County of Hainaut

The County of Hainaut (sometimes spelled Hainault, French: Comté de Hainaut, Dutch: Graafschap Henegouwen; German: Grafschaft Hennegau; Latin: comitatus hanoniensis) was a territorial lordship within the medieval Holy Roman Empire that straddled what is now the border of Belgium and France. Its most important towns included Mons (Dutch: Bergen), now in Belgium, and Valenciennes, now in France.

County of Hainaut
Grafschaft Hennegau (de)
Comté de Hainaut (fr)
Graafschap Henegouwen (nl)
c. 900–1797
Coat of arms
Common languagesFrench, Dutch, German, Walloon, Picard
Roman Catholicism
GovernmentFeudal County
Count of Hainaut 
 ? –898
Reginar I
(first Reginar count)
Baldwin II
Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy
Mary of Burgundy
 1792–94 (died 1835)
Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor (last count)
Historical eraMiddle Ages
 Consolidation of county
 Acquired by Burgundy
 Absorbed into
    Habsburg Netherlands
18 August 1477
 Joined Burgundian Circle
Preceded by
Succeeded by
County of Mons
Landgraviate of Brabant
Margraviate of Valenciennes
Burgundian Netherlands

The core of the county was named after the river Haine. It stretched southeast to include the Avesnois region and southwest to the Selle (Scheldt tributary). In the Middle Ages, it also gained control of part of the original pagus of Brabant to its north and the pagus of Oosterbant to the east, but they were not part of the old pagus of Hainaut. In modern terms, the original core of Hainaut consisted of the central part of the Belgian province of Hainaut, and the eastern part of the French département of Nord (the arrondisements of Avesnes-sur-Helpe and Valenciennes).

Hainaut already appeared in 8th-century records as a Frankish gau or pagus, which included the Roman towns of Famars and Bavay. In the 9th century, if not earlier, it was also described as a county, which implies that it had a single count governing it. As with many counties of the region, there was apparently a 10th-century fragmentation of territories among different counts, which is difficult to reconstruct. A single county re-emerged in its more-or-less final form in 1071.

Hainaut has a history of being a frontier territory. It fell within different Frankish realms in the 9th and the 10th centuries and was part of West Francia (the future France), East Francia (the future Germany), and the "middle kingdom" of Lotharingia until 925. Then, as part of Lotharingia, the region was definitively attached to the eastern Frankish realm that would become the Kingdom of Germany. Hainaut and its neighbourhood remained an important frontier area, or "march", during the High Middle Ages. Though it was part of the Holy Roman Empire, which ruled from what is now Germany, it was culturally and linguistically French and part of the Catholic Archdiocese of Reims. Like its neighbours such as the counties of Brabant and Flanders, it was frequently entangled in the politics of France.

The Counts of Hainaut were often rulers of other counties, including Flanders and Holland. Throughout its history, the county of Hainaut formed a personal union with other states. For example:

  • Hainaut and Flanders: 1067–71 and again 1191–1246
  • Hainaut, Holland and Zeeland: 1299–1356
  • Hainaut, Holland and Zeeland under Bavaria-Straubing: 1356–1432

In 1432, Hainaut, Holland and Zeeland joined Flanders, Artois, Namur, Brabant, Limbourg, and later Luxembourg, within the large agglomeration of territories in the Low Countries, belonging to the French House of Valois-Burgundy. This new state, the Burgundian Netherlands, was later inherited by the Habsburg dynasty.

In 1659 and 1678 southern Hainaut was acquired by France. The northern part continued to be part of the Habsburg Netherlands, and like much of that state, it was absorbed into the First French Republic at the end of the Ancien regime but later became part of Belgium in 1830.