Last modified: 2008-06-21 by ivan sache
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National flag of Belgium - Image by António Martins, 29 December 1999
Flag adopted 23 January 1831, coat of arms adopted 17 May 1837.
Description: Vertically divided black-yellow-red.
Use: on land, as the civil and state flag.
Colour approximate specifications (as given in Album des Pavillons [pay00]):
On this page:
The colours of the Belgian flag were taken from the arms of
Brabant, a province in the former Low Countries
(today Belgium and the Netherlands), which extended
from the Walloon province of Walloon
Brabant, over the Flemish provinces of Flemish Brabant (and
Antwerpen, and up to the
Dutch province of
North-Brabant. The arms of
Brabant show on a black field a yellow
lion facing the viewer's left, with a red tongue and nails.
The heraldic description (blazon) of these arms is:
Sable a lion rampant or armed and langued gules.
The lion of Brabant features on the arms of the Kingdom of Belgium and the provincial arms of Walloon Brabant and Flemish Brabant, as well as on the arms of the Dutch province of North-Brabant.
Filip Van Laenen, 29 October 1997
The Belgian flag has odd proportions of 13:15, whose origin remains unknown, as stated by Léon Nyssen (Les drapeaux nouveaux de la Belgique fédérale [nys99], pp. 142-145 in Fahnen, Flags, Drapeaux [icv93]).
Ivan Sache, 29 December 1999
According to information kindly forwarded by Michel Lupant no
exact date of issue can be found, but the proportions of 13:15
stem from a XIXth Century directive of the Belgian Ministry of
Foreign Affairs which gave the official Belgian flag as being 2.60
metres high x 3.00 metres long. Flag in this ratio are, I am advised,
occasionally to be seen on important Government buildings such as
Parliament, but (as we know) the vast majority (flown by both the
Government and civil population) are in 2:3.
Michel also knows of a few instances where 13:15 flags have been ordered and flown by foreign Governments when a Belgian Ambassador was presenting his credentials, but he himself only possesses a table model.
The first official drawing of the flag with vertical stripes (1831) has proportions 3:4.
Christopher Southworth, 18 August 2003
The 13:15 ratio is the "official" or constitutional one, while
the 2:3 ratio is known as the "civilian" version. Ministries and other
public buildings use the civilian version, but atop the Royal Palaces in
Brussels and Laeken, the official one is always used.
When I was Director of Logistics for the Foreign Ministry, we started offering embassies the official version as well as the civilian one. On my official residence in Jerusalem, we fly the official version.
There is an added but unmentioned advantage to the 13:15 ratio: in strong winds the flag will show less wear and tear at the downwind vertical edge since it moves less.
A problem with the colour is that in an era of uniformization, the yellow tends to become darker, under the influence of the German flag where it is "gold".
The Foreign Ministry used the data from the FOTW website a few years ago to indicate precisely to the manufacturer and supplier which tint of yellow was the right one.
Guido Courtois, Consul General of Belgium in Jerusalem, 16 February 2005
The 1:1 proportions are fine theoretically, only people in Belgium would be very surprised ("everyone knows the Belgian flag is not a square but a rectangle", they would say). The 13:15 proportions may be the official ones but this fact is largely unknown.
Jan Mertens, 19 August 2003
Flag shown on drawings of the 1789 Belgian uprising - Image by Mark Sensen, 22 February 2004
Flags with horizontal stripes were used in a first revolution (Brabantine Revolution), in December 1789 when the Belgians unsuccessfully raised against the Hapsburgs (Austrians). On a drawing showing those flags, the colours are arranged red-black-yellow.
The first Belgian national flag - Image by Ivan Sache, 22 February 2004
The sewing of the flag adopted during the 1830 revolution is shown on the painting by E. Vermeersch entitled "Mrs. Marie Abts sews the first Belgian flag, August 26, 1830". The painting, kept in the Royal Army and Military Museum in Brussels, The painting is made of oil on canvas, its size is 90 x 125 cm. The historical notice on the Museum website is the following:
On August 26, 1830, after a performance of the Muette de Portici opera at the Monnaie theater in Brussels, civil commotion arises all over. As in 1789, during the Brabantine Revolution, the Brabant colours fly everywhere, supplanting the orange Dutch cockade or the French flag.
Lucien Jottrand, editor of the Courrier des Pays-Bas, is credited for this gesture. He would have asked lawyer Ducpétiaux to make a flag with the Brabantine colours.
