Battle of Courtrai, 11 July 1302 (Belgium)

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One of the most famous defeats inflicted on the French knights. Philip of France had arrested Guy, Count of Flanders, on charges of Treason, and confiscated his earldom, garrisoning several towns, and putting French officials in charge. His actions triggered a revolt in May 1302, and the rebels soon controlled all of Flanders but Ghent, Cassel, and the citadel of Courtrai. Philip responded by sending his brother, Robert Count of Artois, and the feudal levy of Northern France to crush the rebels. The army of Count Robert was a traditional feudal cavalry host, and, as so many did, contained the flower of French chivalry. In contrast, the Flemish were able to field only an infantry army, and the French were confident that they would crush the rebels, as infantry had been unable to resist cavalry for centuries.

The Flemish forces formed up before Courtrai, where the besieged forces were close to surrender. They formed up in front of a small stream with no real escape routes, possibly done to make sure their troops knew they had to fight to the death. After an exchange of missile fire, the Flemings withdrew slightly from the river, and Count Robert ordered a full cavalry charge by his vanguard. However, the river turned out to be a greater obstacle than he had expected, and on the far side they then got caught up in marshy ground and holes dug by the Flemish, and before the knights could re organize and charge, the Flemish charged them. The disorganized vanguard was force back by this charge, and Count Robert ordered his main forces into the fray. They too got caught in the river and march, and reached the battle in disarray, where they were able to prevent the massacre of the van, but not to break the Flemish line. The Flemish were slowly able to kill the horses, and then their riders before they could recover. Orders had been given to spare no knights, and at least seven hundred French knights were killed in the battle, including Count Robert himself, at least five counts, both Marshals of France, and a total of sixty-three counts, barons and bannerets, the Flower of French Chivalry. Courtrai is also known as the Battle of the Golden Spurs, from the number of knightly spurs recovered.

Courtrai shocked knightly opinion across Europe. Soon a variety of stories were invented to explain the defeat, which went against all accepted wisdom, most of which placed the blame of Count Robert, rather than give any credit to the Flemish infantry. Thus, the French did not learn any lessons from the battle, and were vulnerable to the English infantry tactics of the hundred years war. Courtrai also bears many similarities to Bannockburn, in the nature of the battlefield, the types of troops involved, and the end result.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J. (1 October 2000), Battle of Courtrai, 11 July 1302, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_courtrai.html

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