Battle of Courtrai, 11 July 1302 (Belgium)

Battle of Courtrai, 11 July 1302 (Belgium)


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Battle of Courtrai

One of the most famous defeats inflicted on the French knights. Philip of France had arrested Guy, Count of Flanders, on charges of Treason, and confiscated his earldom, garrisoning several towns, and putting French officials in charge. His actions triggered a revolt in May 1302, and the rebels soon controlled all of Flanders but Ghent, Cassel, and the citadel of Courtrai. Philip responded by sending his brother, Robert Count of Artois, and the feudal levy of Northern France to crush the rebels. The army of Count Robert was a traditional feudal cavalry host, and, as so many did, contained the flower of French chivalry. In contrast, the Flemish were able to field only an infantry army, and the French were confident that they would crush the rebels, as infantry had been unable to resist cavalry for centuries.

The Flemish forces formed up before Courtrai, where the besieged forces were close to surrender. They formed up in front of a small stream with no real escape routes, possibly done to make sure their troops knew they had to fight to the death. After an exchange of missile fire, the Flemings withdrew slightly from the river, and Count Robert ordered a full cavalry charge by his vanguard. However, the river turned out to be a greater obstacle than he had expected, and on the far side they then got caught up in marshy ground and holes dug by the Flemish, and before the knights could re organize and charge, the Flemish charged them. The disorganized vanguard was force back by this charge, and Count Robert ordered his main forces into the fray. They too got caught in the river and march, and reached the battle in disarray, where they were able to prevent the massacre of the van, but not to break the Flemish line. The Flemish were slowly able to kill the horses, and then their riders before they could recover. Orders had been given to spare no knights, and at least seven hundred French knights were killed in the battle, including Count Robert himself, at least five counts, both Marshals of France, and a total of sixty-three counts, barons and bannerets, the Flower of French Chivalry. Courtrai is also known as the Battle of the Golden Spurs, from the number of knightly spurs recovered.

Courtrai shocked knightly opinion across Europe. Soon a variety of stories were invented to explain the defeat, which went against all accepted wisdom, most of which placed the blame of Count Robert, rather than give any credit to the Flemish infantry. Thus, the French did not learn any lessons from the battle, and were vulnerable to the English infantry tactics of the hundred years war. Courtrai also bears many similarities to Bannockburn, in the nature of the battlefield, the types of troops involved, and the end result.


The Groupe d'Armées des Flandres (GAF) comprising twelve Belgian divisions, ten divisions of the British Second Army and six divisions of the French Sixth Army, under the command of King Albert I of Belgium, with the French General Jean Degoutte as Chief of Staff, defeated the German 4th Army in the Fifth Battle of Ypres (28 September – 2 October). [1] The breaking of the Hindenburg Line further south, led the Allies to follow a strategy of pursuing the Germans for as long as possible, before movement was stopped by the winter rains. Mud and a collapse of the supply-system, had stopped the advance in early October but by the middle of the month, the GAF was ready to resume the offensive. [2] [3]

The offensive began at 5:35 a.m. on 14 October, with an attack by the GAF from the Lys river at Comines northwards to Diksmuide. The British creeping barrage advanced at a rate of 100 yards (91 m) per minute, much faster and much further than the practice in 1917, in expectation that there would be little resistance from German infantry. [4] By the evening the British forces had reached high ground which dominated Werviq, Menen and Wevelghem in the south further north the British captured Moorslede and closed up to Gulleghem and Steenbeek. Belgian troops on the left reached Iseghem, French troops surrounded Roulers and more Belgian troops captured Cortemarck. [5]

Roulers fell the next day and by 16 October, the British held the north bank of the Lys up to Harelbeke and had crossed the river at several points. [6] By 17 October, Thourout, Ostend, Lille and Douai had been recaptured Bruges and Zeebrugge fell by 19 October and the Dutch border was reached the following day. [7] The crossing of the Lys and the capture of Courtrai by the British Second Army on 19 October, led to a German retreat on the front of the Fifth Army further south, which encircled Lille on 18 October. [8] Next day the British were in Roubaix and Tourcoing and by the evening of 22 October, the British had reached the Scheldt from Valenciennes to Avelghem. [9]

A new offensive would be launched by the GAF on 30 October, which would be ended by the Armistice signed on 11 November. By the time the Armistice had been signed, the front was an average of 45 miles (72 km) east of the old front line and ran from Terneuzen to Ghent, along the River Scheldt to Ath and from there to Saint-Ghislain, where it joined with the BEF positions on the Somme. [10]


