Initially the territory of the Belgae, a Celto-Germanic tribe, Northern France was subsequently conquered by the Romans. In 55 BC, Julius Caesar set sail to conquer England from Cap Blanc-Nez, a chalk and clay cliff that plunges 440 feet into the waves south of Calais. After the 5th-century defeat of the Romans, the region was incorporated into Neustria, one of the three territories that then made up France.

Part of the plain of Flanders.

The Middle Ages saw a period of prosperity with the development of the cloth-making industry in the Flanders––the plain that continues into Belgium––and Artois. During the Hundred Years War, Calais capitulated to the English, who kept it for a century before it reverted to the French crown following a long siege in 1347. During the siege, six prominent citizens volunteered to be hanged in order to spare the people of Calais. The men were pardoned but their courage provided the inspiration for Rodin's magnificent 1895 sculpture of the six hostages that can be seen in one of Calais’ parks. The event prompted England’s Queen Mary Tudor to say, “After my death, you will find Calais written in my heart."

Theater for the 20th century Wars.

A century later, most of Northern France was ruled by the House of Burgundy, while Flanders was brought under Austrian Hapsburg control before becoming part of the Kingdom of Spain. The marriage of King Louis XIV to Maria-Theresa of Spain in 1659 brought Flanders to the French crown and the King annexed the other northern areas under the 1678 Treaty of Nijmegen. In 1913, the Treaty of Utrecht definitively established the borders of Northern France. Already the site of many battles in WWI, no area in Western Europe suffered more wounds from the Second World War than Nord-Pas de Calais, especially the city of Dunkirk ("Church of the Dunes" in Flemish).