Peasants’ Revolt in Flanders Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

A revolt in Flanders by a coalition of peasants and city dwellers against aristocratic rule succeeded until the rebels were defeated by French authorities five years later.

Summary of Event

Flanders, a region of Europe bordering the North Sea and extending into areas that would later form parts of modern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, was a separate nation during the Middle Ages. Conquered by France in a series of invasions from 1297 to 1300, Flanders won partial independence at the Battle of Courtrai Courtrai, Battle of (1302) on July 11, 1302. A peace treaty negotiated at Athis-sur-Orge in June of 1305 restored political power to Robert of Bethune, count of Flanders, but required that the count remain loyal to the king of France and that Flanders pay large amounts of money to France. As a result of protests by the taxpayers of Flanders, delays by the count, and the inability of France to enforce the treaty, these debts went largely unpaid. [kw]Peasants’ Revolt in Flanders (August 1, 1323-August 23, 1328) [kw]Revolt in Flanders, Peasants’ (August 1, 1323-August 23, 1328) Peasants’ Revolt (Flanders, 1323-1328) Flanders;Aug. 1, 1323-August 23, 1328: Peasants’ Revolt in Flanders[2690] Social reform;Aug. 1, 1323-August 23, 1328: Peasants’ Revolt in Flanders[2690] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Aug. 1, 1323-August 23, 1328: Peasants’ Revolt in Flanders[2690] Louis I (1304-1346) Charles IV Philip VI

On the death of Robert of Bethune, his grandson, Louis II of Nevers, became Louis I Louis I (count of Flanders) , count of Flanders, on September 17, 1322. Raised in France and married to the daughter of the king of France, Louis I was far more loyal to France than the previous count. He promised to pay France all money owed and appointed pro-French aristocrats to positions of power.

On July 13, 1323, Louis I gave control of the Zwin waterway, which linked the city of Bruges to the North Sea, to his granduncle, John of Namur. The city leaders feared that John of Namur was planning to direct commerce away from Bruges to the town of Sluis, located at the mouth of the Zwin. A militia from Bruges attacked John of Namur’s forces at Sluis on August 1, 1323. Sluis was burned and John of Namur was held prisoner until he escaped in late September.

Louis I left Flanders for France on October 15, 1323. Peasants began to rebel against the taxes that were being collected to make payments to France in late October. Officials in charge of collecting taxes were imprisoned or forced to flee. Despite the assistance of the militias of the three large cities of Bruges, Ghent, and Ypres, the government was able to do little against this well-organized, widespread rebellion.

Louis I returned to Flanders in early 1324. He arranged a truce with the rebels and set up commissions to investigate charges of corruption made against his officials. The commissions agreed to punish corrupt officials and offered amnesty to the rebels.

The effectiveness of these commissions varied from region to region. In southwest Flanders, a commission led by Robert of Cassel Robert of Cassel , the uncle of Louis I, included representatives of city governments and listened to the testimony of the rebels. Because of this, the rebels were inclined to agree with its decisions. In Bruges, the settlement was made by Louis I and his advisers without the participation of city leaders or peasants. When Louis I later imposed heavy fines on Bruges and returned ousted officials to power, the region was ready to rebel again.

Louis I went back to France in July of 1324. Beginning in the late summer of 1324, peasants in the countryside north of Bruges attacked the strongholds of rural aristocrats, taking them prisoner or forcing them to flee. They also refused to pay tithes to monasteries. Local officials were driven out and replaced by representatives of the rebels.

Louis I returned to Flanders in December of 1324. Faced with a more serious rebellion than the tax protests of 1323, he gave permission for exiled aristocrats to attack the peasants with full force. He also allowed Robert of Cassel to use any means necessary to prevent the rebellion from spreading to southwest Flanders. The level of violence used on both sides quickly escalated into open warfare.

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In February of 1325, peasant forces defeated the count’s soldiers at the town of Gistel, southwest of Bruges. The city of Bruges joined the peasants in their rebellion at about the same time. Encouraged by their success and the support of Bruges, the rebels moved into southwest Flanders. The inhabitants of this region quickly joined the rebellion and forced Robert of Cassel to flee.

