Liège Revolution: 1789-1794

26 October by Eric Toussaint


In the wake of the French Revolution that broke out on 14 July 1789, the Liège Revolution began on 18 August of the same year. The people of Paris seized the Bastille on 14 July and the people of Liège took the Town Hall and the Citadel on 18 August. In both cases, people were exhausted by a disastrous economic situation. Bread had sky-rocketed to prices few could afford. People revolted against a regime whose taxes, imposed to make them pay for its mismanagement and extravagance, brought the working classes to the brink of starvation.

The Principality of Liège and the Austrian Low Countries on the eve of the 1789 Revolution

In both the Kingdom of France and the Principality of Liège, a small independent State in the westernmost part of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire to which it was indebted, the old regime of absolute monarchy (known as the Ancien Régime) was in crisis. Debt accumulated by the Sovereign, whether he were the King of France or the Prince-Bishop of Liège, weighed heavily on the State budget. Yet neither the Clergy nor the Aristocracy, both of which supported the old regime, paid tax. Worse still, the Clergy, which was the largest land-owner, imposed a tithe on the poor wretches living on their lands. The Aristocracy also forced their subjects to pay charges. The working classes in town and country, as well as the bourgeoisie, demanded that the burden of the various financial contributions they had to pay should be allocated differently and that the Clergy and the Aristocracy should pay their share Share A unit of ownership interest in a corporation or financial asset, representing one part of the total capital stock. Its owner (a shareholder) is entitled to receive an equal distribution of any profits distributed (a dividend) and to attend shareholder meetings. . There was disapproval of the type of spending indulged in by the absolute monarchical power. Both the working classes and the bourgeoisie were prepared to take action to obtain political democracy. There was also a desire to end despotism and the many forms of injustice.

 The Beginnings of the Liège Revolution

Bust of Jacques-Joseph Fabry in the Town Hall of Liège

In August 1789, the Ancien Régime was collapsing in the Principality of Liège. On18 August, the Town Hall of Liège was invaded by a mass of proletarians and semi-proletarians led by radical members of the bourgeoisie such as Fabry, a jurist, Gossuin, a gunsmith, and several noblemen, amongst whom were the Baron de Chestret, representing the minor nobility. The crowd threw out the mayors and their councillors who were under the orders of the conservative Prince-Bishop, and designated Fabry and De Chestret to replace them. At the same time, a group of armed rebels overcame, then sacked, without any bloodshed, the military barracks inside the Citadel. Next, de Chestret, under pressure from the masses, went to fetch the Prince-Bishop from his castle of Seraing, a few miles from town. That evening, the latter was brought to the Town Hall where he signed an act of recognition of the new municipal authorities. In the days that followed, revolutionary fervour spread to the twenty-two other towns in the Prince-Bishopric, where the main magistrates of the Ancien Régime were replaced. [1]

 On the road to capitalist development

In those days, the Principality had six hundred thousand inhabitants, including about sixty thousand in the capital. That is, as many as in Antwerp and Ghent, and slightly fewer than Brussels. The Principality of Liège, having a more developed manufacturing base than the Austrian Low Countries, of which Brussels was the capital, was the most economically advanced region of continental Europe on the road to industrial capitalism. [2]

The Principality of Liège was the most economically advanced region of continental Europe on the road to industrial capitalism

A fifth of the population were town-dwellers, but a much higher proportion of the Principality’s inhabitants were involved, in one way or another, in industrial development and the capitalist mode of production. Indeed, in the regions closest to the towns, members of the bourgeoisie had installed small factories or hired rural workers who worked at home. This enabled the property-owning classes to short-circuit craftsmen’s guilds. Around towns such as Liège, Verviers, Huy, Dinant, Chatelet and in the region of Couvin there flourished forges, ironworks, nail factories and collieries, while cloth was manufactured in Verviers, in the area of Franchimont and in Thuin. Some authors refer to these workers as “peasant-workers” as within the rural families of these regions people were involved both in farming and semi-industrial activities. Nevertheless, in most cases, the wage-earning activity was only one element of the work and income of this semi-proletarian section of society. A true wage-earning proletariat did not yet exist.

Moreover, the now rich bourgeoisie began systematically to take over communal land (municipal property), which rural communities still enjoyed as part of their collective traditions: the right to cut wood in the forests, the right to graze their cattle, the right to cultivate crops in the clearings, and so on.

View of Verviers by Joseph Fussell

The most advanced town in continental Europe, in terms of the spread of capitalist modes of production, was Verviers. With its population of ten thousand and its recent development due to the wool industry, Verviers did not have many big craftsmen’s guilds. Thus the bourgeoisie had been able to develop a capitalist manufacturing base unhindered. Having leap-frogged the guilds, the workers of Verviers were pioneers, creating the first workers’ provident fund in 1729 and the first trade union in 1759. They organized strikes.

Throughout the Principality, the high clergy and the religious orders, alongside the blue blood nobility, although they were on the decline, nevertheless managed to retain considerable economic power because of the vast agricultural domains they owned, which a large number of peasant families farmed for their profit Profit The positive gain yielded from a company’s activity. Net profit is profit after tax. Distributable profit is the part of the net profit which can be distributed to the shareholders. . However the role of the high clergy and the religious orders tended to be mainly parasitic, with the large revenues extracted from the peasantry minimally re-invested, and that only in agriculture.

In practice, political power was concentrated in the hands of the Prince-Bishop and the high clergy

Liège’s political regime lagged behind the region’s economic development. The Prince-Bishop was usually a foreign nobleman either from the Germanic Holy Roman Empire, or from France. He was chosen by the high clergy, before having the title of Bishop bestowed upon him by the Pope and the title of Prince by the Germanic Emperor. The Prince-Bishop was supposed to govern the Principality in agreement with the three constituted estates.

The three estates were the First Estate (the high clergy), the Noble Estate (fifteen families) supposed to represent the entire hinterland, and the Third Estate representing the bourgeoisie and the craftsmen organized by trade (the guilds).

In practice, political power was concentrated in the hands of the Prince-Bishop and the high clergy.

Indeed, a century earlier, in 1684, [3] the Prince-Bishop of the time had abolished the democratic mode of election by universal suffrage for men who had fought hard for it in the 16th century. The bourgeoisie and craftsmen had won that right through often violent confrontations with the Prince-Bishop, the high clergy and the nobility. Since 1684, the Third Estate, representing the Principality’s twenty-three “good cities” (i.e. cities with a charter of rights), was elected by a mere five hundred and sixty-seven electors. Constituted by the mayors of all those towns, it had almost entirely passed into the service of the Prince-Bishop and the First Estate, and had in any case lost a good part of the power it had enjoyed from the 14th to the 17th centuries.

 The political regime in crisis

The upper classes were in crisis and could no longer rule as they had done hitherto.

The revolutionary bourgeoisie of Liège violently opposed the political regime for its non- representative and parasitic nature, especially the fact that the high clergy and the nobility were exempt from taxation. In 1787 Fabry, one of their leaders, proposed the abolition of the indirect taxation that burdened the bourgeoisie and the poor (craftsmen and manual labourers). He suggested a single property tax and also criticized the city’s bad governance which meant that a quarter of its revenues went to service its debt! The bourgeois revolutionaries went further, contesting the subjection of the Third Estate to the Prince-Bishop.

