The Revolt of Ghent

Title: The Revolt of Ghent, Author: William Morris
Source: 1910 Edition,
Edited by James Leatham,
Proofing and HTML:Graham Seaman


THE events of which an account is here given took place towards the close of the fourteenth century amongst a people of kindred blood to ourselves, dwelling not many hours journey (as we travel now) from the place where we dwell; and yet to us are wonderful enough, if we think of them.

Few epochs of history, indeed, are more interesting than this defeated struggle to be free of the craftsmen of Flanders whether we look upon the story as a mere story, a “ true tale ” of the Middle Ages at their fullest development, rife with all the peculiarities of the period, exemplifying their manners and customs, the forms that their industry, their religion, their heroism took at the time ; or whether we look upon it, as some of us cannot help doing, as a link in the great chain of the evolution of society, an incident, full of instruction, in the class-struggle which we have now recognised as the one living fact in the world, since civilisation began, and which will only end when civilisation has been transformed into something else. Whether we look upon the Revolt of Ghent as a story of the past or as a part of our own lives and the battle which is not wasting, but using them, it is one of the great tales of the world.

One piece of good fortune also it has, that, as Horace says, it has not lacked a sacred poet. As the tale is here told, its incidents, often the very words of them, are taken from the writings of one of those men who make past times live before our eyes for ever. John Froissart, canon of Chimay in Hainault, was indeed but a hanger-on of the aristocracy ; he was in such a position as would have prevented him on principle from admitting any good qualities whatever in those people whom he was helping to oppress ; but class-lying was not the fine art which it has since become ; and the simpler habits of thought of Froissart’s days gave people intense delight in the stories of deeds done, and developed in them what has been called epic impartiality ; added to which one domain for the cultivation of historical lies was not available in the Middle Ages, since, owing to the form feudal society had then taken what we now call patriotism—i.e., national envy and rancour—did not exist. Englishmen, Scotchmen, Fleming, Spaniard, Frenchmen, Gascon, Breton, are treated by John Froissart as men capable of valiancy, their deeds to told of and listened to with little comment of blame or discrimination ; and I think you will say before you have done with him that he could even see the good side of the revolutionary characters of his time, so long as they were not slack in noble deeds. The result of a low standard of morals, you will say. Maybe ; and indeed I have noticed that a would-be high standard of morality is sometimes pretty fertile of lying, because it is so anxious that every event should square itself to an a priori theory. However that may be, there is the general epic impartiality of the mediæval chronicler amidst all his mistakes and misconceptions.

Now a word or two as to the political and social condition of Flanders in the fourteenth century, and then without more to-do I will get to my story and introduce you to John Froissart, who has given me at least as much pleasure as he did to any one of the lords, ladies, knights, squires and sergeants who first heard him read.

First very briefly as to the political position of the country. Lying as it did between the growing monarchy or rather suzerainty of France and the disjointed members of the “ Holy Roman ” empire, it was with the former power that it had to deal. The rise of the great cities of Flanders and Hainault, and the power they could not fail to acquire, made the feudal lord of the country but a weak potentate, and he always had a tendency to lean on France for support. The French king, on his part was ambitious of making the Earl of Flanders his vassal, and the help he gave him against his rebellious subjects had to be paid for by homage to the French Suzerainty, or at least by promises of homage. France therefore was distinctly the enemy of the Flemish people, though it was, when occasion served, the friend of the Flemish feudal lord. France could also strike a blow at the prosperity of the country without even putting an army in the field, by forbidding the export of wool, the great necessity to the woollen-weaving which was the main industry of Flanders, and this was done on several occasions.

Therefore it was natural for the leaders of the Flemish people to turn towards England as a support, both because there was a standing quarrel between the feudal lords of England and France, and because England was the wool-producing country of Europe. On the other hand, to an English king with a quarrel on hand with a French one, the advantage of the Flemish alliance was obvious enough and accordingly at the beginning of the great feudal war between England and France we find our King Edward III. in firm alliance with James van Artevelde, the leader of the Flemish people, or rather bourgeoisie, treaties made between them as to the free passage of wool, and Queen Philippa, godmother to the enfant child of the great Bourgeois, while the Earl of Flanders was hanging about the French Court a disinherited lord.

Now, as to the social condition of the Flemings. Manufacturing by handicraft pure and simple, without division of labour, was carried by them about as far as it could go ; and the guild-system was fully developed there, accompanied by a complete municipal system, democratic and social as far as matters within the association were concerned, though exclusive as regarded outsiders. The great towns of northern Europe, it must be remembered, were not originally “ cities, ” sovereign bodies with a definite policy like those of the ancient classical world. The origin of them was the agricultural district, the land that gave subsistence to the clan, all the free men of which took part in the affairs of the community ; the first towns were not as in Greece and Rome, the sacred spots of the tribal ancestor, but palisaded places where convenience had made the population thicker than in other parts of the district. These as they grew kept their territory and developed at last within themselves an aristocratic and oligarchic government.

But as these towns changed from being mere centres of an agricultural population, into being places of resort for handicraftsmen and merchants, and as the associations for the organisation of industry, that is the guilds, grew up amongst the former, a new democratic feeling rose up which opposed itself to the remains of the old tribal freemen, now become a mere exclusive oligarchy, who considered the practice of handicraft a disgrace.

The new democracy triumphed at last, and by the end of the thirteenth century the guilds, the actual workmen, were the masters of the great towns; under the feudal lords, however, to whom they owned fealty.

Within the guilds themselves there could be no capitalists or great men, because the rules of the guilds were framed to prevent the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few : the masters were master workers, and were kept so by the rules aforesaid.

I suspect, however, that there were remains of the old municipal, aristocracy (the lineages, as they were called in Flanders) still in existence in the towns ; otherwise it would not be easy to account for the masterful position of James van Artevelde, and others whom we shall meet with later on in our story, who were certainly both wealthy and of importance, apart from any office they might happen to hold.

In Ghent also and elsewhere, notably at Bruges its rival, an aristocracy of the crafts was forming, as is apparent in the fact of the jealousy between, the greater and the lesser crafts,* so that if the development of commerce joined with the rise of bureaucratic monarchy had not supervened and swept away the power and freedom of the towns altogether, the struggle between the municipal aristocracy and the craftsmen would have been repeated in, the fifteenth century in another form.

Meanwhile one thing is to be noted, which is specially interesting to us, and that is the visible existence of strong Communistic feeling along with the development of the guild democracy.

In the popular literature of the epoch one comes across passages whose mediæval quaintness gives a pleasant sense of surprise and freshness to aspirations and denunciations which are familiar enough to us Socialists today, and, so to say, at once make us free of the brotherhood of the old guildsmen. The two following centuries obliterated this feeling, or rather drew a dark veil of misery and degradation over all the feelings of the working-classes ; but we now in our hope of better days can look back cheerfully to the times when the craftsman-citizen of the great towns had his hope also, which he hands over to us across the lapse of the drearier days.

* The lesser crafts were the weavers and fullers, that is to say, the workmen of the staple industry of the country.


Having thus very briefly told you as to the political and social condition of the great Flemish towns, I must now get to my story, as given by Froissart.

I have mentioned the English alliance with James van Artevelde, which took place at the very beginning of the war with France ; this went on till at the siege of Tourney, by Edward III., James van Artevelde sent sixty thousand men to help that king ; and in the year 1345, Edward III., lying at Sluys, we find Van Artevelde using his influence to get the Prince of Wales acknowledged as “ Lord and Herytour ” of Flanders, but the Councils of the towns hanging back on the ground that “ there should no such untruth be found in them as willingly to disheryte their natural lord and his issue to enheryte a stranger.” But we can easily imagine that, though glad enough of Edward's help against France, they may have been shy of handing themselves over to such a powerful King as the Lord of England then was.