A truce was made with the rebels between March and June of 1325. A commission consisting of Robert of Cassel and representatives from the cities of Ghent and Ypres, which were still loyal to the count, was then set up. The rebels rejected the commission as too unsympathetic to their cause. Aristocrats led by John of Namur John of Namur rejected it as too willing to compromise with the rebels. A meeting of the commission scheduled for June 11 failed to take place when Robert of Cassel learned that the aristocrats were conspiring to prevent him from reaching it. The other members of the commission were afraid to face the anger of the rebels waiting for them and knew that they could accomplish little without Robert of Cassel. The peace negotiations came to an end.

Louis I moved his soldiers to the town of Courtrai, between the cities of Ypres and Ghent, in an attempt to prevent the rebels from taking the town and driving a wedge between the two cities. An army of about five thousand rebels from Bruges began marching to Courtrai in mid-June of 1325. To block their approach, the count’s forces set fire to the suburbs of Courtrai north of the Leie River and destroyed the bridges crossing the river. A strong wind caused the fire to spread south of the river to Courtrai. The enraged citizens of Courtrai joined the rebellion and welcomed the approaching rebels. On June 20 and 21, the rebels inflicted heavy casualties on the count’s forces and took Louis I prisoner. The peasant army then moved into Ypres, which joined the rebellion.

The leaders of Bruges forced Louis I to appoint Robert of Cassel as regent on June 30, 1325. In response, John of Namur produced a document, possibly forged, which had named him regent on June 12. The rebellion now evolved into a struggle between Robert of Cassel, allied with the rebels, and John of Namur, leading the aristocratic forces from Ghent. For several months, the two armies fought many battles, losing and gaining territory, with neither side able to break the stalemate.

In November of 1325, King Charles IV Charles IV (king of France) of France became involved in the struggle. He recognized the regency of John of Namur, loaned money to Ghent, and prohibited trade between France and the rebel areas of Flanders. Hoping to prevent a French invasion, the rebels released Louis I on December 1, 1325, in exchange for a promise of amnesty. Despite his promise, Louis I went to Charles IV to request military aid.

Robert of Cassel abandoned his association with the rebels and obtained a pardon from the king on March 20, 1326. Reluctant to commit troops to Flanders at a time when he expected an invasion from England, Charles IV arranged for a peace treaty to be negotiated at the town of Arques on April 19, 1326. The treaty required payment of all fees owed to France and added additional fines. Although the rebel cities generally agreed to this treaty, the peasants mostly continued as before.

After Charles IV died in 1328, his successor, Philip VI Philip VI (king of France) , prepared to invade Flanders. On August 23, 1328, the French and rebel armies met near the town of Cassel. The French killed more than three thousand rebels, ending the uprising.

Significance

Philip VI’s and Louis I’s severe punishment of the rebels helped set up a strong centralized government that successfully resisted later attempts at social rebellion. However, the revolt marked in history a prolonged effort on the part of the peasantry and city dwellers against aristocratic rule and abuses of power and authority. Peasants in southeastern England followed with a revolt of their own in 1381.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fourquin, Guy. The Anatomy of Popular Rebellion in the Middle Ages. Translated by Anne Chesters. Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1978. An analysis of medieval uprisings that characterize the Flanders revolt as a response to an agricultural and economic crisis.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hilton, Rodney. Bond Men Made Free: Medieval Peasant Movements and the English Rising of 1381. New York: Viking, 1973. Deals with the Flanders revolt and other peasant rebellions of the Middle Ages and compares them to the 1381 English peasants’ revolt.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nicholas, David. Medieval Flanders. New York: Longman, 1992. Provides background information on Flanders during the Middle Ages and discusses the revolt and its consequences.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nicholas, David. Town and Countryside: Social, Economic, and Political Tensions in Fourteenth-Century Flanders. Bruges, Belgium: De Tempel, 1971. Deals with the relationships between the cities of Bruges, Ghent, and Ypres and the rural areas of Flanders during the period of the revolt.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nicholas, David. Trade, Urbanisation, and the Family: Studies in the History of Medieval Flanders. Brookfield, Vt.: Variorum, 1996. Looks at the history of trade in Flanders, a critical issue during the revolt.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">TeBrake, William H. A Plague of Insurrection: Popular Politics and Peasant Revolt in Flanders, 1323-1328. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993. A detailed account of the revolt and the complex political situation in which it took place.

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