class customers. Société Générale also played an essential role in financing the young Belgian state, by helping to place State bond issues. Issuance had been entrusted to Rothschilds, who had imposed very demanding terms, but this was probably justified given the fact that the future of the country was still highly precarious.
In 1833, the Bank began to make massive investments in industry, orienting the growing Belgian exports towards France. This was a sign of its confidence in the future of the country.
Armed hostilities between Belgium and the Netherlands had ceased in 1831, but diplomatic relations between the two countries did not stabilise right away. The Treaty of London, drafted by the European powers after the revolution, set out the conditions under which the separation of Belgium from the Netherlands should take place. In particular it provided for the partition of the provinces of Limbourg and Luxembourg. Belgium had already agreed to the Treaty in November 1831 but William had rejected it. He continued to claim full and total sovereignty over the entire Belgian territory. The Treaty was not applied for eight years and the whole of Limburg and Luxembourg prospered under Belgian administration.
On 11 March 1838, however, much to everyone s surprise, William announced his intention to ratify the treaty. The Estates-General in the Netherlands had grown tired of financing the army on a war footing. Then however there was a strong Belgian public backlash against the treaty which the government had agreed to back in 1831. Many people were hoping that, with French diplomatic and military support, the Brussels government would be able to soften the strictures of the treaty and that Belgium would be able to keep at least part of Limburg and Luxembourg. However France was not prepared to call down the wrath of Great Britain on its head and jeopardise its own regime just for the sake of shifting the Dutch-Belgian border. Nor did the Belgian government have any illusions about the country s ability to stand its ground against the Netherlands on the one side, and on the other against the coalition powers, who were determined to maintain the balance of power in Europe that had been achieved out of the ruins of the French Empire. But it did not dare to openly flout public opinion, which was becoming increasingly restless. It looked for a time as if there might be war but in the end tensions evaporated. In December 1838, a grave financial crisis struck the credit institutions. It made everyone think hard, and then those who had been in favour of taking up arms climbed down. In March 1839, the Belgian Parliament finally signed the Treaty of London.
So what happened to William I s shareholding in Société Générale? In 1838, when the Bank s management learned that the king intended to sign the Treaty, they wanted to acquire the 25,000 or so shares of the bank that were owned by the Dutch crown. Meeûs tried to interest Rothschilds in the purchase, writing: You could, if you think it appropriate, write to Mr Sichel to go to The Hague to deal with the transaction, having first confirmed that the Dutch King of the Netherlands is prepared to go ahead now, before a final agreement has been concluded with this country, because as soon as the Treaty of London has been signed, he will be able to sell the shares himself. In the end
172 T H E H I S T O R Y O F B N P PA R I B A S I N T H E N E T H E R L A N D S