Battle of Roosebeke

The Battle of Roosebeke was fought between the Flemish and the Royal French army on 27 November 1382. It was the result of several Flemish towns breaking away and attempting to become independent city states. These were run by the citizens of the towns. Ghent in particular had been fervent in its hostility to the Count of Flanders, having taken arms against him and defeating him in the Battle of Beverhoutsveld in May 1382. Now, the Count called for aid from the King of France. After attempts at negotiation failed, and fuelled perhaps by overconfidence among the Flemings, a French army was arrayed which advanced into Flanders. Here, it faced a much larger Flemish army. However, whilst the French force was experienced and well equipped, the Flemings on the whole were not experienced and lacked battlefield tactical nous. The battle was a resounding French victory.

The Battle is covered in some depth in the chronicle of Jean Froissart, copied below:

Battle of Roosebeke, from Froissart’s Chronicle

When the Flemings were ready to go up on the Golden
Mount, they halted and re-formed in one close-ordered body
and Philip said to them : ‘ Sirs, when the battle begins, remem-
ber how our enemies were shattered at the battle of Bruges by
ourselves keeping steady and close together, so that our ranks
could not be broken. Do that today. Let each hold his pike
straight in front of him, and put your arms round each other,
so that no one can get between you. Keep marching slowly and
steadily forward without turning to left or right. And, just
before the clash comes, let our bombards and cannons fire and
our crossbowmen shoot. That will scare the enemy!’

Having given these instructions and seen that the men were
drawn up in proper order, Philip van Artevelde posted him-
self on one of the flanks, surrounded by the men in whom he
had the greatest trust. To his page who was riding his horse he
said : ‘ Go and wait for me near that bush out of range. When
you see that the French are beaten and running, bring up my
horse and shout my battle-cry. The men will make way for
you. Come right up to me, for I want to lead the pursuit.’
The page obeyed. Philip also placed next to him the English
archers who had come to serve him for pay.

You can see how well this Philip had made his dispositions.
That is my opinion, and is the opinion also of many experi-
enced soldiers. He made only one mistake, which was this:
he left the strong position to which he had gone in the
morning, where the enemy would never have come to fight him
because they could not have reached him without suffering
over-heavy losses.

The three French scouts return to the King and make an optimistic
report. The French prepare to go into action,

A number of banners were taken out and unfurled. It was
decided that, when the moment came to join battle, the King’s
division with the oriflamme should be in the forefront, while
the vanguard should go right round on one flank and the
rearguard on the other. They would attack the Flemings
simultaneously with their lances, hemming them in and
pressing upon those serried ranks, to their own great advan-
tage

Soon afterwards the oriflamme was unfurled, carried by Sir
Pierre de Villiers. Some people say that, according to the old
records, it has never been unfurled against Christians except
on that occasion. There was much debate about whether to
use it or not on this campaign. However, after several con-
siderations had been weighed, it was finally decided to unfurl
it because the Flemish were of the opposite persuasion to
Pope Clement and proclaimed themselves Urbanists. For this,
the French said that they were unbelievers and outside the
faith.

This oriflamme is a revered and famous banner. It was sent
down mysteriously from heaven and is a kind of gonfalon.
It brings great comfort to those who see it. Its virtues were
proved then, for all morning the mist had been so thick that
the men could hardly see each other, but as soon as the loiight
bearing it had unfurled it and held it up, the mist dispersed
and the sky became as pure and clear as it had been the whole
year. When they saw the sun shining out on this beautiful
day, and had a clear view all round them and of the distance,
the French nobles had good reason to feel heartened. Then it
was a splendid sight to see those banners, those helms, that
fine armour, those glittering lance-blades at the ready, those
pennons and those coats-of-arms. And they kept absolutely
still, none uttering a word, the front ranks watching the great
army of the Flemings tramping towards them like a single
man. They marched slowly in serried ranks, their pikes raised
straight in the air, and the shafts were like a forest, so enor-
mous was their number.

I was told by the Lord of Schoonvorst, who said he saw it
himself, as did many others, that after the oriflamme had
been raised and the mist had lifted, a white dove flew round
several times above the King’s division. When it was tired of
flying and battle was about to be joined, it went and perched
on one of the King’s banners. This was taken as an excellent
omen.

As the Flemings approached, they began to fire big bolts
feathered^ with bronze from their bombards and cannons;
so the battle began. The King of France’s division met the
first shock, a weighty one. Those Flemings, proud and in
great heart, came down at them fierce and hard from the high
ground, butting their pikes at them with all the force of their
chests and shoulders, as though they were wild boars; and
they were knit so tightly together that their ranks could not
be broken.