Battle of the Golden Spurs

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Battle of the Golden Spurs, also called Battle Of Courtrai, or Battle Of Kortrijk, (July 11, 1302), military engagement on the outskirts of Kortrijk in Flanders (now in Belgium) in which an untrained Flemish infantry militia, consisting mainly of members of the craft guilds (notably that of the weavers) defeated a professional force of French and patrician Flemish cavalry, thus checking the growth of French control over the area. It is so named for the spurs supposedly taken from the vanquished. The towns of Flanders rebelled against the occupying French army and besieged the French garrison at Courtrai castle. France then sent a relief army. The ill-armed militia prevailed over the mounted force by making its stand on a patch of ground surrounded by streams and moats, thus frustrating any attempt at a rapid cavalry charge the marshy terrain also impeded other efforts of the horsemen. This victory led to a generation of political ascendancy of the weavers’ guild in the urban centres and ended the threat of French annexation. It also began the “infantry revolution” of the 14th century. The Scots, at the Battle of Bannockburn (1314), consciously emulated the Flemings, and their victory led the English to fight on foot—and win—against the French at the Battle of Crécy (1346) and the Battle of Poitiers (1356).

This article was most recently revised and updated by William L. Hosch, Associate Editor.


Courtrai – 1302

Defeat by the Flemish of the French under Robert of Artois for Philip IV. It followed the revolt of the Matins of Bruges. The Flemings besieged Courtrai whose castle was held by the French. The French attempted relief. A Flemish force, called `weavers, fullers and the common folk’, assembled under Guy of Namur, William of Jülich and Jean de Renesse. The Flemish army consisted mainly of citizen militias, infantry armed with crossbows and goedendags. The Flemings protected their position with ditches. The French charged but, faced by ditches and pikes, failed to break through. The garrison sortied against the Flemish rear but was beaten back. Robert led the rearguard into the fray. His horse was hit and he was dragged off and killed. Courtrai demonstrated the value of infantry against cavalry. The battle was known as that of the Golden Spurs, because 700 pairs were taken from French corpses as trophies. The defeat shocked France, but Philip IV gained his revenge at Mons-en-Pévele.

Staff weapons, used both by foot and equestrian soldiers, are of great antiquity, but the period from 1300 was when they especially came into their own as an infantry weapon. In 1302, at the Battle of Courtrai, the Flemish townsmen from Bruges, Ypres, and Courtrai, armed, in the main, with staff weapons routed a superior and supposedly better-armed French army. The reaction to this victory, essentially by the lower and middle classes, and the large numbers of French cavalry dead, were noted throughout Europe and caused up roar among the nobles, knights, and the upper classes of society. The weapon, called a goedendag (literally “good morning” or “good day”), which caused such a devastating and unexpected victory, far from being sophisticated or innovative, was basically a heavy-headed club to which iron spikes were attached. Their use at Courtrai and, equally important, the discipline of the Flemish forces, mark the rise of the infantry armed with staff weapons as a potent force on the battlefields of Europe. This victory was followed by that of the Swiss using staff weapons at the battle of Morgarten against the Austrians in 1315. From this time on staff weapons played an increasingly important part on the battlefield-blocks of disciplined, well-trained, and well-drilled infantry, all armed with similar weapons, were com mon down to the seventeenth century

Throughout the high Middle Ages, heavy cavalry had completely dominated warfare. It had become completely entrenched in both the military and socioeconomic systems of the day- the noble knight was a key component of the feudal system. In this way, infantry was overlooked as strategically important, even when certain groups of foot soldiers again began to claim victories against the knightly cavalry.

By the 14th century, infantry (without the large support of cavalry) was reasserting its effectiveness in combat. In certain areas of Europe, infantry was becoming a well organized and capable fighting force, which was even able to stand against heavy cavalry. Flemish infantry of the early 1300s, for example, were organized by guild into regular militias, and well equipped with mail habergeons, steel helmets, gauntlets, shields, and even plate armor and they bore an assortment of weapons, including bows, crossbows, pikes, and goedendags. (This was a heavy wooden staff, four to five feet long, and tipped with a steel spike.) Because of their structure, in particular their ability to hold the line when facing a cavalry charge, the Flemish were able to achieve a decisive and influential victory against the French chivalry at Courtrai in July of 1302.

The cities of Flanders were rebelling against the King of France, and laying siege to Courtrai castle. The king sent 2,500 men-at-arms and 8,000 infantry to relieve the Courtrai garrison and dispatch the rebellion. He took it for granted that the Flemish would flee when they found themselves outnumbered in heavy cavalry, which was widely acknowledged as the master of the battlefield. Instead, the Flemish withdrew to a predetermined position away from the city, in marshland where their flanks were protected by streams, and prepared for the French advance.

The infantry was broken up (by guild and region, so that men who knew each other would be fighting together, which boosted morale) into four divisions, three in line and one as reserve. The soldiers were densely packed, about eight deep, with their pikes and goedendags extended. The Flemish knew that success depended on their holding formation during the French charge, and they did so.

