Front Matter Gauls Defeat Romans Vercingetorix Saints of France Attila, Scourge of God Story of Clovis Sons of Clovis Mayors of the Palace Charles the Hammer Pepin the Short Charlemagne in Lombardy Defeat at Roncesvalles Emperor of the West Louis the Pious War of Three Brothers Louis the Stammerer Paris defies the Sea Kings Rollo the Viking Hugh Capet Becomes King Bishop Betrays the Duke Robert the Pious The Peace of God Harold Visits Duke William William Sails to England The Battle of Hastings Peter the Hermit First War of the Cross Louis the Fat and Laon King Fights his Vassal Second War of the Cross French Queen of England How Normandy Was Lost Albigenses War Battle of Bouvines Story of Hugh de La Marche Reign of St. Louis St. Louis's last Crusade Peter the Barber Knights vs. Weavers Pope vs. Philip the Fair Sons of Philip the Fair Philip VI vs. Flanders Battle and Plague King vs. Charles the Bad The Jacquerie Stephen Marcel Betrays Paris Charles V and du Guesclin Du Guesclin Fights for France The Madness of Charles VI The Battle of Agincourt The Maid of Orleans End of Hundred Years' War King vs. Charles the Bold Troubles of Duchess Mary Charles the Affable Knight Without Reproach Battle of the Spurs Francis I, Gentleman King King Taken Prisoner Duke of Guise Defends Metz Calais Returns to France The Riot of Amboise Huguenot and Catholic St. Bartholomew Massacre War of the Three Henries The Protestant King Edict of Nantes Reign of Favorites Taking of La Rochelle Power of the Cardinal-King Reign of Louis XIV The Man in the Iron Mask The Height of Power Edict of Nantes Revoked War of Spanish Succession

History of France - H. E. Marshall

The War Between Knights and Weavers
Philip IV (the Fair) [1285-1314]

Philip IV, who succeeded his father, was only seventeen when he came to the throne. He was called Philip le Bel, or the Handsome. He was cold and selfish, very greedy of money, very greedy of power.

He took little interest in the Spanish war begun by his father. It dragged on for six years, and was at last ended by a treaty in which Charles gave up all his claim to the throne of Aragon.

For this Philip cared little. He was much more interested in increasing his own power and extending his own kingdom than in winning one for his brother. He tried to take from the King of England all that remained of his French possessions. But although Edward I was busy trying to conquer Wales and Scotland, the French King found it hard to get the better of him. So he made friends with the Scots and helped them against Edward, in order that the English King might be kept busy at home and have fewer soldiers to spare to fight in France.

Philip next turned his attention to Flanders. Flanders was at this time the richest country in Europe. The people were industrious and clever; Flemish cloths and woolen stuffs were known throughout the world; the country was full of wealthy towns; and as the land was not cut off from France by mountains or broad rivers it seemed natural to Philip to extend his kingdom in that direction.

Besides all this, although Philip was the over-lord of the count, the Flemish were friends with the English. For from England they got wool for their cloth, and found there a market for their wines. That the Flemish were friends with the English was enough to make them the enemies of the King of France. Besides, Philip was always in need of money, and he coveted the wealthy cities.

Now about this time Guy Count of Flanders secretly made arrangements with the King of England that his daughter should marry Edward Prince of Wales. When Philip heard of it he was very angry and made up his mind to stop the marriage. He asked the Count of Flanders to come to Paris, pretending that he wished to consult with him about affairs of state. Guy was afraid to go, but he was equally afraid to stay away. So in the end he went with his two sons. And thinking it wisest to be open, he told the King at once about the marriage between his daughter and the English Prince. "Nevertheless," he added, "I will still serve you loyally as it becomes a man to serve his over-lord."

Then Philip showed the Count traitorous letters which it was said he had sent to the King of England. "My lord King," said Guy when he saw them, "they are not mine. They are false letters sealed with a false seal."

But Philip would not listen, and the Count and his sons were thrown into prison in the tower of the Louvre, For six months they remained there and were only set free when the Count promised to send his daughter Phillipa to take his place. So the doors of his prison were opened only to close again on his young and lovely daughter. And in this gloomy prison she remained all her sad life, although her only crime was that her father had promised her hand in marriage to the heir of the English throne.

Although Edward was not yet twelve years old, this was the second time that he had been disappointed of his bride. The first, you will remember, was Margaret, the Maid of Norway, Queen of Scotland.

Angry and discontented, Guy returned to his own land and soon, aided by Edward, he declared war against Philip. But even with King Edward's help Count Guy was not strong enough to fight Philip. It was rather a war of money than of swords. Edward paid the great nobles to fight for him. Philip paid them to do nothing, and they did nothing. It was a question, not of which King had most soldiers, but of which had most money.

