Artois occupies the interior of the Pas-de-Calais département, the western part of which constitutes the former Boulonnais. Artois roughly corresponds to the arrondissements of Arras, Béthune, Saint Omer, and Lens, and the eastern part of the Arrondissement of Montreuil. It occupies the western end of the coalfield which stretches eastward through the neighbouring Nord département and across central Belgium.
Originally a feudal county itself, Artois was annexed by the county of Flanders. It came to France in 1180 as a dowry of a Flemish princess and was again made a separate county in 1237 for a grandson of that princess. Through inheritance, Artois came under the rule of the dukes of Burgundy in 1384. At the death of the fourth duke, Charles the Bold, Artois was inherited by the Habsburgs and passed to the dynasty's spanish line. After the religious revolts of 1566 in the Netherlands, Artois briefly entered the Dutch Revolt in 1576, participating in the Pacification of Ghent until it formed the Union of Atrecht in 1579. After the Union of Atrecht, Artois and Hainaut (Dutch: Henegouwen) reached a separate agreement with Philip II. Artois remained with the Spanish Netherlands until it was conquered by the French during the Thirty Years War. The annexation was acknowledged during the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, and it became a French province. Though Artois had already been largely French-speaking, it was considered part of the Netherlands until the French annexation.
Artois experienced rapid industrial development during the second half of the 19th century, fueled by its rich coal resources. During World War I the front line between the opposing German and Allied armies in France ran through the province, resulting in enormous physical damage. Since the latter half of the 20th century Artois has suffered along with similar areas because of the decline of the coal industry.