At Courtrai in 1302, javelin-armed bidauts began the battle by advancing with the French crossbowmen. Withdrawing as the knights charged home, the bidauts then re-appeared in support of their cavalry, now engaged with the Flemish infantry line, by throwing their javelins, stabbing at the enemy pikemen and no doubt rescuing individual knights in trouble.

The charge was foiled, and degenerated into a vicious mêlée, in which Flemish infantry outnumbered the French men-at-arms. The surviving French, disarrayed and demoralized, and finding little ground to retreat, began to flee. Over a thousand French noblemen were killed in the battle. The dominance of cavalry in warfare now became subject to question.

It took two more bloody battles-Arques, a loss for the French, and Mons-en-Pévele, a loss for the Flemings-and more than three years before the county of Flanders was forced to submit to the king of France. Before peace was made in 1305, many had died on both sides, including the leading Flemish general, William of Jülich.

Yet the Flemish desire for economic and political self-rule was not quenched by the violence of the French reaction to the 1302-1305 rebellion, and they rebelled once again in 1323-1328. The result this time was the Battle of Cassel, a French victory. Yet again the Flemings revolted in 1338, led by the Ghentenaar weaver, Jacob van Artevelde. On this occasion, the French could not effectively use military force to put down the Flemish rebellion, as the English, al lies of the Flemings, posed a greater threat during these early years of the Hundred Years War. It was not until 1346, when an uprising by another faction in Ghent led to Jacob van Artevelde’s assassination, that peace would return to the county. However, thirty-three years later, the Flemings revolted again, this time under Philip van Artevelde, the son of the earlier rebel leader. In 1382, a lull in the Hundred Years War fighting allowed the young French king, Charles VI, to send a large army north, which resulted in a French victory at the Battle of Rosebeke, though the citizens of Ghent, leaders among the rebels, held out until 1385.

Courtrai: 1302 The Flemish victory over the French at Courtrai in 1302 provides a good check list of the actions necessary for traditional medieval infantry to combat a knightly army.


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

  • Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
  • Online publication date: September 2012
  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online ISBN: 9781846150265
  • Subjects: Area Studies, European History 1000-1450, History, European Studies

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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.

Reviews

A classic of military history, enduring as the indispensable study of the battle and the foundation of all subsequent scholarship.'

Source: Journal of Military History

This is battle history done at its best. Verbruggen has a talent for reconstructing not simply the course of events from contradictory testimonies, but something of what the experience may have been like for the participants.'

A model for the writing of a battle account. what distinguishes this book is the way in which Verbruggen married his knowledge of the sources to his understanding of the terrain.'


Battle of the Golden Spurs (11 July 1302 )

The Battle of the Golden Spurs (Dutch: Guldensporenslag, French: Bataille des éperons d'or), also known as the Battle of Courtrai, was a battle fought between the Kingdom of France and the County of Flanders at Kortrijk (Courtrai in French) in modern-day Belgium on 11 July 1302.

In 1302, after several years of unrest, the people of Flanders revolted against French rule and massacred many Frenchmen in the Flemish city of Bruges. King Philip IV of France immediately organized an expedition under Count Robert II of Artois to put down the rebellion. Meanwhile, the civic militias of several Flemish cities were assembled to counter the expected French attack.

When the two armies met outside the city of Kortrijk, the mounted French knights proved unable to defeat the well-trained Flemish foot militia on a battlefield particularly unsuited for cavalry. The result was a rout of the French nobles, who suffered heavy losses at the hands of the Flemish. The battle was a famous early example of an all-infantry army overcoming an army that depended on the shock attacks of mounted knights.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the Battle of the Golden Spurs became an important cultural reference point for the Flemish Movement. In 1973, the date of the battle was chosen to be the date of the official holiday of the Flemish Community in Belgium.

The origins of the Franco-Flemish War (1297�) can be traced back to the accession of Philip IV "the Fair" to the French throne in 1285. Philip hoped to reassert control over the County of Flanders, a semi-independent polity notionally part of the Kingdom of France, and possibly even to annex it into the crown lands of France. In the 1290s, Philip attempted to gain support from the Flemish aristocracy and succeeded in winning the allegiance of some local notables, including John of Avesnes. He was opposed by a faction led by the Flemish knight Guy of Dampierre who attempted to form a marriage alliance with the English against Philip. In Flanders, however, many of the cities were split into factions known as the "Lilies" (Leliaerts), who were pro-French, and the "Claws" (Clauwaerts), led by Pieter de Coninck in Bruges, who advocated independence.

In June 1297, the French invaded Flanders and gained some rapid successes. The English, under Edward I, withdrew to face a war with Scotland and the Flemish in 1297 signed a temporary armistice, the Truce of Sint-Baafs-Vijve, with the French which halted the conflict. In January 1300, when the truce expired, the French invaded Flanders again and by May were in total control of the county. Guy of Dampierre was imprisoned and Philip himself toured Flanders making administrative changes.

