Monday, October 4, 2010

Regent of Belgium, Surlet de Chokier

Erasme Louis, Baron Surlet de Chokier was one of the "Founding Fathers" (as Americans would say) of the modern Belgium. He was a man on the 'cutting edge' of the new ideas and great changes that were sweeping Europe during the entire revolutionary era. He was born on 27 November 1769 in Liège and for the established elite he was basically trouble from the very start! In 1789, inspired by the French Revolution there was the Heureuse Révolution that Surlet de Chokier participated in with enthusiasm which drove away from power the last prince-bishop of Liège. He was a proud revolutionary soldier in this army which was acting independently of but in the same general time and trend of the revolution that birthed the United States of Belgium (again, inspired by the current events in France and the recent American Revolution also).

These revolutionaries joined in alliance with the Brabant rebels of the United Belgian States but, of course, they were soon defeated by the Imperial Austrian military at Hasselt and Zutendaal. This forced Surlet de Chokier to flee to Breda, since he had been a leader of the independence forces, and he was not able to come back to Gingelom in 1792. Now there is a little problem with the first Belgian head of state for his nationalist credentials. When the French revolutionary government absorbed Liège, Surlet de Chokier became an enthusiastic supporter of the French revolution and of an admirer of the dynamic new leader of France Napoleon Bonaparte. Leaving the revolutionary army (or being rather forced out of it that was destroyed) Surlet de Chokier decided to enter politics and in 1800 he was elected mayor of Gingelom and member of the départemental council of Meuse-Inférieure. In 1812 he became a member of the French parliament and is still remembered in France because of that. He gave Napoleon and the French Empire his full support as the new, driving force in Europe. But the old powers were not prepared to accept the rule of the French Emperor and united against him.

Napoleon was destroyed and the United Kingdom of the Netherlands created under the Dutch House of Oranje. Still devoted to his country, Surlet de Chokier remained in politics and was elected to the House of Representatives of the Staten-Generaal and soon became leader of the Southern (that is Belgian) opposition -so his rebellious nature had not been dampened. His resistence to the Dutch-dominated government was so strident that he was nicknamed Surlet de Choquant. As a peace gesture to the Belgians King Willem I made Surlet de Chokier a baron in 1816 but he caused the King so much political headaches that he used his royal powers to ensure that the baron was not reelected in 1828. But Belgian opposition and unhappiness was bigger than this one veteran revolutionary and getting rid of him did not solve the problems for the King of the Netherlands.

When the Belgian revolution came in 1830 was involved from the start and was chosen by the arrondissement Hasselt as a deputy to the National Congress and he was then elected Chairman of the Congress. In that capacity Surlet de Chokier played an important part in the creation of the Belgian Constitution. When looking for a liberty-loving monarch the Belgians first asked Louis Duc de Nemours, second son of "Citizen King" Louis-Philippe, but he refused that offer. While another candidate was sought out someone had to be in charge of things and so the esteemed patriot Baron Surlet de Chokier was appointed Regent of Belgium on 24 February 1831 and so was really the first Head of State of modern day Belgium in which capacity he served until Leopold I took the oath as King of the Belgians on 21 July 1831. Honored by his country he went finally to retire and in the years later died August 7, 1839 in Gingelom.


  1. What a day for him to die on. You know I adore Belgium but the sort of people the baron here represents are the sort I would rather do without. Likewise, if he wanted independence from Austria he never should have supported France. I would 100x prefer to be subject to Hapsburg Austria than revolutionary France (and my own home was subject to the Hapsburgs for a time). He may have ended up on the right side, and I will admit Napoleon was better than the Terror -but he was also a product of that revolution just as this man was and at the end of the day a revolutionary is a revolutionary and though I might have some understanding given the circumstances, I could never be a supporter or admirer of such a person.

  2. Of course I deplore what happened to the Bourbons but I also think something had to happen to bring liberty to the countries. People should have some voice in how their money is spent and lives ruled. Belgium got it right, I think, the way things were in the start. Liberty, law and the King to balance. I like that system. It is just that now the governments are doing things no one ever expected and puts the King in a bad position. Anyway, I believe the ideal of the 'people's monarchy' is a good one.

  3. I rather believe in this ideal, too, but it depends on the principles the popular government is based upon, and also on the means used to bring it about. It is a complex issue.

  4. Everything worked good I think until the public majority became self-destructive. Understand my meaning? No one could have predicted that. Through lack of children, abortions and immigration the people will die out which are all things I think the place of the King is to stop to save his people. Also the giving up of sovereignty to the EU government (at such an extent) is like losing independence and I think also the place of the King to stop. But, when everyone supports it and he is to go along with the popular will what can he do? The system itself I think is the best and I love the popular monarchy concept but who could foresee the majority public becoming so self-destructive?