After a time Philip and Edward made peace. By this peace Edward left his friend Guy of Flanders in the lurch, for he was left out of the treaty altogether. Philip promised not to help the Scots any more. It was agreed also that King Edward should marry Philip's sister, and that Prince Edward should marry Philip's daughter Isabella. She was then only a little girl of six, so the marriage did not take place until nine years later.

Forsaken by the King of England, Flanders was now almost at Philip's mercy. Guy soon saw that it was hopeless to resist and yielded to him with his sons and chief nobles. Philip at once put them all in prison and declared Flanders henceforth a part of the kingdom of France.

The Flemish were not ill pleased to be rid of their Count, for they were ever a freedom-loving, unruly people and he had ground them down cruelly. So they had no love for him. They hoped that the King of France would rule them more justly, and give them greater freedom. So when with his Queen he came to visit them, they gave him everywhere a splendid welcome. Every one dressed in their best and richest clothes and jewels, the houses were hung with colored cloths and flags. Everywhere there was show of wealth. At the sight of all this splendor the Queen was jealous. "What!" she cried, "I thought I was the only Queen in France, and now I behold around me six hundred queens."

But Philip, who was always in need of money, went back to France pleased with the thought that in Flanders he had an unending source of wealth. He had taxed his own people almost to the last farthing, now he taxed the Flemish. The governor he put over his new country was haughty and greedy and cared nothing for the rights or freedom of the Flemish cities. He oppressed the people without mercy until they rose in revolt.

Their leader was an old weaver called Peter Koning. He was a dried up, little old man, blind of one eye, and ugly. But he was wise, quick, and full of courage.

When the King heard of the revolt he sent an army to subdue it. They reached Bruges and were allowed to enter the town in peace. But that evening the French leader was heard to boast that next day many of the townsfolk would hang upon the gallows. Then they became desperate.

In the middle of the night they silently gathered. The great bell of the town was guarded the French; so it could not be rung, and the signal for battle was given by beating large iron pots. Awakened by this awful noise and by the sound of the Flemish war cry, "Our shields and our friends for the Lion of Flanders! Death to the Walloons!" the French sprang from their beds. Ere they were well awake they were slaughtered. Even women and children rushed upon them, slaying them almost in their beds. The butchery began before the sun was up, and all day the streets resounded with the cries of the dying. Almost the whole army perished, the leader and a few knights alone escaping.

When Philip heard of it he was bitterly angry. He sent another army to crush the rebels. But the weavers and merchants of Flanders gathered in force. "It is better," they cried, "to die sword in hand than with a rope about one's neck." And was it not well known that, in the French army, there were wagon loads of ropes wherewith to hang them?

Near the town of Courtrai the two armies met. Before the battle the Flemish knelt and confessed their sins. Then bending forward each man took a little of the earth and carried it to his mouth, thus silently vowing that he would free his country or die for it.

Then little one-eyed Peter Koning knelt before the lord of Namur, who struck him on the shoulder with his sword, and dubbed him knight. So with a sword by his side, and gilt spurs on his heels, the little weaver was ready to die for his country.

The Flemish stood waiting. In front of their position flowed a broad canal over which the French must pass to reach them. But the French knights were full of contempt for this rabble of weavers and tinkers. Over the plain they came dashing, with loosened rein, in careless disorder. On they thundered, clouds of dust flying from their horses' heels. Too late they saw the canal. Into it the first ranks plunged headlong. Unable to stop themselves others followed. Soon it was a struggling mass of men and horses. Unable to rise by the weight of their armor, crushed and beaten by their horses' hoofs, the French knights died in hundreds.

Seeing their helpless condition the Flemish advanced upon the broken and disordered ranks. They slew without mercy.

"I yield! I yield!" cried one of the French leaders.

"We understand not thy lingo," replied the Flemish, and slew him forthwith.

Never had there been such a slaughter of French nobles. When the fight was over all the best of the French lay dead on the field. So great was the number that gilt spurs were gathered by the basketful from the field.

But Philip was obstinate. In a year's time he had gathered another army and this time he led it himself. At Mons-en-Puelle the Flemish were defeated. Philip thought that at length he had conquered them. But he was mistaken. A few days after their defeat the Flemish gathered another and greater army. Every man who could hold a weapon hastened to the fight. Only women and children were left in the towns and villages.

Philip was dismayed. "I thought I had destroyed the Flemish," he cried; "now they seem to rain from heaven."

He did not care to fight any longer with sucn a determined people. So he made peace. The Flemings consented to receive the son of their old Count Guy as count. He did homage to Philip as over-lord and the first war of independence in Flanders came to an end.