After Philip left Flanders, unrest broke out again in the Flemish city of Bruges directed against the French governor of Flanders, Jacques de Châtillon. On 18 May 1302, rebellious citizens who had fled Bruges returned to the city and murdered every Frenchman they could find, an act known as the Bruges Matins. With Guy of Dampierre still imprisoned, command of the rebellion was taken by John and Guy of Namur. Most of the towns of the County of Flanders agreed to join the Bruges rebellion except for the city of Ghent which refused to take part. Most of the Flemish nobility also took the French side, fearful of what had become an attempt to take power by the lower classes.

In order to quell the revolt, Philip sent a powerful force led by Count Robert II of Artois to march on Bruges. Against the French, the Flemish under William of Jülich fielded a largely infantry force which was drawn mainly from Bruges, West Flanders and the east of the County. The city of Ypres sent a contingent of five hundred men under Jan van Renesse and despite their city's refusal to join the revolt, Jan Borluut arrived with seven hundred volunteers from Ghent.

The Flemish were primarily town militia who were well equipped and trained. The militia fought primarily as infantry, were organized by guild, and were equipped with steel helmets, chainmail haubergeons, pikes, bows, crossbows and the goedendag. The goedendag was a specifically Flemish weapon, made from a thick 5 feet (1.5 m)-long wooden shaft and topped with a steel spike. They were a well-organized force of nine thousand, including four hundred noblemen, and the urban militias of the time prided themselves on their regular training and preparation. The Flemish militia formed a line formation against cavalry with goedendags and pikes pointed outward. Because of the high rate of defections among the Flemish nobility, there were few mounted knights on the Flemish side. The Annals of Ghent claimed that there were just ten cavalrymen in the Flemish force.

The French, by contrast, fielded a traditional feudal army with a core of 2,500 noble cavalry, including knights and squires. They were supported by about 8,000 infantry, a mix of crossbowmen, spearmen, and light infantry. Contemporary military theory valued each knight as equal to roughly ten footmen

The combined Flemish forces met at Kortrijk on 26 June and laid siege to the castle, which housed a French garrison. As the siege was being laid, the Flemish leaders began preparing a nearby field for battle. The size of the French response was impressive, with 3,000 knights and 4,000𠄵,000 infantry being an accepted estimate. The Flemish failed to take the castle and the two forces clashed on 11 July in an open field near the city next to the Groeninge stream.

The field near Kortrijk was crossed by numerous ditches and streams dug by the Flemish as Philip's army assembled. Some drained from the river Leie or Lys, while others were concealed with dirt and branches, making it difficult for the French cavalry to charge the Flemish lines. The marshy ground also made the cavalry less efficient. The French sent servants to place wood in the streams, but they were attacked before they completed their task. The Flemish placed themselves in a strong defensive position, in deeply stacked lines forming a square. The rear sides of the square were covered by a curve of the river Leie. The front sides presented a wedge to the French army and were placed behind larger rivulets. The large French infantry force led the attack, which initially went well and managed to cross the rivulets. Subsequently however, they failed to force back the Flemish front rows. The French commander Robert of Artois became impatient and recalled his foot soldiers to free the way to the noble cavalry. The cavalry were much hindered by the streams and ditches which the infantry had more easily negotiated in the beginning of the battle, and the disciplined Flemish infantry held firm. Unable at most points to break the Flemish line of pikemen, many French knights were knocked from their horses and killed with the goedendag, the spike of which was designed to penetrate the spaces between armour segments. Those cavalry groups that succeeded in breaking through were set upon by the reserve lines, surrounded and wiped out. To turn the tide of the battle de Artois ordered his cavalry reserves to continue the charges, with the same lack of success. When ultimately the French knights became aware that they could no longer be reinforced, their attacks faltered and they were gradually driven backwards into the rivulet marshes. There the disorganized, fallen, and mud-drowned French cavalry were an easy target for the heavily armed Flemish infantry. A desperate charge from the French garrison in the besieged castle was thwarted by a Flemish contingent specifically placed there for that task. The French infantry was visibly shaken by the sight of their knights being slaughtered and withdrew from the rivulets. The Flemish front ranks then charged forward, routing their opponents who were massacred. The surviving French fled, only to be pursued over 10 km (6 mi) by the Flemish.

Unusually for the period, the Flemish infantry took few if any of the French knights prisoner, in revenge for the French "cruelty". Robert of Artois was surrounded and killed on the field. According to some tales he begged for his life but the Flemish refused, claiming that they did not understand French.

