Peasant revolt in Flanders 1323–28

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The Peasant revolt in Flanders 1323–1328 was a popular revolt in late medieval Europe. Beginning as a series of scattered rural riots in late 1323, peasant insurrection escalated into a full-scale rebellion that dominated public affairs in Flanders for nearly five years until 1328. The uprising in Flanders was caused by both excessive taxations levied by the Count of Flanders Louis I, and by his pro-French policies. The insurrection had urban leaders and rural factions which took over most of Flanders by 1325.

The revolt was led by Nicolaas Zannekin, a rich farmer from Lampernisse. Zannekin and his men captured the towns of Nieuwpoort, Veurne, Ieper and Kortrijk. In Kortrijk, Zannekin was able to capture the count himself. In 1325, attempts to capture Gent and Oudenaarde failed. The King of France, Charles IV intervened, whereupon Louis was released from captivity in February 1326 and the Peace of Arques was sealed. The peace soon failed, and the count fled to France when more hostilities erupted. Louis convinced his new liege Philip VI of France to come to his aid, and Zannekin and his adherents were decisively defeated by the French royal army in the Battle of Cassel.

From peasant uprising against taxes to full-scale rebellion[edit]

In September 1322, the old count Robert III died. Because Robert's son and heir Louis I had died two months earlier, the count was succeeded by his grandson Louis. Louis thus, within a time span of two months, inherited the counties of Nevers and Flanders from his father and grandfather, and in the name of his mother held real power in Rethel (which he would also formally inherit in 1328), making him one of the most powerful lords in France. In 1320, Louis married Margaret of France, second daughter of King Philip V of France and Joan II, Countess of Burgundy. This marriage alliance and Louis's own French upbringing made him break with the anti-French policy of his grandfather Robert III and great-grandfather Guy I. Instead, Louis started a pro-French and anti-English policy. These policies were detrimental to the economies of the Flemish cities, raising taxes in order to pay the financial consequences from the Treaty of Athis-sur-Orge.

The rebellion began with a series of scattered rural riots in November–December 1323. It was caused by the poor harvests of 1323, a difficult lien, refusal to pay tithes and taxes to the Count, and hatred towards the nobility and authority. The revolt was led by landowning farmers such as Jacques Peyte and Nicolaas Zannekin. Members of the local gentry joined, and the mayor of Bruges, Willem de Deken became the leader of the revolt.

Nicolaas Zannekin fled to Bruges, from where the uprising spread. Zannekin won the neighboring towns of Roeselare, Poperinge, Nieuwpoort, Veurne, Dunkirk, Cassel, Bailleul for his cause as they opened their gates to him. The new Count of Flanders, Louis de Nevers, arrived in Flanders in January 1324 but had no army to contain the revolt, which caused him to negotiate with the rebels. In April 1324, the Peace of St. Andrew was made, recognizing the merits of the complaints of the people against the exactions of the collectors.

The revolt against the power of the Count[edit]

The agitation continued after the murder of a laborer by a knight and the arrest of six burghers of Bruges by the Count in Kortrijk. The men from Bruges took up arms, and the count was captured by the inhabitants in Kortrijk. The count was brought to Bruges where several of his companions were executed on June 21, 1325. The men from Bruges elected Robert of Cassel, a younger son of Robert III of Flanders and thus the uncle of the Count of Flanders, as their regent of Flanders ("Ruwaard") to lead them in an expedition against Ghent (July 15, 1325), during which they laid siege to the city. The rebels' numbers were strengthened when inhabitants from Ypres and Ghent, who were driven out of their cities, joined them.

King Charles IV of France sent ambassadors to Flanders, who proposed to submit the grievances of the commons against the count to his royal arbitration. As a prerequisite to any negotiations, the rebels demanded the submission of Ghent. In vain, the King summoned Robert of Cassel to Paris (September 19, 1325), and named Jean de Namur "Ruwaard of Flanders." On November 4, the Bishop of Senlis and the Abbot of St. Denis excommunicated the Flemish rebels at the King's request, and the French King also threatened to intervene militarily. After the excommunication, Robert of Cassel broke ties with the rebels and joined the King's side.

Count Louis of Nevers was released before Christmas, and on February 18, 1326, he forgave Bruges and swore to respect the customs and liberties of the communes of Flanders. From there he went to the King in Paris. A provisional peace treaty was finally concluded by the ambassadors of the King (The Peace of Arques) and ratified at the Val Merrick, near Corbeil on April 19, 1326. On April 26, the ban on Flanders was lifted.

Repression by the King of France[edit]

The Battle of Cassel, 23 August 1328

After the death of Charles IV, the revolt of the Flemish municipalities erupted again in February 1328. Louis de Nevers then called upon the new King, Philip VI of France, at his coronation at Reims on May 29 to aid the count against the burghers. The King agreed to organize an expedition, and the royal army was summoned to gather at Arras on July 22. The rebels raised enough men to fight the enemy in the open countryside, and the rebel forces met the Royal army at the Battle of Cassel, where they were defeated and Zannekin was killed.

After his victory, the King returned to France, taking hostages for good behaviour among the burghers of Bruges and Ypres. The mayor of Bruges, Willem de Deken, was extradited to France and executed in Paris.

The Count of Flanders was left responsible for punishment of the conspirators. The cities of Bruges, Ypres, Kortrijk, Diksmuide, Veurne, Oostende, Aardenburg, Ysendyke, Dendermonde, and Geraardsbergen were sentenced to pay heavy fines. The properties of those who participated in the Battle of Cassel were confiscated and distributed to the faithful adherents of the count. The privileges of all the cities except Ghent were canceled or restricted. In Bruges, the burghers were forced to meet the count at the castle of Male and throw themselves on their knees, imploring his mercy. In Ypres, the bell in the belfry was broken. Finally, by letters dated December 20, 1328, the king of France ordered that the fortifications of Bruges, Ypres, and Kortrijk were to be destroyed.

Aftermath[edit]

When the Hundred Years War started, Louis remained steadfast in his pro-French policy, despite the county's economic dependence on England. His actions resulted in an English boycott of the wool trade, which in turn sparked a new insurrection under Jacob van Artevelde. In 1339, the count fled his Flemish lands, never able to return. Louis was killed in the Battle of Crécy in 1346.

References[edit]

  • 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. 
  • SABBE, Jacques. "Vlaanderen in opstand 1323-1328", Uitg. Marc van de Wiele, Brugge 1992.
  • VAN BELLE, Juliaan. "Een andere Leeuw van Vlaanderen", Uitg. Flandria Nostra, Torhout 1985.
  • LEGLAY, Edward. "Histoire des comtes de Flandre", Librairie de A. Vandale, Brussel 1843.