Care should be taken with the use of the term Flanders: different people often mean different things when they use it.
For some, including many French-speakers and certain foreigners, the term Flanders (French: Flandre or Flandres) is normally taken to refer to a geographical area, one of the three regions in Belgium; the precise geographical area denominated by this word has changed a great deal over the centuries.
In the past, the term Flanders was applied to an area in western-Europe, spread over:
- a part what is now the département du Nord, in north eastern France (now called French-Flanders or "Frans-Vlaanderen" in Dutch), plus
- the area that is now the Flemish provinces of East-Flanders and West-Flanders
- a small area in south-west Netherlands now called "Zeeland Flanders" (Dutch: "Zeeuws-Vlaanderen").
But even in the past there were instances where what is now Flanders was, in fact, referred to as Flanders.
For many others, including the vast majority of the Fleming, Flanders is the name of their community -some call it a nation- a people of over 6 million living in the Flemish Region, and in the Brussels Region (where they form a minority). All Flemings share the same political, cultural, scientific, educational and many social institutions (the main exceptions being those where the Belgian legislator imposes a Belgian-scale organisation).
Both the Flemish region as the Flemish Community are federal units of the Kingdom of Belgium. The area of this region and community are represented on the maps above. The Flemish Region has a population of around over 6 million. The Flemings in Brussel are estimated around 150. to 200.000 (official figures don't exist as there is no official subnationality).
As of 2005, the Flemish institutions as its governement, parliament, etc. represent the whole Flemish Community, which absorbed all constitutional competencies of the Flemish region. The region thus has no parliament anymore, no ministers, and as good as no cvivil servants. All these institutions are based in Brussels.
The official language and principal language spoken of all Flemish institutions is Dutch. Minorities speak French, Yiddish, Italian, Polish, Turkish, Berber, Arabic and other languages.
The Flemish Region covers 13,522 km² and contains over 300 municipalities). It is divided into 5 provinces:
Antwerp (Dutch: Antwerpen)
East Flanders (Oost-Vlaanderen)
Flemish Brabant (Vlaams-Brabant)
West Flanders (West-Vlaanderen)
Independently from the provinces, Flanders also has its own local institutions in the Brussels region, being the 'Vlaamse GemeenschapsCommissie' (VGC), and its municipal antennae ('gemeenschapscentra', community centers for the Flemish community in Brussels). These institutions are independent from the educational, cultural and social institutions which dependi directly from the Flemish governement.
During the later Middle Ages Flanders’ trading towns (notably Ghent (Gent), Bruges (Brugge) 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), finally defeating the French in the Battle of the Golden Spurs (July 11, 1302), near Kortrijk. 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 gone over to Worstead and North Walsham in Norfolk in the 12th century and established the woollen industry.
Created in the year 862, 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 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.
Spanish, Austrian and French Occupation
King Philips II of Spain, who was also the duke or earl of each of the provinces of the Netherlands, cracked down hard on the rising Calvinism in Flanders, Brabant (both in what is now Flanders) and Holland (in what is now the Netherlands). In the second part of the 16th century the provinces of the Netherlands rebelled against Philips II, and before the Netherlands could be completely reconquered, war between England and Spain broke out, forcing the Spanish troops under Philips II to halt their advances. Meanwhile, Philips' Spanish troops had conquered the important trading cities of Bruges and Ghent and had sacked Antwerp, which was then arguably the most important port in the world, causing the rich Calvinist merchants of these cities to flee to the north. The immigrants from Antwerp migrated to Amsterdam, which was at the time a tiny port, but was quickly transformed into one of the most important ports in the world in the 17th century by the Antwerp immigrants (in effect creating a new Antwerp). This mass immigration from Flanders and Brabant (especially Antwerp) was the main driving force behind the Netherlands' Golden Century. While Spain was at war with England, the rebels from the north, strengthened by refugees from the south, started a campaign to reclaim areas lost to Philips II's Spanish troops. They managed to conquer a considerable part of Brabant and of Limburg and a tiny part of Flanders, before being stopped by Spanish troops. The frontline at the end of this war stabilized and became the current border between (present-day, not the old county which is just a part of current Flanders) Flanders and the Netherlands. The Dutch (as they later became known) had managed to reclaim enough of Spanish king-controlled Flanders to close of the river the Scheldt, effectively closing off Antwerp from an important trade route. Due to these events, Flanders and Brabant (part of present-day Flanders) went into a relative decline in the 17th century, but they managed to retain their wealth and prominent world position up until the present (today Flanders is one of the most productive and wealthiest regions of the world).
Although arts remained at an impressive level for another century with Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640, returned to Antwerp at age 6), Flanders experienced a relative loss of its former economic and intellectual power under Spanish, Austrian, and French rule, with heavy taxation and rigid imperial political control compounding the effects of industrial stagnation and Spanish-Dutch and Franco-Austrian conflict. But even in these circumstances Flanders continued to flourish. The only danger to its position as one of the wealthiest regions in the world came after Belgium became independent in 1830, with the 1845 famine in West Flanders as a sad example.
Conquered by revolutionary France in 1794 and annexed the following year as the départements of Lys and Scheldt, Flanders 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.
After the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1814 (confirmed the following year at the Battle of Waterloo near Brussels), sovereignty over the Southern Netherlands -- Belgium -- was given by the Congress of Vienna (1815) to the rulers of the Northern provinces of the "Low Countries". The Protestant King of the Netherlands, William I succeeded in rapidly starting the industrialisation of the Southern Netherlands, but failed to maintain good relations with the larger and rebellious Catholic provinces. The Belgian bourgeoisie was not only Catholic, as opposed to the Protestant north, but they also spoke French, instead of Dutch. Resentment grew both among Catholics and among the powerful liberal bourgeoisie.
In 1830, a street revolution in Brussels led to the splitting up of the two countries. Belgium was confirmed as an independent state by the London Conference of 1831, but deprived of the military strongholds of Maastricht and Givet (explaining those surprising indentations in the Belgian border) Sovereignty over Zeeuws Vlaanderen, south of the Scheldt river delta, was left with the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which closed this river for any sea traffic to and from Antwerp harbour until 1863.
World War I
Flanders saw some of the greatest losses of life of the First World War including the battles of Ypres and the Somme. Due to the hundreds of thousands of casualties and the poppies that sprang up on Flanders Fields, they have both become an emblem of human life lost in war.
Flemish feeling of identity and consciousness grew through the events and experiences of war. The German occupying authorities had taken several Flemish-friendly measures. More importantly the experiences of the Flemish speaking soldiers on the front lead by French speaking officers catalysed Flemish emancipation. Their suffering is still remembered by Flemish organizations during the yearly Yser pilgrimage and Wake of the Yser in Diksmuide at the monument of The Yser tower.
The standard language used in Flanders is the same as in the Netherlands, i.e., Dutch. The Dutch dialects spoken in Belgium are often referred together as Flemish (Vlaams in Dutch), Using Flemish to refer to dialectic language may be confusing as there are many different Flemish dialects that are sometimes mutually incomprehensible.
At first sight, Flemish culture is defined by its language. However, a distinctive Flemish literature as such does not exist. Books written by Flemings and by Dutchmen are read all over the Dutch-speaking areas, though most readers are able to distinguish the fine differences in vocabulary.
Many new political parties during the last half century were founded in Flanders and most often in Antwerp: "Daensisme," progressive Christian-Democrats; Frontpartij & Volksunie, moderate Flemish; Agalev, alternative/Green; Vlaams-Belang: far-right; and ROSSEM, a short-lived anarchistic spark).
Last updated: 08-17-2005 13:57:47