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Flanders (Traditional province, France)

Flandre, Flandres - Vlaanderen

Last modified: 2013-11-30 by ivan sache
Keywords: flanders | flandre | flandres | vlaanderen | lion (black) |
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Flag of Flanders - Image by Pierre Gay, 21 January 2003

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History of Flanders

The French Flandre (singular) or Flandres (plural) is part of the bigger, historical region of Flanders, which is now mainly located in Belgium with the status of Region. The French and Belgian Flanders are now separated by a very complicated border.

Flanders was colonized by the Romans and incorporated to the province of Second Belgium, whose capital was Reims.
After the share of the Carolingian Empire, Charles the Bald, King of Francia Occidentalis, constituted in Flanders a march he ceded to his son-in-law and vassal Baldwin I Iron Arm in 879. In 987, Hugh Capet was crowned King of France with the Count of Flanders as his vassal, having himself three vassals, the Counts of Boulogne, Guignes and Saint-Pol. Some parts of Flanders, however, kept the Holy Roman Empire, were called Imperial Flanders.

Flanders was a wealthy and de facto independent state. During the 11th-12th centuries, cloth industry developed and the rich towns, granted charts, built belfreys as a symbol of their freedom and power. In 1205, Count Baldwin IX died in Constantinople, where he had been crowned Emperor. King of France Philip II Augustus protected Baudoin's daughters and married Joan of Flanders to Fernando of Portugal. In 1213, the king seized Lille, the capital of Flanders. The next year, he defeated in Bouvines Fernando and his allies, the King of England John Lackland, the German Emperor Otto IV and the Counts of Boulogne and Hainaut. Philiipe-Auguste's victory on the "Bouvines Sunday" (27 July 1214) against this international coalition was the first major victory by a King of France. It was the first step in the increase of the royal power against his vassals.

Flanders remained, however, more favourable to England and Germany than to France. King Philip the Handsome attempted to invade Flanders in 1300. His army was crushed by the municipal militias of Kortrijk during the famous battle of the Golden Spurs (1302), which is considered as a founding date by the Flemish nationalists. Philip took revenge in Mons-en-Pévèle and eventually signed the Treaty of Athis-sur-Orge in 1305.

During the Hundred Years' War, the King of England attempted to obtain the suzereignty on Flanders, to no avail. In 1369, Margaret of Flanders married Duke of Burgundy Philip the Bold and Flanders was incorporated to the Duchy of Burgundy. In 1454, Duke Philip the Good took in Lille, the seat of a brilliant court, the Pheasant's Vow, promising to go on the Crusade.
In 1477, after the death of Duke Charles the Bold, the marriage of Mary of Burgundy with Maximilan of Austria gave Flanders to the Holy Roman Empire. King of France François I had to withdraw his claims on Flanders by the Treaty of Cambrai (the Ladies' Peace) in 1529.

In the 17th century, Louis XIV progressively reconquered the Flemish towns: Gravelines, Bourbourg and Saint-Venant were incorporated to France by the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659); Douai, Courtrai [Kortrijk, now in Belgium]; Lille (Rijsel), Armentières, Bergues and Furnes [Veurne, now in Belgium] by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668); Ypres [Ieper, now in Belgium], Poperinge [now in Belgium], Bailleul (Belle) and Cassel by the Treaty of Nijmegen (1678). The northern border of France was definitively fixed by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

Ivan Sache, 21 January 2003

Flag of Flanders

The flag of Flanders is a banner of the arms D'or au lion de sable, armé et lampassé de gueules (Or a lion rampant sable armed and langued gules).
A similar flag has an official status in Belgian Flanders.

Ivan Sache, 21 January 2003

Origin of the Flemish lion

The motto Vlaenderen die Leu (Flanders the lion) was according to Eug. Sanders present on the arms of Pieter de Coninck at the Battle of the Golden Spurs on 11 July 1302 near the Groeningekouter. Some three hundred noblemen shouted it too when they saw, having fought in the French rows, that chances were turning in favour of the Flemish. In Spiegel Historiael, Louis van Velthem also refers to the lion in a song describing the battle of Blangys-Guinegatte, August 1472. Later, Hendrik Conscience used the motto in his Lion of Flanders.

The first known attempt to establish the origins of the Flemish lion comes from John the Long, better known as Iperius, abbot and historian at the St. Bertinus abbey in Saint-Omer (today in northern France). According to his story, from the first Count on, the Counts of Flanders used arms called Oude Vlaenderen (Old Flanders). However, during the Crusade of 1177, Count of Flanders Philip of Alsace, bravely won a black lion on a golden field from a Mohammedan monarch in a fight against the Sarracens. At his return, Philip dropped the Oude Vlaenderen and adopted "Or a lion rampant sable" as his arms. Since then, all Counts of Flanders have used those arms.
Dr. E. Warlop noticed that the lion appears for the first time on a seal of Philip of Alsace in 1162, that is fifteen years before the "acquisition" of the lion in the Holy Land. Iperius' story dates from the second half of the 14th century - two centuries after the facts - and may therefore not be accurate. Moreover, there is no scientific proof that the Oude Vlaenderen was ever used by one of the early Counts of Flanders. All known descriptions and depictions of it date from after Iperius' story. Warlop concluded that the descriptions found their origin in the story, which admittedly was made up for some convenient reasons. The origin of the lion should therefore not be sought in the Holy Land, but in the environs of Philip of Alsace.

Four years older than Philip's seal, a counterseal of William of Ieper from 1158, shows a lion passant, walking to the right. William may have inherited these arms from previous Counts, or maybe he brought it home from England, where he had stayed for twenty years as the leader of mercenary troops in the King's service. Maybe Philip chose these arms because he was the son of Sybilla of Anjou, sister of Geoffrey Plantagenet, who used arms showing two lion rampants (walking to the left). He could also have chosen these arms because of his stay in England, where he had been under the protection of the King of England, Henry II Plantagenet, while his parents were on a Crusade. Henry used arms with lions passants.

In the 12th century, the lion passant, actually a descendant of the dragon, became the symbol of paganism and rebellion against the Church. The lion rampant on his turn became the symbol of the Christian knights. That makes it plausible that Philip of Alsace, who went to the Holy Land twice, used this symbol.
A second reason could be that both Thierry and Philip of Alsace wanted to take over the inheritance of William of Ieper against his illegal but legitimized son. As to prevent the danger of usurpation, William's arms weren't taken over litterally: the lion passant became a lion rampant.
Finally, the arms could also be taken after Geoffrey Plantagenet, as the symbol of the Christian knight. A lion rampant fitted better to a triangular shield, however.

Therefore, one may conclude that the story of the "acquisition" of the lion during a fight against the Sarracens might have been made up, to cover up the not so fine truth.

Filip van Laenen, 29 October 1997