Battle of the Golden Spurs

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This article is about the battle in 1302. For other battles by the same name, see Battle of Courtrai.
Battle of the Golden Spurs
Part of the Franco-Flemish War
Battle of Courtrai2.jpg
Illustration of the Battle of Courtrai from the 14th century
Date 11 July 1302
Location Kortrijk, Flanders
50°49′44″N 3°16′34″E / 50.829°N 3.276°E / 50.829; 3.276Coordinates: 50°49′44″N 3°16′34″E / 50.829°N 3.276°E / 50.829; 3.276
Result Flemish victory, which resulted in de facto autonomy until 1304.
Belligerents
Blason Comte-de-Flandre.svg County of Flanders Armoiries France Ancien.png Kingdom of France
Commanders and leaders
Armoiries Principauté de Liège.svg William of Jülich
Pieter de Coninck
Namur Arms.svg Guy of Namur
Jan Borluut
Jan van Renesse.
Artois Arms.svg Robert II of Artois  
Blason de la maison de Châtillon.svg Jacques de Châtillon  
Blason Matthieu de Trie.svg John I of Dammartin  
Blason Raoul II de Clermont (+1302) Connétable de France.svg Raoul II of Clermont  
Strength
9,000 8,000
Casualties and losses
100 est. 1,000 est.

The Battle of the Golden Spurs (Dutch: Guldensporenslag, French: Bataille des éperons d'or), known also as the Battle of Courtrai was fought on 11 July 1302, near Kortrijk (Courtrai) in Flanders.

In 1302 after several years of unrest, the people of Flanders revolted against French rule and massacred many Frenchmen in Bruges. King Philip IV of France immediately organized an expedition under Count Robert II of Artois to put down the rebellion. Meanwhile, the civic militias of several Flemish cities were assembled to counter the expected French attack.

When the two armies met outside the city of Kortrijk, the mounted French knights proved unable to make an impression on the well-trained Flemish foot soldiers on a battlefield particularly unsuited for cavalry. The result was a rout of the French chivalry who suffered heavy losses at the hands of the Flemish. The battle was a famous early example of an all-infantry army overcoming an army that depended on the shock attacks of mounted knights. Since 1973, the date of the battle is also the official holiday of the Flemish community in Belgium.

Background[edit]

The reason for the battle was a French attempt to subdue the County of Flanders, which was formally part of the French kingdom and added to the crown lands in 1297 but resisted centralist French policies. In 1300, the French king Philip IV appointed Jacques de Châtillon as governor of Flanders and took the Count of Flanders, Guy of Dampierre, hostage. This caused considerable unrest among the influential Flemish urban guilds. As far back as 1297, Guy had broken feudal ties with Philip in favor of forming an alliance with Edward I of England, to whom Guy had engaged his daughter Philippina in 1294.[1]

In 1302, the French governor of Flanders took his army and the king's lead advisor and negotiator to Bruges to negotiate a peace with the rebellious towns of the region. Rebel leaders quickly relocated outside town, at which point the French army harassed the townspeople (especially the families of the rebels). On the morning of 18 May 1302, the rebellious citizens of Bruges went back to the city and murdered every Frenchman they could find, an act known as the Brugse Metten.[2] According to legend, they identified the French by asking them to pronounce a Flemish phrase, schilt ende vriend (shield and friend) and everyone who had a problem pronouncing this shibboleth was killed.[3]

Forces[edit]

The French king could not let this go unpunished, so he sent a powerful force led by Count Robert II of Artois. The Flemish response consisted of two groups, one of 3,000 men from the city militia of Bruges, was led by William of Jülich, grandson of Count Guy and Pieter de Coninck, one of the leaders of the uprising in Bruges. The other group of about 2,500 men from the suburbs of Bruges and the coastal areas, was headed by Guy of Namur, son of Count Guy, with the two sons of Guy of Dampierre; the two groups met near Kortrijk. From the East came another 2,500 men, led by Jan Borluut from Ghent and yet another 1,000 men from Ypres, led by Jan van Renesse from Zeeland.

The Flemish were primarily town militia who were well equipped, with such weapons as the mace, goedendag and a long spear known as the geldon. They were also well organized; the urban militias of the time prided themselves on their regular training and preparation, which allowed them to use the geldon. They numbered about 9,000, including 400 nobles. The biggest difference from the French and other feudal armies was that the Flemish force consisted almost solely of infantry with only the leaders mounted, more to express their leadership than for combat.

The French were by contrast a classic feudal army made up of a core of 2,500 noble cavalry, including knights and squires. They were supported by 1,000 crossbowmen, 1,000 spearmen and up to 3,500 other light infantry, totaling around 8,000.[4] Contemporary military theory valued each knight as equal to roughly ten infantry.[5]

The battle[edit]

The assorted Flemish forces met at Courtrai on 26 June and laid siege to the castle, which housed a French garrison. While the siege was being laid, the Flemish leaders began preparing a nearby field for battle, as Philip was unlikely to let the massacre at Bruges go unpunished. The size of the eventual French response was impressive, with 3,000 knights and 4,000-5,000 infantry being an accepted estimate.[2] After the Flemish unsuccessfully tried to take Courtrai on 9 and 10 July, the two forces clashed on the 11th in an open field near the city.

