The County of Flanders, a region known for its wealth and nominally under the dominion of the French King, Philip IV of France who was intent on securing the economic power of the Flemish trade guilds. Though vassals to the French crown, the Flemish had enjoyed considerable independence in their own affairs.
The County had been established after a series of confrontations between Guy of Dampierre, the Count of Flanders and Philip IV, which had begun with complaints of the heavy tax burden Guy had placed upon the commoners in Flanders, causing the King to exercise greater control in the region in order to protect a great source of wealth for the Crown. The taxes had been issued to recover from the decimating trade war between England that had been instigated by Guy's mother Matilda, who had seized the property of English merchants in the region.
Unfortunately for Guy, even after his mothers abdication in 1270, there was little love lost between the commoners and the patricians and nobles. Soon the Count was to suffer numerous embarrassments by Philip IV: Guy arranged a marriage for his daughter Philippa and Edward, the Prince of Wales. Philip IV captured and imprisoned Guy and his sons, broke the marriage and imprisoned Philippa in Paris where she would die some years later.
His territories surrendered to the French King, Guy sought revenge with Edward I of England and declared war. The English intervention was essentially useless and the Flemish were defeated by the French forces and now dealt with the new Royal power in the region.
Their Count imprisoned and suffering greater taxes and constant interference. Two prominent trade families, the Liebaarts and the Leliaarts who were already rivals, become even further divided by the fortunes of their families under the French crown, the Leliaarts doing very well and the Liebaarts become poorer and poorer. Bruges-1301
Pieter de Conick, a weaver disgruntled under the French rule becomes a inspiring speaker to the common people, inducing them and the artisans to defend their rights. He is arrested by the patricians for inciting rebellion, but the people who love him, march onto the prison to free him. Jacques de Chatillion, governor of Flanders, quickly orders a small band to quell the peasants. The De Liebaarts are unable to defend the town and the French strip the citizens of all their rights and privileges. March 1302
The taxes are reintroduced, and now the people are furious, chasing out the opulent De Leliaarts of the city. de Chatillion descends on the town, but the city of Bruges erupts in violence, the townspeople slaughtering any French citizens they can find, shouting the Flemish phrase of "Schild en Vriend
" (shield and friend), and any who could not pronounce it were killed. Roughly 800 people were killed and 90 knights captured, de Chatillion escaping. The Battle
Philip IV responded by sending Count Robert II of Artois, who had defeated the Flemish in their previous uprising. The Flemish forces consisted mainly of militiamen, trained extensively and well equipped, with a few knights who had remained loyal to Count Guy. They were armed with the Goedendag, a club/spear with some debate about its use. It seems that it could be used to stake into the ground on the first line, with the successive lines using it to hammer the stuck knights. As well as the Goedendag they used a long spear known as the geldon.
The staging grounds were around Courtrai, an area with plentiful ditches and streams which would provide a challenge for the vaunted French cavalry. The archers from both sides exchange fire but with little success, and so the French infantry is sent in. The French infantry fight well, but Robert II of Artois wants the victory to belong to the noble French cavalry and so recalls the infantry, whilst advancing his cavalry across the brooks of the region, which impede the charge.
Nevertheless, the French cavalry charge begins, the banners flying, the scraping and jingling sounds of steel, the thunder of the hooves, the battlecries of the chargers as they descend upon their foes. It is far from inexorable though and the knights slam into the Flemish shields, holding firm. The few knights that break through are taken further into the Flemish lines and butchered, surrounded on all sides by merciless Flemish soldiers.
There was no care for the conventional ransom taking of knights, and so the Flemish fell upon the hapless nobles with furious abandon, driving spears through the weak points in the knights armour, smashing skulls and hacking those who fell from horse. It is brutal and unforgiving, and even the French commander, Robert II of Artois, is surrounded and killed. A folk legend states that the French soldier begged for his life, but heard the reply "We do not understand French" and killed him.
Hearing of the loss of their commander, the French forces retreated, pursued by the Flemish. Many famed Frenchmen were killed, including the Constable of France, Raoul of Clermont-Nesle, as well as two Marshals of France (Guy I of Clermont and Simon de Melun), plus numerous counts and nobles, the chief advisor to Philip IV, Pierre de Flotte also perishing.
The name of the battle comes from the amount of golden spurs that littered the battlefield afterwards from all the dead chevaliers. The spurs were taken by the Flemish and were hung in a church, and the day of the battle July 11th, is celebrated as a holiday still by the Flemish community. Aftermath
An overwhelming and surprising success, the Battle of the Golden Spurs continued a growing series of lessons that revealed that disciplined infantry could repel and defeat heavy cavalry. The lessons began at Stirling Bridge in 1297 and would continue to challenge the contemporary military theory of the time. It was also an example of a popular uprising that gained success, motivated by the peoples concerns and defended almost entirely by the non-ennobled.
However, the French were able to exact revenge and within a couple of years had imposed a heavy peace treaty upon the Flemish. Still, the victory resounds throughout history as an example of determination, skill and luck, changing the face of the battlefield forever.