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The Battle of the Golden Spurs (Courtrai, 11 July 1302)

The Battle of the Golden Spurs (Courtrai, 11 July 1302): A Contribution to the History of Flanders' War of Liberation, 1297-1305

J. F. Verbruggen
Edited by Kelly DeVries
Translated by David Richard Ferguson
Volume: 13
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 294
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  • Book Info
    The Battle of the Golden Spurs (Courtrai, 11 July 1302)
    Book Description:

    On 11 July 1302, below the town walls of Courtrai, the most splendid army of knights in Christendom, the flower of the French nobility, was utterly defeated by Flemish rebels, common workers and peasants. The French knights, products of a lifetime's training, were ably led; but so too were the Courtrai townspeople, in addition to being well-armed, and their victory, despite their lack of military skills (and golden spurs), 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. Verbruggen's study is prefaced by discussion of the problems of reconstruction and extensive consideration of the sources, showing the difficulties faced by medieval military historians in attempts to interpret them. He then offers his own account of the events of that dramatic day, a case study in the reconstruction of events in one of the greatest battles of the middle ages. J.F. VERBRUGGEN lectured at the Royal Military School in Brussels, and then taught in Africa, retiring as Professor of History, University of Congo, and University of Bujumbura (Burundi). He is also the author of ‘The Art of Warfare in Western Europe’. Originally published in Dutch in 1954, translated and updated.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-026-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. General Editor’s Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    Matthew Bennett
  5. Editor’s Introduction to the 2002 edition
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    Kelly DeVries

    I first heard of the battle of Courtrai when I lived in Belgium in 1976–78. Interested in that nation’s history, principally its medieval past, I read Patricia Carson’s extremely well-written popular history, The Fair Face of Flanders.¹ With its historical description of Belgium as the ‘slagveld van Europa’ (battlefield of Europe), Carson’s book became, for me, a military history. Unfortunately for the Belgians, such a history does not have many high-points. They often participated in the wars fought in their country. But rarely were they victorious. One of their greatest victories, indeed one which is still celebrated today, was...

  6. Foreword to the 1952 Edition
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
    F. L. Ganshof

    Stripped of all simplistic romanticism, the Battle of the Spurs still retains its prime importance in our history. One barely needs to be reminded of this: it is something that every Fleming is aware of. The event also had far-reaching consequences for the course of world history: the hegemonic position that France had attained in Western Europe during the thirteenth century received its first powerful blow.

    For those interested in the study of history, conceived, first and foremost, as an attempt to understand past events, such an unforeseen and, for those living at the time, almost unbelievable occurrence demands explication....

  7. Acknowledgements (to the 1952 edition)
    (pp. xix-xxi)
  8. Preface: ‘An almost impossible event . . .’
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  9. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    From the tenth century to the beginning of the fourteenth century, Western Europe experienced steady progress in all spheres of the economy. The population grew steadily, thus increasing the number of both consumers and workers, as well as encouraging trade and industry. At the beginning of the period, almost all of the population lived from agriculture and was settled in the countryside; at the end, a considerable number lived in the towns. Trade and industry had grown markedly since the eleventh century, giving rise to increased prosperity in which the inhabitants of the small towns, villages and countryside shared. Land...

  10. Part One: Historiography and the Study of the Sources

    • 1 A Problem for Historical Methodology
      (pp. 29-39)

      Although there is not a single description of the battle drawn up by a participant, there are rich sources of documentation that have been left by contemporaries of the warring parties. A list of these descriptions, in chronological order of composition, allows an initial approach to the sources. Only those chronicles from the period itself have been included where the authors may have known specific participants in the battle. Many short commentaries or simple records of the events have been ignored, since they do not present any new facts, merely forming a narrative based on general information. As the sources...

    • 2 The Sources
      (pp. 40-124)

      The glorious Flemish victory beneath the walls of Courtrai did not bring an end to the war. It was clearly evident that the most powerful prince in the West would make an immediate attempt to wipe away the shame brought by the defeat. The Flemings understood that their defence had to be organised quickly. All considered, the victors of 11 July 1302 represented only half of the county, these being Bruges and the Bruges Franc, the coastal areas, the areas around Courtrai and Aalst. Ghent was still in the hands of Flemish followers of the King; only a few hundred...

  11. Part Two: Historical Overview of the 1302 Campaign

    • 3 The Terrain at Courtrai
      (pp. 127-151)

      There has been no complete and critical study of the terrain that deals with all problems arising from a reconstruction of the Battle of Courtrai. Almost all the material required was nevertheless gathered and examined in the valuable contributions presented by Sevens.¹ However, the studies, which complement and correct each other, are not very well known. It thus comes as no surprise that several historians working after Sevens completely ignored his work.²

      Researchers who have examined the Battle of the Spurs were naturally very concise in dealing with the terrain. There were several solutions proffered on it that differ markedly...

    • 4 The Two Armies
      (pp. 152-210)

      On 11 July 1302, three major divisions were grouped together under the Flemish flag. The right wing was formed of militias from Bruges, the centre of men of the Bruges Franc. The left wing was formed of men of East Flanders, joined by the men of Ghent who had come together with Jan Borluut. Jan van Renesse took his post behind their ranks with the reserve corps. The men of Ypres were positioned before the castle of Courtrai.

      Soldiers from the Waas country were fully occupied with the siege of the Rupelmonde castle and with surrounding Ghent. This was also...

    • 5 From the Bruges Matins to the Battle of the Spurs for freedom, equality and fraternity
      (pp. 211-223)

      An unbridgeable chasm arose between the King of France and the Flemish town of Bruges in the early hours of 18 May 1302, known as the Bruges Friday. The blood of 120 noblemen and royal foot-soldiers destroyed all hope of peaceful settlement to the conflict that had broken out.¹

      Simple weavers, fullers and other artisans suddenly became the powerful rulers of the richest town in Flanders.² They were aware of the gravity of the massacre committed and of the crime of lèse majesté that called for revenge: it was clear to them that they could no longer avoid responsibility, and...

    • 6 11 July 1302
      (pp. 224-245)

      The night passed and the sun arose. In the castle of Courtrai the Viscount of Lens waited impatiently to be liberated. Two full days had already passed since the Count of Artois had set up his camp on the Pottelberg hill, and the defender of the castle was in the dark about the plans of the French commander. He sought to point out to Artois how, and along which path, it would be possible to free the garrison rapidly. His soldiers carried a burning torch around the fortress walls to indicate that the Groeninge field was the most suitable place...

  12. General Conclusion
    (pp. 246-252)

    With the Battle of Courtrai, the epic story of the Flemish townsmen began. They liberated the rest of their county and held out against the most powerful monarchy of their time for two years. A new punitive expedition by Philip the Fair led to a disorderly retreat. The military expeditions followed on from each other at a very quick tempo and the example of the men of Bruges merits special citation here. After the decisive expedition to Wijnendaal, Cassel and Courtrai they were, for the time being, left in peace while liberating Lille and Douai. However, on 30 August 1302...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 251-260)
  14. Index
    (pp. 261-268)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 269-269)