Anyhow, the negotiation came to a tragical end with the death of Artevelde himself. He was slain in a tumult at Ghent as a tyrant and robber of the public treasure, after having been practically King of Flanders for nine years ; and it may be supposed that there was some genuine indignation against him for pressing on the people the doing fealty to the English king, though on whole the affair reads as if it had been the work of the French or loyalist party.

The Flemings after his death sent in terror to Edward to excuse themselves, and suggested, says Froissart, the marriage of the King’s daughter to Louis the young Earl. Edward agreed to this readily enough ; but Louis had another offer of marriage alliance from the Duke of Brabant, his next neighbour, which naturally he much preferred, since it would not cost him the friendship of the French king, on which, as aforesaid, it was the natural policy of the Earls of Flanders to lean. The Councils of the towns as naturally stuck to the English marriage, and urged it on the Earl who had trusted himself to Ghent. “ But ever, he said, that he wolde not wed her whose father who had slain his, though he might have half the whole realm of England.” (His father was slain at Crecy.) The Flemings thereon put on the screw by holding him in “ courteous prison.” He pretended to yield, and met Edward, who was mighty civil to him ; but watching his opportunity, he managed to escape from his guards at a hawking party and fled to the French king, by whom he was well received. This may be considered the first act of the struggle between the Earl and his subjects.

The curtain rises again on Edward, an old and worn out man, and the English Alliance dimmed by bickerings between the seafarers of both nations, ending at last in a good stiff sea fight between them off the coast of Brittany, in which the Flemings were defeated. Edward threatened regular war ; but the Flemings craved for peace, and the treaty was renewed.

After this interlude Froissart settles down with great enjoyment and not a little pomp to tell us the story of the great revolt in all detail.


Says the old chronicler : “When the tribulations first began in Flanders, the country was so wealthy and so rich that it was marvel to hear ; and the men of the good towns kept such estate that it was wonder to hear tell of. But these warres first began by pride and envy that the good towns in Flanders had one against another, as they of Ghent against them of Bruges and they of Bruges against them of Ghent, and other towns one against the other. But there was such resort that no war could arise among them without the Earl of Flanders their lord did consent thereto ; for he was so feared and beloved that none durst displease him ... For always he had lived in great prosperity and peace, and had as much his pleasure as any other Christian prince had ; but this war began for so light a cause and incident, that justly to consider and speak, if good will and sage advice had been in the lord, he needed not to have had any manner of war.”

In short, the English Alliance had grown cold ; the Earl, backed by the power of the French King had crept into power and was using the jealousy of the great towns, and especially of Ghent and Bruges, as an instrument of his own advancement, and by this time now felt himself very strong. The fire was only smouldering and “ the light cause and incident ” was soon ready to hand to make it blaze up heavens high.

Froissart sees the cause of quarrel in the feud between two “lynages,” those of John Lyon and Gilbert Matthew, both of whom belonged to the guild of the Mariners, and represented families long at feud together.

Once again, as in the case of James van Artevelde, we are coming across rich and powerful men, not belonging to the feudal aristocracy ; and I feel pretty sure that whatever guild of craft they might have belonged to, they must have been families surviving from the old municipal aristocracy.

John Lyon was a favourite of the Earl, and head apparently (for Froissart is somewhat vague here) of the Mariners’ Guild. Gilbert Matthew lays an elaborate plot to overthrow him ; he advises the Earl to lay a new tax on the mariners. The Earl takes the bait readily ; tells John Lyon, who demurs somewhat, what is toward, and calls a “ Parlyment ” to see to the matter. At the said Parlyment, Gilbert Matthew puts up his brothers to speak against the new tax ; John Lyon backs them eagerly, for says, Froissart, “he would to his true power mayntain them in their old franchises and liberties.” The Earl in a rage turns out John Lyon, and puts Gilbert Matthew in his place, who get him his tax levied, but henceforth John Lyon becomes a popular leader.

The next cause of quarrel was between the towns themselves, egged on doubtless by the Earl. “ The devil who never sleepeth awaked them of Bruges to dig about the river of Lys to have the easement of the course of the water, and the Earl was well accorded to them, and sent great number of pioneers and men at arms to assist them. Before that in time past they would have done the same but they of Ghent by puyssance brake their purpose.” Clearly the Earl setting on the Brugeois to pick up an old quarrel with Ghent.

“ The tidings of these diggers increased. So it was, there was a woman that came from her pilgrimage from our lady of Bolayne (who was weary), and sat down in the market place whereas there were divers men, and some of them demanded of her from whence she came. She answered; ‘ From Bolayne, and I have seen by the way the greatest mischief that ever came to the town of Ghent, for there be more than 500 pioneers that night and day worketh before the river of Lys, and if they be not let they will shortly turn the course of the water.’ ”

The townsmen hunt up John Lyon, who has been keeping very quiet since his quarrel with the Earl, and after the due amount of pressing he gives them the following advice: “ ‘Sirs, if ye will adventure to remedy this matter, it behoveth that in this town of Ghent ye renew an old ancient custom that sometime was used in this town, and that is that ye bring up again the White Hats, and that they may have a chief ruler to whom they may draw, and by him be ruled.’ These words were gladly heard, and they said all with one voice, ‘ We will have it so, we will raise up these White Hats.’ Then there were made White Hats which were given and delivered to such as loved better to have war than peace, for they had nothing to lose.”

You see this points out to an earlier time in the history of the city, and the raising of a sort of emergency corps ; perhaps originally a kind of bodyguard of the municipal aristocracy.

John Lyon is made captain of the White Hoods, as we should translate to-day Chaperons Blancs, and their first job is to make an end of the digging of the new canal by the Brugeois and their pioneers, who “ left their work and went back again to Bruges, and were never so hardy to dig there again”; but the White Hoods and their captain hold together as a regular insurrectionary force.

The next scene is the arrest by the Earl’s Bailiff of a mariner at Ecloo, a town half way between Ghent and Bruges, and within the jurisdiction of Ghent. The townsmen claim their burgess back from the Bailiff, who is as high-handed as irresponsibility can make them, and answers, “ What needeth all these words for a maryner? ... I have puissance to arrest, but I have no power to deliver.”

The Ghentmen now send an embassy to the Earl (who is lying at his manor of Male near Bruges) to claim their burgess. The Earl promises to have him released, and also to maintain their liberties—but always on condition of the disbanding of the White Hoods. However, the prisoner is released, and the dykes of the new canal filled up ; the Earl apparently trusting to the Matthews for getting the White Hoods disbanded. But when John Lyon hears of this condition, “ he spake and said: ‘ All ye good people that be here present, ye know and have seen but late how the White Hats hath better kept your franchises than either red or black hats have done, or of any other colour. Be ye sure and say that I said it, as soon as the White Hats be laid down by the ordinance that the Earl would have, I will not give for all your franchises after, not three pence.”

In short, the answer John Lyon makes is to set to work to organise his White Hats, and bid them be alert.

Then the Earl retorts by sending his said Bailiff, Roger Dauterne, with his banner and 200 men to Ghent to arrest John Lyon and five or six others. John Lyon acts with most praiseworthy promptitude, gathers 400 White Hoods, throws down and tears the Earl’s banner, and slays the bailiff in a very orderly and peaceable manner: “ they touched no man there but the Bailey ; and when the Earl's men saw the Bailey dead, and the banner all to torn, they were greatly abashed, and so took their horses and voided out of the town.” The Matthews fled and their houses are sacked. The White Hoods are masters of Ghent.