The first to be killed on the French side were the Lord of
Wavrin, banneret, Morelet de Halewin and Jacques de Heere.
The King’s division was pushed back, but the vanguard and
rearguard on the wings rode round and enveloped the Flem-
ish, so that they became very hard-pressed. The men-at-arms
began thrusting at their flanks with their stout, long-bladed
lances of hard Bordeaux steel which penetrated their coats of
mail to the flesh. Those who were attacked shrank back to
escape the thrusts, for it would have been beyond human en-
durance for them to stand their ground and be impaled. They
were rammed so closely together that they could not move
their arms or use their pikes to defend themselves. Many lost
strength and breath, falling on top of each other, so that they
collapsed and died without striking a blow. Philip van Arte-
velde was surrounded, pierced with lances and borne down,
with a number of the men of Ghent who were with him and
loved him. When his page saw that his side was losing, he
used the good horse on which he was mounted and rode off,
I. With projections like the feathers of an arrow.

So this battle took shape, and when the Flemings were
hemmed in and squeezed on both flanks they stopped ad-
vancing because they could not use their weapons. The King’s
division, which had wavered a little at the beginning, re-
covered heart. Men-at-arms set about beating down Flemings
lustily. Some had sharp axes with which they split helmets and
knocked out brains, others lead maces with which they dealt
such blows that they felled them to the ground. Hardly were
they down than the pillagers came slipping in between the
men-at-arms, carrying long knives with which they finished
them off. They had no more mercy on them than if they had
been dogs. So loud was the banging of swords, axes, maces
and iron hammers on those Flemish helmets that nothing else
could be heard above the din. I was told that if all the ar-
mourers of Paris and Brussels had been brought together,
plying their trade, they would not have made a greater noise
than those warriors hammering on the helms before them.

Knights and squires did not spare themselves, but went to
work with a will, vying with one another. Some advanced too
far into the press and were surrounded and crushed . . . for
which reason there were a certain number of French dead.
But they were not very many, because they came to each
others’ help whenever possible. There was a great pile of
Flemish dead, long and high, but never before in so great a
battle in which so many were killed had so little blood been
seen flowing. This was because by far the greatest number
were crushed or smothered to death, and these men did not
bleed.

So on the Golden Mount were the Flemings defeated, and
the pride of Flanders humbled and Philip van Artevelde slain;
and with him nine thousand men from the town of Ghent and
its dependencies. There died that day, the heralds reported,
more than twenty-six thousand men on the field without
counting the pursuit. The battle lasted only an hour-and-a-
half from the time it was joined till the time it was won.
After that victory, which was greatly to the honour and advantage
of all Christendom and of all the gentry and nobility – for if
the villeins had achieved their purpose, unexampled ravages
and atrocities would have been committed by the commons in
rebellion everywhere against the nobly born – the citizens of
Paris with their long hammers became more cautious. How
did they Hke the news of the defeat of the Flemings and the
death of their leader? They were not cheered by it. Neither
were the Goodmen in a number of other towns. . . .

When the King of France had retired from the battle-field to
a tent of crimson silk very elegantly and richly designed,
and had taken off his armour, his uncles and many French
barons went there to congratulate him. Then he remembered
Philip van Artevelde and he said to those around him: *I
would like to see that Philip, dead or alive.’ His men replied
that they would do their utmost to find him. It was an-
nounced throughout the army that whoever found Philip
van Artevelde would be given ten francs. Grooms and ser-
vants began searching among the dead, who had already
been stripped from head to foot. They were so filled with
thirst for gain that in the end Philip was found and recognized
by a man who had long been his servant and knew him well.
His body was carried and dragged to the King’s tent. The
King looked at him for a time, and the lords also. He was
turned over to see if he had died of wounds, but there were no
wounds such as could have caused his death. He had been
crushed in the press and had fallen into a ditch, with a great
mass of Ghent men on top of him. When they had looked
at him for a time they took him away and hanged him from a
tree. Such was the final end of Philip van Artevelde.

On the next day, Friday, the King decamped from Roose-
beke because of the stench of the dead and was advised to
make for Courtrai, to rest and refresh himself there. On the
day of the battle the Hare of Flanders ^ and various Flemish
knights and squires who knew the country, some two hun-
dred lances in all, had ridden over to Courtrai, entering the
I. Name given to the bastard son of the Count.