The layout of the field near Courtrai was crossed by numerous ditches and streams dug by the Flemish as Philip massed his army. Some drained from the river Lys, while others were concealed with dirt and branches, which would make it difficult for the French cavalry to charge the Flemish lines.[2] The French sent servants to place wood in the streams but did not wait for this to be done before attacking. The large French infantry force led the initial attack, which went well but French commander Count Robert recalled them so that the noble cavalry could claim the victory. The cavalry were hindered by the streams and ditches (which they had however seen the infantry deal with in the beginning of the battle), and the disciplined Flemish infantry held firm. Unable to break the Flemish line of pikemen, the disorganized, fallen, and mud-drowned French cavalry were an easy target for the heavily armed Flemish. A desperate charge from the French garrison in the besieged castle was thwarted by a Flemish contingent specifically placed there for that task.[2] When they realized the battle was lost, the surviving French fled, only to be pursued over 10 km (6 mi) by the Flemish.

Prior to the battle, the Flemish militia had either been ordered to take no prisoners or did not care for the military custom of asking for a ransom for captured knights or nobles;[3] modern theory is that there was a clear order that forbade them to take prisoners as long as the battle was as yet undecided (this was to avoid the possibility of their ranks being broken when the Flemish infantry brought their hostages behind the Flemish lines).[6] Robert II of Artois was surrounded and killed on the field. According to some tales he begged for his life but the Flemish refused, claiming that "they didn't understand French".[7]

Aftermath[edit]

The large numbers of golden spurs that were collected from the French knights gave the battle its name;[8] at least a thousand noble cavaliers were killed, some contemporary accounts placing the total casualties at over ten thousand dead and wounded. The French spurs were hung in the Church of Our Lady in Kortrijk to commemorate the victory and were taken back by the French eighty years later after the Battle of Westrozebeke.

Some of the notable casualties:

Historical significance[edit]

The Battle of the Golden Spurs (1302). 1836 painting by Nicaise de Keyser.

The battle was the first major example (though with more minor precedents such as the Battle of Ane in 1227) of a string of late medieval battles in which heavily armoured aristocratic men-at-arms, previously dominant in western European warfare, were defeated by armies consisting largely of infantry drawn from the "lower orders" (other important instances include Bannockburn, Crecy, Sempach, Aljubarrota, Agincourt, Grandson and the battles of the Hussite Wars).

It is also a landmark in the development of Flemish political independence and the day is remembered every year in Flanders as the Flemish Community's official holiday.

The battle was romanticised in 1838 by Flemish writer Hendrik Conscience in his book The Lion of Flanders (Dutch: "De Leeuw van Vlaanderen"). Another unusual feature of this battle is that it is often cited as one of the few successful uprisings of peasants and townsmen, given that at the time most peasant uprisings in Europe were quelled.

Barbara Tuchman describes this as a peasant uprising in A Distant Mirror. Though the winning army was well armed, the initial uprising was nonetheless a folk uprising. Eventually, however, the Flemish nobles did take their part in the battle—each of the Flemish leaders was of the nobility or descended from nobility and some 400 of noble blood did fight on the Flemish side.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Verbruggen, J. F. The Battle of the Golden Spurs: Courtrai, July 11, 1302. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2002. Print.
  2. ^ a b c d Devries, Kelly. Infantry Warfare in the Early 14th Century. N.p.: Boydell, 1996. Print.
  3. ^ a b Although the website the 11th of July says that the /sχ/ sound in schild that makes it difficult for French-speakers to pronounce had not yet developed in the 14th century, the phrase "scilt en vrient" is referenced in primary sources such as the Chronique of Gilles Li Muisis as distinguishing French from Flemish. It is also suggested that Scilt ende Vrient (Schild en Vriend): (shield and friend) is a wrong interpretation/translation of "'s gilden vrient" meaning "friend of the guilds".
  4. ^ Rogers, Clifford J. (1999). "The Age of the Hundred Years War". In Keen, Maurice (ed.). Medieval Warfare: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 136–160. ISBN 0-19-820639-9. 
  5. ^ TeBrake, William H. (1993). A Plague of Insurrection: Popular Politics and Peasant Revolt in Flanders, 1323–1328. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-3241-0. 
  6. ^ "Battle 1302, exposition of member of Liebaert Association at Kortenberg April 2007.". Language Log. 
  7. ^ http://www.historum.com/medieval-byzantine-history/23700-battle-golden-spurs.html The Battle of the Golden Spurs. Retrieved 15 July 2011.
  8. ^ "Kortrijk: Battle of the Golden Spurs.". Belgium Travel Network. Archived from the original on March 3, 2006. Retrieved 4 March 2006. 
  9. ^ "The Battle of Courtrai or the Battle of the Golden Spurs — July 11th 1302". De Liebaart. Archived from the original on 8 February 2006. Retrieved 4 March 2006. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Verbruggen, J. F. (2002) [1952]. The Battle of the Golden Spurs: Courtrai, 11 July 1302 (Rev. version in Engl. transl. of the first ed. ed.). Woodbridge: Boydell Press. ISBN 0-85115-888-9. 

External links[edit]