Then “ the rich and notable merchants,” very much scared, send off to the Earl twelve men, to crave for peace. But meantime John Lyon, who was at the Council where this embassy was arranged, musters the White Hoods and those of the crafts who were on his side, outside Ghent in a plain called Andreghem, close beside which was a castle of the Earl’s, newly built, and doubtless meant as a garrison to overawe the town. At this review this said castle is first sacked and then burned by an ‘ accident done on purpose ’ : John Lyon remarking, in the true manner of a mediæval joke, “ How cometh yonder fire in my Lord’s house?”

The news reaches the Earl while the embassy of rich men are craving peace of him ; and as he was particularly fond of this house, one almost wonders that he respected the safe conduct he had given. One can imagine the to-do there was ; the embassy of course was driven out ignominiously (which of course was John Lyon's intention in allowing the fire to come into my lord’s house), and the Earl declares war.

John Lyon, clearly a very able and resourceful man, immediately marches on Bruges with nine or ten thousand men, and gets in without any actual fighting, the “ rich man ” being cowed by the aspect of the lesser crafts ; and the Brugeois enter into alliance with Ghent. Courtray has already come in, and Ypres is thought to be friendly ; so that Flanders seems won from the Earl.

But just at this crisis John Lyon dies at Damme, the port of Bruges ; poisoned, hints Froissart, which, considering the hatred of the rich men of Bruges, is likely enough. The Ghentmen, however, are nothing daunted, but go on organising themselves for war. They chose for captains, John Pruniaux, John Bull, Rafe of Harselles, and Peter du Bois,*—the last a very clever and wily captain and leader, who outlived all the leaders of Ghent and died in England.

The Ghentmen march on Thorout and Ypres, where, through the help of the mean crafts (weavers and fullers), they win the towns, in spite of the opposition of the Earl’s garrisons ; and now being masters of the greater part of Flanders, the rebels besiege Oudenarde. To give you the measure of the strength of these communities of craftsmen, I must tell you that at this siege they mustered a hundred thousand strong.

The Earl finds after all that he is not strong enough to resist this union, and before the town is taken he makes peace with the towns through the means of the Duke of Burgundy. This peace may be said to end the second act of the story.

* I take the names from Lord Berners’ translation (Henry 8th) of Froissart. The two between them make a sad mess of the names of languages they do not understand.


Peace being made, the Earl is rather shy of Ghent, and takes up his quarters at Bruges, no doubt playing his old game of setting the towns against one another. The citizens of Ghent (one may suppose the respectables chiefly) are anxious for their Feudal Lord to come amongst them, so that they may be sure that the peace is really kept. After much persuasion, the Earl comes ungraciously enough and the first thing he says to “ the men of the Law,” as Froissart calls them—that is, the municipal chiefs, who go out to meet him—is thus given by Froissart : “ Sirs, good peace requireth nothing but peace ; and I would that these White Hats were laid down and amends made for the death of my Bailey, for I am sore required therein of all his lineage.”

Here the smouldering fire stirred again. “ The men of the Law ” answer humbly enough, and beg the Earl to come into the great square the next day and “ preche to the people ” but the White Hoods make up their minds to be part of his audience. Well, he comes, and looks very angrily at the White Hoods ; then from a window, with a red cloth before him, he makes a long speech winding up with a demand for the disbanding of the White Hoods. “ At all these words that he spake before every man held their peace ; but when he spake of the White Hats there was such a murmuring and whispering that it might well be perceived that it was for that cause.”

In short, he took himself out of the town in a day or two in the worst possible temper.

The Ghentmen did not deceive themselves as to his intentions, and fell to victualling the town for a siege. Here Froissart moralises : “ The rich, sage, and notable persons cannot excuse themselves of these deeds at the beginning. For when John Lyon first began to bring up the White Hats they might have caused them to have been laid down if they had lyst, and have sent other manner of persons against the pioneers of Bruges than they : but they suffered it because they would not meddle, nor be in no business nor press. All this they did and consented to be done, the which after they dearly bought, and specially such as were rich and wise : for after, they were no more lords of themselves, nor they durst not speak, nor do anything but as they of Ghent would. For they (the men of Ghent) said that neither for John Lyon nor for Gilbert Matthew nor for their wars nor broiles they would never depart asunder: for whatsoever war there were between one or other they would ever be all one, and ever ready to defend the franchises of their town. The which was well seen after ; for they made war which endured seven years ; in the which time there was never strife among them in the town : and that was the thing that sustained and kept them most of anything, both within and without : they were in such unity that there was no distance among them, as you shall hear after in this history.”

An outrage and reprisals follow. The kindred of Roger Dauterne, the slain Bailey, come upon forty ships of the Ghentmen in the Scheld, and put out the eyes of the mariners and maim them, and so send them home to Ghent. In return for this horror John Pruniaux, Captain of the White Hoods, marches suddenly on Oudenarde and beats down the two towers and gates of that town looking toward Ghent and the wall between them. The Earl of course is or feigns to be greatly enraged ; though the rulers of Ghent refuse to avow the deed ; but after some coming and going a sort of a peace is patched up again; Oudenarde is given up by the Ghentmen, John Pruniaux on the one side and the maimers of the mariners on the other side are banished : and on these terms of peace the curtain falls again.

It rises on a lordly act of dastardliness on the part of the Earl, who gets John Pruniaux delivered to him by the Duke of Burgundy and strikes off his head. Also, “ Then, the Earl went to Ypres and did here great justice, and beheaded many evil-ruled people such as had been at the death of his five Knights there slain and had opened the gates to them of Ghent.”

This lordly fashion of keeping the peace was not well seen to by the Ghentmen, and the war began again more sternly than ever, and also now took more definitely the aspect of a class struggle. “Then Peter du Bois* said : Sirs, if ye will believe me there shall not a house stand upright of never a gentleman in the country about Ghent. ... That is truth, said all the other. Let us go forth and beat them all down.”

Which was not a mere flourish of speech, as the White Hoods, who are now identified with the town of Ghent, set to work at once : so that “ when the gentlemen knights and squires being at Lysle with the Earl and thereabout heard tidings how their houses were burnt and beaten down, they were right sore displeased, and not without geed cause.” In short, the Earl let loose his chivalry on Ghent, his bastard son the Hase of Flanders at their head, and there was plenty of hard skirmishing after the fashion of the time.

The Ghentmen for their part summoned their vassals “ the knights and squires of Heynault ” to come and do them service for their holdings under pain of forfeiture ; as also their Constable or Burgrave, Hervé Dantoing. It was a matter of course that the gentlemen did not come and that the Constable sent an insolent and threatening answer. The Ghentmen retorted by destroying the houses of their disobedient vassals, who had legally forfeited their rights. This incident is a curious illustration of the mediæval status : the burgesses of Ghent, who were not noble, yet in their collective capacity could claim the services of noblemen, who held lands under feudal service to the town, and legally punish them for disobedience.

Well, on the part of Ghent the war went on briskly enough ; but though they were still in nominal alliance with the other cities, yet in the latter, and especially in Bruges, the mean crafts had not the same power as in Ghent, and any defeat was likely to detach Bruges, and likely to detach Ypres and Coutray from the popular cause. Bruges fell off first ; there was a struggle between the respectables and the mean crafts in the town, in which the former were victorious, and they at once sent to invite the Earl among them. To Bruges he came nothing loth. “ At the Earl’s coming were taken all the principals of them that had their hearts Ghentoise, and such as were suspect, and so were put in prison more than 500, and little by little their heads were stricken off.” After this stroke of resolute government Bruges became the headquarters of the Earl, and the war began to go heavily against the Ghentmen.

