The province of North Holland is adjacent to the provinces of South Holland Utrecht, Flevoland and Friesland. It is bordered by the Old Rhine River (Oude Rijn) in the South, the Markemeer and IJsselmeer Lakes in the North-East, the Wadden Sea to the North, and the North Sea to the West.
It has a surface area of 2,670 km˛, a population of 2,607,000 inhabitants, making it the second most populous province in the Netherlands, after South Holland.
More than half of the province consists of reclaimed land in the form of polders and is below sea level.
In ancient and medieval times, North Holland was part of Frisia. The Frisians were a Germanic tribe related to the Anglo-Saxons. Contrarily to the Dutch provinces to the south, North Holland was never conquered by the Romans.
The Frisians were not converted to Christianity until the early 8th century, with Saint Willibrord of Northumbria. Pepin the Short, King of the Franks, annexed Frisia to the Frankish domain in 734. After the division of the Frankish Empire between France and Germany, the County of Frisia became the County of Holland (from 880), within the Holy Roman Empire.
The Counts of Holland became very influential, and William II (1228-1256) even became King of Germany. John I died childless in 1299, and the title was taken over by the Counts of Hainaut, then by the powerful House of Wittelsbach (from 1345). The Dukes of Burgundy inherited the fiefdom by marriage in 1432, along with most of the Low Countries.
The Burgundian Netherlands were then absorbed by the Habsburgs in 1482. The rule of the very Catholic Philip II (r. 1555-1598), King of Spain and the Netherlands, caused major upheavals, and led to the Dutch Revolt, culminating with the independence of the United Provinces (declared in 1568), with The Hague as their capital.
In the early 17th century, Amsterdam became one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Amsterdam served as the headquarters and the largest chamber of the Dutch West India Company (1621-1791) and the Dutch East India Company (1602-1800), which carried out Dutch colonial activities around the globe. Ships sailed from Amsterdam to the Baltic Sea, North America, Africa and present-day Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Brazil, and formed the basis of a worldwide trading network. Trade with the Dutch colonies gave a tremendous boost to economic and demographic growth in North Holland.
In 1795, the Netherlands were annexed to France. In 1806, Louis Bonaparte, made King of Holland by his brother Napoleon I, decided to move the capital from The Hague to Amsterdam. Since then, Amsterdam has been the economic, financial and cultural capital of the Netherlands, although political and judicial institutions remained in The Hague.
In 1839, the first railway line in the Netherlands opened between Amsterdam and Haarlem. It is also in these cities that the first horse-drawn and electric tramways first operated in the country.