Nicolas Bassenge - one of the bourgeois revolutionaries in Liège - Source: http://connaitrelawallonie.wallonie.be/

In their political programme, they proposed to establish a constitutional monarchy, as can be understood from the following text by Nicolas Bassenge, one of the bourgeois revolutionaries: “People of Liège, you are a free people! A people is free when it obeys only the laws that it gives itself with the consent of all its individual members or by representatives they have appointed and authorized. In other words, the people are free only when the sovereignty, the legislative power, belongs to the whole nation. The leader of the nation, its chief and not its master, is the organ of the nation’s will. Part of its sovereignty when laws need to be made, he is the sole delegate to guarantee its execution. He promulgates it when all have given their consent: but he is only the organ, not the interpreter. He can only publish it, not change it; he can only have it implemented according to the prescribed rules. (J.N. de Bassenge, Lettres à l’abbé de Paix, 1787 [in French], quoted by René Van Santbergen, “1789 au pays de Liège ou l’heureuse révolution”, in Cahiers du Clio n°14, 1968, p.56).

Those of the noble estate too, though they had the privilege of being exonerated from tax, opposed the Prince-Bishop and the high clergy, because they were practically excluded from power. The bourgeois revolutionaries then entered negotiations with the noble estate to fight the Prince-Bishop, the high clergy and the Third Estate! Clearly those at the top were in crisis and could no longer govern as they had hitherto.

 Discontent among the working classes

The peasant communities prosecuted the clergy for not fulfilling their duties such as maintaining churches and their schools, even though they levied the tithe

There was an increase of about 60% in the Principality’s population between 1700 and 1785. This naturally included a high proportion of young people, a determining factor in the revolution.

On the eve of the revolution, workers in town and country were suffering a severe economic crisis. The price of bread rocketed and there were significant levels of unemployment in the towns. In Verviers, where a quarter of the population were destitute, the situation verged on the catastrophic. In the countryside, peasant communities prosecuted the clergy for not fulfilling their duties such as maintaining churches and their schools, even though they levied the tithe. Peasants also took nobles to court for continuing to demand services, and the bourgeoisie, for appropriating common goods Common goods In economics, common goods are characterized by being collectively owned, as opposed to either privately or publicly owned. In philosophy, the term denotes what is shared by the members of one community, whether a town or indeed all humanity, from a juridical, political or moral standpoint. . The entire population was disgusted by land-owners exporting wheat, exacerbating food scarcity in the Principality. In 1787-1788, three-quarters of the wheat harvest was exported.

Liège Revolution on 18th August 1789. Engraving by A. Weber Source : http://connaitrelawallonie.wallonie.be/en

Finally, news of the revolution in France convinced the bourgeoisie to organize a popular uprising to force the Prince-Bishop to make far-reaching reforms. There is no doubt that the events in France triggered the uprising, but it is obvious that all the elements for a social explosion were already present in the Principality of Liège. Revolutionary proclamations were in circulation in the second quarter of the year 1789:

  1. With ardour, trample down slavery now.
  2. You shall pay no more tax if you have no representation.
  3. You shall clearly know the cause and use of these taxes.
  4. Never shall you pay to fatten the lazy.
  5. You shall form good but simple laws, without deception.
  6. As for the clergy, you shall boldly suppress all its useless members.
  7. And from its hands you shall take back the superfluous goods forthwith.
  8. You shall irrevocably purge the land of despots.
  9. You will forcefully cut the claws of the lawyers.
  10. You will forcefully dismiss those who exact the unjust maltôte tax.
  11. You will keep your esteem for virtue and not for money.
  12. You will take care when placing people in positions of dignity.
  13. And without mercy you will punish all wrongdoers equally.
  14. Thus will you destroy all forms of abuse absolutely.
  15. And you will become assuredly happy and free from slavery. So be it.
    (Quoted in French by R. Van Santbergen, ibid., p.59.)

 How the revolutionary process unfolded

On 13 August 1789, worried by the rising tensions and having learned from the French experience, the Prince-Bishop summoned the three estates for 30 August. He planned to suggest to the clergy and the nobles that they should abandon their tax privileges. Just like Louis XVI a few months earlier, he thought he could defuse the social time-bomb.

Contemporary portrait of César Constantin François de Hoensbroeck (1724–1792), Prince Bishop of Liege (1784-1792)

It is frightening to see that after twenty-five years of peace and tranquillity, the administration has allowed our national debt to grow by several million

The bourgeoisie and their noble allies decided to outpace him, by posting on the city walls the following text: “Asking the clergy to contribute to public expenditure will not relieve the poor who will still be taxed as heavily as before (…) It is frightening to see that after twenty-five years of peace and tranquillity, the administration has allowed our national debt to grow by several million.

(…) “It is time to get to the root of the problem (…) It hinges on the national constitution. All our efforts should be concentrated on getting just and legal representation for our nation. It is time for our ghost of a Third Estate to make room for this national representation; time to have done with the oppressive and anti-constitutional State of 1684 (…) Above all, one provision is required here (…) We wish (…) ecclesiastics and laymen, nobles and the bourgeoisie to unite so that all become as one family, so that there will only be one public purse for all and that all shall contribute in proportion to their goods and abilities. To this effect, there needs to be a general assembly (…) The time for that assembly has perhaps never been so ripe. The progress of Enlightenment and the French example call for it. It hinges on the national constitution. All our efforts should be concentrated on getting just and legal representation for our nation. And our lengthy discussions, so wearisome for all, must surely hasten that end. Let us look forward to that great day.” (quoted by R. Van Santbergen, ibid., p.60.)

The citizens’ audit of public spending, debt and the tax policy at the heart of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

In the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen ratified in Paris in August 1789, three articles out of 17 deal explicitly with the citizens’ audit of public spending, public debt and the need for tax justice. Article 13 asserts that all citizens, according to their means, must contribute to financing public spending. Article 14 indicates that citizens, directly or through their representatives, must be able to decide (“consent to it freely”) how public spending is financed and how that money is used; and that to do this, they must be able to audit the public accounts (“watch over its use”). Article 15 specifies that “Society has the right to ask a public official for an accounting of his administration.”

Article 13
“For the maintenance of the public force, and for administrative expenses, a general tax is indispensable; it must be equally distributed among all citizens, in proportion to their ability to pay.”

Article 14
“All citizens have the right to ascertain, by themselves, or through their representatives, the need for a public tax, to consent to it freely, to scrutinize its use, and to determine its proportion, basis, collection and duration.”

Article 15
“Society has the right to ask a public official for an accounting of his administration.”
Source: https://www.conseil-constitutionnel.fr/en/declaration-of-human-and-civic-rights-of-26-august-1789

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen adopted in the Liège region at the Congress of Polleur in September 1789 asserts the same civic rights in similar terms but in more transparent language than that of Paris :

Articles 13, 14 and 15:

  • 13. For the maintenance of the public force and for administrative expenditures, a common contribution is necessary; it must be equally distributed among all citizens, according to their ability to pay.
  • 14. All citizens have the right to ascertain, by themselves or through their representatives, the need for a public tax, to consent to it freely, to know the uses to which it is put, and of determining its proportion, basis, collection, and duration.
  • 15. Society has the right to request public agents to account for their administration.



