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Helene A. Guerber

The Battle of the Spurs

PHILIP IV. the Handsome, although only seventeen when he succeeded his father, Philip III., was of a cold cruel, and calculating nature. After marrying an heiress, and thereby still further enlarging his estates, he began to covet the provinces of Guienne in the south of France, and Flanders in the north.

Guienne belonged to Edward I., King of England, so a quarrel which arose between some French and English seamen offered the necessary pretext to begin a war (1294). Throughout this struggle, Philip continually sent help to the Scotch, who were then fighting against the English king, while Edward tried to pay him back by making trouble for him in flanders.

The King of France, however, was clever enough to attract the Count of Flanders to Paris, lock him up and keep him a prisoner until he was ready to do whatever his master wished. But, when released, the count tried to avenge himself for this treatment; so Philip, marching against him, besieged his city of Lille (leel). When it finally surrendered, the war came to an end, and it was arranged that while the main part of Flanders should henceforth belong to Philip, Guienne should remain in the hands of the English.

To seal this peace, two royal marriages were agreed upon, one of them being between Edward's son and Philip's daughter Isabella. This marriage was, in time, to cause great trouble for France, but just then no one dreamed that it could ever make any difference to the country, for the king, besides his fair daughter, had three stalwart sons to continue his race.

Philip IV. was well pleased with his new estates in Flanders, where the cities were rich and plenty reigned. Even the wives of common burghers dressed with such magnificence that the queen was heard to remark one day in a very jealous tone, "Until now, I had thought that I was the only queen, but I see here more than six hundred!"

The customs and fashions of those days were very different from what they are now; we are told, for instance that even at court parties it was customary for each gentleman to eat off the plate of the lady beside him. Ladies then wore very high headdresses richly bejeweled, while the gentlemen were noticeable mainly on account of their shoes, with pointed toes which curved upward and wre fastened to their knees by little gilt chains.

Philip left a French governor in charge of his newly won estates, but this man was so grasping and tyrannical that he soon provoked a revolt, which broke out in the town of Bruges (broo'jez) one day just as matins were being rung. Before the bells had fairly ceased their chimes, three thousand Frenchmen lost their lives, for the "Matins of Bruges" (1302) are considered as fatal as the "Sicilian Vespers." When the news of this massacre reached court, the French promptly armed to punish Flanders, and Philip set out at the head of large forces to meet the enemy at Courtrai (koor-trĕ', 1302). There the famous encounter known as the "Battle of Spurs" was fought. The French knights, seeing nothing but common soldiers before them, spurred on in such eager haste to attack and destroy them, spurred on in such eager haste to attack and destroy them, that they failed to notice a deep ditch lying between them and the foe. Their horses, plunging madly into this gap, threw disorder in the ranks, and the enemy, standing on the opposite bank, easily slew them while they were trying to scramble out of this awkward place. Such was the number of Flemings who suddenly appeared on all sides to take part in this fight, that Philip exclaimed in dismay: "Does it then rain Flemings?"

The Flemings were so proud of the victory won at Courtrai, that they hung up in the cathedral of that city seven thousand spurs taken from their dead foemen. There these trophies remained until the French came back, some time later, and avenged the death of their countrymen.

Philip might have ended the war with Flanders sooner, had not some of his energies been diverted by a quarrel with the Pope. The Pope issued a "Bull" (a papal decree) to reprove the king, and Philip retorted with a proclamation in which he openly defied the Pope.

Philip finally hired a band of adventurers to capture the Pope in his native city. They treated him cruelly and put him in prison, where he dared eat little for fear of being poisoned. Although he was released at the end of three days by the people, who rose up in his favor, he died soon after of shock. The next Pope deemed it his first duty to try to punish those who had tortured his predecessor; but, shortly after he had done so, he died so suddenly that many people thought he was poisoned.

A Pope was now elected, who settled at Avignon (a-veen-yôn ', 1309). As this Pope and his successors lived in this city for nearly seventy years (until 1376), the time they spent there is often known in Church history as the "Babylonian Captivity," which, as you know lasted a similar length of time.

In 1348, the county and city of Avignon were given to the Church, and formed part of the territory of the Holy See until 1791, when they were seized by the French, who have kept possession of them ever since. The palace where the Popes once lived can still be seen in the quaint old city, which although in  France, did not really belong to it for those four hundred and forty-three years.