Monday, April 27, 2015

French Respond to Bruges Massacre

Introduction to our series War of The Flemings with Philip the Fair of France:
Eyre Evans Crowe (1799-1868) was a newspaper editor who wrote a history of France in 5 volumes.

By the 13th. century the people of modern Belgium whose country had been for centuries a feudal dependency of France, were considerably advanced in wealth and importance. They revolted, massacring thousands of French in Bruges on May 18, 1302. This is what happened next.

Time: 1302
Place: Bruges, Flanders (modern Belgium)

Inside Bruges
CC BY-SA 3.0 image from Wikipedia.

The Flemings prepared to resist the storm. They chose Guy of Juliers, grandson of the Count of Flanders, to be their commander. Though a cleric, he did not hesitate to obey the call, in order to avenge his family, so cruelly betrayed by the French King. His brother, made prisoner at Furnes by the Count d'Artois, had perished in that rude Prince's keeping. His first attempt was to induce the people of Ghent to join the insurrection, but its rich burgesses preferred French rule to that of the Count of Flanders. Bruges, however, was supported by all the lesser and maritime towns of Flanders. Guy of Namur, a son of the Count, who had escaped to Germany, also returned with a body of soldiers from that country, and reassured the Flemings. These surprised one of the ducal manors, in which were five hundred French, and then took Courtrai, occupying the town, but not the castle. It was immediately besieged, as well as that of Cassel, the people of Ypres rallying to the French cause. The French garrison of the town of Courtrai sent pressing messengers for aid, and Robert of Artois marched with seven thousand knights and forty thousand foot, of which one-fourth were archers. The Flemish were but twenty thousand, of which none but the chiefs had horses. Neither was their armor nor their weapons of a perfect kind, the latter being a lance like a boar-spear, or a knotted stick pointed with iron, and called in Flemish a "good day." The princes of Juliers and Namur posted their combatants on the road which leads from Courtrai to Ghent, behind a canal that communicated with the river Lys. A priest came with the host, but, there being no time to receive the communion, each man took some earth in his mouth. The counts then knighted Pierre Konig and the chiefs of bands, and took their station on foot with the rest.

The French had nine battalions or divisions, their archers or light troops being Lombards or Navarrese and Proven├žals. These the constable placed foremost, to commence the fight and harass the Flemings by their missiles. But the Count d'Artois overruled this manoeuvre, and called it a Lombard trick, reproaching the Constable de Nesle with appreciating the Flemings too highly because of his connection with them. (He had married a daughter of the Count of Flanders.) "If you advance as far as I shall," replied the Count, "you will go far enough, I warrant." So saying he put spurs to his horse and led on his knights; on which the Count d'Artois and the French squadrons charged also. This formidable cavalry could not reach the Flemings, but fell one over the other into the canal, which they had not perceived, and which was five fathoms wide and three deep. The Flemish counts, seeing the disorder, instantly passed the canal on either side to take advantage of it, and fell on the discomfited French. The battle was but a massacre. Numbers of the French nobles perished--the Count d'Artois, Godfrey of Brabant and his son, the counts of Eu and of Albemarle, the Constable and his brother, De Tanquerville, Pierre Flotte, the Chancellor, and Jacques de St. Pol--in all some six thousand knights. Louis of Clermont and one or two others escaped, to the damage of their reputation. This battle of Courtrai was fought on July 11, 1302.

Had the war not been one exclusively of defence on the part of the Flemings, or had they had ambitious and adventurous chiefs, such a disaster might have endangered the throne of France. It was the Flemish democracy which had conquered, and its chiefs contented themselves with reducing the remaining cities, and expelling the gentry and rich citizens as of French inclinations. This reaction extended from Flanders into Brabant and Hainault. Philip in the mean time exerted all his activities and resources. Had he been an English king he would have called his parliament together, and have found national support and national supplies. The French King preferred having recourse to a recoinage. In 1294 he had forbidden any persons to keep plate unless they possessed an annual revenue of six thousand livres. He now ordered his bailies to deliver up their plate, and all non-functionaries to send half of theirs. Those who did so received payment in the new coin, and lost one-half thereby. A tax of one-fifth, or 20 per cent., of the annual revenue was levied on the land, and a twentieth was levied on the movable property. In the following year the King found it more advantageous to order that all prelates and barons should, for every five hundred livres of yearly revenue in land, furnish an armed and mounted gentleman for five months' service, while the non-noble was to furnish and keep up six infantry soldiers (sergens de pied) for every hundred hearths. This decree was a return to feudal military service, occasioned, no doubt, by the general disaffection caused by the raising of the war supplies in money. As if to recompense all classes for the severity of the exaction, Philip published an ordonnance of reform for the protection of both laymen and ecclesiastics from the arbitrary encroachments or interference of his officers.

Having thus set his realm in order, and collected an army of seventy thousand men at Arras, the King marched to meet the Flemings, who in equal force had mustered in the vicinity of Dovai. They kept, as at Courtrai, on the defensive; and the King of France, too cautious to attack them, allowed the whole autumn to pass, and returned to France after a campaign as inefficient as inglorious.

Continued on Wednesday, April 29th.

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