It is noteworthy that these two declarations are fundamentally limited in their democratic scope, since women are excluded from the exercise of civic rights (see second Box).

As we have seen, on 18 August 1789, the Prince-Bishop’s power sustained a decisive blow. By submitting to the revolutionaries’ primary demands, he seemed at first to be seeking a compromise. The two new mayors of Liège, Fabry and De Chestret, would have been willing, but under pressure from the population, on 25 August 1789, the new authorities found themselves abolishing all taxes. Thus on 27 August, the Prince-Bishop decided to leave the country and take refuge in Trier, in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. From there he soon appealed for his rights to be restored.

The masses were soon radicalized, so on 5 September 1789 Fabry, having become far less radical after taking power, wrote: “It is not implausible that things here should become even more confused and that a second revolution, bigger than the first, might bring in a new order.”

The negative attitude of the Prince-Bishop blocked any chances of the clinical transition wanted by the new mayors. The latter were thus obliged to instigate a revolutionary break in spite of themselves and all the while fearing the people. Fabry wrote to his friend Lonhienne in 1791: “Those who say that our revolution was over-hasty are right. I did not wish for it at the time we did it. I said so a year earlier to Mirabeau, who agreed with me and at the time was not himself expecting the French Revolution. The French example stirred up our passions: we charged forward on 18 August 1789, and I was swept along with the current.” (Quoted by Maurice Bologne, La Révolution de 1789 en Wallonie, Editions Biblio, Liège, 1939, p.19). Fabry and de Chestret were indeed constantly trying for conciliation, first with the Prince-Bishop, then with the King of Prussia, not without some success in the latter case, until April 1790. Their objective remained the establishment of a constitutional monarchy based on an Assembly of the three estates. Nevertheless, under pressure from the masses and certain plebeian leaders such as Colonel Ransonnet, they did carry out a revolutionary mission.

 The countryside embraced revolution

Demands for free education for the poor often recurred

In the rich Hesbaye countryside, where semi-industrial activities were scarce, village communities met up in general assemblies and drew up lists of grievances, of which the clergy was a common target. It is interesting to note that there were repeated demands for free education for the poor! In other farming areas, peasant struggles also developed, sometimes resulting in violent clashes. Soon those revolutionary rural areas sought to be represented among those who ran the Principality. Their demand was met in June 1790 and elections were organized shortly afterwards. Voters were heads of households, mostly men, and only very rarely women.

The women’s march of October 5 and 6, 1789 to bring the king back to Paris by force.
Women were left out of the dominant narrative of the Liège Revolution and were denied civil and political rights

In the various books on the Liège Revolution, the part that was played by women is hardly ever mentioned. Yet, as in any revolution or emancipation struggle, they played a decisive role. In one of the reference books devoted to the revolution, namely Adolphe Borgnet’s volume published in 1865, not a single woman is mentioned in the list of 563 personalities who, he claims, played a direct or indirect part in the Liège Revolution.

Anne-Josèphe Théroigne, born in the vicinity of Liège, is not mentioned though she played a part in the revolutionary process, mainly in Paris, and also participated in the Liège Revolution in 1790-1791. Thousands of anonymous women who, at key moments, contributed to an acceleration or a radicalization of mobilization, are left out of the narrative. In Paris, a large majority of the Jacobin leaders, though considered to be radical and revolutionary, opposed women’s active participation in decision-making. At the Jacobins’ instigation the “Société des Républicaines révolutionnaires” (Society of Revolutionary Republican Women) was prohibited and dissolved in November 1793. Jean-Pierre-André Amar, one of the members of the Jacobin leadership said, “Women cannot access lofty notions and serious meditations… A woman must not leave her family circle to meddle with government business… We still stumble on the word freedom; so women, whose moral education is next to non-existent, are even less able to access the enlightenment of these principles… It is not possible for women to exercize political rights" (quoted in Daniel Guérin, La lutte des classes sous la première république, vol. 1, p. 248). Countering such arguments, Claire Lacombe, one of the founding members and leaders of the Société des Républicaines révolutionnaires, said, “Our rights are the rights of the people, and if we are oppressed, we will be able to resist oppression” (quoted by Daniel Guérin, p. 246)

 The Marquisate of Franchimont in the vanguard

This part of the Principality, located about twenty miles from the capital city and including industrial towns such as Theux and Verviers and more rural areas such as Jalhay, experienced a great revolutionary effervescence before Liège itself, starting on 6 August 1789. In this area, the most advanced in terms of capitalist development, contradictions between Capital and Labour, bourgeoisie and workers and peasants had already reached a critical level. This is why only a very few capitalists from Verviers were to be found within the revolutionary movement. Pierre Lebrun showed this most convincingly in a fascinating study of industrial development in Verviers during the 18th century. In the following extract, he argued against Henri Pirenne, a historian who had written a voluminous history of Belgium:

“As for the bourgeoisie in Verviers, it cannot possibly be an ‘enemy of privileges or of old social traditions’ for the simple reason that these only existed in 1789 to favour the freedom of employers and shackle the working class. Therefore it was precisely the working class – the fourth estate as it were – who rose up, with, at its head, as in any revolution, disgruntled leaders from higher classes. In Verviers there was no ‘new, literate, active, hard-working and optimistic bourgeoisie that believed in Progress, and which, having emerged from the people, thought of itself as the people and imagined that as it emancipated itself, it emancipated humankind.’ Pirenne’s romantic approach does not correspond to any reality. The mill-owners in Verviers did not at all ‘think of themselves as the people’ and had no wish to emancipate them, or to win for themselves a freedom they already enjoyed. Actually, they despised workers and derided their attempts at rebellion. But what Pirenne gets right is that ‘it was not the third but the fourth estate that had toppled the established power, feeding revolution with strengths it had so far only tried out in uprisings.” [4]

Article 17 of the French Declaration stating among other things that property was a sacred and inviolable right was just scrapped

As early as 16 September 1789, the Assembly of the Marquisate of Franchimont adopted a Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen that was more radical than that adopted in France a few weeks earlier. For instance, Article 17 of the French Declaration that stated among other things that property is a sacred and inviolable right was just scrapped. In Article 3, which stated that “the principle of any sovereignty resides essentially in the nation”, the Franchimont Assembly replaced “nation” with “people”. It also changed Article 10, which said that “no one may be arrested for his opinions, even religious ones, provided that their manifestation does not disturb public order as established by the law” into “All citizens are free in their thoughts and opinions”.

