The Battle of the Golden Spurs 1302 AD

The Battle of the Golden Spurs 1302 AD


It’s late June of the year 1302. Discontented by the poor administration of the new governor, united Flemish townsmen incite a revolt and slay the French garrison of Bruges. Strong-minded King Philip appoints the seasoned Count of Artois to assemble an army and quell the disobedient mutineers. The famous encounter on the fields near Kotrijk that changed the history of Flanders and started to redefine medieval warfare is about to begin. The year is 1285. 17-year-old Philip IV ascends the French throne and despite his young age, quickly become known as a capable and strong-willed monarch. He lead an active policy to overcome feudal dependencies and extend direct royal authority over many of his vassal dominions. Consolidation of power allowed him to challenge the English presence in Gascony, and subordinate the French clergy, which was soon pinned down by heavy taxation. Speaking of money, the young king’s tireless efforts to strengthen his position combined with his rather lavish lifestyle put a major strain on the royal treasury. Expenses constantly outbalanced incomes, urging Philip to seek for new sources of revenue. He started to gaze north, at the semi-independent County of Flanders, formally under French control. From Philip’s point of view, the endeavour to enforce direct rule over the wealthy region was a game worth the candle. The Flemish urban communities had grown remarkably over the previous two centuries, developing into densely populated, flourishing trade centres. Thanks to the wool trade with England and thriving cloth industry, Flanders became one of the richest regions in medieval Europe, balancing between three major powers. Driven by treasury issues, Philip tightened control over the county which, unsurprisingly, caused unrest among the already oppressed lower class of the Flemish cities. The King’s actions induced Guy, Count of Flanders to seek English help, due to the mutual good relations and strong commercial bonds. English King Edward had plenty of reasons to confront the French in Flanders, but his hastily mounted expedition failed to gain significant military support, and after several months of negotiations English troops departed back home. Philip’s reaction was easy to predict. Guy was imprisoned and Flanders was incorporated into the royal domain. It’s good to know, that Guy’s rule was burdensome. But the Flemings quickly realised, that direct French rule by the hand of governor Jacques de Chatillon was even more oppresive and ineffective. De Chatillon was a typical representative of French knighthood, with little understanding of the business going on in Flanders and how prosperous Flemish cities functioned, combined with his contempt of the lower class this lead straight to conflict. Due to the incompetence of the new governor, desperated citizens of Bruges led by weaver Pieter de Coninck and butcher Jan Breydel incited a revolt against the French. It was spring of 1302. De Chatillon gathered a strong armed detachment and garrisoned the city, thus forcing the mutineers to flee. French soldiers harrassed the Burghers, especially families of those who dared to oppose the royal rule. With sunset on the horizon, and under the cover of darkness the Flemish rebels returned to the city. According to legend, they used the phrase „schild en vriend” to distinguish friends and foes as they stormed the houses where the Frenchmen were sleeping. The nocturnal carnage had begun. De Chatillon somehow managed to escape the bloodshed, though almost the whole French garrison counting several hundred men were slaughtered. Citizens of Bruges were aware that Philip would seek military retaliation for such a bloody outburst, so they sent messages to other Flemish cities asking for support. An army gathered across the country, as nearly all urban communities agreed to join the common cause. The combined Flemish force under the command of William of Jülich and Guy of Namur overwhelmed the French garrison at Oudenaarde and soon laid the siege of Kortrijk, another town loyal to the crown. In the meantime the French army was being assembled. Knights from various regions and vassal states of France gathered under the command of experienced Count Robert of Artois, who succesfully quelled a Flemish rebellion five years earlier. Supported by a strong and well-trained infantry detachment and pro-French Flemish aristocracy, Count Artois departed towards the besieged city at the beginning of July. The Kortrijk’s castle was provisioned for a two-month-long siege and refused to surrender. While some Flemish units blocked the keep, others were preparing the field for an upcoming encounter. Rough terrain surrounding the city was crossed with plenty of ditches and pits, additionally reinforced by the defenders as a counter-measure for expected cavalry charges. The vast majority of the Flemish force consisted of inexperienced weavers, butchers and other craftsmen, though a bulk of them doubled as town militia, so they had received decent military training and basic equipment. Apart from pikes, which was a common weapon of rebel force, many of them used goedendags, a 1,5m long combination of spear and club, equally effective in both roles. The Flemings organised a defense near the city in close proximity of two streams. Their tight battleline formed an arc, with flanks secured by a moat and the river Leie. Dutch reinforcements from Zeeland under Jan van Renesse were positioned in the reserve, behind the first line. On the 8th of July Robert Artois arrived at the battlefield. He was probably familiar with the city environs, as he lived there for a few years as a youth. Camp was set near the rebel positions and battle preparations had begun. The French army was roughly the same size as the Flemish one, but of superior quality. The 2,500 strong mounted knight force had tremendous combat potential alone, as each fully equipped knight was believed to pose a threat equal to that of at least ten footmen. Count Artois had also 6,000 fine infantry and crossbowmen at his disposal. The French may have been overconfident, yet they agreed that launching a full frontal cavalry charge wouldn’t be the best idea, given the well defended Flemish positions and rough terrain with many obstacles. Artois commanded his foot soldiers to open the battle. Crossbowmen of both sides rained bolts on each other, to moderate effect. Yet French shooters were better armored and forced their Flemish counterparts to retreat. Then the regular French infantry crossed the stream and stormed the tightly stacked rebel line. Their charge, supported by crossbowmen turned out to be highly successful. Flemish casualties rose quickly and they started to give ground. French officers watched as their infantry gained the upper hand in the fight. Driven by the desire to inflict the last, decisive blow and claim victory, they started to persuade Count Artois to launch the heavy cavalry charge and crush the damaged Flemish line, so that all the glory and pride went to the French nobility. Artois finally yielded to their pressure, recalled the infantry troops and commanded the charge of the mounted units. The sight of two thousand of the finest European knights in full glittering armour rushing out on both flanks was terrifying, yet the Flemings stood strong and tightened their lines, preparing for the impact. But the reckless French knights didn’t bother to keep too much order, as victory was near. The first units reached the enemy ranks, but there was huge puzzlement, when they failed to penetrate the Flemish line, as the momentum was severely crippled by the anti-cavalry obstacles, ditches and general disarray. Tight melee began, French cavalry found themselves in a difficult, unwieldy position on the muddy ground, and were swiftly surrounded by lightly armored Flemish soldiers. Count Artois saw what was happening, and tried to aid the suffering French nobles. He led the remaining cavalry in a charge from the centre, struck the Flemish infantry with full brunt, and achieved some success in penetrating their line. But the Count’s plans were quickly thwarted by Jan van Renesse, who quickly maneuvered the Zeelandish infantry to attack Artois’ relief force, and soon overwhelmed it with superior numbers. The French garrison in the castle also joined the fight, but was pushed back and decimated by Ypres militiamen. Robert Artois was killed and the French situation became disastrously bad, hundreds of their best mounted knights were killed and trampled in the mud. Seeing the dreadful result of rashness and overconfidence, the shaky French infantry fled the battlefield, while their fellow noble cavalry detachments were bludgeoned to death with goedendags, as the Flemings took no prisoners. Around 500 golden spurs were retrieved from the dead and hung in the nearby church. French, and probably even Flemish bodies were left on the battlefield to decompose. Although the battle didn’t end the Franco-Flemish war, as King Philip personally avenged the embarrassing French defeat two years later, forcing the Flemish to sign an unfavourable treaty and cede some lands, the County of Flanders preserved its independence and remained as a fief within the French Kingdom. The Battle of the Golden Spurs proved that under certain conditions a well commanded infantry was able to win against a nominally superior heavy cavalry force, and also foreshadowed the so-called infantry revolution of the 14th century.

