Flanders, a region in the Low Countries of western Europe. Although a county of France during medieval times, Flanders was practically an independent state. It is now mostly in Belgium, but parts of it are also in France and The Netherlands. The region extends inland about 50 miles (80 km) from the North Sea between Calais, France, and the Schelde estuary.
During the Middle Ages Flanders was a great cloth-manufacturing and trading center. Ghent, Bruges, and Ypres (in present-day Belgium) and Lille (France) were large Flemish cities. Flemish painting and music excelled during the Northern Renaissance of the 15th and 16th centuries.
The history of Flanders as a distinct region began in 862 A.D. when Baldwin became its first count. Later counts, notably Baldwin IX (1171–1206), founder of the Latin empire at Constantinople, were prominent in the Crusades. In 1384 the last count died without a male heir, and for centuries possession of Flanders passed from one European state to another. In 1830 most of it became part of newly created Belgium. Flanders was the scene of much fighting in both World Wars.