Text adopted at the Congress of Polleur on 16 September 1789:

  1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common good.
  2. The goal of any political association is the conservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, safety and resistance to oppression.
  3. The principle of any sovereignty resides essentially in the people. No body, no individual, may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the people.
  4. Liberty consists of being able to do anything which does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has only those limits which assure other members of their society the fruition of these same rights. These limits can be determined only by the law.
  5. The law has the right to forbid only actions harmful to society. Anything which is not forbidden by the law cannot be impeded, and no one can be constrained to do what the law does not order.
  6. The law is the expression of the general will that must never stray from the eternal rules of truth and justice: all citizens have the right to contribute personally or through their representatives to its formation. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens being equal in front of the law are equally admissible to all public distinctions, functions and employments, according to their capacities and without any other entitlement than that of their virtues and of their talents.
  7. No man can be accused, arrested or detained save in those cases determined by the law, and according to the forms which it prescribes. Those who solicit, dispatch, carry out or cause to be carried out arbitrary orders must be punished; but any citizen summoned or seized under the terms of the law must obey at once; resistance is a crime.
  8. The law should establish only penalties that are strictly and evidently necessary, and no one can be punished except under a law established and promulgated before the offense and legally applied.
  9. Any man being presumed innocent until he is declared guilty, if it is judged indispensable to arrest him, any unnecessary use of force for securing his person must be severely reprimanded by the law.
  10. All citizens are free in their thoughts and opinions.
  11. The free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the most precious rights of man: any citizen thus may speak, write, print freely, unless said citizen abuse this liberty, in the cases determined by the law.
  12. If the guarantee of the rights of man and of the citizen requires a public force, this force must only be instituted for the common good and not in the interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. of those to whom it is entrusted.
  13. For the maintenance of the public force and for administrative expenditures, a common contribution is necessary; it must be equally distributed among all citizens, according to their ability to pay.
  14. All citizens have the right to ascertain, by themselves or through their representatives, the need for a public tax, to consent to it freely, to know the uses to which it is put, and to determine its proportion, basis, activity and duration.
  15. Society has the right to request public agents to account for their administration.
  16. A society in which rights are not guaranteed or the separation of powers assured has no Constitution.
    Source: http://www.senlime.be/si/Franchim.html (in French)

Throughout the Revolution, the Marquisate of Franchimont put pressure on the other revolutionaries in the Principality and, when the Germanic Holy Roman Empire’s intervention put an end to the Liège Revolution in January 1791 and forced many revolutionary leaders to seek refuge in France, several of their number joined the Enragés in Paris.

Liège in the Circle of Westphalia in 1714
The strategic geopolitical position of the Liège Revolution

The Liège Revolution had a strategic geopolitical position in the revolutionary process in France. From 1789 to 1795 the Liège revolutionary leaders constantly requested the support of revolutionary France to confront the monarchical powers that were threatening them with their armies, namely mainly Austria, Prussia and the Westphalian Circle.

As is clear on geographical maps, the Principality of Liège was part of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire near the border with France. As a consequence, the revolution which occurred there from 1789 to 1795 was of high strategic significance for the European powers, mainly Prussia, Austria (both part of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire) and France. There was a radical opposition between republican and revolutionary France and the monarchies in Prussia and Austria, who wanted to preserve the Ancien Régime. Prussia and Austria wanted at all costs to prevent the revolution from extending to their territories and therefore wanted to put an end to the revolutionary process in France and restore the Ancien Régime and the monarchy.

In spite of appearances, there were also contradictions and power struggles between Austria and Prussia. Austria owned the southern Low Countries (formerly under Spanish domination) with cities such as Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Tournai or Bruges, and several common borders with the Liège Principality. Prince-Bishop Hoensbroek, who had been overthrown in Liège and found refuge in Trier from September 1789, belonged to the Austrian faction, and the Principality of Liège was actually part of the Circle of Westphalia, along with other small States such as the Principality of Munster and the Dukedoms of Jülich and Cleves, or the imperial cities of Cologne, Aachen and Dortmund. The King of Prussia implemented a delaying tactic in the conflict between the Liège revolutionaries on the one hand and Austria on the other. Indeed the King of Prussia’s interest was actually to prevent Austria from crushing the Liège Revolution too easily, for this would have strengthened Austria’s position within the Germanic Holy Roman Empire. The chronology included in the present analysis shows that the King of Prussia tried to play the part of mediator between Austria and the Liège revolutionaries, who sent delegates to Berlin on several occasions.

The main revolutionary leaders of Liège went to Paris or even lived there during the two periods of Austrian occupation (from January 1791 to November 1792 and from March 1793 to July 1794). In Paris, several revolutionary leaders from Liège were invited to speak before the Legislative Assembly. During the second period of exile in 1793-1794 close contacts were established between Robespierre and some of those revolutionary leaders from Liège, at a time when Robespierre played a key role in running the Republic. Danton stayed in Liège in 1792. He pleaded for the Principality of Liège and the Austrian Lowlands (with Brussels as the capital city) to be incorporated into France on the ground of France’s natural borders reaching the Rhine in the North-East. It is to be noted, as pointed out in this analysis, that Jean-Pierre Ransonnet, a revolutionary officer in Liège who had participated in the North-American revolution over ten years earlier, had a politically far more interesting perception: he was convinced that it was possible to persuade people in the Rhine area that they should start their own revolutionary process to overthrow the Ancien régime. Ransonnet thought in terms of exporting the revolution within the Holy Roman Empire: “Isn’t it true that if there were people to take the Gospel of our time beyond the Meuse into Palatine villages, I would then compel the enemy to leave our country in order to save their own? Yet they would be too late, for once they had tasted freedom, the inhabitants of the Rhine area would spread freedom further afield.”

From 1790 to 1794, major battles between the armies of Republican France, the Liège Revolution, Austria and Prussia were fought on the territory of the Liège Principality or nearby, for instance in Maastricht, located 35 kilometres north of Liège, at the end of February and the beginning of March 1793.

 Creating a revolutionary army

The threat of imminent attack by the Imperial Army in May 1790 led the revolutionaries to create an army from scratch. Within a few weeks, tens of thousands of peasants and proletarian or semi-proletarian workers signed up of their own free will. The absence of proper weapons was compensated for with forks, pikes and knives of all sorts.

In July and August 1790, this popular army defeated the Austrians.

Colonel Jean Pierre Ransonnet

Colonel Ransonnet wrote: “The soldiers are brave and in good spirits; but neither subservient nor obedient (…) The aristocrats should fear their return, for they know them better than I do; I don’t think the states will treat them the way those of Brabant did with the Brabançons.(…) They positively love Fabry, Donceel, Lesoinne, Cologne and those on the Council who are true democrats, but they suspect others of sitting on the fence, and intend to keep this in mind once they are back. (…) I think they are right. I don’t want anything for myself, but if those good people should be slighted, they’d only have to ask me to lead them and I’d show them that the revolution was done by the people and for the people.”

The popular masses also took up arms in cities when the guards of the wealthy (patrician) bourgeoisie clashed with often spontaneously constituted patriotic militia. The reasons for such clashes were more often than not around the issue of private property. Here is an example:

“On 5 October 1789, Henrard, the parish priest of Saint-Martin-en-Isle, had his house surrounded by a citizen militia consisting of lower class people and led by captains they had elected. By contrast the patrician guard merely consisted of young people from the upper bourgeoisie with nice uniforms (…) In the night from 5 to 6 October, a patrol of the patrician guard, on seeing the house of the parish priest of Saint-Martin surrounded by soldiers of the citizen militia, (…) disarmed them and led them to the main guard house. The citizen militia took this as an insult. On the following day, after dinner, the lower classes of the parishes of Saint-Martin, Saint-Christophe and Saint-Gilles came together, took up arms and went to the Town Hall to demand from the mayor that the patrician guard be abolished and the money bequeathed by Louis de Berghes be distributed.” [5]

Those revolutionary conquests, this inception of a process of permanent revolution that is particularly clear in what happened in the Marquisate of Franchimont, show to what extent the bourgeois revolution was ripe and ready to deliver the proletarian revolution.

