Sunday, July 10, 2005


The battle of July 11, 1302 between an army of French knights and Flemish infantry was the military apex of the rebellion against attempts by French kings to annex the County of Flanders. In 1300, King Philip IV of France (1285-1314) seemed to succeed in this by appointing as governor of the County Jacques de Châtillon. The Flemish Count Gwijde van Dampierre (1278-1305) and his two sons were taken captive, causing strong resentment in Flanders. Furthermore, the gigantic debts towards France, as well as the division among the population between citizens sympathetic to the French King and anti-French merchants, created a lot of unrest, especially among the artisans in the cities.Flemish Lion, black on yellow

The preface of the conflict took place on 18 May 1302 when citizens of Bruges, who had been expelled by occupying French troops, returned to their city and slaughtered the French garrison. This episode became known as the "Brugse Metten". The French king was enraged and amassed a splendid Knight's Army just to the south of Flanders. This army then headed for Kortrijk and so did the Flemish militia under the command of Willem van Gullik, grandson of Count Gwijde, and Pieter de Coninc, a leading Bruges Guild Chief. Another great Flemish hero of the time was Jan Breydel. A second Flemish contingent, under the command of Gwijde van Namen, son of the Count, joined the first in Kortrijk. The French Army's commander was Count Robert II of Artesia, one of the foremost French knights of that time.

Both armies were roughly 10,000 strong. The French one consisted mainly of heavily armoured cavalry, whereas the the bulk of the Flemish one was infantry. On the 9th and the 10th of July the French tried in vain to take the city of Kortrijk. By the evening of July 10th, the Flemish chose for a battle in the open land near that city.

Jan Breydel, left, and Pieter De Coninc, right
Before the battle, the Flemings chose a strategic position between little streams and moors on an open plain known as the "Groeningheveld", in doing so making it difficult for the French cavalry to force a breakthrough. It is said that before the battle, the Flemings ate a mouthful of Flemish soil so that if they died it would be with the ground of their Fatherland in their stomachs. Hampered by the swampy ground, the French knights kept stumbling over their own infantry and over each other. The heavy weapons of the Flemish completed the gruesome job. At day's end, the French fled in all directions, often pursued by the Flemish. Most French captives were simply killed since, as it seems, the Flemish didn't know the military custom to ask ransom money for a captured knight. Among the booty were numerous golden spurs from French knights, and so the battle got its name in Flemish and Belgian folklore. These spurs were hung in triumph in the Church of Our Lady in Kortrijk.

The political fallout from the Battle of the Golden Spurs was significant. Dutch became the official language of Flanders, and remains so to this day. Administrative power was more and more assumed by artisans and merchants rather than by nobles. Moreover, a new era dawned as far as warfare was concerned : the military importance and effectiveness of well-armed infantry over cumbersome cavalry had been made clear.

Further extensive info here.


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