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(Pictures courtesy of " Project 1300 - Medieval Living History in Flanders and Holland")

The Battle of the Golden Spurs was fought on July 11th 1302 near Kortrijk, between the rebellious Flemish towns, led by Bruges, and an army sent by Philip IV of France, who had annexed Flanders in 1301. The French were totally defeated. The spurs taken from the fallen French knights formed so huge a trophy that they gave the battle its name. The victory of the Flemish militia, despite its lack of military skills, put an end to the enduring myth of the invincibility of the knight.

A French explanation of the terrible defeat was immediately given, intended to save the honour and pride of the French nobility; in Flanders the victory was glorified as a just reward for the bravery of the townsmen and the competence of their commanders. Unfortunately there were no impartial witnesses. Any account of the battle must therefore pay careful attention to the personalities of the chroniclers, their nationality, and their political and social leanings, as well as their personal sympathies.

The battle of 1302 between the army of French knights and the rebellious Flemish was the military apex of the rebellion against the attempts by the French kings to annex the County of Flanders. At first, King Philip IV of France (1285-1314) succeeded in his attempt by appointing in 1300 Jacques de Ch‚tillon as governor of the County. The Flemish Count Gewijde van Dampierre (1278-1305), and his two sons, had been taken captive by the French. Furthermore, the enormous financial debts of the County towards France, as well as the division among the population between French-oriented citizens and anti-French traders, created a lot of unrest, especially among the artisans in the cities. Certain patricians, however, profited from the situation and the city of Ghent, one of Flanders most powerful industrial centers, did not even answer the call for rebellion against France. This proves that the uprising cannot be seen as a manifestation of nationalistic Flemish feelings, shared by the entire County of Flanders.

The preface of the uprising happened on May, 18th 1302 when Bruges citizens, who had been exiled by the occupying French troops, returned to their city and slaughtered the French garrison. The French king could no longer sit by and watch. The French army headed for Kortrijk and so did the Flemish militia under the command of Willem van Gullik, grandson of Count Gwijde, and Pieter de Coninc, one of the leading Bruges corporation chiefs. Another Flemish military group, under command of Gwijde van Namen, son of the Count, joined them in Kortrijk. The French army marched under the command of Count Robert II of Artesia, one of the leading French knights of his era.

Both armies counted around 10.000 soldiers. The French army consisted mainly of heavily armoured cavalry, whereas the Flemish one consisted mainly of infantery tradesman. On the 9th and the 10th of July the French tried, in vain, to take the city of Kortrijk. A man-to-man battle in the open had become unavoidable.

During the battle, the Flemish had chosen strategic positions, inbetween little streams and moors on an open plain, called the "Groeningheveld", thus making it difficult for  the French cavalry to force a breakthrough. Hindered by the swampy ground, the French knights kept stumbling over their own infantry (and over the other knights). The heavy weapons of the Flemish comleted the job. At the end of the battle, the French army had to flee in all directions, often pursued by the Flemish. Most French captives were simply killed, because, as it seems, the Flemish didn't know the military custom to ask ransom money for a caputered knight. Among the trophies were numerous golden spurs from the French knights. These spurs were hung in triumph in the Church of Our Lady in Kortrijk.

The political fallout from Golden Spurs was significant. Dutch became the official language of Flanders, and remains so to this day. Administrative power tipped in favor of artisans and merchants rather than landed nobles. Moreover, a new era dawned as far as warfare was concerned : the military importance and effectiveness of the infantry had been made clear.

In the 19th century the commemoration of the Battle of the Golden Spurs became a symbol of the struggle for Flemish recognition in the French-dominated Belgian State (founded in 1830). Furthermore, in 1973 the 11th of July has been declared  the official Flemish Celebration Day

(Pictures courtesy of " Project 1300 - Medieval Living History in Flanders and Holland")


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