 Relaunching the revolutionary momentum

The Principality of Liège, an independent state of the Holy German Empire on the eve of the revolutions of 1789

On 12 January 1791, the Austrian army restored the Ancien Régime in the Principality of Liège. The Liège revolutionary leaders were persecuted and fled to Paris [6]. On 28 November 1792, the soldiers of the French revolutionary army, led by Jean-Joseph de Fyon, from Franchimont, [7] liberated a city that was again full of revolutionary fervour.

Indeed, in early November 1792, the French resident Jolivet had reported: “The effervescence among the people has been increasing day after day to the point that in spite of the police and the troops in the streets people are out shouting: ‘Long live the French!’ and everyone is yearning for the moment when they arrive”. After crossing the city Metternich wrote from Coblenz that “in Liège the French would receive a welcome that would surpass their expectations” (quoted by Bayer-Lothe, Aspects de l’occupation française dans la principauté de Liège, 1792-1795, Brussels, 1968, p.69.) So, even before the French had arrived, people had converged on the town hall to demand the mayor’s keys and had freed the political prisoners in the central jail.

Setting up a Liège National Convention elected by universal suffrage

The enthusiasm with which the soldiers of the French Republic were welcomed was followed by a revival of the revolutionary momentum of the years 1789-1790. It was even more radical, through the setting up in the Principality of revolutionary municipalities elected by universal suffrage. In Liège, young people could vote from the age of eighteen; foreigners who had lived in the city for five years were assimilated; the need to pay a certain amount of money to be allowed to vote was abolished (this arrangement had been introduced in 1790, during the first stage of the revolution); a Liège National Convention was set up and elected by universal suffrage.

In Liège, young people could vote from the age of eighteen; foreigners who had lived in the city for five years were assimilated

It was at that time too that the revolutionary camp divided between the moderates and the radicals. This division, which only became deeper, found its expression in the opposition between the former club révolutionnaire that had become la société des amis de la liberté et de l’égalité (founded in 1790 from a society that had existed since 1787), which was moderate, and the société des sans-culottes, created on 4 December 1792. General Dumouriez disparaged the latter, saying that its members were “on a par with revolution: they wanted only absolute equality and looting” (Bayer-Lothe, ibid., p.73). One of the leaders of the moderates, Bassenge, warned his friends against this popular society which, “as it agitated the people instead of instructing them”, was “a danger ripe with anarchy”. “The société des sans-culottes constituted itself as a police force, then as an army corps that elected its officers. Besides, it demanded the setting up of a revolutionary court, the exclusion from public life of all those who had supported the Ancien Régime (...), the immediate sale of the property of the Church and of emigrants, and, finally, the establishment of a guillotine and a temple of liberty.” (Bayer-Lothe, Ibid., p.74) Dumouriez, who would soon betray the Revolution, and Bassenge, were right to be concerned, for the Liège Sans-culottes demanded that municipalities should receive arms and that weapons should be manufactured to this end… Liège could already rely on a solid weapon manufacturing industry.

 Referendum on a reunion with France

The Société des Sans-culottes was created in Liège on 4 December 1792

The Liège Sans-culottes and the people of Franchimont were keen to establish a reunion with France as a guarantee for the deepening of the Revolution. Probably with some help from the French, the sans-culottes persuaded the moderates to co-organize a popular referendum (the first and last one in the history of Liège).

Voting started in the city of Liège on 20 January 1793 and went on for several weeks in the towns and villages of the former Prince-Bishopric. The minutes of the assemblies attest that the French did not attend the referendum assemblies. In Liege, there were 9,700 voters (the elections for the first revolutionary municipality, which took place in the spring of 1790, had only 1081 voters), of whom only 40 voted against. [8]

The way people voted differed from one place to another. Some assemblies used secret ballots, but most preferred to vote by acclamation, hat-raising or roll call: "In several sections, the president offered voters the opportunity to choose the form of voting they preferred. This is how Bassenge’s section refused the secret ballot.” (Bayer-Lothe, Ibid., p.79)

On 21 February 1793 21,519 votes were counted, of which only 92 were negative (voting was not yet over everywhere). Not until 3 May 1793 did the French Convention decide on a reunion with France, at a time when there were no longer any French soldiers in Liège or the Liège area. Two days later, the Austrian army were back in command.

 Second French occupation

On 9 Thermidor (27 July 1794), on the very day when the political counter-revolution was triumphing in Paris, with Robespierre and Saint-Just being arrested at the Convention before being executed on the next day, French troops were again liberating the people of Liège.

The French army still benefited from the active support of the inhabitants [9], who guided them through a city still partly occupied by the Austrian army, and helped in the task of taking over the Citadel. The counter-revolution was still too new in Paris to have any impact on French delegates in Liège. In the course of the following days, they supported the most radical elements and let them re-enter the city before the moderates. Two days after the arrival of the French, an emergency committee was set up, led by the Liège Sans-culottes. It levied a tax on the “wealthy”. But one month later it was suppressed by the occupation army and replaced by the municipality that was controlled by the moderates and, a sign of the times, had very limited power. The Principality of Liège as well as the Austrian Lowlands were then considered by the French to be conquered territories and systematically looted. On 1st October 1795, Liège became a part of France.

Department of Ourthe - Departments of french empire north 1811 (Wikipedia)
Venezuelan Francisco de Miranda, an example of internationalist commitment

Born in Caracas in 1750 and deceased in Cadiz (Spain) in 1816 Francisco de Miranda actively participated in events that were decisive for the French revolution and came to Liège as a general at the head of part of the revolutionary army of the French Republic fighting the Austrian troops.

Francisco de Miranda is an interesting historical figure as he played a key part in the history of his own country as well as in North America and Europe. He first served in the Spanish army when Venezuela was still a ‘province’ in the Spanish Empire. He participated in military operations in North Africa (Morocco and Algeria) on behalf of Spain. It was during this Spanish period that he started to read very widely and build up an impressive personal library.

Still as a Spanish officer he indirectly participated in the War of Independence in North America, fighting against the British in Florida from March to May 1781. He then left the Spanish Army and joined the United States where he lived in 1783-1784. He talked with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and Alexander Hamilton and spent much time in the main libraries on the East coast (Newton and Princeton).

From the end of December 1784 to 1791 he travelled through most of Europe and stayed in several countries such as Britain and Russia. He visited the Austrian Low Countries, France, Prussia, Italy, Greece (at a time when it was still a province of the Ottoman Empire), Hungary and Poland, as well as Turkey and Constantinople. In Russia, Empress Catherine, an enlightened despot, granted him permission to wear the uniform of a Russian officer. He started thinking about liberating Venezuela and South America from the yoke of the Spanish Empire and mentioned his plans to the British authorities. The latter did not grant him the support he expected.

Miranda already, at this time, spoke and wrote fluently in Spanish, English and French. He also knew Ancient Greek and Latin.

Because of the lack of support from the British, he joined revolutionary France and offered his services as an officer to the revolutionary leaders. It was suggested he could lead a campaign in the Caribbean Sea, which he refused because he understood that France wanted to use him to further its own colonial interests in its competition with other European colonial powers, mainly Spain and Britain. He offered his services to the army in the North, in which he was appointed general; under Dumouriez, he participated in several battles such as Argonne, Wargemoulin, Antwerp, Liège-Maastricht, Tongres and Valmy.

