The Battle of Courtrai or the Battle of the Golden Spurs - July 11th 1302

The National Holiday of the Flemish Community in the European country known as Belgium is held every year on the 11th of July. Most of the people in our country hardly know why this particular day was chosen. When they were at school they might have learned about the Middle Ages and this one battle in which the Flemings once, long ago, won on the French. But it stops there most of the time. Very few people realise the importance of this battle, to which they owe the fact that they still talk Dutch and our country does not make part of France. That distant battle from long ago was the Battle of the Golden Spurs!

Not just a detail in history

Triumph gate in Courtrai
The Triumph gate of the Groeninge park in Courtrai, located on a part of the old battlefield.

Early morning July 11th 1302, some 9.000 Flemish soldiers wait for the attack of a French army of knights. Most of these soldiers are simple commoners, workmen and farmers. France annexed Flanders two years before and tried to submit the Flemish towns. The Flemish people however, conscious of their own valour, resisted and stood up against the French aggressor. That struggle in 1302 is remarkable for two specific reasons: from a social and from a military point of view.

The uprising originated from the people themselves, without being provoked by a lord (the Flemish count and his most important lords were in French captivity). Only when the uprising became widespread, the count's relatives who still were free rushed in to aid. But in the first place this was a struggle of people against a lord (the French king), not the struggle between two lords.

The battle itself was extraordinary too. For the very first time in recorded history an army of footmen will beat an army of knights. The Flemings got a victory nobody would have dreamt of. Warfare would never be the same since that day.

Flanders? Flanders!

The army which got that splendid victory was mainly made up out of people from West and East Flanders. That's about the area of the present day Belgian provinces of the same name. This area, together with French Flanders formed the core of the historic county of Flanders.

The territory known today as the Flemish Region is much bigger. It also holds the provinces of Brabant, Antwerp and Limburg. So wouldn't it be a bit far sought to make July 11th the National Holiday of this region? What meaning has a battle fought in 1302 at Courtrai to a citizen of Hasselt in the province of Limburg? More than a common man would expect!

The present Region of Flanders is not quite comparable with the historic county. But that does not mean it has less reason to exist. Just like a human grows from child into adult, likewise changes a country and matures the people. The reason that the present day Dutch speaking community in Belgium is called Flanders has historical grounds. The county of Flanders went into the Burgundian Empire, together with Brabant and Limburg. This Burgundian episode will more or less forge the Dutch speaking areas of the Southern Netherlands together and form the foundations of present day Flanders. Later when the kingdom Belgium emerged in 1830, a horizontal line runs across the country which divides it into two halves: Dutch speaking North and French speaking South. The new Flanders is born together with the new state.

July 11th 1302

The story of the battle is told on the next pages. From this story you will learn why this date became our National Holiday with right and reason. I hope you may enjoy these pages as much as I did making them.

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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.