Inducement to the Battle of Courtrai

In 1300, Flanders is occupied and now makes integral part of the French royal domains. The count and his eldest son are set in prison in France, together with the highest Flemish nobles. In Flanders itself the differences between the Liebaarts and the Leliaarts only grow. The people are not happy.

Bruges and Ghent rebel

The seal of Pieter de Coninck
The seal of Pieter de Coninck.

In Bruges, the weaver Pieter de Coninck steps into the spotlight. He is a gifted speaker and he puts his talent into use by motivating the masses of poor artisans to stand up for their rights. The town council thinks of him as a dangerous provoker and throws him into prison in June 1301. The people however come to get him out of there. The Liebaarts take over the town and form their own council. The French guardian over Flanders, Jacques de Châtillon, can't let this happen and rushes to Bruges with a small armed force to stop this rebellion. De Liebaarts are not up to face this power and they have to give up the town. The rebels with Pieter de Coninck on top are banned. De Châtillon punishes the town by lifting all its privileges. This causes everyone to be dissatisfied.

Meanwhile the sons of Guy of Dampierre who are not imprisoned start to act. The count of Namur, John, gives the signal to start a general uprising against the French occupation. John of Namur asks Pieter de Coninck to return to Bruges with his followers and take over the town's council. This happens in December 1301.

In March 1302 the taxes on commodities are reinstated in Ghent. The people of the town rebel and chase the Leliaarts who were responsible for doing this. These try to barricade themselves in the Counts Castle in the centre of town, but they have to give up their position. Ghent is now too in the hands of the Liebaarts.

The Good Friday of Bruges

For guardian Jacques de Châtillon it is time to react, but he reacts too late. Beginning of May 1302, he forms up a small army around the town of Courtrai to set up a punitive expedition towards Bruges and Ghent. The town council of Ghent wants to avoid serious problems and sends a delegation which submits to de Châtillon. Ghent is now back in the hands of the Leliaarts, be it under strict conditions in favour of the Liebaarts to be sure that the town of Ghent would not rebel again. When this news arrives in Bruges, Pieter de Coninck marches to Ghent with a small battle group of Bruges in order to try to persuade them to stay on their side. He is not heard and must return to Bruges.

Jacques de Châtillon rides to Bruges with his small army, consisting of about 800 armed men amongst whom 120 knights. The people of Bruges get scared and fear the French rage. The mood turns and the Liebaarts are banned again from the town. About 1.000 people leave. De Châtillon arrives in town on May 17th 1302, with flying colours and display of power. They are heavily armed, against the agreement. The people of Bruges expected a more or less peace making delegation. So they get even more scared and fear that the French came to submit them by the sword. They send for the banned people and ask them to help resist the French. The early morning of May 18th, the Flemings attack the French, shouting "Schild en Vriend". A few hundred get killed, some 90 knights get captured. Jacques de Châtillon barely manages to escape. This event is called the "Good Friday" of Bruges.

The shrine of Saint-Odilia
Depiction from 1292 of a similar massacre.
This is a painted shrine made for the relics of Saint-Odilia, on display in the cloister of Mariënlof in Kolen-Kerniel in Flanders.

The rebellion spreads

After the massacre in Bruges everybody realises that the rebellion must become general in Flanders. It's not longer a quarrel between two lords, but an entire people resisting a king.

A few days later, William of Jülich arrives in Bruges. He is a grandson of count Guy of Dampierre and he came to lead the uprising, supported by John of Namur. Pieter de Coninck is back in Bruges too. Together they lead the people, one as representative of the count, the other as representative of the commoners. John of Namur also sends his younger brother Guy of Namur (both are sons of count Guy of Dampierre) to aid them.

A Flemish army is formed, mostly made up of the communal militias. They are completed with common people, farmers, artisans, patricians and some knights who stayed loyal to the count. The city of Bruges carries most of the costs of the uprising. Expenses in the communal accounts are marked with captions like "To defend the country" and "To protect the land".

The castles of Wijnendaele and Male are taken after a short siege. The rest of Flanders gets rid of the French and the Leliaarts. Only a few strongholds as Cassel and Courtrai stay in French hands. Ghent stays neutral.

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Copyright on text, images and photos by Joris de Sutter, unless noted otherwise.
The seal of Pieter comes from "Brugge tegen Filips de Schone 1280 - 1309", A. Schouteet en Jos De Smet
The picture of the Odilia shrine comes from "Het Sint-Odiliaschrijn", A. Dusar.
This information is provided by De Liebaart and was last updated on March 30th 2001.