Schild en Vriend !

Battle Cries

Throughout history mankind always made war. In battles and skirmishes where two parties fight each other, it is of utmost importance to be able to differentiate between friend and foe. One possibility to do this is the use of uniforms. But around 1302 the town militias barely started to wear uniform like clothing. In the heat of the battle where a few hundred or more warriors are engaged in hand to hand combat, the visual recognition of friend and foe is practically impossible. Avoiding attacking your own comrades needs other measures to be taken. Here the battle cry comes in. A predefined cry or little sentence is continuously shouted in order to recognise each other. From the moment a soldier gets eye to eye with an opponent, a fraction of a second is enough to decide between life and death.

Copyright BM Cambrai Mss. 422, fol. 20 v
An illustration of 'war' as a horseman of the apocalypse in a French manuscript. The interesting fact is that the horseman is the count of Flanders!

The soldier in a war situation knows fear for the enemy and death. One of the most effective ways to overcome this fear is to scan battle cries. Medieval battlefields were no holiday camps. Most warriors were simple people that were hired or forced into the army just for the duration of the campaign. Scanning cries in group is a powerful instrument to feel united and encourage each other.

Scilt ende Vrient

When Jacques de Châtillon rode into Bruges on May 17th 1302 with some 800 armed French, most of the Liebaarts were already banned. The impressive entering of the guardian frightened the Brugeois who thought that he had come to strike down the rebellion in a violent way. So they called back the banned Liebaarts. Word was spread that during early morning the French and their helpers would be attacked. A battle cry was chosen in order to be recognised as Liebaart and to differentiate from the French. The phrase "Scilt ende Vrient" was taken from a famous prayer used to beg God for assistance in battle. It literally means "Shield and Friend".

A useful benefit of this cry was the fact that French speaking people have a hard time pronouncing these words in the correct way. At dawn of May 18th 1302 a few thousand Liebaarts enter Bruges, shouting "Scilt ende Vrient!". The French are butchered, made prisoner or evicted.

Vlaendren ende Leeu

During the battle of Courtrai a different battle cry was necessary. It were not longer just the Brugeois who were in danger, but the future of the whole county of Flanders was in jeopardy here. The chosen battle cry was as clear as evident. People fought for Flanders in Courtrai, and the symbol of Flanders was the charge on the count's shield: the lion. The phrase "Vlaendren die Leeu" ("Flanders the Lion") was all the more at its right place because two members of the count's family were present: William of Jülich and Guy of Namur. Both men held the military leadership of the rebellion.

Montjoie Saint-Denis

The French army used a battle cry too. The exact meaning of a "montjoie" is not known, but apparently it refers to heaps of stone used as beacons during the crusades. In later times the "Oriflamme", a special French banner that was carried at most important battles, became connected with the word. The banner was kept in the abbey of Saint-Denis, where the French kings found their last resting-place. Saint-Denis was the patron saint of France.

Hence the cry "Montjoie Saint Denis", or the statement of faith in the Oriflamme and strong believe in the protection of Saint-Denis.

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Copyright on text, images and photos by Joris de Sutter, unless noted otherwise.
The miniature is Copyright BM Cambrai Mss. 422, fol. 20 v.
This information is provided by De Liebaart and was last updated on Maart 30th 2001.