The Annals of Ghent concludes its description of the battle:

And so, by the disposition of God who orders all things, the art of war, the flower of knighthood, with horses and chargers of the finest, fell before weavers, fullers and the common folk and foot soldiers of Flanders, albeit strong, manly, well armed, courageous and under expert leaders. The beauty and strength of that great [French] army was turned into a dung-pit, and the [glory] of the French made dung and worms.

With the French army defeated, the Flemish consolidated control over the County. Kortrijk castle surrendered on 13 July and John of Namur entered Ghent on 14 July and the "patrician" regime in the city and in Ypres were overthrown and replaced by more representative regimes. Guilds were also officially recognised.

The battle soon became known as the Battle of the Golden Spurs after the 500 pairs of spurs that were captured in the battle and offered at the nearby Church of Our Lady. After the Battle of Roosebeke in 1382, the spurs were taken back by the French and Kortrijk was sacked by Charles VI in retaliation.

The Battle of the Golden Spurs (1836) painting by Nicaise de Keyser According to the Annals, the French lost more than a 1,000 men during the battle, including 75 important nobles. These included:

Robert II, Count of Artois and his half-brother James

Raoul of Clermont-Nesle, Lord of Nesle, Constable of France

Guy I of Clermont, Lord of Breteuil, Marshal of France

Simon de Melun, Lord of La Loupe and Marcheville, Marshal of France

John I of Ponthieu, Count of Aumale

John II of Trie, Count of Dammartin

John II of Brienne, Count of Eu

John of Avesnes, Count of Ostrevent, son of John II, Count of Holland

Godfrey of Brabant, Lord of Aarschot and Vierzon, and his son John of Vierzon

Jacques de Châtillon, Lord of Leuze

Pierre de Flotte, Chief Advisor to Philip IV the Fair

The Flemish victory at Kortrijk in 1302 was quickly reversed by the French. In 1304, the French destroyed the Flemish fleet at the Battle of Zierikzee and fought an indecisive battle at Mons-en-Pévèle.[13] In June 1305, negotiations between the two sides led to the humiliating Peace of Athis-sur-Orge in which the Flemish were forced to pay the French substantial tribute.[13] Robert of Béthune subsequently fought an indecisive campaign against the French between 1314�.

The Battle of the Golden Spurs had been called the first incidence of the gradual "Infantry Revolution" which occurred in Medieval warfare during the 14th century. In conventional military theory of the time, mounted and heavily armoured knights were considered an essential part of military success and consequently warfare was the preserve of a wealthy elite of bellatores (nobles specialized in warfare) serving as men-at-arms. The fact that this form of army, which was expensive to maintain, could be defeated by basic militia, drawn from the "lower orders", led to a gradual change in the nature of warfare during the subsequent century. The tactics and composition of the Flemish army at Courtrai were later copied or adapted at the battles of Bannockburn (1314), Crecy (1346), Aljubarrota (1385), Sempach (1386), Agincourt (1415), Grandson (1476) and in the battles of the Hussite Wars (1419�).[18] As a result, cavalry became less important and nobles more commonly fought dismounted. The comparatively low costs of militia armies allowed even small states, such as the Swiss, to raise militarily significant armies and meant that local rebellions were more likely to achieve military success.


The Battle of the Golden Spurs, 1302

Several years before French king Philip IV of France accused and destroyed order of Knight Templar’s his army lost the battle of Golden Spurs in Flanders, todays Belgium. Franco-Flemish War (1297–1305) was decided with that battle, and in 1305 French king signed recognized Flemish independence, but at the cost of the cities of Lille, Douai and Orchies, which were transferred to France.

On July 11, 1302, the townsmen of Courtrai and other Flemish rebels defeated a French army outside the walls of their city, in what is considered one of the most important battles in the Middle Ages. The victory of infantryman over a mounted forces of knights was a shock to the current military thought of that period. The following account of the battle comes from the Annales Ghandenses, which was written by a Friar Minor from Ghent. His chronicle, which he began in 1308, gives an account of events in Flanders between 1297 and 1310. For a detailed analysis of this battle, readers are encouraged to consult The Battle of the Golden Spurs: Courtrai, 11 July 1302, by J.F. Verbruggen or the De Liebaart Website.

So the king [of France], by the advice of his barons and chamberlains (for that is what his intimate counselors are called), gathered all the knighthood whom he could collect from France, Champagne, Normandy, Picardy and Poitou, and hired also a great number of knights skilled in warfare and of nobles outside his own realm, from the duchy and county of Lorraine and Brabant and Hainault. He assembled a very strong and numerous army, and put in command of it Robert, count of Artois, his own kinsman and the queen’s uncle, strong, noble, courageous and from his youth practiced in battles and expert in tournaments. He had been victorious in five or six mortal combats. About the end of June, Count Robert set out with almost all the counts and barons of France capable of fighting as well as the army which the king had been able to raise, about ten thousand mounted men, besides such a host of crossbowmen and foot that I have not heard their number stated, and came to Lille. When Guy [of Namur] and William [of Julich] discovered this, through their scouts, and also that he intended to lead his army against Courtrai, to overthrow the Flemings and drive them away from the siege of the castle, if possible, as those of the king’s party in the castle were provisioned for two months only, William left behind a force adequate for the siege of Cassel, and himself set out to his uncle Guy at Courtrai with a large army from western Flanders.