100 Comments

  1. it wasn't a Flemish victory, rather, it wasn't a French defeat, they basically scored 10 own goals in that battle xD

  2. a little bit of context : at this time, flanders was the most populated area in all europe.
    Anvers was the biggest harbor, etc…
    a wonderful piece of cake

  3. Ahah French …the overconfident cunts of europe. Pretty sure the defeats in Vietnam and Algiers show they never learned their lesson

  4. even after the charge wouldnt they have won, or atleast fared better, if the infantry just immediately followed?

  5. Ive seen so many of these battles where the French lost battles, battles they should've won, due to over confidence.

    Why is the surrender thing a meme and not this`?

  6. Flemish always had the tendency to draw the sword or pitchfork over taxes,we are small and stuborn sons of bitches!!

  7. Lol The infantry would have finoshed the job with some help from longbowmen and to finish of the Dutch line at the back with clear ground maybe cld have used a knight charge but this is hilarious so dumb

  8. This greedy little shytte stormed the lodges of The Templars to steal their monies. When he got there on Friday, October 13th, 1307 the cash was gone. All the Templar ships had left ports the night before taking the fortune with them.

  9. Hi..
    Please create a Didgori battle 50 000 georgians against 400 000 turkey..

    It was a great fight 1125 AC

  10. I love your video's but have one question, at the end you show the losse of both sides and it says the flemish only lost a few hundreds, which would't make sense ocnsidering the first stage of the battle, i know more people died during the rout of a battle but still, ocnsidering the succesfull infantry charge i would have though the ta the end they would have at least lost 1000/1500 men, is there an explenation for this? Or are sources on the casualties simply dubious?