The latter buys the necessary fabric and asks a seamstress, found by chance on the corner of Rue de la Colline and Rue du Marché aux Herbes to manufacture the first Belgian flag.
Countess Cavens, née Abts, donated the painting to the Museum. The Mrs. Abts in the picture seems to have been her ancestor.
Lucien Jottrand (1804-1877) was a Belgian democrat, who promoted the right of vote for the women, a right which was awarded in 1948 only. He was also president of Association Démocratique, founded in Brussels in the autumn of 1847 to unite proletarian revolutionaries (mainly revolutionary German emigrants) and advanced bourgeois and petty-bourgeois democrats. Marx and Engels and the Brussels German Workers' Association, which they led, took an active part in setting it up. On November 15, 1847 Marx was elected its Vice-President, and under his influence, it became an important centre of the international democratic movement. However, when Marx was banished from Brussels in early March 1848 and the Association's most revolutionary elements were repressed by the authorities, the Belgian bourgeois democrats were no longer able to lead the working masses in the movement against the monarchy, and the Association's activities became narrower and purely local. It ceased its activities in 1849.
Édouard Ducpétiaux (1804-1868) was a liberal-catholic
lawyer. He was the first to advocate a formal international labour
body (in 1843) and he was active in setting up the first
international conference on such issues, held at Brussels in 1856.
Known as a main theorician of pauperism, he wrote several essays and
pamphlets on poverty and developed a scheme for an interventionist
policy in which the government would accept social responsibility
(1843). He realized the first modern survey, statistically
representative, of poverty in Belgium in 1855.
Ducpétiaux is mostly known for his actions as Inspector-General of Prisons. After having studied the Pennsylvania System and the English prisons, he promoted the cellular regime and the radial form of the prisons. Although he soon had the satisfaction of seeing his plan succeed so far as to have cellular jail erected, it was only on 4 March 1870 that cellular imprisonment was adopted by law.
On 23 January 1831 the Belgian Provisional Gouvernment decreed the following:
The provisional government of Belgium
In view of the report and the proposal by the Committee on external relations,
considering that the Belgian People have adopted red, yellow and black as its colours; that these colours are borne by the Belgian army; that it is important to determine what will be the merchant flag:
Art. 1. The Belgian merchant flag is red, yellow, and black. These colours are placed vertically.
Art. 2. The present decision is to be transmitted to the Administrator General of the War Ministry, to the consuls and the various harbour captains.
In Article 124 of the Belgian Constitution of 4 February
1831 no order of colours was given. On 15 September 1831 the Department
of the Navy decreed:
Black must be placed on the hoist, yellow in the middle and red on the fly.
A similar dispatch was released by the Department of the Interior on 12 October 1831.
However, according to Roger Harmignies (Belgique : Les drapeaux d'honneur de 1830, Vexillacta [vxl] #3 (March 1999), pp. 7-8), flags with vertical stripes and flags with horizontal stripes coexisted in Belgium for a few years (see for instance the 1830 Honour flags with horizontal stripes). The last official flags with horizontal stripes were seen on 24 September 1838 during the inauguration of the war memorial on Place des Martyrs in Brussels. Here again, the use of flags with horizontal stripes was deliberate.
The Belgian national flag was last confirmed on 28 January 1936.
Mark Sensen, Jan Mertens, & Ivan Sache, 25 May 2006
In a painting from c. 1832 of the Post Office Packet P.S.
Salamander and the topsail schooner Union off Ostend,
there are two flags flying from buildings on shore:
- The Belgian flag with the red and black reversed;
- A dark blue flag with a red canton.
David Prothero, 30 November 1999
Quoting an article published (originally in Dutch) in De Standaard, 2 November 1999:
Black, yellow, red, starting from the pole. That's how we've always known the Belgian flag. But if you read the Constitution, this isn't correct, says Karel Rimanque, professor at the Univerisity of Antwerp. Article 193 of the so often revised Constitution still says:
The Belgian Nation chooses as its colours red, yellow and black.
Rimanque: "In 1830 too, they used to describe the flag starting from the pole. Thus, our flag is different: red at the pole, yellow in the middle, and black at the fly." Does this mean that the Constitution has been broken for all 168 years? Was it interpreted wrongly at the beginning and did nobody ever notice the error? "Anyway, either we have to correct this article, or we have to correct our flag." says Karel Rimanque.
Filip Van Laenen, 2 November 1999