The name of Lens appeared for the first time during the Merovingian period in the form of "Lenna Cas" meaning "Fortress of the Springs". The origins of the Town may, however, go further back to Gallo-Roman times although this cannot be proved.
The counties of Lens
The fortifications of Lens that have now completely disappeared can be traced back to the Norman invasions. Many local noblemen were dependent on the lordship of Lens that extended over most of the Gohelle area. The earls of Lens were, for the most part, earls of Boulogne (they were represented in Lens by the lord of the manor). Eustace II was the most famous of the earls of Lens and of Boulogne. In 1057, he married Ida of Bouillon. In 1066, he commanded part of William the Conqueror's army at Hastings. In 1071, Eustace was involved in further battles for the succession of Flanders. He died around 1095. Ida survived him until 1113. She was born at the chateau of Bouillon (in the south west of what is now Belgium) in about 1040. She was a very pious woman, making countless donations to churches, monasteries and hospitals and many foundations. She died at the monastery of La Capelle, near to Calais and was buried at Wast, near to Boulogne. Ida was beatified and became the patron saint of Lens. The three sons of Eustace II and Ida of Bouillon, Eustace, Godfrey and Baldwin took part in the First Crusade at the head of the forces. Godfrey was the commander in chief. The expedition finished with the capture of Jerusalem on 15th July 1099. Godfrey of Bouillon became the first king of Jerusalem.
Lens under the earldom of Artois
During the feudal era, Lens was attached to the earldom of Artois. The Artois (and Lens) that belonged to the Earl of Flanders, was united to the Crown of France in 1180. In the 13th century, King Louis VIII gave the town the charter that established its local administrative credentials.
Lens during the feudal era
In the Middle Ages, Lens was a large rural village: a venue for large fairs and markets. Small boats came along the Deule River to load and unload their freight on its banks. The river powered four watermills; another wind-powered mill overlooked the ramparts. Lens was located on the most ancient merchant route from southern Flanders, Lille, Seclin, Pont-à-Vendin and Lens to Arras and the "tonlieu" (name formerly used to describe the office where a toll was paid on entering towns) of Bapaume (current administrative centre of the canton of the Pas-de-Calais), on the way to Paris. Lens had its own municipal magistrate and militia; its provost-marshal and its bailiff offices were among the largest in the Artois region.
Lens suffered a lot during the Hundred Years War and the hostilities with Flanders. In 1303, the town was burnt by the Flemish. During the Middle Ages and then in modern times, Lens was besieged fifteen times in total (particularly in 1478, then 6 times between 1493 and 1590 and 5 times between 1641 and 1648). The fortifications were demolished from 1448. Their final destruction, ordered by Louis XIV on 25th May 1652, was completed in 1657.