A factor in the Belgian Revolution of the 1830s was the rising dominance of the Dutch language in the southern provinces of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. A conflict arose between the citizenry of the Flemish provinces who wished to engage with the authorities in Dutch, and the largely francophone aristocracy of the southern provinces which became modern-day Belgium.
While the Belgian Constitution guaranteed “freedom of language”, in practice the authorities, including government institutions such as the courts, were dominated by the French-speaking upper classes, and operated in French. This bias disadvantaged the largely Flemish North and, to a lesser degree, the Walloons of the South and the mainly German- or Luxembourgish-speaking environs of Arlon. As universal education developed in Belgium, the French language was initially the sole medium of instruction, alienating the northern half of the country. There was a similar sense of alienation in other areas such as justice, as the trial and conviction of two Flemish labourers, Jan Coucke and Pieter Goethals, in 1860 demonstrated. The pair were sentenced to death for the murder of a widow without having understood one single word of their trial, and were then found to be innocent after they were executed.
The Flemish Movement started to advocate language legislation that would recognise Dutch as an official language.
The first law on the use of languages was voted on in 1873, perhaps influenced by growing public dissent occasioned by cases such as the 1872 case of Jozef Schoep. He refused to pay a fine of 50 francs for not wanting to declare the birth of his son to the municipal administration of Molenbeek in French, only to be convicted after an appeal in Cassation. This and other cases provoked the discussions about the use of languages, and the first law on the use of languages, supported by Edward Coremans, regulated the use of languages in the courts in Flanders.
Dutch became the major language in Flanders, but oral testimony and penal action[clarification needed] were still permitted in French.