Battle of the Golden Spurs

Battle of the Golden Spurs
Part of the Franco-Flemish War
Battle of Courtrai2.jpg
Depiction from the Grandes Chroniques de France
Date11 July 1302[1]
Location
50°49′44″N 3°16′34″E / 50°49′44″N 3°16′34″E / 50.829; 3.276
ResultFlemish victory
Belligerents
Blason Comte-de-Flandre.svg County of FlandersArms of the Kings of France (France Ancien).svg Kingdom of France
Commanders and leaders
William of Jülich
Coat of arms of Zeeland.svg Guy of Namur
Pieter de Coninck
Jan Borluut
Jan van Renesse.svg Jan van Renesse
Arms of Robert dArtois.svg Robert II of Artois [2]
Strength
8,400–10,400
8,000–10,000 militia infantry[3][2]
400 men-at-arms[2]
8,000–8,500
1,000 pikemen[2]
1,000 crossbowmen[2]
3,500 assorted infantry[2]
2,500–3,000 men-at-arms
and knights[2][3]
Casualties and losses
c.100–300 killed[4]c.1,000–1,500 men-at-arms and knights killed[5][6]
Battle of the Golden Spurs is located in Belgium
Battle of the Golden Spurs
Battlefield on a map of modern Belgium

The Battle of the Golden Spurs (Flemish: Guldensporenslag; French: Bataille des éperons d'or) was a military confrontation between the royal army of France and rebellious forces of the County of Flanders on 11 July 1302 during the Franco-Flemish War (1297–1305). It took place near the town of Kortrijk (Courtrai) in modern-day Belgium and resulted in an unexpected victory for the Flemish. It is sometimes referred to as the Battle of Courtrai.

On 18 May 1302, after two years of French military occupation and several years of unrest, many cities in Flanders revolted against French rule and massacred many Frenchmen in the city of Bruges. King Philip IV of France immediately organized an expedition of 8,000 troops, including 2,500 men-at-arms, under Count Robert II of Artois to put down the rebellion. Meanwhile, 9,400 men from 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 on 11 July, the cavalry charges of the mounted French men-at-arms proved unable to defeat the mail-armoured and well-trained Flemish militia infantry's pike formation on the battlefield. The result was a rout of the French nobles, who suffered heavy losses at the hands of the Flemish. The 500 pairs of spurs that were captured from the French horsemen gave the battle its popular name. The battle was a famous early example of an all-infantry army overcoming an army that depended on the shock attacks of heavy cavalry.

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.

Background

The origins of the Franco-Flemish War (1297–1305) 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.[7] 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 (Count of Hainaut, Holland and Zeeland). 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.[8] 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.[9]

The Flemish line of battle as depicted on the Courtrai Chest

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 and French signed a temporary armistice in 1297, the Truce of Sint-Baafs-Vijve, which halted the conflict.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12] With Guy of Dampierre still imprisoned, command of the rebellion was taken by John and Guy of Namur.[12] 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,[12] fearful of what had become an attempt to take power by the lower classes.[citation needed]

Forces

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.[13]

Fragments of original goedendags preserved at the Kortrijk museum

The Flemish were primarily town militia who were well equipped and trained.[1] The militia fought primarily as infantry, were organized by guild, and were equipped with steel helmets, mail haubergeons,[1] spears, pikes, bows, crossbows and the goedendag.[1] All Flemish troops at the battle had helmets, neck protection, iron or steel gloves and effective weapons, though not all could afford mail armor.[14] 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.[1] They were a well-organized force of 8,000–10,000 infantry, as well as four hundred noblemen, and the urban militias of the time prided themselves on their regular training and preparation.[3] About 900 of the Flemish were crossbowmen.[15] The Flemish militia formed a line formation against cavalry with goedendags and pikes pointed outward.[1] 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.[13]

The French, by contrast, fielded a royal army with a core of 2,500 noble cavalry, including knights and squires, arrayed into ten formations of 250 armored horsemen.[2][16] During the deployment for the battle, they were arranged into three battles, of which the first were to attack and the third to function as a rearguard and reserve.[16] They were supported by about 5,500 infantry, a mix of crossbowmen, spearmen, and light infantry.[2] The French had about 1,000 crossbowmen, most of whom were from the Kingdom of France and perhaps a few hundred were recruited from northern Italy and Spain.[15] Contemporary military theory valued each knight as equal to roughly ten footmen.[3]

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