The Earl marched with a considerable army to attack Thorout and Ypres, and the Ghentmen sent two bodies of men for the relief of those towns under the command of Peter du Bois, John Bull, and Arnold Clarke. But the affair was ill-managed ; the two corps missed supporting each other and that commanded by John Bull fell into an ambuscade, and one of those curious mediæval routs took place, which some of us may the better understand after the sights of Bloody Sunday [November 11, 1887].

Peter du Bois, cool and wary as usual, held his men together, and retreated to Ghent ; but the fugitives from John Bull’s corps, who with him had got into Courtray, in their rage and terror slew their captain, and both Ypres and Courtray fell. The Earl massacred 700 of the mean crafts in Ypres “ to encourage the others,” and sent off 300 hostages to prison in Bruges, and afterwards 200 from Courtray. 3,000 of the Ghentois fell in the combat before Ypres.

The Earl then besieged Ghent, but loosely enough, as the Ghentmen were able to get supplies from Brussels, Brabant, and Liége, and generally from the whole country behind them, where the people were in complete sympathy with the rebels, especially in Liége.

A sharp combat took place before Nivelles, where the Ghentmen were again defeated, with the loss of two of their captains, Rafe of Harselles, a man of noble blood, and John Launoy. Of this matter Froissart, telling how the Ghentmen retreated into the church at Nivelles, says “ John de Launoy all abashed and discomforted entered into the minister to save himself, and went into the steeple, and such of his company as could get in with him, and Rafe de Harselles abode behind him and recoiled his company, and did great feats of arms at the door, but finally he was stricken with a long pike through the body and so slain. Thus ended Rafe of Harselles, who had been a great captain in Ghent against the Earl ; and the Ghentois loved him greatly because of his wisdom and prowess, but for his valiantness this was his end and reward.”

The Earl bade his men set fire to the Church, and I give you the end of this tragedy in Froissart’s own words as a dreadful little picture of mediaeval war : “ Fire, faggots, and straw were set together about the church ; the fire anon mounted up to the covering of the minster. There died the Ghentois in great pain, for they were burnt quick, and such as issued out were slain and cast again into the fire. John Launoy who was in the steeple, seeing himself at the point to be burnt, cried to them without ‘ Ransom! Ransom!’ and offered his coat, which was full of florins, to save his life. But they without did but laugh and scorn at him, and said to him ‘ John come out at some window and speak with us, and we shall receive you ; make a leap in like wise as ye have made some of us to leap within this year ; it behoveth you to make this leap.’ When John Launoy saw himself in that point, and that he was without remedy and that the fire took him so near, that he saw well he should be burnt, he thought it were better for him to be slain than to be burnt, and so he leapt out at a window among his enemies ; and there he was received on spears and swords and cut all to pieces. Thus ended John Launoy.”

Peter du Bois was posted so badly at this battle that he was kept by a marsh from helping. He once more drew off, and got into Ghent in good order, and it was a near thing that he did not share the fate of John Bull at the hand of the enraged people. But after all the Earl raised the siege and went back to Bruges. Skirmishing, however, still went on, and the Ghentois, after some successes, had another body of men cut up, 1,100 out of 1,200, says Froissart, and Arnold Clarke slain.

* Peter Bush would be his due English name.

Section restored from Commonweal

Under the sore discouragement caused by these defeats, the rich men began to murmur and look towards submission as the only end. Peter du Bois was their only leader left, and I suppose, judging from Froissart’s story, that he was not a man of much initiative as we say now-a-days ; anyhow, he looked round for support in the present straits, and says Froissart: “He remembered him of a man the which was not greatly taken heed of in the town of Ghent ; he was a wise man, but his wisdom was not known, nor was he not taken heed of till the same day.” This was Philip, the son of the great James van Artevelde.

Froissart gives us a little piece of drama, in which one sees and hears the rough sturdy captain coming to the man of ambition and genius, and drawing him into action : “ ... Then Peter du Bois in an evening came to this Philip, who was abiding in his mother’s house, and lived honestly on their rents ; and Peter du Bois began to reason with him, and began to open the matter, wherefore he was come to him, and said thus ‘Philip, if ye will take good heed to my words, and believe my counsel, I will make you the greatest man in all the country of Flanders’ , ‘How can that be, sir?’ said Philip. ‘I shall show you,’ said Peter, ‘ye shall have the governing and ministration of all them in the town of Ghent, for we be now in great necessity to have a sovereign captain of good name, and of good renown, and so by this means your father, James van Artevelde, shall rise again in this town by the remembrance of you ; for every man saith, that syth his days, the country of Flanders hath not been so loved, honoured, nor feared, as it was while he lived, and I shall lightly set you in his stead, if ye list yourself ; and when ye be in that authority, then ye shall govern yourself by my counsel, till ye have full understanding of every case, the which ye shall soon learn’. Then this Philip, who was at man’s state, and naturally desired to be advanced, honoured, and have more than he had, answered and said ‘Peter du Bois, ye offer me a great thing, and I believe you ; and if, I were in the state that ye speak of, I swear to you by my faith that I should do nothing without your counsel.’ Then Peter answered and said, ‘How say you? Can ye bear yourself high and be cruel among the commons, and specially in such things as we shall have to do ; a man is worth nothing without he be feared, doubted, and some time renowned with cruelty. Thus must the Flemings be governed ; a man must set no more by the life of men nor have no more pity thereof, than of the lives of swallows or larks, the which be taken in season to eat’. ‘By my faith,’ said Philip, ‘all this can I do right well.’ ‘That is well said,’ quoth Peter, ‘and I shall make you so, that ye shall be sovereign above all other.’ And so thereof he took his leave of him and departed.”

The upshot is that Peter proposes to him the leaders and the municipality, and he is made captain. “There he was taken up amongst them and brought into the market-place, and there they make assurance to him, both mayors, aldermen and masters of every craft in Ghent.“

Let us consider this the end of an act again, and draw up the curtain once more on the new leader facing defeat in the field, and discouragement and treachery within the gates.

The Earl laid siege to the town once more, but soon raised it again ; nor could he fairly blockade the town, as Froissart explains to us, “so that Brabant, Holland, and Zealand make them no war.“ So the Earl put the screw on the towns and lords of those countries, and tried to force them to stop the supplies to Ghent. The Liégeois gave him flat denial, but his kinsman, Duke Aubert of Brabant, did his best to aid him “though,” says Froissart, “they of Holland would not leave to aid them for any commandment that Duke Aubert might make.” However, the supplies were much shortened, and Ghent began to pinched by famine. Herewith, the malcontent rich men managed to get a parley with the outsiders. “In the same season the sage men and wise counsellors of Haynault, of Brabant and of Liége set a day of council to be holden at Harlebeke beside Courtray ; and they of Ghent sent thither a twelve of the most notablest men of the town ; and there they showed how generally the most part of the town, except such ribaudes and unthrifty people who desired nothing save evil and noise, all the other gladly they said would have rest and peace whatsoever came thereof ... and the matters were there so well debated that upon certain articles of peace the Ghentois returned to their town. And all such of Ghent as desired rest and peace drew to the houses of two rich men of Ghent who had been at this treaty ; the one called Sir Guisebert Grutte and the other Sir Simon Bette, demanding of them tidings ; and they discovered the matter too soon to some of their friends, saying, ‘Good neighbours, we shall have so good peace, and it please God that such as loveth peace and rest shall have it, and some of those that be evil disposed the town of Ghent to be corrected and punished.”

This was a regular plot you see : but says Froissart, “If there be he that doth, there is he who talketh ;” and Peter du Bois got hold of news of this plot before it was quite ripe. The next morning the traitors attended at the council of the “mayor and aldermen and rich men of the town” to give their report, which was, in short, that the Earl would make peace on the condition of the surrender of two hundred men, named by him. “And he is so free and so noble that it is no doubt but that he will have mercy on them.”

