of the Antwerp market. The English exchequer then looked for domestic finance, so galvanizing the London finance market. Thus came about a wholesale re-appraisal of English trading interests. In particular merchants in London (and even more so in Bristol) turned away from trade with the Low Countries (mainly primary products like wool and wine), and became interested in the Atlantic trade (which in the first instance meant the slave trade).

    I await with interest for any suggestion that the religious material brought into England from the Low Countries, during the 15th and 16th centuries, was arguably the most significant import.

  • Prionsa Eoghan

    >>It always amuses me hearing how the British were supposedly “routed” by the Afghans;< >an old elder was cursing the fact that Afghanistan hadn’t been ruled by the British< >formerly British ruled, Pakistan was now a nuclear power.< >the default of Charles V in repaying loans (needed for his French and Turkish wars)< >…the religious material brought into England from the Low Countries, during the 15th and 16th centuries, was arguably the most significant import.<

  • Brian Walker

    ..more tangents than geometry, Prionsa. But glad to see citations for my point about Montgomery’s failure to take the Scheldt estuary. And yes, I think Simms overdoes the eurocentricity. Belgians of whatever ilk and not a few Dutch should have warm hearts if they click into this thread!

  • This has been a good thread: i.e. it made me think.

    Now I see that Berlin’s Die Tageszeitung, better known to its friends as “Taz”, rates Belgium as the most successful “failed” state.

    Sorry, but my German is no longer up to a neat translation (was it ever?). Instead, allow me to plunder that provided by Spiegel on line, in a much longer Press review:

    In terms of economics, Belgium is the most successful ‘failed state’ of all time. Its per-capita income is way ahead of Germany, the world’s leading exporter …

    Belgium can continue to flourish without a national government for the simple reason that the cabinet doesn’t have to decide much anyway. Most authority has devolved to the regions … The central government is left to deal with foreign policy, defence and finance policy — all issues that are increasingly taken care of at the EU level.

    The Belgian government still controls spending on social welfare. And this is where the conflict has blown up between the two language groups, because rich Flanders wants to pay less for poorer Wallonia.

    There is still no solution in sight. But part of the Belgian paradox is that there will be some sort of compromise at some stage. Belgium is not lost yet.

    I guess everyone else has read and digested this: sorry to be so slow on the up-take.

  • Harry Flashman

    Beautiful Eoghan, I hesitate to add anything more other than having a chuckle at the absurd idea that the English were ruling Scotland while Scotland was ruling the Empire.

    As regards people missing out on British rule it’s actually not as fanciful as you suggest. One of my favourite countries is Indonesia (a beautiful country, well worth visiting, avoid Bali however) and I have to honestly say I have heard it frequently remarked by the Indonesians that they regret having being ruled by the Dutch rather than the British. They look at their neighbours in India, Malaysia and Singapore and (erroneously I have to admit) believe that their own relatively backward position in relation to them is due to not having had kilted Highland soldiers, ingenious Glasgow civic engineers, purse lipped Dunfermline missionaries, tough Aberdonian mining men, dour planters from Perth and red faced Arbroath governors administering their affairs for three centuries. Instead they got the unimaginative Cloggies for boss.

    Rest assured Eoghan I always let them know that the enlightened Scots weren’t always such convivial company.

  • Greenflag

    malcolm redfellow,

    ‘can continue to flourish without a national government for the simple reason that the cabinet doesn’t have to decide much anyway.’

    Northern Ireland is getting there or perhaps it’s there already .

    ‘ Most authority has devolved to the regions’

    In NI most of any authority will be with the super councils sooner rather than later .

    ‘The central government is left to deal with foreign policy, defence and finance policy—all issues that are increasingly taken care of at the EU level. ”

    Northern Ireland has Westminster for foreign policy and finance with some out there EU back up and support plus some comforting words and even more comforting cash investment from the Republic.

    ‘ And this is where the conflict has blown up between the two language groups, because rich Flanders wants to pay less for poorer Wallonia.”

    Good job for Northern Ireland that the English have not yet adopted the Flanders approach However changing economic conditions may force some change in this area.

    ‘There is still no solution in sight.’

    Northern Ireland has a solution in practice if not in theory or is it the other way around ? One is never sure 🙁

    ‘Part of the Belgian paradox is that there will be some sort of compromise at some stage.’ ‘

    The Belgians learned this lesson a century ago Some of Northern Ireland’s politicians are not there yet and some are very far away from contemplating compromise in theory never mind in practice .

    ‘Belgium is not lost yet’

    Now that it has been found once again by Slugger & Der Spiegel and ‘In Bruges’ 🙂 it has briefly come to the fore . But already I see it receding into the background -the sea mists of the Scheldt estuary fogging over the lowlands and sooner than you can say Unter den Linden or Schutzengrabervernichtungspanzerkraftwagon Belgium will cease to be while continuing to be there.

    You might think a similar future awaits Northern Ireland but I could’nt possibly comment -off thread ye see .

  • Prionsa Eoghan

    Lol @ Harry Flashman @ 02:59 AM

    Hande hoche Kameraden! Aye, by gads ye done fur me there Harry. Serves me right for being smart with one of the few on here that understands that the English were the puppets of the Scots, we only had to let them be a bit patronising towards us now and then. Any how they have outlived their usefulness, unless they provide us with a new empire to exploit that is.

  • Greenflag

    ‘unless they provide us with a new empire to exploit that is.’

    We’ll not mention Darien then :). Scotland’s first attempt at home grown imperialism which ended up as a failed ponzi scheme with the Scots ‘investors’ being rewarded by ‘joining’ Brittania & Co

  • Prionsa Eoghan

    Well Greenflag, the dastardly King Billy wasn’t just responsible fro the massacre of Glencoe. No, he has the blood of those Scots colonists on his hands as well. And the Spanish with local Indian allies done the dirty work, paid handsomely by the English exchequer.

  • Harry Flashman

    Last year Kevin Myers (hiss, boo) pointed out how hugely the Scots (through the Empire) had influenced the world. Hong Kong to all intents and purposes was a creation of Scottish merchants, soldiers, financiers, shippers and engineers, it thrived from being a steaming, craggy little outcrop on the Chinese coast into a global financial powerhouse.

    At the time of the takeover in 1997 many people worried that it would succumb to the dreary dead hand of Chinese Communism.

    As Myers pointed out, which country was transformed? Tiny Hong Kong to the teachings of Chairman Mao or the Chinese superpower to the teachings of Kirkaldy’s favourite son Adam Smith?

    If independence for Scotland restores her to the glorious legacy of free booting, hard headed, proud, tough, no nonsense, confident, capitalism of Scotland’s glorious past then I for one will be delighted to see it.

  • If Belgium disaggregates I havent heard anyone saying that the constituent aprts will be outside the EU.

    This is an argument regularly used by unionists against Scottish independence.

    Another argument again Scottish freedom goes in the dustbin.

    Belgium, like Britain was a forced marriage.

    It was never true love.
    Is it worth staying together for the sake of the Welsh?

  • Greenflag

    Phil Mac Giolla Bhain,

    ‘Is it worth staying together for the sake of the Welsh?’

    Good question I’d say yes but best to check with Dewi as he’s closer to the cliff face if you catch my drift 🙂

    More pertinent

    ‘Is it worth staying together for the sake of Northern Ireland ‘

    From an English or Scottish perspective the answer would be a resounding No .

    From an ROI perspective the answer would be – now now lads lets not be too hasty in breaking up a reasonably happy marriage which has endured three centuries . Translation – we don’t want to end up with the orphan NI in our financial laps .