Previous Episode: Prologue
Chapter 1: In the Beginning...
- Barthélemy de Theux de Meylandt, Prime Minister of Belgium
"Barthélemy Théodore, Count de Theux de Meylandt
We do hereby summon you to the Palace of Brussels, as the man I judge most able
to sway your fellows in the Chamber of Representatives following the recent election
of members to that esteemed Chamber it behooves and pleases us to offer you the
position of Prime Minister and invite you to form a government.
Léopold, King of the Belgians"
- His Majesty Leopold I King of the Belgians
It was with that brief note on the 1st of January 1836 that I took charge of the governance of my sweet Belgium, a moment I had dreamed fondly of for many years and previous to that never thought possible. After swearing my oaths to the King, constitution and people and having received a thorough briefing of His Majesty's expectations. I make a brief stop in my new offices in Parliament, where I am warmly congratulated by several colleagues and take the oppertunity to get up to speed with the new faces and catch up with the old;
I am delighted to see that not only has my dear Catholic party maintained it's majority in the Senate, our upper house, but has also came back with a smashing majortity in the Chamber of Representatives, the lower one. It is a small wobble that the more reactionary elements of the party, referred to by many as their own "Nationalist" party are required to make that majority, however they are as always affable enough if you don't get them going and they do seem to have good intentions at heart(though there is a phrase about good intentions). Anyway, after a brief speech in the Chamber to the few that have made it, parliaments never seem to see much business before noon, I immediately started my tour of the Ministries of state.
First stop, the Ministry of Finance;
After a cordial getting-to-know-you with the minister I am introduced to his senior team. The discussion soon turns around to the matter of taxes, that most favourite topic of all governments, and they inform me that thanks to our magnificent industrial base and preferential access to the markets of our sponsor the United Kingdom, many of our people have prospered so greatly that they want for nothing. At the same time of course they inform me that the tax gathering organs of our state could be much improved. I believe I get the drift and ask them to step up our efforts in that regard. There is a rapid-fire discussion in a language almost as bizarre and confusing as flemish( even as a politician high finance was never my strong suit), before they assure me the government will recieve 18% of income in tax, wonderful people these beaurocrats.
With the increased income from these changes, I ask for increased spending, I note a tiny expression of shock from some of the taxmen present, some see tax as an end in itself rather than a means, but what else are taxes for other than to be spent in the betterment of our people? I order that there be increased wages and benefits for state employs(No more shock now) to better attract more into the ranks, increasing our capacity to gather taxes, chase down criminals and orchestrate our policies. I also order more spent on education, increasing tax breaks and providing materials to the churches and other institutions that do so much to educate our people. There is also a small boost for our military, it is slightly distasteful funding the professional killing of other human beings but being between France and Prussia, and with the Netherlands still claiming our sovereignty, one cannot be too careful.
Time presses on however and I make my leave to continue my tour, thankfully the Ministry of Industry is just across the street;
It is here another set of beaurocrats meticulously monitor the great engine of industry here in Belgium, the minister here, perhaps befitting his area is of a very practical bent and gets straight down to it. We have six true factories here in Belgium, three each to Wallon and Flanders. In Wallon a Steel works employs fully five thousands men, a pocket army, they produce vast quantities of steel and that which is not used at home I hear ends up in Sheffield in the UK. Wallon is also home to a health ammunition factory and an ailing arms shop, there are few factory workers it seems, most in Wallonia still work the fields and the mines. In Flanders, or Vlaanderen as the Flemish call it, a modest operation produces fabric in fine lowlands tradition, cement used in the maintenance of buildings and other factories is produced there also. A smaller canned goods factory is present too, supplying our armies with field rations no doubt. While some of these factories are a little smaller than I had hoped they all atleast are making money for their workers and investors, so there is nothing for me to do but congratulate these people on their fine work and carry on.
Also nearby is the Ministry of Trade, I stop in to introduce myself and the minister kindly makes time for me but I can see that they are extremely and dilligently busy working for the procurement of all the materiale nessecary for working of a nation. They seem to know what they are doing, and so I leave them too it.
My next stop is to the Foreign Office, after the intense work being put in at the Ministry of Trade, the atmosphere of laxity here is almost palitable. In the antechamber of the Foreign Secretary's office I hear what I can only assume to be the smack of darts from behind the door, but by the time my arrival is announced and I am led in, he has managed to secret the board. There are the tell tale signs of a couple of misses on the wall however, I pretend not to notice but the Foreign secretary must have seen my glance as he immediately explains that there is comparitively little for him to do. It having been in Great Britain's interest to see a weakened Netherlands, their backing of our seccession is an open secret and their presense and interest in Belgium today well known. As a result many countries are reluctant to deal with us fearing that the great empire see them "interfering" in it's back garden. I bid the man fare well and head to my last stop;
It is back to the Palace to consult with the Army and Ministry of Defense
After meeting with the King's senior officers and the Minister I am given a briefing of the current situation, details are kept short and replies to the point, these people know of that the Catholic party is generally fond of armies, though the nationalist wing would probably make fast friends here. I learn we have a total of 39,000 men on active service in the army, not bad I suppose, but what is laughingly called our navy consists of nothing more than three flotillas of clipper transports docked in Brugge. No doubt they were surprised when I requested some actual warships to protect our transports, what point would our shipping have if it could be sunk so easily? I also requested another regiment of cavalry be raised from our new recruits, better to have these people ready to protect the Belgian peoples at a moments notice.
With the grand tour completed and it being well past noon, I decide to retire to a late lunch at the palace, before heading back to Parliament to conduct my new day-to-day duties. I wonder what the future will bring.
Next Episode: Chapter Two: The First Year