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Kingdom of Belgium - België, Belgique, Belgien

Last modified: 2005-11-12 by ivan sache
Keywords: belgium | belgique | belgie | belgien | europe | brabant | anthem | brabanconne (la) | proportions |
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[Flag of Belgium]

National flag of Belgium - Image by António Martins

Flag adopted 23 January 1831, coat of arms adopted 17 May 1837.
Proportions: 13:15.
Description: Vertically divided black-yellow-red.
on land, as the civil and state flag.

Colour approximate specifications (as given in Album des Pavillons [pay00]):

  • Red: Pantone 186 c / CMYK (%) C 0 - M90 - Y 80 - K 5
  • Yellow: Pantone 116 c / CMYK (%) C 0 - M 15 - Y 95 - K 0

On this page:

See also:

Colours of the Belgian flag

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 Brussels) 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

Proportions of the Belgian flag

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, pp. 142-145 in Fahnen, Flags, Drapeaux [icv93]):

Concerning the odd 13:15 proportions, nobody is able to explain their origin.

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.

Note that the first official drawing 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

History of the Belgian flag: From horizontal to vertical stripes

[1789 Belgian flag?]

Flag shown on drawings of the 1789 Belgian uprising - Image by Mark Sensen

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.

[First Belgian national flag]

The first Belgian national flag - Image by Ivan Sache

The sewing of the flag adopted during the 1830 revolution is shown on a painting by E. Vermeersch, kept in the Royal Army and Military Museum in Brussels.The title of the painting is:

Mrs. Marie Abts sews the first Belgian flag, August 26, 1830

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.

Edouard 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 flag of Belgium is red, yellow and black. These colours are arranged vertically.

However, in article 124 of the Belgian Constitution of 4 February 1831 no order of colours was given. On 15 September 1831 a directive of 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, 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 & Ivan Sache, 22 February 2004

National anthem of Belgium

The Belgian national anthem La Brabançonne mentions the flag in the first stanza (French version, there exists also a Dutch version):

Après des siècles d'esclavage,
Le Belge sortant du tombeau
A reconquis par son courage
Son nom, ses droits et son drapeau.
Et ta main souveraine et fière,
Désormais, peuple indompté,
Grava sur ta vieille bannière :
Le Roi, la Loi, la Liberté !
Grava sur ta vieille bannière :
Le Roi, la Loi, la Liberté !
Le Roi, la Loi, la Liberté !
Le Roi, la Loi, la Liberté !

English translation:

After centuries in slavery,
The Belgian coming out of the tomb
Reconquered through his courage
His name, his rights and his flag.
And your sovereign and proud hand,
Now, undaunted people,
Engraved on your old banner:
The King, the Law, the Freedom!
Engraved on your old banner:
The King, the Law, the Freedom!
The King, the Law, the Freedom!

The Belgian national anthem is said to have been written by Jenneval in the café L'Aigle d'Or (The Golden Eagle), located rue de la Fourche in Brussels, during the September 1830 revolution.
Jenneval's real name was Louis-Alexandre Dechet. He was an actor in the Monniae Theater in Brussels, the place were the revolution started on 25 August 1830. He joined the revolutionary army and was killed near Lier on 18 October 1830.
Jenneval wrote three successive versions of his Chant national belge, based on the evolution of the political situation. In 1860, the song was modified by Prime Minister Charles Rogier, who mitigated the parts of the song directed at William of Nassau, Prince of Orange. The 1860 version is used today as the Belgian national anthem.

The music of the anthem was written in September 1830 by François van Campenhout. The first public performance of the anthem took place in the Théâtre de la Monnaie in the beginning of October 1830. The original music was slightly modified to fit Rogier's amended text.

There is no official version of La Brabançonne, although several commissions have been appointed to establish an official version, to no avail. A decree from the Ministry of the Interior dated 8 August 1921 states that only the fourth stanza of Rogier's version can be considered as official, either in French or Dutch.

There is a Brabançonne monument located on Place Surlet de Chokier in Brussels. Parts of the French and Dutch words of the national anthem are engraved on the monument.

Source: Belgian government

Ivan Sache, 5 May 2003