  11. Fun fact: “goedendag” translates to “have a good day” but it’s one of the most deadliest weapons of it’s age

  12. As a Belgian who studies history I must say: great job.

    But the French infantry wasn't that succesful as the video shows, they were to few and slowed down by the brooks and mud and the Flemish wall of shields, eventually they were pushed back in the brooks with heavy losses.

    Then the French commander Robert of Artois gave the infantry the order to retreat, (by trumpets), and ordered the French knights to a frontal attack.
    (Remember, they were nobility and considered the "tanks" of their era.)

    This was fatal because the French heavy knights got stuck in the brooks and mud, were they got mostly pummeled by Flemish infantry with "Goedendags". 🙂

  13. when these wars were happening ottomans apeared in history they were trying to take some byzentine castles ehehehe 😀 funny history and some arabs riding camels

  14. There is ofcourse history and fiction. 'The Lion of Flanders" was written by Hendric Conscience in 1838 under patronage of Leopold I of Belgium.The history and creation of Belgium in 1830 is rooted in language discrimination. Therefore a story to have a Flemish identity instead of a greater Dutch one, was most convenient for the French ruling class at that time.

  15. hell yeah Zeeland, Jan van Renesse said goedendag (good day) and before you know it this Artois guy is getting his head bashed in by Dutch infantry. Its funny because Renesse is now the Dutch equivalent of Albufeira (drinking paradise). Its quite a well known place here in the Netherlands, fun to see a Dutch guy, who's family was named after that town, bashing French noblemen heads in.

  16. So if the infantry was almost winning the battle by itself, why not have a portion of it withdraw and send in the cav or use the cav on the flanks while the infantry was fighting?

  17. Very interesting and well explained, but I can't help but laugh at your pronunciation of the Flemish language! No offense though it's amusing

  18. it's not your fault cause the pronounciation is quite hard but your flemish/dutch is horribly hillarious ;P

  19. French always sucks, in Europe, at Crusades and in WWI + WWII.
    No wondering there living now only blacks und arabs

  20. I don’t quite get it. How did the defenders lose only 100-300 men if you’re saying that the French infantry was winning the battle. Then there were cavalry charges. It just feels weird.

  21. Thanks for the video! Yet another great French expedition to challenge the mud and peasants….. getting into spirit for Poitier and Agincourt )))

  22. "The french calvary"… say no more fam, I know already, whats coming in the sentence. "Reckless" and "lost". A reoccurring theme.

  23. "Known as a competent ruler"

    Singlehandedly endangers the national treasury, causes a rebellion purely through appointing an incompetent governor, is pressured to give up a tactical advantage to do the knight charge he already knew was a bad idea, panics and charges in himself when they start to falter rather than sending back in the infantry, over extends his charge and dies.

    Yeah. Super competent.

  24. The ‘Goedendag’ wasn’t actually a weapon to bludgeon someone with. This is a common mistake here in flanders as well. The ‘goedendag’ is believed by many to be something similiar to a morning star (ball with spikes) while it was actually a spear. ‘Goedendag’ is the dutch word for good day. When you would strike someone with a ‘goedendag’ in the neck or chest area there head would automatically come forward which looks like a greeting hence the name good day or ‘goedendag’

  25. Perfect example when you could win the battle but the level of your self confidence so high that the only thing you get out of it is a nice fat defeat.

  26. Brilliant presentation! Yes, 12 years later in an almost identical battle at Bannockburn, the flower of English Knighthood was decimated by Scottish infantry schiltrons led by King Robert Bruce in similar marshy terrain, as King Edward II advanced to relieve Stirling Castle. The 14 th century and the 100 years War exposed the limitations of Knights visavis unbroken infantry formations, especially when armed with longbows.

  27. Instead of sending in the Count of Artois, should have sent in his sister instead, Stella of Artois people would have calmed down and talk terms.

  28. french and their fucking need to do a cavalry charge from the nobles … from my count at least, they have fucked up 5 or 6 battles this way.

  29. who thought that the nobles are so trustworthy of the battlefield. They are so trustworthy that the enemy would win in many cases.

  30. Hemmingstedt, Switzerland, etc… Medieval history is a repetitive cycle of peasants gaining their independence, flourishing as market centers, then being attacked by monarchs. Why did anyone ever think the Feudal system was stable?

  31. In the history of Switzerland you would find many battles where infantry in small numbers defeated larger armies with big cavalries. For example, battles of: Mariniano, Sempach, Grandson, Murten and St. Jakob an der Birs.
    In St. Jakob, 1600 Swiss scouts crossed the river Birs against their order to get back to their main forces. Instead they attacked the force of a northern king of about 50.000 men with cavalry and artillery. Of course every scout got killed in the process.
    Still the invading king left the country. He said:
    If a such small force of infantry men can do such damage to my army, i will not deal with the main forces of the Swiss. He never came back.

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