Flanders (Flem. Vlaenderen, Fr. Flandre), formerly a part of the Netherlands or Low Countries of western Europe, now included in Belgium, Holland (the southern part of the province of Zealand), and France (parts of the departments of Le Nord and Pas-de-Calais). Stretching along the North sea from the western inlet of the Scheldt to the entrance of the straits of Dover, it was bounded N. and E. by that river and its branch the Dender, while on the south it joined the province of Artois. The name occurs for the first time in the 7th century, when Eloi, bishop of Noyon and treasurer of King Dagobert I, visited northern Neustria. By the treaty of Verdun (843) Flanders was included in the kingdom of France, and about 20 years later it was erected into a county under the rule of Baldwin of the Iron Arm, son-in-law of King Charles the Bald. Baldwin's successors took rank among the six lay peers of France, and figured conspicuously in French history. His family having become extinct in 1119, the county was held till 1127 by Charles I., the Good, son of Canute, king of Denmark; then for a year by William Cliton, the nephew of Henry I. of England; and finally by Thierry, son of the duke of Lorraine, whose dynasty, known as the Alsatian, reigned till 1280. A last family of counts was established by Guy de Dampierre, and lasted till 1384, when Flanders was united to the states of Philip the Bold of Burgundy, who had married the heiress of the last count.
At the death of Charles the Bold in 1477, his daughter Mary, by marrying the archduke Maximilian, brought Flanders to the house of Austria. It was incorporated by the emperor Charles V. among the 17 provinces which formed the circle of Burgundy. On his abdication it became one of the dependencies of Spain, which lost a portion of it by its northernmost section being annexed to Zealand when the seven United Provinces declared their independence. Afterward a portion of its southern territory was conquered by Louis XIV., and received the name of French Flanders. In 1713 the peace of Utrecht transferred Flanders from Spain to Austria. In 1792 it was invaded by the French, who held it till 1814, during which period it formed the departments of Lys and Scheldt. On the fall of the French empire, it was given to the king of the Netherlands, who divided it into two provinces, East and West Flanders, which since 1831 have constituted an important part of the kingdom of Belgium. In spite of so many revolutions, Flanders has always been distinguished for its industrial, commercial, and agricultural prosperity. As early as the 12th century its cities had acquired considerable importance through their manufactures, and had secured a certain degree of freedom.
The democratic spirit kept even pace with the progress of trade and industry; and in the following centuries the Flemish cities were so many republican communities, paying little more than a nominal obedience to their counts. They more than once took the management of affairs into their own hands, and successfully resisted their lord paramount, the king of France. Such was the case in 1337, when Jacob van Artevelde, the brewer of Ghent, expelled Count Louis I. from the country, caused his countrymen to acknowledge Edward III. of England as king of France, and held for a while the balance between the two great contending nations. Even when the cities of Flanders submitted to their sovereigns, they protected their liberties and privileges against any encroachment, revolting repeatedly during the 14th and loth centuries. The interest of their lords, however, was to deal mildly with the subjects from whom they could obtain immense sums of money by voluntary taxation. It was through them that the house of Burgundy became the wealthiest in Europe, for they had then reached the height of their prosperity; many burgesses of Ghent, Ypres, and Bruges had princely fortunes, and plenty was apparent everywhere.
Charles V., by.forbearance and skilful management, conciliated the Flemings, and even the despotism of Philip II. could not entirely alienate them from Spain. Flanders is still a well cultivated country, famous for its industry and commerce, and forming the richest part of Belgium; but the indomitable spirit of old times has been tamed into a moderate love of political liberty. (See Flemish Language and Literature.)