Brief History of Flanders and Flemish

Flanders (French Flandre; Flemish Vlaanderen), historic principality of northern Europe that is now an extensive region embracing the provinces of East and West Flanders in Belgium, the southern portion of Zeeland Province in the Nethe rlands, and Nord Department in France. Cities in Flanders began to prosper and grow from an internationally successful cloth industry in the 13th century, helping a distinct Flemish culture emerge. The paintings, literature, and archi tecture of the region elevated it to a leading position in European civilization. Politically, however, the strategic location and small size of Flanders has meant that control of the region has changed hands many times in its history.

Flanders was inhabited by Celts in the 1st century BC and conquered by Germanic tribes in the next several hundred years, finally becoming a part of the empire established by Charlemagne in the 9th century AD. About 862 Baldwin I, son inlaw of the Carolingian emperor Charles the Bald (later Charles II, Holy Roman emperor), was created the first count of Flanders. Under Baldwin I and Baldwin II, Flanders was made secure against the incursions of the Vikings. In the early part of the 10th century, Baldwin III laid the basis for the industrial and commercial greatness of the region by establishing the wool and silk industries at Ghent and instituting annual fairs at Bruges, Ypres and other towns.

In the 11th century, Flanders became a vassal of the Holy Roman Empire, as well as of the French crown. During the rule of Count Baldwin V, the territory between the Schelde and Dender rivers and the margraviate of Antwerp were added t o Flanders. By the middle of the 11th century, Flanders had acquired power equivalent to that of a kingdom, and its rulers wielded considerable influence in the political affairs of western Europe.

Between 1191 and 1280, Flanders and the neighboring region of Hainaut were ruled as a united countship. In 1280, following the death of Margaret of Flanders, the union was dissolved. Margaret's son Guy de Dampierre succeeded to the countship of Flanders, and her grandson John II of Avesnes became count of Hainaut. In the early 14th century, Flanders was invaded and subjugated by King Philip IV of France. Although the countship was acknowledged nominally, France became the real ruler of Flanders. In 1369 Burgundy acquired Flanders through the marriage of Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy, to Margaret of Flanders, daughter of Louis II, count of Flanders. The history of Flanders as an independent state ceased that year. In 1477 Flanders passed to the house of Habsburg.

In the last years of the 16th century, Flanders was devastated in the uprising against the rule of the Spanish Habsburgs. In the first half of the 17th century, the northwest portion of Flanders, called Dutch Flanders, was ceded by Spa in to the United Provinces of the Netherlands. France acquired the portion known as French Flanders by a succession of treaties in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. By the Treaty of Rastatt and Baden in 1714, which supplemented the Treaty of Utrecht, what remained of the Spanish Netherlands passed to the Habsburgs of Austria. In the Napoleonic period from 1795 to 1814, Flanders was incorporated into the French Empire. In 1815 the Congress of Vienna united Flanders with Be lgium and Holland to form the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Between 1830 and 1832, Belgium regained its independence and retained what is now East and West Flanders.

Flemish Language, language of historic Flanders (comprising what is now the northern part of Belgium and part of the Netherlands and France), and one of the official languages of modern Belgium, spoken by about 55 percent of the populace. It is, in addition, spoken by a small population in France near Belgium.

The term Flemish language is a regional name for the Netherlandic (Dutch Flemish) language. Although linguists prefer the term Netherlandic, Dutch and Flemish remain common because they have political and cultural meaning. This is especially true of local spoken dialects, which form a gradual chain of dialects through Dutch Flemish territory. Also, Flemish speech has many loan words from French. In spite of attempts to establish a written langua ge from regional Flemish dialects, Belgium, like the Netherlands, uses standard Netherlandic (standard Dutch) as its literary language.

The northern and southern Netherlands region (or the Low Countries) became politically separate in 1579, when Holland and other northern provinces established an independent government. When France occupied the southern provinces in 1794, French became the official language and the language of culture. Even with the brief union of Belgium and Holland as the kingdom of the Netherlands (1815-30), the people in southern Belgium continued speaking French (known as Walloon), while those in the north clung to their local Flemish dialects. This linguistic division persisted after Belgian independence (1830) and continues today. After a long struggle, culminating in 1938, Flemish was made the official language in northern Belgium, with equal legal status to French.

"Flemish Language," Microsoft (R) Encarta. Copyright (c) 1994 Microsoft Corporation. Copyright (c) 1994 Funk & Wagnall's Corporation.

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