After the defeat near Maastricht (about 35 km north of Liège) on 3 March 1793, Miranda was charged with negligence and treason by General Dumouriez and was put in jail in Paris. He was cleared of this charge two months later, but imprisoned again in July of the same year. The charge was now that he was an agent of Spain and had conspired to restore the monarchy. In July 1794 thanks to Robespierre’s demise he avoided a trial which might well have sent him to the guillotine, yet in spite of his repeated pleading to the Convention, he was not released until January 1795. As he could not leave for England because it was an ally of Spain against the Revolution, he stayed in France for two more years and actively participated in the nation’s political life. In 1798 he managed to leave Paris incognito and return to London, where he resumed negotiations with the British government for provision of the repeatedly promised financial support to supply arms to the expedition that would liberate Hispanic America. After eight more years of expectations, and disappointments from the British government, which only acted in its own interests, Miranda reached the conclusion that no European power was ready to take any risk to further the emancipation of Spanish colonies in the Americas. In September 1805, therefore, he left for the United States where he expected to find some support among several influential North Americans, including President Thomas Jefferson, whom he met twice in the new capital city, Washington, in December 1805. He anticipated another failure, which proved to be the case. On 17 December, he went back to New York and started preparing his expedition with funds he had collected from various wealthy people in London and negotiable instruments provided by some friends. On 2 February 1806, he sailed to Haiti in the Leander, which would become his flagship, hoping to acquire more ships over there. Miranda thus started the war of independence of South America against the Spanish Empire and became a key figure in the Declaration of Independence of Venezuela on 5 July 1811. In April 1812, after several setbacks, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the patriotic Army that engaged on battlefields with the Spanish occupation army. His history had a tragic end because he did not agree with Simón Bolívar; in rather unclear circumstances he was taken prisoner and delivered to the Spanish. He died in a Cadiz jail in 1816, leaving thick volumes of testimonies and manuscripts which he had sent to Caracas “for them to be part of the city’s archives to demonstrate to my country the sincere love of a loyal citizen and my constant striving for the public good of my beloved fellow countrymen.” (See www.franciscodemiranda.org)

Regrettably, Miranda is rarely mentioned in histories of the Liège Revolution. This brief account of his life aims to raise awareness of the range of skills and concepts acquired by some of the main revolutionary figures. Miranda and Ransonnet became impressively knowledgeable about international relations and well aware of ideas in widespread circulation in the West.

Chronology of the Liège Revolution along with that of the Revolution in France

14 July 1789
The people of Paris take over the Bastille.

18 August 1789
Liège Revolution. People gather on the market square in front of the Town Hall. While Gosuin the armourer (1746-1808) takes over the Town Hall with his workers, Jean-Pierre Ransonnet (1744-1796) takes the Citadel. The former administration was crumbling. Jacques-Joseph de Fabry (1722-1798) and Jean-Remy de Chestret (1739-1809) are elected mayors by acclamation. The 1684 regulation is abolished. Brought back from Seraing castle, Prince-Bishop Hoensbroeck ratifies the revolutionary decisions and the next day Count de Launoy is appointed as head magistrate.
Magistrates are changed in Verviers on the 18th and in Spa on the 19th.

20 August 1789
The Liège National Foot Regiment - the Prince-Bishop’s army - is stood down.

24 August 1789
The journal patriotique is launched; its complete name is Journal patriotique pour servir à l’histoire de la révolution arrivée à Liège le 18 août 1789. Où l’on consignera tous les événements qui y sont relatifs, (Patriotic journal to be used for a history of the revolution that occurred in Liege on 18 August 1789). In which all related events will be noted.” Bassenge, Reynier, Henkart and Hyacinthe Fabry are among its contributors.

25 August 1789
Abolition of all forms of municipal taxation under pressure from the people.

26 August 1789
Declaration of the Rights of Man in Paris

26 August 1789
Opening of the Congress of the Marquisate of Franchimont in Polleur. The Congress lasted until 13 January 1791.

Night of 26 to 27 August 1789
The Prince-Bishop flees to the Abbey of Saint-Maximin near Trier.

27 August 1789
The Liège uprising is condemned by the Imperial Chamber of Wetzlar, which constituted the Court of Justice of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire. The Chamber of Wetzlar charged the leading princes of the Circle of Westphalia (who included the Prince-Abbot of Munster, the Duke of Clèves, the duke of Jülich, and the Elector of Cologne) to set the situation to rights and come to the aid of the Prince-Bishop.

2 and 4 September 1789
The Clergy and the Nobles renounce their privileges.

16 September 1789
The people of Franchimont, gathered in Polleur, vote for the text of a Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen that is more radical than the French Declaration.

23 September 1789
The Imperial Chamber of Wetzlar makes threats against the people of Liège.

5-6 October 1789
Women lead the people of Paris in a march on Versailles and bring the Royal family back to Paris.

6-8 October 1789
Popular uprisings, especially in favour of sharing out the legacy of Prince-Bishop Georges-Louis de Berghes (1662-1743), who had bequeathed all his wealth to the poor; and against the patrician guard.

12 October 1789
The three estates proclaim the reintegration of the ‘good cities’ and the communities and their right to choose their own magistrates and representatives. The beer tax is abolished. Equality in the face of taxation is decreed. The Edict of 1684 is still abrogated.

29-30 November 1789
Intervention by the authorities of the Circle of Westphalia. The Prussians, charged with mediating between the revolutionaries and the Circle of Westphalia, occupy the Citadel.
Huy, Spa, Verviers, Tongres, Saint-Trond and Hasselt are also occupied.

4 December 1789
The Imperial Chamber of Wetzlar orders the restoration of the Ancien Régime in the Principality and charges the leadership of the Circle of Westphalia with the immediate implementation of its sentences; however the King of Prussia suspends their execution, threatening to allow the revolution to follow its natural course by withdrawing his troops, should the Prince-Bishop not be disposed to grant, among other demands, an amnesty and freedom in the mayoral elections.

17 January 1790
The Third Estate despatches de Chestret and Bassenge to the King of Prussia.
January 1790

La Belle Légeoise, Anne Joséphe Théroigne

Anne-Josèphe Théroigne creates the “Society of Friends of the Law” whose objective is to keep the population informed.

8 April 1790
The people of Liège learn of the Prince-Bishop’s refusal to accept the King of Prussia’s proposals and his decision to hand the matter of his restoration over to the Imperial Chamber of Wetzlar.

11 April 1790
The people of Liège renew their oath of allegiance to the Revolution.
The First Estate is divided: some of the canons move to Aix-la-Chapelle.

16 April 1790
The Prussian troops evacuate the Principality.

19 April 1790
The Imperial Chamber of Wetzlar confirms its former resolutions and adds four more Imperial Circles to help the people of Munster and the Palatinate in armed intervention.

22 April 1790
Ultimatum to the people of Liège.
The Palatine Imperial troops seize Maeseyck, then Stockheim.

25, 26 and 27 April 1790
Counter-offensive by the revolutionary troops of Liège which occupy Tongres, Bilsen, Bree and Hasselt.

3 May 1790
Countryside representatives become the majority group in the Third Estate, after ‘good cities’ such as Dinant or Visé, and the Flemish cities have defected.