About this time there was such dearth and famine in Ghent, that the humbler folk were in general eating bread made from oats for while the town of Ghent was on the king’s side, the parts all roundabout were for Guy and William, so that corn and other food could only be smuggled in secretly . There was touch dissension in Ghent, for the common folk favored the count, and the cellarets and rich the king, so that often civil war between them was to be feared.

About the beginning of July, Robert moved from Lille, set out for Courtrai, and pitched his camp near that town, at a distance of about four or five furlongs. As the French entered Flemish-speaking Flanders, to show their ferocity and terrorize the Flemings they spared neither women nor children nor the sick, but slew all they could find. They even beheaded the images of the saints in the churches, as though they were alive, or chopped off their limbs. However, such doings did not terrorize the Flemings, but stimulated and provoked them to still greater indignation and rage and violent fighting.

When Guy and William heard of the approach of the enemies whom they hated so bitterly, they assembled their army with speed and rejoicing, about sixty thousand foot , strong and well armed. And they summoned all those faithful to them, who loved there, not only from the parts of Flanders those who were with them and had turned against the king, but also from Ghent, where about seven hundred well-armed men secretly left the town, and on this account were at once banished by the leliaerts . All those he had assembled were eager to come to blows with the French. In their whole army Guy and William had no more than about ten knights, of whom the most distinguished and experienced in warfare were Henry de Loncin from the duchy of Limburg, John de Renesse from the county of Zeeland, Gossuin of Goidenshoven from the duchy of Brabant, Dietrich of Hondschoote, Robert of Leewergem, Baldwin of Popperode of the county of Flanders. These, with Guy and William, drew up the Flemish army in order of battle and put heart into it. For three or four days there were individual assaults and combats between the two armies. But on a certain Wednesday, July 11, Guy and William found out through their scouts that all the French were making ready for battle in the morning, and did the same themselves, posting the men of Ypres to resist any of those in the castle who might wish to make a sally during the battle, and drawing up their army in a line both long and deep, about the hour of tierce, to await the enemy in the field.

About the hour of set, the French appeared in arms on the field. They had divided their whole army, both horse and foot, into nine lines of battle, but when they saw the Fleming s drawn up in a single line, very long and deep, boldly ready for battle, they made three lines out, of their own nine, placing one of them in the rear for protection and intending to fight with the other two. Battle was joined shortly before none , with horrible crashing and warlike tumult, and with death for many. The fighting was fierce and cruel, but not prolonged, for God took pity on the Flamings, giving them speedy victory, and put to confusion the French, who, as appeared clearly afterwards, had intended if victorious to do many cruel deeds in Flanders. When battle was joined those in the castle, mindful of their friends, threw down fire from the castle, as they had done often before and had set alight many houses in Courtrai and consumed one beautiful house by fire, to terrify the Fleming s . Also both horse and foot came out from the castle, to attack the Fleming s from the rear, but were forced ignominiously to return to it by the men of Ypres, who resisted them manfully and well. The count of St. Pol, who was in command of the third line, entrusted with the defense of the rear, though he saw his two half-brothers giving way with the [other] two lines, and in peril of death, did not go to their aid and succor, but most disgracefully taking to flight quieted the field. And so, by the disposition of God who orders all things, the art of war, the flower of knighthood, with horses and chargers of the finest, fell before weavers, fullers and the common folk and foot soldiers of Flanders, albeit strong, manly, well-armed, courageous and under expert leaders. The beauty and strength of that great army was turned into a dung-pit, and the [glory] of the French made dung and worms. The Fleming s, embittered by the cruelty the French had practiced between Lille and Courtrai, spared neither the dying Frenchmen nor their horses, and slew them all cruelly, till they were completely assured of victory. An order had been proclaimed in their army by their leaders before the fight began that anyone who stole any valuable during the battle or kept as prisoner a noble, however great, should be straightway put to death by his own comrades. In the said battle, therefore, there perished that no and victorious prince, Robert, count of Artois, with James his half-brother, already mentioned, to whose brewing all the evils then and later were mainly due Godfrey, paternal uncle of John, duke of Brabant, with his only son, the lord of Vierzon ( he , it is believed, because on the mother’s side his nephew was of Flemish blood, would if. the French had won have turned him out of his land, or slain him, and secured it from the king to hold himself) John, eldest son of the count of Hainault, called the Pitiless because of his cruelty Pierre Flote, the crafty and powerful councilor of the king the count of Aumale the count of Eu the lord of Nesle, marshal, that is to say chief of the knighthood of France, with his brother Guy, a most valiant knight and other barons and landed magnates, as noble, mighty and powerful as many counts of Germany, to the number of seventy-five. More than a thousand simple knights, many noble squires, and numbers of foot, fell there, and more than three thousand splendid chargers and valuable horses were stabbed during the battle. The total of those who were either killed in the battle or died of their wounds soon afterwards was as much as twenty thousand, and many took flight. The whole of the knightly force remaining to the king was not equivalent to the number of slain. After the victory the Fleming s captured some nobles who had remained on the field, unable to flee because wounded. They were immensely enriched by booty and spoil taken from their enemies, and furnished and magnificently provided with weapons, tents and trappings of war.

