De Leeuw van Vlaanderen (novel)
An early edition of De Leeuw van Vlaenderen
De Leeuw van Vlaenderen, of de Slag der Gulden Sporen (Dutch; The Lion of Flanders, or the Battle of the Golden Spurs) is a historical novel written by the Flemish writer Hendrik Conscience in 1838. The book, written in Dutch, focuses on the Medieval Franco-Flemish War, especially the Battle of the Golden Spurs of 1302, in a style typical of literary romanticism. It is considered one of the founding texts of Flemish literature and confirmed Conscience's own reputation as a novelist.
Hendrik Conscience was born in the Flemish city of Antwerp into a mixed French-Flemish family in 1812. Conscience was brought up speaking both French and Dutch. After working as a teacher briefly, he joined the Belgian Revolution in July 1830 and later served in the Belgian army during the Ten Days' Campaign of 1831. He left the army in 1836, when he moved to the Kempen region. At the time, French predominated in Belgium as the language of the upper classes, literature and government. While Dutch dialects were widely spoken as a vernacular, it was considered vulgar and little had been written in it. Conscience, however, felt the language appealing and decided to work in it.
Conscience, who was already developing an interest in the Dutch language and Romanticism, published his first book, In 't Wonderjaer ("In the year of wonder") in 1837. The work explored the Beeldenstorm of 1566 and the revolt by Calvinists of the Spanish Netherlands against Spanish Catholic rule in a heavily romanticized way. Conscience was only able to publish the work with the support of friends, including King Leopold I, and its success made him little money.
In the aftermath of his success with In 't Wonderjaer, Conscience began work on a new novel influenced by the same Romantic Nationalism which had been influential during the Belgian revolution.
De Leeuw van Vlaenderen
In 1838, Conscience launched his second published work De Leeuw van Vlaenderen, of de Slag der Gulden Sporen[a] or "The Lion of Flanders, or the Battle of the Golden Spurs."
The book centers around the Franco-Flemish War and, notably, the Battle of the Golden Spurs which he uses as a background for the love adventures of Machteld, the daughter of Robert de Béthune with knight Adolf van Nieuwlandt.
The book diverges from the history on several occasions, notably when Robert saves the Flemish army during the battle while, in reality, he was imprisoned at the time. Conscience did consult about twenty historical sources, scouted the site of the battle and asked for the advice of experts in medieval history although he did use some dated and inaccurate information from medieval chronicles.
With the immense success of the De Leeuw van Vlaanderen Conscience was credited as "the man who taught his people to read". The book confirmed Conscience's reputation as a novelist. By the time of his death in 1883, Conscience had written around 100 novels and novellas.
Apart from that the book contributed to the increased awareness of the Flemish national consciousness in the 19th century and the rapid growth of the Flemish movement in the 20th century and beyond.
Notes and references
- The "ae" combination from Vlaenderen (Flanders) is considered archaic in modern Dutch and in current editions is replaced by "aa".
- Hermans, Theo (2014). "The Highs and Lows of Hendrik Conscience". The Low Countries: Arts and Society in Flanders and the Netherlands. 22: 162–9.
- "Hendrik Conscience". Encyclopædia Britannica online. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
- (in Dutch) De Leeuw van Vlaanderen as Podcast (Librivox-project)
- (in Dutch) Online edition of De Leeuw van Vlaanderen by the Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren ((in English): Digital library for Dutch literature)
- (in Dutch) Online edition of De Leeuw van Vlaanderen on Project Gutenberg