27 May 1790
The Liège troops prevent the Imperial army (who had come from Bilsen) from taking Hasselt.

June 1790
The Circle of Westphalia’s army is reinforced by the Circle of Lower Saxony. It comprises some 7,000 men.

June 1790
First popular vote both in the cities and in the countryside with all heads of households, whether men or women, having a right to vote.

23 June 1790
The Imperial Chamber of Wetzlar orders members of the nobility to abandon the patriotic cause if they want to keep their titles and their estates.

26 July 1790
Victory of the Moderate Left and of the Democratic and Radical Party.

27 July 1790
Reichenbach Treaty between Austria and Prussia.
The King of Prussia signs an agreement with the Austrian Empire which allows Austrian soldiers to attack the Liège Revolution in order to restore the Ancien régime and to return the Prince-Bishop to the throne in Liège.

9 August 1790
The Liège Revolutionary Army routs Palatine troops near Sutendael.

End of August 1790
Threatened with arrest after the Women’s March on 5 and 6 October 1790, Anne-Josephe Theroigne leaves Paris and finds refuge in Liège.

18 September 1790
In Paris, Augustin Benoit Reynier and Pierre Joseph Henkart, representatives of the Liège Council and of the Third Estate, plead for France’s support at the National Assembly.

26-27 September 1790
Failure of negotiations between delegates from Prussia and Liège in Frankfurt.

4 October 1790
Liège rejects the terms of a compromise with the Circle of Westphalia.

10 October 1790
Prussia’s last attempt to get the Liège delegates to agree on the proposals of the Frankfurt conference.

11-12 October 1790
Popular mobilization in Liège, opposing the reinstatement of Prince-Bishop Hoensbroeck.

9 December 1790
Fighting between the Revolutionary Army of Liège and the troops of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire.

16 December 1790
The Congress of Franchimont expresses the desire to be annexed to France.

24 December 1790
Austrian troops occupy Herve.
Four representatives of Liège try to negotiate again and meet Marshall Bender, a Commander of Austrian troops, in Brussels.

5 January 1791
Under the influence of Donceel, the people of Liège reject the final proposals made by Metternich as representative of the Austrian Empire.

January 1791 Restoration of the Ancien Régime in Liège under military occupation by the troops of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire.

9 January 1791
Liège votes to surrender. This is followed by military occupation of the country. The Mayor, Jacques-Joseph de Fabry, goes into exile.

12 January 1791
The revolutionary leaders of Liège go into exile.
The City is occupied by Austro-Hungarian troops and by troops from Mayence and Munster.

16 January 1791
An Imperial Commission is set up in Liège, charged with overseeing the execution of sentences handed down by the Imperial Chamber of Wetzlar (composed of representatives of the Elector Palatine and of the Elector of Cologne).

19 January 1791
Canons who own land return to Aix-la-Chapelle; 12 canons who did not follow them are excommunicated.

23 January 1791
The last session of the Congress of Franchimont is held in Polleur.
Austrian troops occupy Verviers.

12 February1791
Prince-Bishop Hoensbroek returns to Liège. The Ancien Régime is reinstated.
Night of 15 to 16 February1791
Anne-Josephe Theroigne is kidnapped in Liège by French counter-revolutionaries and handed over to the Austrians.

May 1791
New, unpopular taxes are levied.

July 1791
The French government negotiates with Emperor Leopold II and obtains the liberation of Anne-Josephe Theroigne.

8 July 1791
The first proscription list is drawn up: it consists of 14 names, including Fabry, de Chestret, Bassenge, Levoz and Gosuin.

10 August 1791
A fundamental Edict is published, interpreting the Constitution and reinforcing the Prince-Bishop’s prerogatives.

27 August 1791
The Declaration of Pillnitz signals a rapprochement between Prussia and Austria to combine forces against revolutionary France.

5 September 1791

Olympe de Gouges

Olympe de Gouges, a French playwright and activist, composes the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen demanding full legal, political and social assimilation of women. The text is published in the brochure, Women’s Rights, addressed to the Queen.

1 October 1791
The Legislative Assembly in Paris.

18 October 1791
The second list of proscribed persons is promulgated, with 36 names including Henckart, Reynier and Hyacinthe Fabry.

20 January 1792
Constitution in Paris of the United Belgian and Liège Revolutionary Committee.

20 April 1792
France declares war on Austria.

3 June 1792
Death of Prince-Bishop Hoensbroeck.

10 August 1792
Parisian uprising. The king is suspended.

21 September 1792
Abolition of monarchy in France, and proclamation of the Republic.

6 November 1792
Victory of the French Revolutionary Army in Jemappes against Austrian troops.

14 November 1792
The French Republican troops enter Brussels.

19 November 1792
The Convention issues a decree promising aid and protection to all peoples wishing to become free.

28 November 1792
Liberation of Liège by the French Revolutionary Army.

The exiles return to Liège (Fabry, Bassenge, those from Franchimont).

3 December 1792
Restoration of the former Town Council of 1790. The post of Mayor is abolished. Fabry (70 years old) is president of the Town Council and Bassenge secretary.

4 December 1792
Foundation of the Society of “Sans Culottes”

7 December 1792
National elections are adopted.
The three Estates are to be replaced by a single form of representation for the country: the National Convention of Liège.
Beyond Liège, the territory is divided into 12 districts, with the vote by universal suffrage from the age of 18.

14 December 1792
The first ballot takes place in Liège and its suburbs (4387 voters). 4 seats out of the 20 in the National Convention of Liège are won by Fabry, Bassenge, Lesoinne and Levoz.

20 December 1792
The second ballot takes place in Liège and its suburbs (8595 voters): 16 more are elected to the National Convention of Liège, including Defrance, Henkart, Fyon, Gosuin, Hyacinthe Fabry, Dell Creyer, Hauzeur, Digneffe and Duperron. De Chestret is not elected.

23 December 1792
Spa and Theux, impelled by Dethier and Brixhe, proclaim the removal from office of the Prince-Bishop, severance from the Empire and unanimously express the wish to be reunited with France.

30 December 1792
Town Council elections – for the provisional administration of the commune of Liège - (7113 voters): 30 are elected, mostly members of the moderate party, among whom are: De Chestret, Fyon, Bassenge Junior, Lonhienne, Raikem, Donceel Junior and Rasquinet.

20 January 1793
A plebiscite is held and finds in favour of the annexation of Liège to France: 49 sections out of 61 vote unanimously, that is, 9660 voters out of 9700.

21 January 1793
Execution of Louis XVI.

17 February1793
Constitution of the Provincial or Provisional Assembly (composed of elected members of the National Convention of Liège, which at this date comes to 61 out of 120).

End of February1793
The Provincial Assembly decrees the demolition of the Cathedral of Saint-Lambert.

21 February1793
A report on the counting of votes in the communes that have already voted. Out of about 600 communes, 378, including 7 towns (Liège, Huy, Dinant, Verviers, Vise, Ciney and Waremme) and three large villages, have voted for reunification with France. Of a total of 21,519 voters, 14,103 voted with reservations, 5,298 unreservedly, 92 against and 40 for adjournment.

