Golden boys: How a civil army changed the course of events in the Franco-Flemish war


This Thursday, Flanders pulls out all the stops for Flemish Community Day, which has its roots in a remarkable battle fought more than 700 years ago

Spurring a movement

Get ready to party on Thursday: It’s 11 July, Flemish Community Day.

Wait, isn’t Belgium’s national holiday on 21 July? you may well ask. Yes, but 11 July is a regional holiday. While 21 July celebrates Belgium’s independence – it’s the date in 1831 that the country’s first king took his oath – 11 July celebrates Flanders’ famous fight against the occupation of France, far, far earlier.

In 1300, the French invaded the County of Flanders in the latest skirmish in the Franco-Flemish war. The war was waged for control of a region that included much of what is now West and East Flanders.

Two years later, following months of civil unrest – including the murder of French citizens in Bruges – 8,000 French cavalry launched an assault. They got as far as the fields surrounding Kortrijk before they came up against a well-organised army made up of men from Flanders’ civil militia. Their number – 9,000 – came as a bit of a surprise to the French knights.

The battle lasted just a single day, ending in the French cavalry’s retreat. The unexpectedly victorious Flemish took as their spoils the spurs made of gold worn by the 1,000 slain knights.

The history of the Battle of the Golden Spurs can be seen across Kortrijk every day of the year

And independence history was made: The Battle of the Golden Spurs is recognised every 11 July in Flanders, a symbol of resistance to foreign domination. While the French responded furiously in the years that followed, the Battle of the Golden Spurs is considered the turning point that led to the end of the Franco-Flemish war in 1305.

There are hundreds of events and activities across the region on Thursday, with a majority of municipalities marking it in one way or another. Gathered under the title Vlaanderen Feest, sometimes these are simple gatherings for drinks in the market square, and sometimes they are major events.

The stand-outs are in Antwerp and Brussels. Groenplaats and Grote Markt in the port city are taken over by Vlaanderen Feest, with the former dedicated to kids’ entertainment, activities and workshops. In the evening, crowds will take to Grote Markt for the annual televised open-air concerts.

But Brussels? you might ask again. That’s not Flanders! While a skirmish of words continues to this day as to the validity of that statement, Brussels is indeed the official legislative capital of Flanders, right along with Belgium and the EU.

Still, being Brussels, the event there operates under a different name: Brussel Danst (Brussels Dances, pictured above). And it certainly does. Free concerts, guided bike and walking tours and all kinds of activities at Flemish institutions like Beursschouwburg and KVS culminate in the big Dance Battle at Ancienne Belgique (a Flemish institution with a French name because Brussels).

And Kortrijk, naturally, would not miss out on this day. In fact, the history of the Battle of the Golden Spurs can be seen across the city every day of the year. Besides hosting a museum dedicated to the battle, many places – from rest homes to cafes – are named after the event that made the medieval city famous.

Celebrations in Kortrijk started on Sunday and continue on Wednesday with family activities, a reception, live music, a radio broadcast and the announcement of the Groeninge Prize, awarded to a new Kortrijk-area business with a name that ties it in with the history of the city, province or region. On the big day itself, Kortrijk’s party continues on its newly developed canalside squares with concerts and also jousting, the likes of which the French cavalry have never seen – right on the water.

Illustration ©Angus McBride/Osprey Publishing Ltd; photo ©Thierry Roge/BELGA