What kind of a grin lit up the face of Peter du Bois at these last words we may well imagine. Says Froissart “With these words Peter du Bois stepped forth and said “Guisebert Grutte how durst you be so bold to make agreement as to send two hundred of our men of Ghent into the town of our enemy in great rebuke and shame to all the town of Ghent ; it were better Ghent were turned upside down than they of Ghent should have such reproach, as to make war and end it so shamefully. We that have heard you may well know that ye shall be none of the two hundred prisoners, nor also Simon Bette. Ye have chosen for yourself, now then we will choose for ourselves. On forth Philip van Artevelde, set hands on these false traitors that would betray and dishonour the town of Ghent!” Therewith Peter du Bois drew out his dagger and came to Guisebert Grutte and struck him in the belly, and so he fell down dead. And Philip van Artevelde drew out his dagger, and he strake Simon Bette and slew him in likewise; and then they cried, &lsqo;Treason! Treason!’ And they that were slain had of their men above and beneath, for they were men of great lineage and the richest men of the town; but they gat themselves out of the town to save themselves, and there was no more but these two slain.”

Thus the plot of the respectables was nipped in the bud ; but the famine in Ghent went from bad to worse. The blockade now being fairly established, and the skirmishing turned into mere garrison-holding. The Earl laid waste the countries that still victualled Ghent, and things seemed drawing to an end. “It was great pity to see and to hear the poor people, both men, women, and children; yea, such as were right notable fell into this danger.”

Philip van Artevelde “caused the garners of the Abbeys to be opened, and of rich men, and set a reasonable price on the corn, whereby the town was greatly comforted.”

About Lent time, 12,000 men, apparently little organised, made a foraging expedition as far as the gates of Brussels, which were shut against them, but they were allowed to buy victuals there. They wandered from town to town; not offering to enter the gates, but living on the goodwill of the country and collecting victuals ; everywhere meeting with goodwill, especially from the Liégeois, and so came back to Ghent after a piteous journey with some 600 waggonloads of victuals, which was received with extravagant joy, small as the help was.

Now took place some goings and comings between the Ghentois and the Duchess of Brabant, who took it upon her to try to get peace from the Earl. A council was held at Tournay, attended by delegates from the towns of Brabant and Haynault, and twelve men from Ghent with Van Artevelde at their head. The Duke of Brabant also sent his council there, and it seems clear that the intention of the go-betweens was friendly to Ghent, while the Ghentmen, now reduced to the last extremity were prepared to accept almost any terms ; but the Earl refusing to meet the council, simply sent on a message announcing that the only terms he would take were surrender at discretion. Froissart tells us that the friends of Ghent urged Philip van Artevelde to take even these terms, and that he answered that the people would not take them, but that if they would, he would not stand in the way.

And now imagine if you can the return of the envoys to the hopeless city, once sovereign, and prosperous, and now encircled by its enemies and at its last gasp ; or rather let us for a while let Froissart tell us the story in his own words of the despair, the heroism, and the temporary triumph of Ghent.


Says the old chronicler:—

“ When Philip van Artevelde and his company entered again into Ghent, a great number of the common people desiring nothing but peace, were right joyful of their coming, trusting to hear some good tidings ; they came against him, and could not restrain, but demanded tidings, saying, ‘Ah, dear sir, Philip van Artevelde, rejoice us with some good word, let us know how ye have sped’ : to which demands Philip gave none answer, but passed by, holding down his head. The more he held his peace, the more the people followed him, pressing to hear some tidings : and once or twice as he rode to his lodging ward, he said to them that followed ‘Sirs, return to your houses : for this day God help you, and to morrow at nine of the clock come into the market place, and then ye shall hear the tidings that I can show you.’ Other answer could they have none of him, whereof every man was greatly abashed.

“And when Philip van Artevelde was alighted at his lodging, and such as had followed him had been at Tournay with him, and every man gone to their own lodgings, then Peter du Bois, who desired to hear some tidings, came in the evening to Philip’s house, and so then they two went together into a chamber ; then Peter demanded of him how he had sped, and Philip, who would hide nothing from him, said, ‘By my faith, Peter, by that the Earl of Flanders hath answered by his council sent to Tournay, he will take no manner of person within the town of Ghent to mercy, no more one than another.’ ‘By my faith,’ quoth Peter, ‘to say the truth he doth but right to do so: he is well counselled to be of that opinion, for they be all partakers, as well one as another ; now the matter is come even after mine intent, and also it was the intent of my good master John Lyon that is dead ; for now the town will be so troubled, that it will be hard ever to appease it again. Now it is time to take bridle in the teeth ; now it shall be seen who is sage and who is hardy in the town of Ghent. Either shortly the town of Ghent shall be the most honoured town in Christendom, or else the most desolate. At the least, if we die in this quarrel we shall not die all alone ; therefore Philip, remember yourself well this night how ye may make relation to-morrow to the people of the determination of your council holden now at Tournay, and that ye may show it in such manner that the people may be content with you : for ye have already the grace of the people, for two causes ; one is, because of your name, for sometimes James van Artevelde, your father, was marvellously well beloved ; the other cause is, ye entreat the people meekly and sagely, as the common saying is throughout the town, wherefore the people will believe you to live or die ; and at the end show them your counsel, and say how ye will do thus, and they will all say the same. Therefore it behoveth you to take good advice in showing words, wherein lieth your honour.’ ‘Truly’ quoth Philip, ‘ye say truth, and I trust so to speak and show the business of Ghent, that we who are now governors and captains shall either live or die with honour.’ So thus they departed for that night each from other : Peter du Bois went home to his house, and Philip van Artevelde abode still in his.

‘Ye may well know and believe that when the day desired was come that Philip van Artevelde should generally report the effect of the council holden at Tournay, all the people of the town of Ghent drew them to the market place on a Wednesday morning ; and about nine of the bell Philip van Artevelde, Peter du Bois, Peter de Nuitre, Francis Atreman, and the other captains came hither, and entered up into the common hall. Then Philip leaned out at a window and began to speak, and said —

“ ‘O, all ye good people, it is of truth that at the desire of the right honourable lady, my lady of Brabant, and the right noble duke Albert, bailiff of Hainault, Holland, and Zealand, and of my lord the bishop of Liége, there was a council agreed and accorded to be at Tournay, and thereat, to be personally the Earl of Flanders ; and so he certified to these said lords, who have nobly acquitted themselves : for they sent, thither right notable councillors, and knights and burgesses of good towns ; and so they and we of this good town of Ghent were there at the day assigned, looking and abiding for the Ear1 of Flanders who came not nor would not come ; and when they saw that he came not nor was not coming, then they sent to him to Bruges three knights for the three countries, and burgesses for the good towns ; and they travailed so much for our sakes, that they went to him to Bruges, and there they found him, who made them great cheer (as they said) and heard well their message : but he answered them and said, that for the honour of their lords, and for the love of his sister the lady of Brabant (he said) he would send his council to Tournay within five or six days after, so well instructed by him that they should plainly show the full of his intention and mind. Other answer could they none have, and so they returned again to us at Tournay.

“ ‘And then the day assigned by therle there came fro him to Tournay the lord of Rannesels, the lord of Gountris, sir John Villayns, and the provost of Harlebeke ; and there they showed graciously their lord’s will, and certain arrest of this war, how the peace might be had between the Earl and the town of Ghent[. First, determinally they said, the Earl will that every man in the town of Ghent,] except prelates of churches and religious, all that be above the age of fifteen year and under the age of sixty, that they all in their shirts, bare headed and bare-footed, with halters about their necks, avoid the town of Ghent, and so go a twelve mile thence into the plain of Burlesquans, and there they shall meet the Earl of Flanders, accompanied with such as shall please him ; and so when he seeth us in that case, holding up our hands and crying for mercy, then he shall have pity and compassion on us if it please him. But, sirs, I can not know by the relation of any of his council but that by shameful punition of justice there shall suffer death the most part of the people that shall appear there that day. Now, sirs, consider well if ye will come to peace by this means or not.’

