County of Flanders

The County of Flanders was a historical region in the Low Countries.

It consisted not only of the two actual Belgian provinces of East-Flanders and West-Flanders but also much of the present-day French département of the Nord (French Flanders), in parts of which there is still a minority speaking the French Flemish dialect of Dutch, and the southern part of the Dutch province of Zeeland known as Zeelandic Flanders (Dutch Flanders).

The most important cities were Ghent (Gent), Bruges (Brugge), Tournai (Doornik), Kortrijk, Ypres (Ieper), Middelburg, Oudenaarde, Aalst, Lille (Rijsel), Cambrai (Kamerijk), Douai (Dowaai), Dunkirk (Duinkerke) and Valenciennes (Valencijn).

Today, the historic county of Flanders is territorially divided up between France, Belgium and the Netherlands.


The county of Flanders originates with Judith, daughter of the King of France Charles the Bald. She married twice to English kings but returned and eloped with Baldwin Iron Arm. Charles disapproved at first, but Judith could not be induced to return.

So Charles relented and granted the region of Flanders, called pagus Flandrensis, to the two of them. At first as a ‘march county’ or margraviate, later as simple county.

The county of Flanders was formally established as a feudal fief in the year 862 by Charles the Bald, king of Francia Occidentalis (Western Francia). It was one of the six original lay pairies of the French realm, the count of Flanders being the swordbearer in the coronation ceremony of the kings of France.

The original Flemish pagus was expanded throughout the years, to the North, with the lordship of The Four Amts and the Southern isles of Zeeland, to the East with the burgraviate of Aalst and to the South with the county of Artois, a historical region in today’s French département of Pas-de-Calais.

It remained part of Flanders until it became a separate county in 1237.

After that date, the county of Artois at various times still came under the dominion of the count of Flanders as a separate title, until it was absorbed by the French crown.

Thus defined, Flanders covers a total area of 12,500 km² with 5.2 million inhabitants since 2004, or 16,500 km² with 6.2 million inhabitants if Artois is included.

During the later Middle Ages its trading towns (notably Ghent , Bruges and Ypres made it one of the most urbanised parts of Europe, weaving the wool of neighbouring lands into cloth for domestic use and export.

The county of Flanders was divided when its western districts fell under French rule in the late 12th century.

The remaining parts of Flanders came shortly under the rule of the counts of neighbouring Hainaut in 1191.

Increasingly powerful from the 12th century, the territory’s autonomous urban communes were instrumental in defeating a French attempt at annexation (1300-1302), finally defeating the French in the Battle of the Golden Spurs (July 11, 1302), near Kortrijk.

Marriages led to a union with neighbouring provinces, called the Seventeen Provinces, and the entire area passed in 1384 to the dukes of Burgundy of the House of Valois. Since then the county of Flanders was part of the Burgundian Netherlands. These became the Seventeen Provinces in 1477, when the territories fell to the House of Habsburg. In 1512 they were incorporated into an Imperial Circle of their own, the Burgundian Circle.

The county of Flanders remained a fief of France for its western territories, and a lordship of the Holy Roman Empire for its eastern territories. In 1526, Francis I of France ceded the county of Flanders to Charles V, of the Holy Roman Empire in the Treaty of Madrid.

This was restated in the Ladies’ Treaty of Caimbrai of 1529. Sovereignty was transmitted from the kingdom of France to the Holy Roman Empire.

In 1549, Charles V, of the Holy Roman Empire issued a Pragmatic Sanction, declaring the county of Flanders, together with the other lordships that made up the Low Countries as a unified entity of which his family would be the heirs.
The Low Countries held an important place in the Empire. For Charles personally, they were the region where he spent his childhood. Because of trade and industry and the rich cities, they were also important for the treasury. Lordship transferred to the Spanish branch of the House of Habsburg with Philip II of Spain, and after 1556 belonged to the Kings of Spain.

Due to the expansive policies of Louis XIV of France, the western districts of Flanders came finally under French rule under successive treaties of 1659 (Artois), 1668 and 1678. These districts became one of the provinces of France and eventually the Nord département.

In 1715, the remaining territory of the Southern Netherlands, Flanders included, passed back to the Austrian Branch of the House of Habsburg.

In 1794 it was conquered by French revolutionaries, but after the defeat of Napoleon passed to the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna.

In 1830 the main part of it became a part of Belgium, a small part of it remaining in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.



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