BETHUNE, FRANCE, a town of northern France, capital of an arrondissement in the department of Pas-de-Calais, 24 m. N.N.W. of Arras, on the Northern railway between that town and St Omer. Pop. (1906) 12,601. Béthune is situated on a low hill at the confluence of the Lawe with the canal from Aire to Bauvin. Once strongly fortified, it is now surrounded by wide boulevards, and new quarters have grown up on its outskirts. The old town is composed of winding streets and culs-de-sac bordered by old houses in the Flemish style. In the central square stands one of the finest belfries of northern France, a square structure surmounted by a wooden campanile, dating from the 14th century. St Vaast, the principal church of Béthune, belongs to the 16th century. The town is the seat of a sub-prefect, and has a tribunal of first instance, a chamber of commerce and a communal college among its public institutions. Béthune lies in the midst of the richest coal mines in France. Its industries include the distillation of oil, tanning, salt-refining, brewing, and the manufacture of earthenware and casks. Trade is carried on in flax, cloth, cereals, oil-seeds, etc.
The town, which dates from the 11th century, was governed by its own lords till 1248, after which date it passed through the ownership of the counts of Flanders, the dukes of Burgundy, and the sovereigns of Austria and Spain. Ceded to France by the peace of Nijmwegen (1678), it was taken by the allied forces in 1710, and restored to France by the treaty of Utrecht.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)