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Wednesday, 9 February, 2000, 11:00 GMT
Battle lines drawn at Waterloo

The Duke of Wellington: Land dispute 150 years after his death The Duke was awarded estates south of Brussels


By Colin Blane in Brussels

Opinion is divided in Belgium where a group of tax-payers are taking their government to court over rewards being enjoyed by a British nobleman nearly 200 years after a famous victory won by his ancestor.

The legal challenge is being mounted over estates given to the Duke of Wellington after the battle of Waterloo.

The Belgian Government is required to reply by the end of February.

Historical consequences


The Lion of Waterloo: Enduring symbol of historic battle The Lion of Waterloo: Enduring symbol of historic battle
Waterloo is one of the most evocative names in British military history but it was, of course, a thoroughly European battle - a concerted effort by the allied powers of the day to halt Napoleon once and for all.

Nearly 200 years on, a long-forgotten consequence of the battle has been back in the news in Belgium and in Britain.

The row is about 2,600 acres of land given to the Duke of Wellington, close to the battlefield where he won his greatest victory.

At the time, the estates were a reward from a grateful King of Holland but now a group of Belgians want the present-day Duke to give up his rights to the farmland near Waterloo.

Estates not 'constitutional'


Jean-Emile Humblet: Leading campaign Jean-Emile Humblet: Disputing Duke's right to lands
They are represented by the lawyer, Benoit Lemal, who said their campaign was not against the Duke himself.

"He received a gift and he accepted it and probably each of us would do the same," says Mr Lemal.

"He's not liable for what happened. But we cannot accept that the Belgian state should have made a gift like that in contradiction with our constitution."

Jean-Emile Humblet, the retired politician who is leading the campaign to sue the Belgian government, says it is wrong that the present-day Duke enjoys rents of a 100,000 a year in a state which did not even exist at the time of Waterloo.



The alliances of today are not the alliances of yesterday. We are all united in the Eu and in Nato. These gifts of land are outdated
Jean-Emile Humblet, campaigner
He says the Duke sometimes behaves as if the Battle of Waterloo took place in 1970 not 1815.

"It's time to take into account all the changes of the last two hundred years," stresses Mr Humblet.

"The alliances of today are not the alliances of yesterday. We are all united in the EU and in Nato. These gifts of land are outdated."

The disputed lands are not on the battlefield itself but lie a few miles to the south.

Maintaining the status quo


Suzanne de Coene: Standing by Duke Suzanne de Coene: Standing by Duke
About 70 farmers pay rent to the Duke of Wellington and it seems they do not share Monsieur Humblet's resentment.

Suzanne de Coene and her husband Gabriel have been farming there all their lives and their three sons have followed them into the profession.

Rents are low and the tenancies seem secure. The children were brought up knowing the story of Wellington and the lands he was given.

Some of the farmers have even been guests of the Duke at his stately home in Reading, West of London.

Madame de Coene said that none of the Duke's Belgian tenants wanted him removed as their landlord.

"Absolutely nobody wants a change. Definitely not the people who live here."



The Duke is very popular and the farmers are sure that as long as the Duke remains landowner there's no problem, no risk of them losing their farms
Jacques Logie, Historian
One of Belgium's experts on Waterloo has spoken out in support of the Duke of Wellington.

Historian Jacques Logie has written several books about the battle and says a gift is a gift.

He says the Duke's lands should remain as they are:

"The Duke is very popular and the farmers are sure that as long as the Duke remains landowner there's no problem, no risk of them losing their farms."

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See also:
19 Jan 00 |  Europe
Battle over legacy of Waterloo
06 Nov 98 |  UK
Waterloo insult to French visitors

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