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Mary Macgregor

The Battle of the Spurs

Philip the Bold was succeeded in 1285 by his son Philip the Fair. "This king," says an old chronicler, was "simple and sage, and spake but little; proud was he as a lion when he looked on men." But as you read about Philip iv. , called the Fair, you will learn more about him than the old writer tells. You will find that Philip was greedy for wealth, greedy for power, and to get either he would do bad and cruel deeds. If he saw that he could not get his own way by force, he was crafty enough to gain it by soft words and pleasant ways.

The king loved money, and Flanders was one of the richest countries in Europe.

Guy de Dampierre, Count of Flanders, was a vassal of the French king. He was a brave man, bent on marrying his daughters to great princes, so that he himself might become of more importance.

When Philip the Fair discovered that Count Guy was secretly trying to arrange with Edward i. , King of England, that his daughter Philippa should marry the heir to the English throne, he was very angry. He at once invited Guy to Paris, and the count did not dare to refuse. Being a brave man, Guy, who probably knew why he had been summoned to the capital, no sooner came into the king's presence than he told that his daughter Philippa was soon to marry Prince Edward of England.

As England and France were often at war, the count hastened to add that, in spite of the new tie with England, he would always serve King Philip loyally, "as every good and true man should serve his lord."

"In God's name. Sir Count," said the angry king, "this thing will never do; you have made alliance with my foe without my wit (knowledge), wherefore you shall abide with me." And without more ado Philip ordered Count Guy and his two sons, who were with him, to be put in the tower of the Louvre. The Louvre, you remember, was a prison as well as a palace.

For six months the king kept his prisoners, and then set them free only on condition that Philippa should stay in France as a hostage for her father's good conduct.

But at the end of two years the count threw off his allegiance to the French king in these bold words: "Every one doth know in how many ways the King of France hath misbehaved toward God and justice. Such is his might and his pride that he doth acknowledge naught above himself, and he hath brought us to the necessity of seeking allies who may be able to defend and protect us."

At the same time Guy made no secret of the treaty he had concluded with Edward i. , by which his daughter Isabel should marry the young English prince, since Philippa was still a prisoner in the Louvre.

After such defiance from the count, it was but natural that Philip should declare war upon Flanders.

A French army was soon assembled, and before the English had arrived to help Count Guy, Philip had marched into Flanders, taken the town of Lille, and won a great victory.

For two years after this there was a truce between the two countries. As soon as it ended, Philip sent his brother Charles, Count of Valois, into Flanders at the head of a powerful army.

When the Count of Valois reached Ghent, however, no battle was fought. For the magistrates came willingly to offer the keys of the city to the French prince.

Perhaps you wonder how the magistrates came to act as traitors to their country.

An old chronicler tells us all about it. "The burghers of the town of Flanders," he writes, "were all bribed by gifts or promises from the King of France, who would never have dared to invade the frontiers had they been faithful to their count."

Guy de Dampierre saw that his cause was lost, and surrendered to the Count de Valois, with his two sons and those knights who had not forsaken him.

Charles urged Guy to go to Paris and trust Philip to be merciful. So Guy set out for the capital, and when he drew near to the palace he dismounted and walked humbly into the king's presence, as befitted one who had come to sue for mercy.

But Philip had no mercy. "I desire no peace with you," he said haughtily, as Count Guy urged his suit, and he sent the count to prison. Then at length he was free to do what for years he had wished. He proclaimed that Guy de Dampierre having forfeited his right to Flanders, the country now belonged to the crown of France.

In the following year, 1801, Philip thought it would be well to pay a visit to the province he had made his own. So with the queen, her ladies, and a brilliant train of courtiers, Philip the Fair set out for Flanders.

At Bruges the town was brightly decorated to receive the royal visitors. Platforms were placed in the square of the town, hung with rich tapestries. Here the ladies of Bruges were seated, wearing their most precious jewels, their most gorgeous robes.

The Queen of France looked with some displeasure at these richly dressed dames, with some envy at their valuable jewels. Turning to the king she said, "There is none but queens to be seen in Bruges; I had thought that there was none but I had a right to royal state."

But though the rich ladies and nobles were pleased thus gayly to welcome their new lord, the people would have nothing to do with their conqueror. They refused to put on holiday clothes, to play games, as usually they were quick to do, but went about the streets silent and with sullen faces. Philip had already proved himself a hard master. Not only the inhabitants of Bruges, but the people all over Flanders were beginning to groan under the taxes imposed on them by the King of France.

In March 1802 the Flemings resolved to bear Philip's exactions no longer. Bruges set the example. In the dead of night the bells rang out from every belfry in the town, the burghers rose up as one man, and massacred all the French who were in the city. This was the beginning of a fierce struggle between the French and the Flemings.

The tidings of the massacre no sooner reached Paris than the barons set out with an army to punish the burghers. They met the Flemish force, which had taken up its position behind a deep and narrow canal, near a town called Courtrai, in July 1802.

The French knights feared the burghers of Flanders not at all. Recklessly they dashed forward, putting spurs to their horses so that a cloud of dust enveloped them. On they dashed, the gallant knights of France, nor saw amid the dust the smooth water of the canal. Into the water, before they were aware of it, fell the foremost knights, those behind pressing those in front, until the army was floundering in the muddy water.

Then the Flemish fell upon the French, the rearguard turning to run for their lives. Robert, Count of Artois, the leader of the French army, tried to rally his men in vain. As he fell wounded to the ground he cried, "I yield me! I yield me!" but the Flemish pretended that they did not understand his language, and put him to death.

On the battlefield lay twelve or fifteen thousand soldiers, and among them were the leaders of the French army. The Flemish had won the battle of Courtrai. From the towers of a monastery not far from the town the monks watched the battle. "We could see the French flying," wrote the abbot, "over the roads, across the fields, and through hedges, in such numbers that the sight must have been seen to be believed. There were in the outskirts of our town, and in the neighbouring villages, so vast a multitude of knights and men-at-arms tormented with hunger, that it was a matter horrible to see. They gave their arms to get bread."

When all was over, the victors took from the dead bodies of the French knights four thousand or even a greater number of gilt spurs, and hung them as a trophy of war in the cathedral of Courtrai. And ever since this hard-won field has been called the "Battle of the Spurs."

Two years afterwards Philip defeated the Flemish fleet. Then another battle was fought, but both sides claimed the victory. Philip saw that he need never expect to crush these obstinate burghers, so he offered to make peace with them. From that time to the end of his reign treaties were continually being made and broken and remade between France and Flanders.