“When Philip van Arfevelde had spoken these words, it was great pity to see men, women, and children weep, and wring their hands for love of their fathers, brethren, husbands, and neighbours. And after this tournment and noise, Philip van Artevelde began again to speak and said, ‘Peace, sirs, peace,’ and incontinent every man was still. Then he began to speak, and said —

" 'Ah, ye good people of Ghent, ye be here now assembled the most part, and ye have heard what I have said. Sirs, I see none other remedy but short counsel, for ye know well what necessity we be in for lack of victual; I am sure there be thirty thousand in this town that did eat no bread this fifteen days passed. Sirs, of three things we must of necessity do the one. The first is, if ye will, let us enclose ourselves in this town, and mure up all our gates, and then confess us clean to God, and let us enter into the churches and minsters and so let us die for famine repentant of our sins like martyrs, and such people as no man will have mercy of. Yet in this estate God shall have mercy of our souls, and it shall be said in every place where it shall be heard, that we be dead valiantly, and like true people.

“ ‘Or else, secondly, let us all, men women, and children, go with halters about our necks in our shirts, and cry mercy to my lord the Earl of Flanders : I think his heart will not be so indurate (as when he seeth us in that estate) but that his heart will mollify and take mercy on his people ; and as for myself, I will be the first to appease his displeasure ; I shall present my head and be content to die for them of Ghent.

“ ‘Or else, thirdly, let us choose out in this town five or six thousand men of the most able and best appointed, and let us go hastily and assail the Earl at Bruges, and fight with him ; and if we die in this voyage, at the least it shall be honourable, and God shall have pity of us, [and all the world shall say that valiantly and truly we have kept and maintained our quarrel. And in this battle, if God shall have pity of us,] as anciently he put his puissance into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, duke and master of chivalry, by whom the Assyrians were discomfited, then shall we be reputed the most honourable people that have reigned sith the days of the Romans.

“ ‘Now sirs, take good heed which of these three ways ye will take, for one of them must ye needs take.’

“Then such as were next to him, and had heard him best, said : ‘Ah, sir, all we have our trust in you to counsel us, and sir, look ye as ye counsel us, so shall we follow.’

“ ‘By my faith’ quoth Philip ‘then I counsel you ; let us go with an army of men against the Earl ; we shall find him at Bruges and as soon as he shall know of our coming he will issue out to fight with us, by the pride of them of Bruges, and of such as be about him, who night and day informeth and stirreth him to fight with us ; and if God will by his grace that we have the victory, and discomfit our enemies, then shall we be recovered for ever, and the most honoured people in the world, and if we be discomfited we shall die honourably, and God shall have pity of us, and thereby all the other people in Ghent shall escape, and the Earl will have mercy on them.’

“And therewith they all answered with one voice, ‘We will do this, we will do this, we will make none other end.’

“Then Philip answered and said, ‘Sirs, if it be your wills to do thus, then return home to your houses, and make ready your harness, for tomorrow sometime of the day I will that we depart out of Ghent and go toward Bruges, for the abiding here is nothing for us profitable and within five days we shall know if we shall die or live with honour, and I shall send the constables of every parish from house to house, to choose out the most able and best appointed men.’

“In this estate every man departed out of the market place, and made them ready ; and this Wednesday they kept the town so close, that neither man nor woman entered nor issued out of the town till the Thursday in the morning, that every man was ready, such as should depart ; and they were to the number of five thousand men, and not past, and they had with them two hundred cars of ordnance and artillery, and but seven carts of victua1, five of biscuit bread, and two tun of wine, for in all they had but two tun, and left no more behind them in the town.

“This was a hard departing, and they that were left behind were hardly bested. It was pity to behold them that went forth, and they that abode behind said to them, ‘Sirs, now at your departure, ye know what ye leave behind you, but never think to come hither again without ye come with honour ; for if it be otherwise, ye shall find here nothing ; for as soon as we hear tidings that ye be either slain or discomfited, we shall set the town a-fire and destroy ourselves like people despaired.’

“Then they that went forth said to comfort them, ‘Sirs, pray to God for us, for we trust he shall help us and you also, or we return again.’

“Thus these five hundred departed from Ghent with their small provision ; and that Thursday they went and lay a mile without Ghent and brake not up their provision, but passed that night with such things as they found abroad in the country ; and the Friday they went forth, not touching as yet their victual, for the foragers found somewhat in the country, wherewith they passed that day, and so lodged a seven mile from Bruges and there rested and took a place of ground at their device, abiding their enemies ; and before them there was a great plash of standing water, wherewith they fortified themselves on the one part, and on the other part with their carriages. And so they passed that night.

“And when it came to the Saturday in the morning, the weather was fair and clear, and a holiday called in Bruges, for that day of custom they made processions. Then tidings came to them how the Ghentois were come thither. And then ye should have seen great murmurings in Bruges, so that at last word thereof came to the Earl and to his company, whereof the Earl had great marvel, and said, ‘Behold yonder ungracious people of Ghent, I trow the devil hath brought them to their destruction ; now is the time come to have an end of this war.’

And so then his knights and squires came to him, and he received them graciously, and said to them, ‘We shall go and fight with yonder unhappy people of Ghent. Yet,’ quoth the Earl, ‘they had rather die by the sword than by famine.’

“Then the Earl was counselled to send three men of arms into the field to see the demeanour of his enemies. And so then the marshal of Flanders appointed out three squires, valiant men of arms, to go and see the behaving of the Ghentois.

“As Lambert of Lambres, Damas of Buffey, and John of Beart ; and so they three departed from Bruges, and rode toward their enemies. And in the meantime, while these three went forth, they of Bruges made them ready to issue out to go and fight with the Ghentois. Of whom I shall show somewhat of their order.”


FROISSART goes on to say:—

“This Saturday in the morning Philip van Artevelde ordained and commanded that every man should make him ready to God, and caused masses to be sung in divers places by certain friars that were with him ; and so every man confessed him, and prayed to God for grace and mercy. And there were certain sermons made, enduring an hour and a half ; and here it was showed to people by these friars, figuring them to the people of Israel, whom King Pharoah kept long in servitude : and how after by the grace of God they were delivered, and led into the Land of Behest by Moses and Aaron, and King Pharoah and the Egyptians slain and taken. ‘In likewise’ quoth these friars, ‘ye good people, ye be kept in servitude by your lord the Earl of Flanders, and by your neighbours of Bruges, before whom now ye be come and shall be fought with by all likelihood, for your enemies have great will to fight with you, for they fear little your puissance. But sirs, take no heed to that, for God, who knoweth and seeth all things, shall have mercy on you. Nor think nothing of that ye have left behind you, for ye may well know it is without recoverance if ye be discomfited, therefore sell your lives valiantly, and die if there be none other remedy honourably. And be not dismayed if great puissance of people issue out of Bruges against you, for victory lieth not in puissance of people, but it is all only God ; and by his grace it hath been oftentimes seen, as well by the Macabees as by the Romans, that a small people of good will, trusting in the grace of God, hath discomfited a great number of people ; and sirs, in this quarrel ye have good right and a just cause, and therefore by many reasons ye ought to be hardy and of good comfort.’

