Liberal Revolutions of the 1830s in Europe

"The Taking of the Hotel de Ville", a painting by Amédée Bourgeois illustrating a part of the July Revolution in France, 1830.
“The Taking of the Hotel de Ville”, a painting by Amédée Bourgeois illustrating a part of the July Revolution in France, 1830. Public domain image.

The 19th century in Europe was an era of significant transformation, marked by a series of revolutions that reshaped the continent’s political and social landscape. Even though the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Era had been ultimately defeated, the liberalism espoused by them endured and represented a formidable challenge to the autocratic order of the Concert of Europe.

In the 1820s, social movements had already brought changes to Spain, Portugal and Greece. During the 1830s, Europe experienced a profound socioeconomic crisis while society was changing rapidly. This context set the stage for a new wave of revolutionary sentiment, sparking popular uprisings across the continent.

These were the main revolutions of the decade:

July Revolution in France

In France, there was a movement against the absolutist policies of King Charles X, a member of the Bourbon dynasty. The bourgeoisie, who had gained significant economic power, sought to assert their political influence and were opposed to the monarch’s attempts to strengthen his own authority. This tension came to a head in July 1830, in what came to be known as the Three Glorious Days.

The revolution was deliberately limited to three days by the bourgeoisie. It was an strategic decision, with the intention to prevent the upheaval from escalating into broader social transformations that could threaten their own economic interests. They sought a political change that would establish a system more conducive to their interests, rather than a radical restructuring of society.

The immediate consequence of this was the fall of Charles X. In his place, a constitutional monarchy was established under King Louis Philippe, often referred to as “the bourgeois king”. He reigned under limited powers and he acknowledged the role of the bourgeoisie in governance.

According to Eric Hobsbawm, the July Revolution disappointed many European radicals. Contrary to expectations that France would emerge as a “liberator” on the international stage, the country neither experienced widespread social change nor inspired similar movements across the continent. Instead, revolutionary insurgencies began to emerge spontaneously in different countries. This shift represented a decentralization of revolutionary fervor from France to various European nations, each with their own unique contexts and goals.

Belgian Revolution

From 1830 to 1831, the southern provinces of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands rose in revolt against the central government. Their actions would ultimately lead to their secession from the country and to the establishment of a new state, the Kingdom of Belgium. The seeds of Belgium’s independence were sown in the inherent differences between the Belgians and the Dutch:

  • Religious differences: The southern provinces, predominantly Catholic, contrasted with the majority of Protestants in the rest of the Netherlands.
  • Economic differences: Belgium, with its burgeoning industrial sector, favored protectionist policies that would shield its nascent industries from foreign competition. The Dutch, on the other hand, were primarily engaged in trade and agriculture, and thus advocated for liberal economic policies.
  • Cultural and linguistic differences: Belgium held a burgeoning sense of national identity. Language was a barrier as well, because the Belgians mostly spoke French and German, while the Dutch spoke Dutch.

In August 1830, Belgium declared its independence as a response to the perceived tyranny of the Dutch king. In December that same year, Europe’s great powers convened in the London Conference and expressed sympathy to the revolution. Austria, Britain, France, Prussia and Russia recognized Belgium’s independence and its establishment as a neutral constitutional monarchy. However, the Netherlands turned down this arrangement and tried to forcibly reunify the country in 1831 — failing to do so because of a French intervention.

Only in 1839, following sustained diplomatic pressure by the Concert of Europe, would the Dutch recognize the independence of Belgium.

Failed revolts in the 1830s

The revolutionary wave of the 1830s was successful in bringing moderate rulers to power only in the Western parts of Europe. Meanwhile, in countries located more to the East, all social movements were suppressed.

  • In the Italian Peninsula, the Austrians intervened in favor of deposed governments and quickly reinstated them.
  • In present-day Germany, smaller kingdoms and duchies were forced to enact constitutions, but both Austria and Prussia were spared from this fate, because their populations lived under the constant fear of repression.
  • Also, the Poles attempted to free themselves from the Russians, but found it impossible, because England and France provided them with no support.


The revolutions of the 1830s brought the bourgeoise to power, but, even where this happened, a sign of failure was the fact that certain authoritarian tendencies persisted. As said by Eric Hobsbawm, “after a short interval of toleration and zeal, the liberals tended to moderate their enthusiasm for further reform and to suppress the radical left, and especially the working-class revolutionaries”. Examples of this included the arrest of agricultural laborers in England (the Tolpuddle Martyrs) and the political violence against republicans in France.

The 1830s experienced the second revolutionary tide after the fall of Napoleonic France, and this subversive atmosphere would once again be found during the Revolutions of 1848, helping to consign absolutism to the dustbin of history.

Check out a summary of the revolutions of the 1820s, the 1830s and 1848 in our dedicated article about it.




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