Source: This text is from Annales Gandenses/Annals of Ghent, trans . Hilda Johnstone (London, 1951)


The battle

The combined Flemish forces met at Courtrai on 26 June and laid siege to the castle, which housed a French garrison. As the siege was being laid, the Flemish leaders began preparing a nearby field for battle. The size of the French response was impressive, with 3,000 knights and 4,000-5,000 infantry being an accepted estimate. After the Flemish unsuccessfully tried to take Courtrai on 9 and 10 July, the two forces clashed on the 11th in an open field near the city.

The field near Courtrai was crossed by numerous ditches and streams dug by the Flemish as Philip's army assembled. Some drained from the river Lys, while others were concealed with dirt and branches, making it difficult for the French cavalry to charge the Flemish lines. The French sent servants to place wood in the streams, but they attacked before they completed their task. The large French infantry force led the initial attack, which went well but French commander Count Robert recalled them so that the noble cavalry could claim the victory. The cavalry were hindered by the streams and ditches (which the infantry had dealt with in the beginning of the battle), and the disciplined Flemish infantry held firm. Unable to break the Flemish line of pikemen, the disorganized, fallen, and mud-drowned French cavalry were an easy target for the heavily armed Flemish infantry. A desperate charge from the French garrison in the besieged castle was thwarted by a Flemish contingent specifically placed there for that task. When they realized the battle was lost, the surviving French fled, only to be pursued over 10 km (6 mi) by the Flemish.

Before the battle, the Flemish militia had either been ordered to take no prisoners or did not care for the military custom of asking for a ransom for captured knights or nobles [3] modern theory is that there was a clear order that forbade them to take prisoners during the battle (to avoid their ranks being broken when the Flemish infantry took their hostages behind the Flemish lines). [4] Robert II of Artois was surrounded and killed on the field. According to some tales he begged for his life but the Flemish refused, claiming that "they didn't understand French". [5]


Review: Courtrai 11 juillet 1302

The infantry theme issue of Medieval Warfare II-3 features the fighting Flemish burghers prominently in Vassilis Pergalias’ article about The Battle of Courtrai 1302, also known as the Battle of the Golden Spurs (see also The Battle of the Golden Spurs (Wikipedia)). While their contribution to the evolution of warfare has been noted early on by historians, only few publications exist to inform the general public. J. F. Verbruggen’s classic 1952 Dutch study of the battle has only recently been translated into English in a somewhat pricey edition (294 pages, Boydell Press 2002, ISBN 0851158889, 45 GBP). The battle’s coverage in French was sketchy at best, though this has been partly remedied by the 700th anniversary of the battle. The addition of Historic’One’s inexpensive Osprey Campaign-like booklet introduces this interesting battle to a larger French-speaking audience.

Publishing a series under the anti-marketing label of Les batailles oubliées (Forgotten Battles) must appeal to the French love for lost causes, from Crécy to Waterloo (the next medieval title to be published will cover another French defeat, the Battle of Verneuil 1424). The Franco-Belgian publisher is faced with the brave twin challenge of not only selling a book to the public but also promoting the importance of the book’s ‘forgotten’ topic. Why should one still commemorate and read about those battles of yore? The ‘winner-takes-all-effect’ of the attention economy makes it a much riskier venture to publish a title on a deserving but obscure battle than to water the evergreens like Agincourt, a mission the publisher has been commendably undertaking for more than a decade now. The currently available titles in the Les batailles oubliées series covering the medieval period are: Brémule 1119, Courtrai 1302, Varey 1325, Anthon 1430 and Montlhéry 1465. Hopefully, the foreign distribution channels will be expanded to the common internet booksellers. Currently, ordering directly via the publisher’s website is the best option.

