Forts Liefkenshoek                
and Lillo               

Antwerp, Belgium               

The Netherlands seem really far from Spain to me, so it's always seemed odd that there would have been such an institution as the Spanish Netherlands for some 200 years, particularly when France was sitting right there between the two! But then Spain was also governing parts of South America which were way further from it than the Netherlands, so I guess the lesson is, Spain was all-powerful. But we're not talking about Spain or the Netherlands, we're talking about Belgium.

Which sprang from both Spain and the Netherlands in 1830, thanks to the Belgian Revolution. But we're not talking about Belgium, we're talking about Forts Liefkenshoek and Lillo.

Which were built in 1579, during a stormy period of rebellion against Spain. Liefkenstoek and Lillo were built as companion pieces across the Scheldt river from each other, as a means of controlling river traffic and protecting Antwerp from Spanish reconquest. Within five years Antwerp had fallen back into Spanish hands, but Fort Liefkenshoek continued to be controlled by the Dutch. The Spanish held Fort Lillo, from whence they erected a "fiscal boom" across the river, forcing ships passing through to what was by then one of the world's busiest ports to pay hefty tolls.

Many years of flailing at each other and building forts somewhat exhausted both sides of the Dutch War for Independence (Eighty Years' War)(1568-1648), so they held a twelve-year intermission in the war in the early 1600's: Which is kind of cheating. If you're going to have an Eighty Years' War and not fight for twelve years in the middle of it, let's be accurate and call it the Eighty Minus Twelve Years' War. This period of peace was used by the Dutch to build up their forces and shine up the points on their star forts: Spanish forces had left Antwerp during this period, so Fort Lillo was Dutch again.

Following another few decades of fighting, the Spanish were finally exhausted by the weight of all their colonial holdings and what had been the Spanish Netherlands became split into the United Provinces in the north, while the south continued to be controlled by Spain...briefly! The Spanish Netherlands became the Austrian Netherlands once some frantic Habsburgian leaping about was achieved at the beginning of the 18th century. Meanwhile, French troops had been stomping around Antwerp, trying and failing to gain control of Forts Liefkenshoek and Lillo. The forts remained garrisoned by Dutch troops, even as Spaniards, Austrians and Frenchmen pranced around them.

French troops finally managed to capture the forts in question in 1747 during the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748), in which the Habsburgs continued to flagellate themselves...but with the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, were forced to hand the forts back over to the Dutch...who were still being ruled by the Austrians.

As was the case in much of Europe, when Napoleon (1769-1821) showed up, everything changed. Forts Liefkenshoek and Lillo, along with the rest of the Netherlands, came under French control from 1795 to 1814. The Congress of Vienna (1814) finally established the unification of north and south with the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which left us with only Belgium still chafing under the evil yoke of repression...which they addressed by rebelling against the Kingdom in 1830.

Fort Liefkenshoek remained in the control of the Netherlands, a thorn in the side of the new Kingdom of Belgium, but in 1839 Dutch soldiers left the fort for good. In 1894, both forts were decommissioned from use as military posts.

Following the Second World War (1939-1945), Antwerp's harbor was due for an overhaul and city officials planned on demolishing Forts Liefkenshoek and Lillo. They were convinced of the momumental nature of the forts, however, and decided to demolish other things instead. In the 1980's, both forts were named Protected Monuments.

And I can now say that the Habsburgs have completely exhausted me. I need a nap.

Do you have a correction, addition or complaint about
Forte Liefkenshoek and Lillo?
Please head to my Contact Page or Guestbook and let me know. My methods for gleaning information regarding these forts is pretty haphazard, so I truly appreciate any input I can get from people who actually know stuff!

Info Source 1 Info Source 2 Info Source 3 Info Source 4
Info Source 5 Info Source 6 Info Source 7 Info Source 8
Info Source 9 Info Source 10
Thanks to Google Maps for the images!