Professor Martin Conway

 The Sorrows of Belgium: Liberation and Political Reconstruction, 1944-1947 (2012)

Cover for Sorrows of Belgium

The liberation of Belgium by Allied troops in September 1944 marked the end of a harsh German Occupation, but also the beginning of a turbulent and decisive period in the history of the country. There would be no easy transition to peace. Instead, the rival political forces of King Leopold III and his supporters, the former government in exile in London, and the Resistance movements which had emerged during the Occupation confronted each other in a bitter struggle for political ascendancy. The subsequent few years were dominated by an almost continual air of political and social crisis as Resistance demonstrations, strikes, and protests for and against the King appeared to threaten civil war and the institutional dissolution of the country. And yet by 1947 a certain stability had been achieved: the Resistance groups had been marginalised, the Communist Party was excluded from government, the King languished in unwilling exile in Switzerland, and, most tangibly, the pre-war political parties and the parliamentary political regime had been restored.

In this substantial contribution to the history of the liberation era in Europe, Martin Conway provides the first account, based on substantial new archival material, of this process of political normalisation, which provided the basis for the integration of Belgium into the post-war West European political order. That success, however, came at a cost: the absence of any substantial political reform after the Second World War exacerbated the tensions between the different social classes, linguistic communities, and regions within Belgium, providing the basis for the gradual unravelling of the Belgian nation-state which occurred over the second half of the twentieth century.


  • Contemporary European History
  • History of Democracy
  • History of Masculinity

My research has been principally concerned with European history from the 1930s to the 1960s. Like many others, I intiially was interested in the inter-ewar years, and my doctoral thesis explored the history of the extreme-right movement in Belgium, the Rexist movement, during the Second World War. Published in 1993 as Collaboration in Belgium: Léon Degrelle and the Rexist Movement 1940-1944, it was subsequently published in French and Dutch translations. The Catholic origins of the Rexist movement led me on to develop a wider interest in Catholic politics, and I have published a number of books and articles which have looked more generally at the shape of Catholic politics in Europe. I have also continued my interest in Belgium, and over the last decade have been researching and writing a large-scale study of Belgium after its liberation in 1944. This was finally published in 2012 as The Sorrows of Belgium: Liberation and Political Reconstruction 1944-47.

My current work is a development of this work on Belgium, but seeks to explore more widely the nature of the democratic settlement in Western Europe after 1945. I have published a number of articles on the nature of democracy in post-war Europe, and am currently writing a book entitled Europe's Democratic Age: Politics and Society in Western Europe 1945-73. This uses a wide range of contemporary writings to explore the character and nature of post-war democracy. In addition to this, I have been carrying out archival work with a view to writing about the working class in Western Europe after 1945.

I also participate in a number of collaborative research programmes, including the EurHistXX network, which is engaging in a comparative examination of the three post-war eras in 20th-century Europe (1918, 1945 and 1989).

  • Western Europe's Democratic Age 1945-1968

  • On Fragile Democracy: Contemporary and Historical Perspectives

  • Brexit: 100 Years in the Making

  • Europe's Postwar Periods - 1989, 1945, 1918 Writing History Backwards

  • Democracy in Western Europe after 1945

  • The (Re-)Making of Masculinity in Europe 1910-1960

  • Afterword: The Limits of an Anti-liberal Europe

  • The Frontiers of Belgium and of Internationalism

  • Christian Democracy: one word or two?

  • The End(s) of Memory: Memories of the Second World War in Belgium

  • More

Current DPhil Students

  • Jake McAuley

I would be willing to hear from potential DPhil students regarding any area of post-1930 History of Western Europe or any potential Masters students looking at Modern European, Belgian or Colonial History

I currently teach:

Prelims: FHS:
General History IV

General History XI

  General History XIII
  General History XIV
  Further Subject: Cold War Culture


The State of Europe (The Reluctant Internationalist, 4 January 2016)

What is it about Molenbeek? The bit of Belgium that was a base for Paris Terror Attacks (The Conversation, 20 November 2015)

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