Before the battle

The French army, led by Robert of Artois, formed around the town of Arras by the end of June 1302. They planned to march to Flanders to avenge the massacre at the "Goede Vrijdag" of Bruges. The Flemish army concentrated around the town of Courtrai to besiege the royal castle. Courtrai was the gateway to Flanders for France, so it was of the utmost importance to fully control this town. This was understood by the French, so they first marched to Courtrai.

The Flemish army

The men that were drafted in Bruges made up the core of the Flemish army. The town was able to send some 3.000 men, led by William of Jülich. The majority were artisans who made part of the town militia. The Bruges Free Land (the area around the town) and Coastal Flanders sent 2.500 men. They were led by Guy of Namur. East- Flanders also sent 2.500 men, among which were 700 men from Ghent, led by John Borluut. The town of Ypres sent about 500 men. A reserve force was made up of 500 men, led by John of Renesse. This adds up to about 9.000 men. About 400 of these are nobility. The biggest difference with a conventional army is that this army will only fight on foot.

The French army

The French king sent the best and most beautiful army ever to Flanders. About 2.500 noble horsemen (knights as well as squires) made up the core. 1.000 crossbow men, 1.000 pike men and 2.000 other light infantry aided them. This gives a total of 6.500 men, organised into 10 "battles". This seems a minority in regards of the 9.500 Flemish, but the French army was by far more superior. A knight was valued as much as ten men on foot.

Set up of the armies

The French army arrives July 8th at Courtrai. They put up their camp south of the town and during the next two days, they try to attack the town. These efforts fail however and an open battle on the field is unavoidable. The Flemish camp stands north of the town. The French defenders of the royal castle point to a field east of town as a s uitable battlefield.

In the French camp a war council is held. Some bannerlords have serious doubts on a direct frontal attack. They prefer to wait to defy the Flemings to attack themselves, thus exhausting and dispersing them. The terrain is not favourable for a charge on horseback. The majority of the French lords however wish to hold up their honour and attack, in order to teach that pitiful army of artisans and farmers a good lesson.

Early in the morning of July 11th 1302 the French army starts to form up for the battle. The ten battles are formed into three bigger units. Two units are made up of three battles, they are the attack forces. The third unit of two battles will stay in reserve.

The Flemish camp too starts her preparations for the battle. Three big units line up at some distance of the two brooks that separate the two armies of each other. These are respectively the people from Bruges, the people from West-Flanders and the people of East-Flanders. The reserves are the people from Ypres, who guard the back of the army against the royal castle, and finally the men of John of Renesse.

Line up of the armies on the Groeninge field
Line up of the armies on the Groeninge field.
Flanders France
B: Bruges Bu: Burlats L: Lorraine
W: West-Flanders and Bruges Freeland Br: Brabant A: Artois
O: East-Flanders N: Nesle S: Saint-Pol
Y: Ypres NT: Nesle and Trie Eu: Normandy
R: Reserve (Renesse) C: Clermont P: Saint-Pol and Boulogne
Aligned dots: Crossbow shooters and other footsoldiers

Both armies line up early in the morning. The men confess their sins to priests and the army leaders give speeches with instructions. The Flemish army is forbidden to take any booty from the battlefield, and they are forbidden to make any prisoners. That last thing was very unusual in medieval warfare. It meant that the battle would be fought in a fierce way without any mercy. The Flemings fought for their freedom and to protect their lives. They too had to expect no mercy of the French if they would loose the battle.

Finally in the Flemish camp some forty people are knighted, among who Pieter de Coninck and two of his sons. The armies are ready, the men are prepared,… Just before noon the battle brakes loose.

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Copyright on text, images and photos by Joris de Sutter, unless noted otherwise.
This information is provided by De Liebaart and was last updated on March 30th 2001.