“Thus with such words and other these friars preached to the people that morning, wherewith they were well content. And three parts of the host were houselled, showing themselves to have great trust in God. And after these masses sung, then they assembled together on a little hill, and there Philip van Artevelde, by great sentence, showed them from point to point, the right that they thought they had in their quarrel ; and how that often times the town of Ghent had required their lord the Earl to have mercy on them, but they could never come to no point with him, but to the great confusion and damage of the town of Ghent, and to the inhabitants thereof ; also saying, how they were then come so far forth, that to recoil again they could not : and also then to return (all things considered) they could win nothing thereby, for they had left nothing behind them but poverty and heaviness ; and moreover, he said, ‘sirs, think neither of your wives nor children, but think of your honour.’ Thus such fair words Philip van Artevelde showed among them, for he was well languaged, and could speak right well, and well it became him ; and finally he said, ‘Now, fair lords, let us truly and equally depart our victual each to other like brethren without any manner of outrage : for when this is spent, it must behove us to seek for new, if we think to live.’

“And so then right humbly the carts were discharged, and the bread was divided by the constables, and the two tuns of wine, the bottoms were set upward ; and so there they dined with the bread and with the wine, and were content with their small repast for that time, and felt themselves better disposed, both in courage and in their members, than and they had eaten more meat.

“Then these courriers rode to Bruges to the Earl, and found him in his lodging, with a great number of knights and squires with him : so they came through the press to the Earl, and they spake out aloud, because the Earl would they should be heard : and so there they showed how they had ridden so near to the Ghentois, that they might have shot at them if they had list, but they suffered them to pass peaceably ; and also they showed how they had seen their banners. Then the Earl demanded what number of people they were by estimation : they answered, that surely as they could descry, they passed not a five or six thousand. Then the Earl said, ‘Well, let every man apparel himself, I will go fight with them : they shall not depart without battle.’ And therewith the trumpets did sound through Bruges, and then every man armed him, and assembled in the market place, and set themselves in order with their banners, as was the usage. And before the Earl’s lodging assembled lords, knights and squires.

“When everything was ready, then the Earl went to the market place, and saw there great number of people well ordered and arranged, whereof he rejoiced ; and so at his commandment every man drew in good order into the fields. It was great pleasure to behold them : they were a forty thousand armed men, and so, what a-horseback and afoot. They came near to the place where the Ghentois were, and there they rested : and by that time that the Earl was come thither, it was past noon and the sun began to decline. Then some said to the Earl ‘Sir, ye see yonder your enemies, they be but a handful of men, as to the regard of your company, and sir, they cannot fly away ; we would counsel you not to fight with them this night, let them alone till to-morrow, and sir, thereby ye shall see what they will do ; they shall be feebler than they be now, for they have nothing to eat.’ The Earl accorded well to that counsel, and would that it should be so have been done ; but they of Bruges were so hot and hasty to fight that they would not abide, but said set on them, they shall not long endure ; and so then they of Bruges began to shoot guns at them : and then they of Ghent discharged at once three hundred guns at one shot, and so turned about the plash of water, and caused the sun to be in the eyes of them of Bruges, the which grieved them sore, and so entered in among them and cried ‘Ghent’ and as soon as them of Bruges heard them cry ‘Ghent’ and heard so many guns come in among them, and saw how they set full front on them, like falsehearted people and of evil courage, they gave way to the Ghentois to enter in among them ; and so without any defence they cast down their weapons and turned their backs : then the Ghentois, seeing how well their enemies were discomfited, kept themselves still close together, and beat down on both sides and before them, and ever went forth crying ‘Ghent’ ; saying also, ‘Follow, follow, our enemies are discomfited, and let us enter into Bruges with them ; God hath regarded us this evening by his pity.’ And as they said, so they did, for they pursued them of Bruges sharply ; and as they overtook them they slew them, and tarried not, but kept on still their way, and ever they of Bruges fled on before : there were many slain and beaten down, for among them of Bruges them was no defence.

“I trow there was never so unhappy people, nor more recreantly maintained themselves, for all the great pride and bobance that they were of before. Some would think and suppose by imagination that there had been some treason, the which was not so ; it was none other but their simple defence and evil fortune that fell on them.

“When the Earl of Flanders, and the company that was about him saw the evil order and rule of them of Bruges, and saw how they were discomfited by their own folly, and could see no recoverance, for they fled away before the Ghentois, the Earl then was abashed, and all they that were about him, and so discomfited, that they fled away, every man to save himself. Of a truth, if they of Bruges would have returned again, and assailed the Ghentois with their help, they had been likely to have recovered all again ; but they saw no remedy, for they fled toward Bruges as fast as they might ; the father tarried not for the son, nor the son for the father.

“So then the men of arms and all brake their array, but they had no list to take the way to Bruges : the press was so great in the way toward Bruges, that it was marvel to see and to hear the clamour and cry of them that were slain and hurt ; and the Ghentois following them of Bruges, crying ‘Ghent, Ghent,’ still going forward, and beating down of people. The most part of the men of arms would not put themselves in that peril ; howbeit, the Earl was counselled to draw to Bruges, and to be one of the first that should enter, and then to close the gates, to the intent that the Ghentois should not be lords of Bruges. The Earl seeing none other remedy, nor no recoverance by abiding in the field, for he saw well every man fled and also it was dark night, wherefore he believed the counsel that was given him, and so took the way toward Bruges, with his banner before him, and so came to the gate, and entered with the first and a forty with him. Then he set men to keep the gate, and to close it if the Ghentois did follow : then the Earl rode to his own lodging, and sent all about the town, commanding every man, on pain of death, to draw to the market place. The intention of the Earl was to recover the town by that means ; but he did not, as ye shall hear after.”


Froissart goes on:—

“In the mean time that the Earl was at his lodging, and sent forth the clerks of every ward from street to street, to have every man to draw to the market place, to recover the town. The Ghentois pursued so fiercely their enemies, that they entered into the town with them of Bruges ; and as soon as they were within the town, the first thing they did, they went straight to the market place, and there set themselves in array. The Earl then had sent a knight of his, called Sir Robert Marshall, to the gate, to see what the Ghentois did ; and when he came to the gate, he found the gate beaten down, and the Ghentois masters thereof : and some of them of Bruges met with him and said, ‘Sir Robert, return and save yourself if ye can, for the town is won by them of Ghent.’ Then the knight returned to the Earl as fast as he might, who was coming out of his lodging a-horseback, with a great number of cressets and lights with him, and was going to the market place ; then the knight showed the Earl all that he knew ; howbeit, the Earl, willing to recover the town, drew to the market place ; and as he was entering, such as were before him, seeing the place all ranged with the Ghentois said to the Earl, ‘Sir, return again ; if we go any farther ye are but dead, or taken with your enemies, for they are ranged on the market place and do abide for you.’ They showed him truth. And when the Ghentois saw the clearness of the lights coming down the street, they said, ‘Yonder cometh the Earl, he shall come into our hands.’ And Philip van Artevelde had commanded, from street to street as he went, that if the Earl came among them, that no man should do to him any bodily harm, but take him alive, and then to have him to Ghent, and so to make their peace as they list. The Earl, who trusted to have recovered all, came right near to the place whereas the Ghentois were. Then divers of his men said, ‘Sir, go no farther, for the Ghentois are lords of the market place and of the town ; if ye enter into the market place, ye are in danger to be slain or taken : a great number of the Ghentois are going from street to street, seeking for their enemies : they have certain of them of the town with them, to bring them from house to house, where as they would be : and sir, out at any of the gates ye cannot issue, for the Ghentois are lords thereof ; nor to your own lodging ye cannot return, for a great number of the Ghentois are going thither.’

