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Flag of Flanders.svg
Flag of Flanders the symbol of the Flemish people.
Flemish Community in Belgium and Europe.svg
Flemish Community in Belgium and Europe
Total population
c. 7 million
(2011 estimate)
Regions with significant populations
 Belgium (Flanders) 6,450,765
 United States Indeterminable
(352,630 Belgians)
 France 187,750
 Canada 13,840–176,615
 South Africa 55,200
 Australia 15,130
 Brazil 6,000
Dutch (Flemish Dutch)
Roman Catholic majority
Protestant and Jewish minorities
Related ethnic groups

U.S. population census does not differentiate between Belgians and Flemish, therefore the number of the latter is unknown. Flemish people might also indiscriminately identify as Dutch, due to their close association, shared history, language and cultural heritage. There were as many as 4.27 million Dutch Americans, unknown percentage of which might be Flemings.
In 2011, 13,840 respondents stated Flemish ethnic origin. Another 176,615 reported Belgian. See List of Canadians by ethnicity

The Flemish or Flemings (Dutch: Vlamingen) are a West Germanic ethnic group native to Flanders, Belgium, who speak Flemish Dutch. They are one of two principal ethnic groups in Belgium, the other being the French-speaking Walloons. Flemish people make up the majority of the Belgian population, at about 60%.

"Flemish" was historically a geographical term, as all inhabitants of the medieval County of Flanders in modern-day Belgium, France, and the Netherlands were referred to as "Flemings", irrespective of their ethnicity or language. The contemporary region of Flanders comprises a part of this historical county, as well as parts of the medieval duchy of Brabant and the medieval county of Loon, where the modern Flemish ethnic group and culture gradually formed.


The sense of "Flemish" identity increased significantly after the Belgian Revolution. Prior to this, the term "Flemings" in the Dutch language was in first place used for the inhabitants of the former County of Flanders. Flemish however had been used since the 14th century to refer to the language and dialects of both the peoples of Flanders and the Duchy of Brabant. The modern Belgian province of Limburg was not part of the treaty, and only came to be considered "Flemish" in the 19th century.

In 1830 the southern provinces of the United Netherlands proclaimed their independence, for a number of reasons: French-dialect speaking population, as well as the administration and elites, feared the loss of their status and autonomy under Dutch rule while the rapid industrialization in the south highlighted economic differences between the two. Under previous French rule (1794–1815), French had been enforced as the only official language in public life, resulting in a Frenchification of the elites and, to a lesser extent, the middle classes. The Dutch king allowed the use of both Dutch and French dialects as administrative languages in the Flemish provinces. He also enacted laws to reestablish Dutch in schools. Furthermore; the Catholic majority of the Southern Netherlands (Belgium) viewed the sovereign, the Protestant William I, with suspicion and were heavily stirred by the Roman Catholic Church which suspected William of wanting to enforce Protestantism. Lastly, Belgian liberals were dissatisfied with William for his allegedly despotic behaviour.

Following the revolt, the language reforms of 1823 were the first Dutch laws to be abolished and the subsequent years would see a number of laws restricting the use of the Dutch language. This policy led to the gradual emergence of the Flemish Movement, that was built on earlier anti-French feelings of injustice, as expressed in writings (for example by the late 18th-century writer, Jan Verlooy) which criticized the Southern Francophile elites. The efforts of this movement during the following 150 years, have to no small extent facilitated the creation of the de jure social, political and linguistic equality of Dutch from the end of the 19th century.

After the Hundred Years War many Flemings migrated to the Azores. By 1490 there were 2,000 Flemings living in the Azores. Willem van der Haegen was the original sea captain who brought settlers from Flanders to the Azores. Today many Azoreans trace their genealogy from present day Flanders. Many of their customs and traditions are distinctively Flemish in nature such as Windmills used for grain, São Jorge cheese and several religious events such as the imperios and the feast of the Cult of the Holy Spirit.

Identity and culture

Quad Flandria
Map of the medieval County of Flanders.

Within Belgium, Flemings form a clearly distinguishable group set apart by their language and customs. However, when compared to the Netherlands most of these cultural and linguistic differences quickly fade, as the Flemish share the same language, similar or identical customs and (though chiefly with the southern part of today's Netherlands) traditional religion with the Dutch. However, the popular perception of being a single polity varies greatly, depending on subject matter, locality and personal background. Generally, Flemings will seldom identify themselves as being Dutch and vice versa, especially on a national level.

This is partly caused by the popular stereotypes in the Netherlands as well as Flanders which are mostly based on the 'cultural extremes' of both Northern and Southern culture. But also in great part because of the history of emancipation of their culture in Belgium, which has left many Flemings with a high degree of national consciousness, which can be very marked among some Dutch-speaking Belgians. Alongside this overarching political and social affiliation, there also exists a strong tendency towards regionalism, in which individuals greatly identify themselves culturally through their native province, city, region or dialect they speak.


