Origin of the Conflict

During the late 13th century the county of Flanders was one of the richest areas in Europe. The count was only in name vassal of the king of France. In reality he was quite independent and one of the most influential lords of his time. But every coin has its flip side. The wealth of the county caused the French king to become greedy and he wanted to annex Flanders to his royal domains.

The count cornered

Guy of Dampierre, count of Flanders, was the godfather of Philip IV the Fair of France, but this did not stop the king to work against the count in all possible ways. His aim was to weaken the political position of the count, in such way that he could put him aside in order to take over the county himself. The king did this by granting favours and special rights to the patricians and commoners (but never at the same time), that never took the count's responsibilities into account. The king also put through a currency change that ignored the count's own right to give out coin. On top of this, in every big town French "guardians" were instated who had to supervise the count's administration, nothing less than a direct interference. Guy protested against these measures but was completely ignored by Philip. It was forbidden to the count to appear at the court of his peers (a special court with the twelve highest vassals of the French crown) to plea his case.

Seal of count Guy of Dampierre
The seal of count Guy of Dampierre of Flanders, ca. 1280

Flanders occupied

War raged between France and England since 1294. Count Guy of Dampierre allied with the English king Edward I on January 7th 1297. Two days later he broke his bond as vassal with Philip IV. France reacted by sending an army to Flanders. A battle is fought on August 20th 1297 in Bulskamp near the town of Veurne. A hastily set up Flemish army is slain and the French continue their advance. Eight days later Edward I lands in Sluis with a small expeditionary force and he marches to Ghent where the count is residing. During the month of September the French manage to take the towns of Lille and Bruges. An armistice is made in the month of October while more than half of Flanders is occupied by the French.

Edward I returns to England in March 1298, after problems between his soldiers and the citizens of Ghent. His intervention turned out to be useless. That same year in July, Edward I reconciles with the French. By doing this he breaks his promise to Guy of Dampierre.

The armistice ends on January 6th 1300. The French army marches again under command of Charles of Valois and starts to conquer the rest of Flanders. Count Guy, worn out at an age of over 70, transfers his power to his oldest son Robert of Bethune. In May 1300 the last Flemish stronghold Ypres falls and the count capitulates. Guy, Robert and several high Flemish nobles go into captivity in France. Jacques de Châtillon de Saint-Pol is named guardian of Flanders. The county is no more, Flanders is integral part of the French royal domains.

The king in Flanders

One year later, May 1301, king Philip IV the Fair visits his new territories and has cheerful entries in the major cities. The biggest city north of Paris, Ghent, saw great dissatisfaction amongst the commoners on a special tax on daily usable goods. This tax was used primarily to ease the enormous debts of the town. The commoners asked the king to lift the tax and Philip granted this, due to the magnificent feast that was held to honour him. The patricians didn't like this of course.

The patricians in Bruges wanted to avoid that something similar happened in their town. Thus they forbid the commoners to address any such question to the king on penalty of death. Consequently the commoners stood silent and malcontent by the side of the road where the king passed, much to his surprise. Meanwhile the patricians had spent a lot of money and efforts to receive the king in all magnificence and splendour. This caused the French queen the comment that she thought alone to be queen, but apparently every woman in Flanders thought of herself as queen. So richly were the people of Flanders dressed.

Effigy of Philip IV in Saint-Denis, France
The effigy of king Philip IV the Fair in Saint-Denis, France

The political climate in Flanders had not changed much after the king's visit. The contrast between Liebaarts and Leliaarts still existed and was even aggravated. The rich patricians, for the most part Leliaarts, were able to enrich themselves even more thanks to the French occupation. The poor commoners and artisan unions, for the most part Liebaarts, were exploited even more. A few consequent events will be the direct cause for a frontal confrontation between these two parties.

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Copyright on text, images and photos by Joris de Sutter, unless noted otherwise.
Count Guy's seal comes from "Brugge tegen Filips de Schone 1280 - 1309", A. Schouteet en Jos De Smet
The picture of Philip comes from "Het Grafelijk Geslacht Dampierre en zijn Strijd tegen Filips de Schone", Theo Luykx
This information is provided by De Liebaart and was last updated on March 30th 2001.