”And when the Earl heard those tidings, which were right hard to him, as it was reason, he was greatly then abashed, and imagined what peril he was in : then he believed the counsel, and would go no farther, but to save himself if he might, and so took his own counsel : he commanded to put out all the lights, and said to them that were about him, I see well there is no recovery ; let every man depart, and save himself as he may. And as he commanded it was done : the lights were quenched and cast into the streets, and so every man departed. The Earl then went into a back lane, and made a varlet of his to unarm him, and did cast away his armour, and put on an old cloak of his varlet”s, and then said to him, ‘Go thy way from me, and save thyself if thou canst, and have a good tongue, an thou fall in the hands of thine enemies ; and if they ask thee anything of me, be it not known that I am in the town.’ He answered and said; ‘Sir, to die therefore, I will speak no word of you.’

“Thus abode there the Earl of Flanders all alone ; he might then well say that he was in great danger and hard adventure, for at that time, if he had fallen in the hands of his enemies, he had been in danger of death : for the Ghentois went from house to house, searching for the Earl's friends ; and ever as they found any they brought them into the market place, and there without remedy, before Philip van Artevelde and the captains, they were put to death;* so God was friend to the Earl, to save him out of that peril ; he was never in such danger before in his life, nor never after, as ye shall hear after in this history.

“Thus about the hour of midnight the Earl went from street to street, and by back lanes, so that at last he was fain to take a house, or else he had been found by them of Ghent ; and so as he went about the town he entered into a poor woman’s house, the which was not meet for such a lord ; there was neither hall, palace, nor chamber ; it was but a poor smoky house ; there was nothing but a poor hall, black with smoke, and above a small plancher, and a ladder of eight steps to mount upon ; and on the plancher there was a poor couch, where as the poor woman’s children lay. Then the Earl sore abashed and trembling at his entering. said, ‘O good woman save me ; I am thy lord the Earl of Flanders ; but now I must hide me, for mine enemies chase me, and if ye do me good now, I shall reward you hereafter therefor.’

‘The poor woman knew him well, for she had been often times at his gate to fetch alms, and had often seen him as he went in and out a-sporting ; and so incontinent as hap was she answered ; for if she had made any delay, he had been taken talking with her by the fire. Then she said, ‘Sir, mount up this ladder, and lay yourself under the bed that ye find thereas my children sleep.’ And so in the meantime the woman sat down by the fire with another child that she had in her arms : so the Earl mounted up the plancher as well as he might, and crept in between the couch and the straw, and lay as flat as he could ; and even therewith, some of the ritters of Ghent entered into the same house, for some of them said, how they had seen a man enter into the house before them ; and so they found the woman sitting by the fire with her child ; then they said, ‘Good woman, Where is the man that we saw enter before us into the house, and did shut the door after him?’ ‘Sirs’ quoth she, ‘I saw no man enter into this house this night ; I went out right now and cast out a little water, and did close my door again ; if any were here, I could not tell how to hide him ; ye see all the easement that I have in this house ; here ye may see my bed, and here above this plancher lieth my poor children.’ Then one of them took a candle and mounted up the ladder, and put up his head above the plancher, and saw there none other thing than the poor couch, where her children lay and slept ; and so he looked all about, and then said to his company, ‘Go we hence, we lose the more for the less : the poor woman saith truth, here is no creature but she and her children’ ; and then they departed out of the house : after that there was none entered to do any hurt. All these words the Earl heard right well where he lay under the poor couch : ye may well imagine then that he was in great fear of his life : he might well say, I am as now one of the poorest princes of the world, and might well say, that the fortunes of the world are nothing stable ; yet it was a good hap that he ’scaped with his life ; howbeit this hard and perilous adventure might well be to him a spectacle all his life after, and an ensample to all other.”

If you are anxious about the fate of the Earl, I may tell you that he escaped. For my part, I have always felt more anxious for the fate of the poor woman and her children, and can only hope that they came to some good by the wild changes that were going on round about them, though, alas! I doubt it ; and I ask you to look upon them as a kind of symbol of the lowest order of the people ; of the proletariat of which in the Middle Ages we know so little, and of which in modern times there are many people who would be pleased to know nothing, but whom we have got look on now as the friends who are to turn war into peace and grudging into goodwill.


The Ghentmen bore their victory well ; there was no pillage of Bruges, and they took pains to distinguish friend from foe, sending, indeed, five hundred of the notablest burgesses as hostages to Ghent, and levelling the walls, but doing no more harm there to persons and things.

Almost all Flanders fell to the victors at once ; and if the Flemish victory had happened twenty years before, it is probable that Philip van Artevelde might have ruled Flanders longer than his father did. But while the craft-guilds and the emancipated serfs were growing in wealth and prosperity, and the former at least into corruption, the spirit of monarchical bureaucracy was growing also, and had to hold out a hand to the corruption within the crafts in order to make an end of the communistic spirit which had sustained itself throughout the earlier period of their struggle while the workmen were all real workmen. Once again it is clear to me that the presence in our history of the great burgesses who led this revolt, their power and riches are signs that the corruption of the guilds had begun : and in no case could a true social revolution have been won in the Flemish mediæval cities. The valour and conduct of the guildsmen of Ghent was indeed a link in the revolution of the middle-class whose final triumph is so recent, and they could no more have sustained a set of quasi-republican municipal republics lying between Germany and France, than the Jacobins of the French Revolution could have sustained their ideal republic of property for some, happiness, peace, and virtue for all, as a result of the ultimate corruption and fall of feudal privilege.

Yet the extinction of the revolt of Ghent is a sad story, and I will hurry through it in a few words.

I have said that in better times Ghent might have held her own for long : Van Artevelde was undoubtedly a man of conduct or something more : an alliance with the English king and some yielding to the French one, might have staved off war and ruin. But England was tired of the French war, a fool sat on her throne, surrounded by factious nobles ; and above all, her gentlemen had just been terrified themselves by the peasant revolt, to which this one of Ghent was clearly akin : no effective English alliance was to be had. As to France, apart from the jealousy of neighbours, Paris also had been alight while Ghent was burning, and the Host of the Mallets had driven away king and court to Meaux in Brie. It was time, thought the French King, that gentlemen should help gentlemen ; so a huge French army took the field, and the fatal day of Rosebeque, where twenty-five thousand Flemings and their leader Van Artevelde were slain, extinguished the sovereignty of Ghent for ever. This took place in November, 1382.

Peter du Bois had his usual luck though, and escaped the slaughter of Rosebeque. Entering into Ghent he found the gates open and the people too much dismayed to make any defence ; but a few words from the stout partisan, and probably the sight of his corps unbroken, put heart into them again. The gates were shut and they prepared for defence ; and the war went on with varying fortunes, until after the death of the then Earl, peace was made on terms that on the face seemed not unfavourable to the town of Ghent. This was done in December, 1385. Peter du Bois at the conclusion of the peace would not trust himself within the reach of the arms of the men, whose rebel he had been, and left his own country for England, where he lived some years and died peaceably.

From that time onward Ghent played her part in the development of the guildsmen and yeomen into the modern middle class ; but the high-tide of the progress of the handicraftsmen was over ; commercialism and bureaucracy were doomed to come between the partial development of those ideas of brotherhood and fair dealing which had place in the medieval guild, and the more inclusive ideas of the destruction of class distinctions and the new birth of society, which are stirring us to-day. But the times have brought about the times, and Ghent still lives, not only in the past, but in the present also, and while I speak is taking her full share in the struggle towards communal life which is the real fact of modern history. Who knows but we may live to see a new Revolt of Ghent on these new terms and in the assured hope of well deserved victory.


* Later on Froissart gives us quite another account of the behaviour of the Ghentois, and tells that they acted with great moderation.