Happy feast day to all Flemish, and to all those who carry Flanders in their hearts!
On this day a Flemish army, consisting mainly of peasants and militia from the free cities, completely defeated an army of French knights, the pride of the nation. This was one of the first times an army of knights was defeated by commoners, and it sent shock waves throughout Europe. 5 years earlier, in 1297 the Scottish, led by William Wallace, defeated the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. This and the battle in 1302 were only the first to mark the end of an era where knightly armies would dominate.
Another important feature was that this battle was one of the very few popular uprisings of the common people against their lords (in this case, king Philip IV from France) that was actually successful. It underscores the strong sense of freedom and justice the Flemish had, which indirectly but in an important way contributed to the writing of the Declaration of Independence. For a great article about this, read this article by a good friend, David Baeckelandt.
Of course, namesakes of the great saint William were present, in roles of leadership and with feats of bravery. One William, named William van Saefthinge, was a lay brother at the abbey of Ter Doest. A really tall and strong man, he is said to have rushed to the battlefield when the armies gathered, donning an old rusty suit of armor he found in the barns of the abbey. Upon reaching the site of the battle, he traded his horse for a sword, and entered the fighting. It is told that it was he who threw Count Robert II of Artois, the french commander, from his horse, after which the count was killed by other soldiers.
William of Jülich was one of the main leaders of the uprising, being strongly opposed to the annexation policies of the French King. He was archdeacon at the prince-bishopric of Liège and the son of William of Jülich and Maria, a daughter of Guy of Dampierre, Count of Flanders. His connection to the count and his wish to avenge the imprisoning of his uncles Robert III of Bethune and William of Dendermonde by the French king presumably explains his support for the Flemish resistance. An extra incentive for this support could have been the murder of his uncle Walram of Jülich by the French after the Battle of Bulskamp in 1297. The Flemish resistance led to the unexpected victory over the French during the battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302. (excerpt from wikipedia). Legend has it that William of Jülich, who died in at the Battle of Mons-en-Pévèle as he had broken so deeply through the ranks of the French that he and his knights were able to wound the King and made him flee the field, and who's remains were never found after the battle, will return when Flanders is in direst need.
After the battle, hundreds of golden spurs -sign of knighthood- were collected from the battlefield and hung up in the Church of Our Lady, giving this battle its contemporary name: the Battle of the Golden Spurs. A modern day monument, erected near a highway leading to France, depicts a large spur in concrete, with the point of it aimed directly at Paris. The battle gave Flanders only a short lived independence, but it ensured that it was never fully integrated in France, keeping its language, culture and identity.
So ponder with Mr. Baeckelandt the many Flemish influences on the Americas, and toast to the heroes of long lost times who kept that Flemish identity alive! With the unfortunate near absence of beer in French culture, it is safe to say that on this day, our rich beer culture was saved as well! Cheers to that!