Military Aspects

The years around 1302 were quite a tough time for the Flemish people. There was a war going on with France since 1297, which turned out on a defeat and occupation in 1300. But in 1302 the towns were able to defeat the French in turn, thanks to their town militias. There were also armed conflicts with neighbours Hainault and Holland. These years knew an almost continuous situation of war. And that had its consequences on the organisation of defence.

Copyright Koninklijke Bibliotheek Den Haag KA XX, fol.158 r
Picture of a battle between knights in the early 14th century.

Armies and Militias

It was the responsibility of the count to set up an army in case of war. Professional armies did not exist and the count therefore called upon his vassals to form an army. The feudal army in 1297 counted some thousand knights and about two thousand men on foot. But they were defeated in the battle at Bulskamp near Veurne on August 20th 1297. After that the majority of the Flemish knights changed to the French side. In January 1300, at the complete occupation of Flanders by the French, a feudal Flemish army did no longer exist and the count was imprisoned in France.

The communal militias however remained in existence. They could be called upon to serve in the feudal army, but had no good relationship with the count in 1297. Therefore only the bare minimum of soldiers was sent to the count. With the French occupation in 1300 the French restricted the effective numbers of the militias. But most of the patricians and artisans owned their own arms and armour, so a town was still able to call upon the largest part of her combatable men. And this was proven in 1302!


The arsenal of the medieval soldier was vast and limited in the same time. The personal weapons of the warriors were steel weapons in the most diverse shapes. There were no firearms yet in 1302 (they appeared about 30 years later). But there was artillery like trebuchets, catapults and others.

Knights were known to spend a great deal of their time on weapons training. They were professional soldiers who had to be prepared for war all the time. The militias and footsoldiers on the contrary were not so well prepared for battles. It is known that militias frequently trained, but this was by no means comparable with the training of the knights. The most widespread weapon within the Flemish town militias was the goedendag.

By the end of the 13th century more and more groups of soldiers of fortune emerged. These were footsoldiers who could be hired by a lord to fight for him. They too were better prepared for battle than the militias. Most of the French footsoldiers in Courtrai in 1302 were soldiers of fortune. Their most used weapon was the pike.

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Copyright on text, images and photos by Joris de Sutter, unless noted otherwise.
The miniature comes from "Spiegel Historiael", Jacob van Maerlant, Copyright Koninklijke Bibliotheek Den Haag KA XX, fol.158 r.
This information is provided by De Liebaart and was last updated on March 30th 2001.