This autograph manuscript of Henri Van der Noot (1731-1821) is a unique and exceptional document for the study of our national history and it can also be considered as our first declaration of independence. The document was a key part of the Brabançon revolution, a crucial episode at the end of the 18th century. Until quite recently, we had only the printed version of the Manifeste du Peuple brabançon, but in 2008, the King Baudouin Foundation was able to acquire the autograph project for the manifesto.
The document is fascinating not only for its historic and symbolic value, but also for the author’s annotations and corrections. It sheds light on the context and genesis of the manifesto, providing veritable added value in relation to the printed version.
The Brabançon Revolution was led by the Southern Netherlands against the Austrian domination of Emperor Joseph II between 1789 and 1790. It ended in the short-lived “Republic of the United Belgian States”. It was at the request of the Committee of Breda, the national committee of liberation that Henri Van der Noot – jurist, lawyer, Brussels politician and leader of the Brabançon Revolution – drew up the Manifesto, which he published on 24 October 1789. He called for the deposition of Joseph II, setting out the reasons why the Brabançon people wished to end their submission to him. Van der Noot signed the document and also affixed his seal to it. Following the rebels’ insurrection, the Manifesto was proclaimed in points around the country.
Van der Noot had been inspired by the recent American declaration of Independence (on 4 July 1776), but also by the Act of Abjuration by which the seven northern states of the Netherlands had freed themselves from Spanish domination to create the United Provinces. Nevertheless, apart from the introduction, the document is rather conservative. The spirit of the Manifesto cannot, thus, be compared with other, more progressive contemporary documents, such as that of the French Revolution or the Déclaration des Droits de l’homme et du citoyen (Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen) (26 August 1789).
Since 22 April, 2008, the manuscript has been entrusted to the Archives Générales du Royaume (the Belgian state archives), where it completes important archives relating to the United Belgian States. The acquisition of the manuscript can be considered as an important act of rescue, since the archives of Henri Van der Noot were unfortunately dispersed, leading to the loss of key documents and information about the period. The Manifeste du peuple brabançon is thus of fundamental interest.