With a metropolitan population of more than 1 million, it is the third-largest city in the Netherlands, after Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The Rotterdam–The Hague metropolitan area, with a population of approximately 2.7 million, is the 13th-largest in the European Union and the most populous in the country. Located in the west of the Netherlands, The Hague is in the centre of the Haaglanden conurbation and lies at the southwest corner of the larger Randstad conurbation.
The Hague is the seat of the cabinet of the Netherlands, the States General, the Supreme Court, and the Council of State, but the city is not the capital of the Netherlands, which constitutionally is Amsterdam. Most foreign embassies in the Netherlands and 150 international organisations are located in the city, including the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, which makes The Hague one of the major cities hosting the United Nations, along with New York City, Geneva, Vienna, Rome, and Nairobi. King Willem-Alexander lives in Huis ten Bosch and works at the Noordeinde Palace in The Hague, together with Queen Máxima. The Hague is also home to the world headquarters of Royal Dutch Shell and numerous other major Dutch companies.
The Hague was first mentioned as Die Haghe in 1242. In the 15th century, the name des Graven hage came into use, literally "The Count's Wood", with connotations like "The Count's Hedge, Private Enclosure or Hunting Grounds". 's-Gravenhage was officially used for the city from the 17th century onward. Today, this name is only used in some official documents like birth and marriage certificates. The city itself uses Den Haag in all its communication.
Little is known about the origin of The Hague. There are no contemporary documents describing it, and later sources are often of dubious reliability. What is certain is that The Hague was founded by the last counts of the House of Holland. Floris IV already owned two residences in the area, but presumably purchased a third court situated by the present-day Hofvijver in 1229, previously owned by a woman called Meilendis. Presumably, Floris IV intended to rebuild the court into a large castle, but he died in a tournament in 1234, before anything was built. His son and successor William II lived in the court, and after he was elected King of the Romans in 1248, he promptly returned to The Hague, and had builders turn the court into a "royal palace" (regale palacium), which would later be called the Binnenhof ("Inner Court"). He died in 1256 before this palace was completed but parts of it were finished during the reign of his son Floris V, of which the Ridderzaal ("Knights' Hall"), still intact, is the most prominent. It is still used for political events, such as the annual speech from the throne by the Dutch monarch. From the 13th century onward, the counts of Holland used The Hague as their administrative center and residence when in Holland.
The village that originated around the Binnenhof was first mentioned as Die Haghe in a charter dating from 1242. It became the primary residence of the Counts of Holland in 1358, and thus became the seat of many government institutions. This status allowed the village to grow; by the Late Middle Ages, it had grown to the size of a city, although it never received city rights. In its early years, the village was located in the ambacht, or rural district, of Monster, which was governed by the Lord of Monster. Seeking to exercise more direct control over the village, however, the Count split the village off and created a separate ambacht called Haagambacht, governed directly by the Counts of Holland. The territory of Haagambacht was considerably expanded during the reign of Floris V.