In content and design, the booklets follow the classic Osprey Campaign model with commissioned battle paintings, but they offer more generous colour illustrations. On 80 to 96 glossy pages are presented the background, the protagonists, the armies, the campaign and the battle. The battle maps are typically more stylized than those found in Osprey Campaign titles. The murky tactical details of most medieval battle accounts justify this self-limitation. The series’ highlights are the wonderful colour page spreads of the participants’ coat of arms (125 overall for Courtrai 1302, based on an armorial d’ost de Flandre 1297, a description of which can be downloaded from www.armorial.dk).

/>The 96 pages are divided into seven chapters. The first three rather short chapters provide the background information to the campaign and battle. Chapter 1 presents the protagonists, Philip IV of France, infamous for his later suppression of the Knights Templar, and his 75-years-old opponent Guy de Dampierre, Count of Flanders, as well as the territory of Flanders, desired by France, England and the Empire. Chapter 2 summarizes the relations of France and Flanders during the 13th century. Chapter 3 sees Guy de Dampierre abandoned by his English allies, which sets up the French invasion and the capture of Guy and his son in chapter 4. All is not lost, as the Flemish burghers rise up against the French occupation and push the invaders out. The French could not let this insult stand. Battle is soon joined.

Chapter 5 presents the two unequal armies in detail, based on Verbruggen’s research. Thus we find listed among the French knights one Guillaume de(s) Brieux, who came all the way from Brittany only to die in the battle. Besides the knightly host, the French army was comprised of a notable component of foot soldiers. The Flemish army, in contrast, could rely only on a few knights. Its strength was based upon the Flemish city militias armed with crossbows, spears and clubs. The 23 pages of chapter 6 tell the story of the battle and discusses it with the help of two maps and many illustrations which highlight how differently artists interpreted the battle from medieval to the present times.

The Flemish owed their success to their choice of the battlefield, which broke up the French formation and their combination of crossbows, spears and clubs. While the French managed to defeat the Flemish shortly afterwards, they didn’t learn the lesson that mighty chivalry charges were a thing of the past. Only multiple defeats in the Hundred Years War and onwards would cool the furia francese. The Flemish success, however, was short-lived. The French defeated the Flemish two years later, annexed Flanders and dominated the area for the next two hundred years. In the concluding chapter 7, the curator of the Museum Kortrijk 1302, who has also written the booklet’s preface, offers a short virtual tour of the museum and extends a cordial “goedendag” to open minds, not crack skulls.

The Battle of Courtrai (or Kortrijk) in 1302 may be mostly forgotten in French history as a temporary setback in the push for the annexation of Flanders. Under the name of the “Battle of the Golden Spurs”, it plays an important part in both Flemish nationalism (which, self-defeating, offers the content of the 1302 battle museum’s website only in Flemish) and military history as an example of a town militia defeating the flower of chivalry.

This booklet about Courtrai and its sister titles are highly recommended for history buffs and wargamers. As the series title of Forgotten Battles indicates, information about these battles can be quite sparse and difficult to find (this is especially true about the Battle of Montlhéry in 1465). While the text requires decent French language skills, the illustrations and the good price might tempt those in command of only ‘school French’ too.


3 - The Terrain at Courtrai

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. 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.

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 from each other. For this reason there are now four viable reconstructions of the battlefield. The best known and most generally accepted reconstruction is that provided by Sevens and Fris, which is in reality a slight improvement on the map given by Moke, Köhler and Frederichs. Funck- Brentano established another version that was first accepted in 1892 by Sevens although he rejected it definitively in 1902. In 1931 the solution presented by Funck-Brentano was still seen as possible by Delfos.

Delfos did, however, propose another map. The most recent reconstruction of the battlefield has been proffered by Baron M. de Maere d'Aertrycke who did not follow his earlier opinions based on Sevens's studies. In order to avoid having to continually refer back to the four proposed solutions, they have been reproduced here in simple sketch form. In a concise summary of the versions, which sources the above historians relied upon will also be shown.


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OTD 11 July 1302 Battle of the Golden Spurs

On July 11th. 1302, the Battle of the Golden Spurs (in Dutch: Guldensporenslag)
took place. This was also called the Battle of Courtrai.

This battle took place between the forces of the County of Flanders and the
Kingdom of France.

The two armies met each other near Courtrai (in Dutch: Kortrijk) in
West-Flanders, Belgium.

The French knights were unable to to defeat the Flemish well trained army
and they suffered huge loses.

The Flemish soldiers used a typical weapon from that time called
"Goedendag" (1.5m long wooden shaft and topped with a steel spike).

The Battle soon became known as the Battle of the Golden Spurs after the
more than 500 pairs of spurs that were captured on the battlefield.

The Spurs were offered offered at the Church of our Lady in Courtrai,
however already in 1382 the French took revenge and the spurs were
taken back to France.

During the 19th. and the 20th. century the Battle of the Golden Spurs
became important with the Flemish movement.

July 11th. was chosen as official holiday for the Flemish community
in Belgium.


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