Flemings speak Dutch (specifically its southern variant, which is often colloquially called 'Flemish'). It is the majority language in Belgium, being spoken natively by three-fifths of the population. Its various dialects contain a number of lexical and a few grammatical features which distinguish them from the standard language. As in the Netherlands, the pronunciation of Standard Dutch is affected by the native dialect of the speaker. At the same time East Flemish forms a continuum with both Brabantic and West Flemish. Standard Dutch is primarily based on the Hollandic dialect (spoken in the northwestern Netherlands) and to a lesser extent on Brabantic, which is the most dominant Dutch dialect of the Southern Netherlands and Flanders.


Approximately 75% of the Flemish people are by baptism assumed Roman Catholic, though a still diminishing minority of less than 8% attends Mass on a regular basis and nearly half of the inhabitants of Flanders are agnostic or atheist. A 2006 inquiry in Flanders showed 55% chose to call themselves religious and 36% believe that God created the universe.

National symbols

The official flag and coat of arms of the Flemish Community represents a black lion with red claws and tongue on a yellow field (or a lion rampant sable armed and langued gules). A flag with a completely black lion had been in wide use before 1991 when the current version was officially adopted by the Flemish Community. That older flag was at times recognized by government sources (alongside the version with red claws and tongue). Today, only the flag bearing a lion with red claws and tongue is recognized by Belgian law, while the flag with the all black lion is mostly used by Flemish separatist movements. The Flemish authorities also use two logos of a highly stylized black lion which show the claws and tongue in either red or black. The first documented use of the Flemish lion was on the seal of Philip d'Alsace, count of Flanders of 1162. As of that date the use of the Flemish coat of arms (or a lion rampant sable) remained in use throughout the reigns of the d'Alsace, Flanders (2nd) and Dampierre dynasties of counts. The motto "Vlaanderen de Leeuw" (Flanders the lion) was allegedly present on the arms of Pieter de Coninck at the Battle of the Golden Spurs on July 11, 1302. After the acquisition of Flanders by the Burgundian dukes the lion was only used in escutcheons. It was only after the creation of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands that the coat of arms (surmounted by a chief bearing the Royal Arms of the Netherlands) once again became the official symbol of the new province East Flanders.




The first sizeable wave of Flemish migration to Canada occurred in the 1870s, when Saint Boniface proved a popular destination for work in local flour mills, brick yards and railway yards. Similarly, Flemish were drawn to smaller villages in Manitoba, where jobs in farming were available. In the early 20th Century, Flemish settled in significant numbers across Ontario, particularly attracted by the tobacco growing industry, in the towns of Chatham, Leamington, Tillsonburg, Wallaceburg, Simcoe, Sarnia and Port Hope.

France and the Netherlands

The original County of Flanders encompassed areas which today belong to France and the Netherlands, but are still host to people of Flemish descent and some continued use of Flemish Dutch. Namely, these are Zeelandic Flanders and the Arrondissement of Dunkirk (historically known as French Westhoek). The people of North Brabant also share related ancestry.

South Africa

United Kingdom

Prior to the 1600s, there were several substantial waves of Flemish migration to the United Kingdom. Today, numerous towns in England and Wales boast large or majority populations with Flemish ancestry as a result. The first wave fled to England in the early 12th Century, escaping damages from a storm across the coast of Flanders, where they were largely resettled in Pembrokeshire by Henry I. They changed the culture and accent in south Pembrokeshire to such an extent, that it led to the area receiving the name Little England beyond Wales. Haverfordwest and Tenby consequently grew as important settlements for the Flemish settlers.

In the 14th Century, encouraged by King Edward III and perhaps in part due to his marriage to Philippa of Hainault, another wave of migration to England occurred when skilled cloth weavers from Flanders were granted permission to settle there and contribute to the then booming cloth and woollen industries. These migrants particularly settled in the growing Lancashire and Yorkshire textile towns of Manchester, Bolton, Blackburn, Liversedge, Bury, Halifax and Wakefield.

Demand for Flemish weavers in England occurred again in both the 15th and 16th Centuries, but this time particularly focused on towns close to the coastline of East Anglia and South East England. Many from this generation of weavers went to Colchester, Sandwich and Braintree. In 1582, it was estimated that there could have been around 1600 Flemish in Sandwich, today almost half of its total population. London, Norwich and North Walsham, however, were the most popular destinations, and the nickname for Norwich City F.C. fans, Canaries, is derived from the fact that many of the Norfolk weavers kept pet canaries. The town of Whitefield, near Bury, also claims to owe its name to Flemish cloth weavers that settled in the area during this era, who would lay their cloths out in the sun to bleach them.

United States

In the United States, the cities of De Pere and Green Bay in Wisconsin attracted many Flemish and Walloon immigrants during the 19th Century. The small town of Belgique was settled almost entirely by Flemish immigrants, although a significant number of its residents left after the Great Flood of 1993.

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