3 March 1793
Defeat of French troops under General Francisco de Miranda, outside Maastricht.

4 March 1793
The Austrian Army under the Prince of Coburg crosses the Meuse.
Evacuation of Tongres.
The delegates of the Provisional Assembly and of the Municipality leave Liège.

Second restoration of the Ancien régime with further foreign occupation by Austrian troops

5 March 1793
The Austrian troops of the Prince of Wurtemberg occupy Liège after a battle near Soumagne.
The city must pay the Prince of Coburg a war reparation of 600,000 florins, within nine days.

9 March 1793
The Prince-Bishop declares all decisions of the patriots’ government to be null and void and restores the former institutions.

18 March 1793
Victory of the Imperial Army over the French revolutionary army at Neerwinden. Evacuation of French troops from Belgium. Restoration of imperial power.

21 April 1793
Return to Liège of Prince-Bishop François-Antoine de Mean.

8 May 1793
In Paris, Jean Nicolas Bassenge (1758-1811), Liège delegate to the Convention, asks the Assembly to receive favourably the wish of the people of Liège as expressed in the referendum held on 20 January, to be united with France. On the proposal from Legendre, the Convention decides there and then that the country of Liège be annexed to the French Republic.

May 1793

Claire Lacombe

Pauline Leon, chocolate maker, and Claire Lacombe, actress, found the Société des républicaines révolutionnaires (Society of Revolutionary Republican Women) or Société des citoyennes républicaines (Society of Republican Women Citizens).

8 July 1793
Meeting of the three estates: taxes are voted as well as the allocation of an endowment to the Prince-Bishop of 40.000 ecus.

9 July 1793
Inauguration Ceremony of the Prince-Bishop, that could not take place earlier, and traditional oath taking.

October/November 1793
Repressive offensive against revolutionary women and their organizations

3 November 1793
Olympe de Gouges is guillotined in Paris.

24 November 1793
Establishment of a Republican calendar in France.

2 January 1794
Execution, in Verviers, of the surgeon Grégoire Joseph Chapuis (1761-1794), municipal officer, guilty of having celebrated civil weddings.

8 May 1794
Meeting of the three estates: new taxes are voted, an annual endowment of 20,000 ecus is granted to the Prince-Bishop.

26 June 1794
Jourdan’s French victory against Coburg at Fleurus.

20 July 1794
The Prince-Bishop flees to Erfurt, yet is to become the first Primate of Belgium (the head archbishop) (1817-1831).

Second liberation of Liège

27 July 1794
(or 9 Thermidor Year II according to the Republican calendar)
Return of the French army to Liège, along with a group of Liège Sans-culottes (Demani, Jehin, Nahon), who set up an emergency Committee (30 July to 21 August)
Robespierre’s fall and execution in France

19 August 1794
Beginning of the demolition of the Cathedral of Saint-Lambert

21 August 1794
The 1793 Municipality, elected by the people of Liège, is restored.

13 December 1794
Abolition of torture in the country of Liège.

22 August 1795
Vote of the French Constitution of Year III.

1st October 1795
(= 9 vendémiaire Year IV)
The Convention in Paris decides that the country of Liège, the Austrian Lowlands and the Prince-Abbacy of Stavelot-Malmedy will be part of France, that their inhabitants will enjoy the same rights as French citizens, that the new territories will be divided into departments and that there will no longer be any customs border with the Republic.

Paris, National Archives

The Convention ratified the decrees of 2 and 4 March and of 8 May 1793 annexing the countries of Liège, Stavelot, Logne and Malmedy to France, and the decrees of 2, 6, 8, 9, 11, 19 and 23 March 1793 that joined the Hainaut (Heynowes), the countries of Tournai and Namur as well as most municipalities in Flanders, Brabant and Gelderland (or Guelders) to France; it received favourably the wish formulated in 1793 by other municipalities in Flanders, Brabant and Gelderland, and annexed all territories located this side of the Rhine. It granted the rights of French citizens to the inhabitants of these various countries, divided the territories into departments and defined the functions of people’s representatives.

Translated by Kate Armstrong, Vicki Briault and Christine Pagnoulle

Bibliography :

  • Jeannine Bayer-Lothe, Aspects de l’occupation française dans la principauté de Liège, 1792-1795, contribution au colloque « Occupants-occupés », Bruxelles, 1968, Université de Liège, 1969
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  • Ivan Delatte, Les classes rurales dans la Principauté de Liège au XVIIIe siècle, Edité par Droz, Liège - Paris, 1945
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  • Paul Harsin, La Révolution liégeoise de 1789, Bruxelles, Renaissance du Livre, coll. « Notre Passé », 1954, p. 194
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Footnotes

[1Out of the 23 towns in the Principality, 11 were Walloon and 12 Flemish; these made up the current Belgian province of Limburg.

[2Today’s Belgium only dates back to 1830. It roughly consists of the former Austrian Lowlands and the Principality of Liège.

[3In 1684, antidemocratic regression with an absolute sovereign allied to the aristocracy and part of the high bourgeoisie: the 32 crafts were replaced by 16 chambers which elected the city council. Each chamber had only 36 voters (20 noblemen, 10 merchants/dignitaries, 6 craftsmen). The latter could not hold office. In short, end of the 17th – early 18th century, Liège had 576 voters, of whom 320 were noblemen and 160 merchants/dignitaries.

[4Pierre Lebrun, L’Industrie de la laine à Verviers pendant le XVIIIe siècle et le début du XIXe siècle, University of Liège, 1948, p.88.

[5Joseph Daris, quoted by Ernest Mandel, “De opkomende ‘vierde stand’ in de burgelijke omwentelingen van de Zuidelijke Nederlanden” (1565-1585, 1789-1794, 1830) », in Arbeid in Veelvoud, Brussels, 1988 p.179.

[6“Banishment of 50 revolutionary leaders, confiscation of their property, innumerable prosecutions and vexations against patriots of lesser importance (1,500 subpoenas are said to have been issued by the Tribunal of the XXII for the Marquisate of Franchimont alone), excesses of the Kaiserlicks, Commissioner Duperron sentenced to death... repression was so harsh that it worried the Executing Commission itself.” (Bayer-Lothe, “Aspects de l’occupation française dans la principauté de Liège, 1792-1795”, contribution to the conference « Occupants-occupés », Brussels, 1968, University of Liège, 1969, p.69).

[7Jean-Joseph de Fyon (Verviers, 1745-Liège, 1816), radical revolutionary leader in 1789-1790, twice exiled to France as a consequence of the Austrian restorations of 1791 and 1793. “In 1795, during the second French occupation, he was appointed deputy for Liège at the Council of Elders. His election was cancelled because Fyon was considered to be too radically on the Left and because he was suspected of participating in the Conspiration de Babeuf.” After the explosion on 3 Nivôse 1800, his name was on a list of Jacobins to be deported.” (C. Herne 1789 dans les provinces Belgique, preface by Ernest Mandel, in Contradictions n° 54-55, Brussels, 1988, p.270.)

[8Such massive voting is particularly significant if compared with voting in Ghent, a city of about the same size. In Ghent, there were only 2,000 voters. True, this city was located in the former Austrian Lowlands, where there was little revolutionary fervour.

[9It is almost certain that there had already been an uprising in June 1794, after which 3,000 Liège people were said to have joined the French Army.

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012 (see here), etc.
See his bibliography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89ric_Toussaint
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

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