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Battle of the Golden Spurs; and for the Belfry's sake let us hope that it did not see its great Gilt Dragon, as large as a bull, taken down by the men of Ghent eighty years afterward, — though to this day the Dragon can be seen twinkling in the distance upon the Belfry of Ghent. The town of Bruges is sleepy indeed, but it has some grand dreams. We walk again through its drowsy streets, but if we only read history well, and keep our eyes open, we may see wonderful sights and great goings on among the crowds of citizens. watch for the return of the men of Bruges from the Battle of the Golden Spurs.
THE BATTLE OF THE GOLDEN SPURS.
At the beginning of the fourteenth century, Edward I. was King of England, Philip IV., called Philip the Handsome, was King of France, and Bruges was the first commercial city of Europe. With Bruges the other great towns of Flanders had a like prosperity, and this little country with its great wealth was looked at wistfully by the hungry Philip of France. The real rulers of the country were the rich burghers who had quietly been buying the right to govern themselves of the Counts of Flanders. They still professed allegiance to the counts, and the counts leaned toward France; but the belfries aud Hotels de Ville, which now began to stand firmly and proudly in the cities, were witnesses that the citizens held the real power and meant to keep it.
This little country, close to France and England, was connected with the former by its nominal rulers, the counts, and with the latter by its real rulers, the burghers : for it was the great market for the wool of England, and be
ing, too, the great depot for the Mediterranean trade in the north, it was the Exchange of the great mercantile countries. So, whenever there was a rumble of war in Europe, Flanders looked two ways at once.
Its Counts sided with France, if she was strong, or rebelled against her, if she was weak, while the wary Burghers looked more carefully to England.
Thus it happened, that at the beginning of the fourteenth century, when a great change was taking place in the life of Europe, Flanders was drawn into the struggle, and on her soil was fought a battle which had much to do with hastening the new order of things.
Philip had made a quarrel with Guy de Dampierre, Count of Flanders, and as the rich towns were discontented with Guy at the same time, the crafty Philip professed to make common cause with them, and by a trick got possession of the Count and shut him up in Paris. At the same time he sent an army to protect Flanders, which meant, to protect Flemish riches from going anywhere except into the French king's pocket. The governor appointed by Philip was his queen's uncle, Châtillon, who at once began governing the country after the fashion of those days, not for the
benefit of the country but of the governor. He took from the burghers the power which they had been using of managing public affairs, and then laid a heavy tax upon the workmen of the cities. This was a very different state of things from what the towns of Flanders had been used to. We have seen how they had been, from time to time, getting wealth and real power into their own hands, and giving to their rulers, the counts, only a show of power. Matters
grew worse : it was plain that the French power was using Flanders as its money sack. Heavy taxes, impositions of every kind, the insolent presence of a foreign soldiery, quickly roused the people, who had not become sluggish under long oppression, but lively from the habit of self-government. They began to meet secretly and to murmur angrily. Especially the craftsmen began to move, the rich burghers being more cautious by fear of losing their property.
The first outbreak arose from Châtillon insolently casting into prison certain deputies who had appeared in behalf of the trades to complain of non-payment for work given them by royal order. At this the people broke open the prison and set them free, a few lives being lost in the attack. The affair was brought before
the French government and the answer came back to rearrest the released prisoners. But the people who had set them free were now drawn into the struggle and began organizing resistance. They were led by one of the men who had been imprisoned. He was the deacon, as the head man was called, of the guild of
His name was Peter King, a man of the common rank, about sixty years old, a little, mean-looking fellow with one eye; but he was a man of courage, of readiness, and shrewdness, and a natural orator. He could not speak French, but, what was more to the purpose, he could speak Flemish, the people's tongue, and in that language he stirred them and drew them after him, in spite of the caution of the burghers.
In time of danger the Flemings had always been wont to ring their great bell, but now, since the French had possession of that, they improvised an alarm-bell. Their plans were laid ; and on the 21st of March, 1302, at the moment agreed upon, the people seized on their caldrons and rang the alarm on their copper sides. All over Bruges sounded the caldron; this was the signal for the rising, and at once in every direction the French were set upon and slain. For three days the massacre con