Jan Jozef Raepsaet (1750-1832)'s conservative view of constitutional monarchy

Onderzoeksoutput: Unpublished paper

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In the political and institutional upheaval from 1780 to 1830, conservative voices such as that of Jan-Jozef Raepsaet (1750-1832) are traditionally seen as nigh irrelevant. Although he had initially taken part in the commission, the discussions on the 1815 constitution of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands were concluded in his absence. Solicited by William I, he refused any central governmental responsibility, but preferred the calm of the countryside. Raepsaet, a local magistrate in Oudenarde, acquired fame as opponent to Joseph II’s reforms. Jailed by the Austrian authorities in 1787, having had to suffer the supreme humiliation of being carried to Brabant, outside of the County of Flanders, he became a symbol of resistance. He acted as ideologue for the Estates of Flanders in their resistance to reform from above. At the Austrian restoration of 1790, Raepsaet was charged with the mission to draft a genuine constitutional document for Flanders. Under the French regime, he was first an opponent of the Directoire, but became a member of the Corps Législatif under Napoleon.

After Napoleon’s defeat in 1813, Raepsaet was one of the few remaining Old Regime figures in the Southern Netherlands acting as interlocutors for William of Orange. Raepsaet defended both the creation of the United Kingdom and the domestic need for legitimacy, which implied the reinstatement of regional autonomy. His plea for a return of Old Regime noble and ecclesiastical privileges placed him in an isolated position during the discussions on the constitution. Yet, his pamphletary activity and published recollections of the committee discussions reveal the weaknesses of the restoration regime. Raepsaet’s defense of representative institutions was not the mere product of local erudition, but was drawn from international doctrine (Grotius, Vattel, Pufendorf). His skepticism towards monarchical management of foreign affairs was echoed later on in the writings of liberal critics of William I’s regime, or in the Belgian constitution of 1831. Raepsaet’s argumentative strategy thus brings further arguments to emphasize continuity, rather than radical transformation in 19th century law of nations theory (Martens, Klüber).

Originele taal-2English
StatusUnpublished - 30 sep 2016
EvenementFrom the People to the Public: Interdisciplinary Colloquium - KULeuven, Hollands College, Leuven, Belgium
Duur: 30 sep 201630 sep 2016


WorkshopFrom the People to the Public
Internet adres


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