Flanders (Vlaanderen in Dutch, Flandre or Flandres in French) is the name for the Dutch-speaking northern region of the federal state of Belgium, covering 13,522 km² and containing nearly six million of the country's 10.3 million inhabitants.
It is divided into 5 provinces:West Flanders and East Flanders, combined area 6149 km² and population 2.5 million. The ensemble of Dutch dialects spoken in Belgium is often referred to as Flemish (Vlaams), although Flemish proper is spoken by a minority (1,050,000 in West Flanders and 230,000 outside Belgium) and the standard language used elsewhere in Flanders is the same as in the Netherlands.
The geographical region and former county of Flanders contains not only the two Belgian provinces but also the present-day French département of Nord, in parts of which there is still a Flemish-speaking minority, and the southern part of the Dutch province of Zeeland known as Zeeuws-Vlaanderen ("Sealandic Flanders"). The Artois area of today's French département of Pas-de-Calais was also also a part until it became a separate county in 1237.
Thus defined, Flanders covers a total area of 12,500 km² with about 5.2 million inhabitants today, or 16,500 km² with 6.2 million inhabitants if Artois is included. During the later Middle Ages its trading towns (notably Ghent (Gent), Bruges (Brugge) and Ypres (Ieper)) made it one of the most urbanised parts of Europe, weaving the wool of neighbouring lands into cloth for home consumption and export.
Increasingly powerful from the 12th century, the territory's autonomous urban communes were instrumental in defeating a French attempt at annexation (1300-1302). Flemish prosperity waned in the following century, however, owing to widespread European population decline following the Black Death of 1348, the disruption of trade during the Anglo-French Hundred Years' War (1338-1453), and increased English cloth production. Flemish weavers had come over to Worstead and North Walsham in Norfolk in the 12th century and established the wool industry.
Created in the year 862, the county was divided by the incorporation of the western districts into France in the late 12th century. The remainder of Flanders came under the rule of the counts of neighbouring Hainaut in 1191. The entire area passed in 1384 to the dukes of Burgundy, in 1477 to the Habsburg dynasty and in 1556 to the kings of Spain. The western districts of Flanders came finally under French rule under successive treaties of 1659 (Artois), 1668 and 1678.
The remaining Spanish half passed to the Austrian Habsburgs in 1714 as the price of their acceptance of a Bourbon succession to the Spanish throne following the extinction of the Spanish Habsburg line. Conquered by revolutionary France in 1794 and annexed the following year as the départements of Lys and Scheldt, it was attached to the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815 but became a part of the kingdom of Belgium in 1831 following the revolution of the previous year.
See also: Count of Flanders