Jules Van den Heuvel

Jules Van den Heuvel (16 November 1854 – 22 October 1926) was a Roman Catholic politician from Ghent in Belgium.[1]

Jules van den Heuvel
Minister of Justice
In office
5 August 1899  2 May 1907
Minister of State
Assumed office
Personal details
Jules Norbert Marie van den Heuvel

16 November 1854
Died22 October 1926
ChildrenSuzanne Van den Heuvel/Struye
Mérinette Van den Heuvel (1895-1985)

He also made his mark as a university lecturer in public law and, more generally, as an academic. Between 1915 and 1918 Van den Heuvel served as his war ravaged country's diplomatic representative to the Holy See.



He was not born into a wealthy family. His parents ran a shop selling knitted goods. His parents were deeply affected by the death in quick succession of their three elder children from croup, and Jules was sent away to live with an aunt in Bernissart for a few years, before returning to Ghent where the educational possibilities were better. There was nothing about his early years to mark him out as a future top politician.[2]


Van de Heuvel attended the Sint-Barbaracollege, a Jesuit secondary school in Ghent, before moving on in 1873 to Ghent University where he studied Law, and where fellow students included the future politician Albert Nyssens. Van den Heuvel obtained doctorates in both Law, and in Political and Administrative Sciences.[2] He also obtained a substantial bursary which enabled him to study abroad: he pursued his further studies at universities in Paris, Berlin and Rome, and was also able to study The Obstruction of Justice in England.[2] In 1879 he was admitted to the bar in Ghent. During this period he also joined with another future national politician, Paul de Smet de Naeyer and with Albert Nyssens to found in Ghent the Catholic newspaper, L'Impartial.

The academic lawyer-politician

Despite being politically active in East Flanders, he found time to launch himself on an academic career, becoming in 1883 Professor of Public Law at the Catholic University of Louvain. He would continue to teach the subject for thirty years.[3] He was also energetic in his promotion of the university's School of Political and Social Sciences, and he pioneered the teaching of Comparative Law. He soon built a reputation which contributed to his nomination, in 1899, to a government position as extra-parliamentary Minister of Justice in the Catholic Party government led by Paul de Smet de Naeyer.[2]

An activist Justice Minister, he remained in his post till May 1907. During eight years characterised by abundant "hard work and personal charm" (huit années pleines de labour et de charme),[2] highlights included pushing through reforms in respect Labour laws, Gambling, Credit unions, Navigation law, Divorce law, Paternity law and corporate governance. Of at least as much interest as any of these projects for many contemporary sources was the so-called Royal Donation whereby royal assets - mostly land and buildings - was transferred from the king to the state, subject to various exceptions and restrictions covering matters such as the inalienability of the assets. This removed the risks arising from royal assets in Belgium from coming into the ownership of the king's three daughters and their foreign husbands. As Justice Minister, Van den Heuvel was closely involved in negotiating and drafting the necessary settlements,[2] which also, in some respects, provided templates for the transfer in 1908 of the distant and inaccessible Congo Free State from the king's personal asset portfolio to the Belgian state as the Belgian Congo.[2]

After eight years at the Justice Ministry, van den Heuvel resigned his office in May 1907, which coincided with a change of prime minister (though not of the ruling party). He was a Belgian delegate to the Second International Peace Conference at The Hague between June and October 1907, and thereafter remained an active member of the political establishment. He was nominated a Minister of State in 1908. "Minister of State" in Belgium may be described as an honorary title, but during the years that followed Van den Heuvel was deeply involved in attempts to improve the conditions of the Belgian Congo.[2] A few years later, in 1914, and together with Paul Hymans and Henri Carton de Wiart, Jules Van den Heuvel drafted the Belgian reply to the German Ultimatum which preceded the German invasion of Belgium and so, for Britain and France, military participation in the First World War.

Honours and an ambassadorship

Beyond the world of politics, on 8 May 1908 Van de Heuvel was elected a corresponding member of Belgium's Royal Academy, becoming a full member on 5 May 1919. When war broke out in August 1914 he followed the government when it relocated to Antwerp, and then into exile in Normandy. In 1915 the Prime Minister, Charles de Broqueville appointed him as the country's Minister Plenipotentiary to the Holy See, a de facto ambassadorship which he retained till 1918.

After the war

After war ended Jules Van den Heuvel attended the Paris Peace Conference, at the request of the Foreign Ministry, and drew up the schedule of damages suffered by Belgium. He chaired one of the three sections of the allied Reparations Commission. His contribution was cut short, however, when he suddenly resigned his political duties and from his university teaching on health grounds.


  • His daughter Suzanne married Paul Struye (1896-1974) who subsequently himself became a senior Belgian politician.
  • His other daughter, Mérinette Van den Heuvel, was politically active and an energetic campaigner for various social causes.


  1. "Index V .... Van den Heuvel, Jules (Norbert Marie)". Rulers. B. Schemmel. Retrieved 13 July 2015.
  2. R. Bonnaerens (27 June 1953). "HEUVEL (VAN DEN) (Jules-Norbert-Marie), Minister van Justitie (Gent, 16.11.1854 — Gent, 22.10.1926)" (PDF). Belgische Koloniale Biografie (in Dutch). Royal Academy of Colonial Sciences. p. 421. Retrieved 13 July 2015.
  3. Van den Heuvel, Jules ... Biographie / historique (in French). Les archives de l'État en Belgique.
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