Women take over a Flanders town and decide to welcome the conquering Spaniards who stay for one night.
In Flanders in 1616 the Spanish are about to invade a town that is preparing for a carnival. Soldiers are learning how to shoot arquebuses. The Burgomaster’s wife Cornelia de Witte (Françoise Rosay) is bathing her little girl. Her son shoots a toy arrow at a maid, and his mother reprimands the maid for not being serious. An older daughter Siska (Micheline Cheirel) tells her mother that Jan may ask her father for her hand.
The Burgomaster Korbus de Witte (André Alerme) and other gentlemen are posing for a portrait. The Deputy Burgomaster (Alfred Adam) from the meat-shop arrives late. They argue with the painter Jan Breughel (Bernard Lancret) and take a break. Siska asks the painter what her father said. He has not asked him and tries to do so. The Deputy tells Siska that her father said yes, and he tries to kiss her as his betrothed; but she resists him and runs down stairs. The Deputy falls and hurts his mouth. The father tells Breughel that he would never give his daughter to an artist. Breughel cannot get the men to pose the same and quits.
Siska goes home and is comforted by her mother. She says the butcher tried to kiss her. Her mother warns her against a fawning husband. The butcher asks the Burgomaster to tell his wife and leaves him with her. The wife complains that their daughter is not a piece of merchandise. He says French women talk too much. She points to the soldiers who do all for show. Three horsemen arrive in town and go to the town hall. Five gentlemen inside sit around a table to look dignified. One of the horsemen comes in and tosses a paper on the table. He takes a drink and spits it out. The gentlemen smile, and he leaves. The three horsemen ride out of town. A man tells the Burgomaster that they are Spaniards.
In the town hall the gentlemen look at the papers and tell the arriving Burgomaster he has a letter. He reads it is from the Spanish Duke d’Olivares. They discuss what a Spanish occupation would be like. At night the Spaniards are attacking the town. Soldiers grab women and drink wine. A gentleman says they will rape the women and torture the town councilors. Men are tortured; a baby is killed; and men are hanged. The Burgomaster says he will be the victim. His idea is to proclaim that the Burgomaster is ready to sacrifice himself for his subjects.
Jan Breughel walks in the street and whistles to Siska. She comes down stairs and says her mother is on their side. Her mother tells Siska to put the baby to bed. The mother keeps Jan from leaving. The Burgomaster comes in and says it is an emergency. He asks his wife for aspergilla. The butcher offers Jan a truce and shakes his hand. The Burgomaster and the butcher go into a room and close the door on the wife. She tells Jan to go find out the news. The butcher comes out as a servant goes in. The butcher gets candles.
The baker hides guns and a knife in bread. Jan holds Siska up so that she can see into a high window. The mother goes in and finds her husband laying in bed. He says he has a plan. People outside are gathering, and the mother goes out.
In the street the town crier announces that any resistance will be punished. A man says he will hide, and the women make fun of him. Men decide to let the women fend for themselves. The Burgomaster’s wife speaks to the women and says they will handle the situation. A woman asks if they can do without men, and Cornelia says they can do that better than men can do without them. She says the Spaniards are savage, but women know how to govern their homes. She says women have accepted domination by men, but they will show Flanders how women can save a town from ruin and dishonor with energy and courage. First, soldiers are tired and thirsty; so they must give them drink. Men watch from inside. Cornelia sends a couple up in a tower to give a signal. The women disperse to their homes.
Jan and Siska climb up into the tower and look at the land. They talk, and he says he will paint her. At home Cornelia is getting dressed with help from three servants. Her son is concerned about her and says he will go out there.
A banner is being hung that reads “Welcome to our guests.” Cornelia and other women meet in the street with the key on a pillow. In the tower Jan and Siska say they love each other and kiss. Spanish soldiers can be seen on the road. Jan signals with her handkerchief. Cornelia walks before the other three ladies out the gate. She puts the key on the pillow. They bow to the Spaniards. The Duke (Jean Murat) gets out of the carriage with the Chaplain (Louis Jouvet). The Duke takes the pillow, and Cornelia offers him refreshment. She tells him their town is in mourning because the Burgomaster died. She says she is the widow and asks them to travel on to another place. The Duke says they must stay but will leave quietly at dawn. The Duke walks with Cornelia, and the soldiers march into the town.
The Burgomaster gets in bed to pretend he is dead. Women are watching in the street, and the Chaplain asks where the men are. The gentlemen see their wives walking with the officers. A woman tells an officer that a soldier stole her duck.
Inside the Chaplain tells Cornelia that discipline is important. Cornelia gets the book, and she invites the Duke to stay at her house. A servant shows three officers their rooms. A woman offers to repair a soldier’s shirt, and he kisses her. She has him draw the curtain. Cornelia has a servant tell her husband that their guests have arrived. The Duke comes in and offers his respect to the Burgomaster with a wreath. Cornelia takes him upstairs to his bedchamber. The Chaplain asks how he died. Cornelia says it was illness, and many have it. The Burgomaster sneezes as they are walking out.
A Spanish Lieutenant complains to the fishwife that everything in the house smells of fish. He asks her to leave while he washes. The Duke is being shaved. The Burgomaster complains to his wife that she brought them into their house. Siska and Jan ask Cornelia about the Duke, and they meet him. A lady goes in the room with the drummer, and the curtain is closed.
At the inn soldiers tell women that they fight for whoever pays them the most. The Lieutenant is doing needle-point, and the husband knits with him.
The Chaplain blesses the food before they dine. The Chaplain calls Erasmus a heretic, and the Dwarf (Delphin) uses the books to sit on. The Duke shows them how to use a fork, and Cornelia tries to use it in cutting her meat.
At the tavern a lady asks musicians to play, but the Inn-keeper tells them to stop because of the mourning. The lady wins out, and people dance. In his room the Burgomaster complains he is starving. The Duke gives fans to the ladies. They ask the Chaplain to tell them about the Inquisition. Monkeys get loose and go into the Burgomaster’s bedchamber. The Dwarf is looking for them and says he will tell the Duke of the deception. The Burgomaster gives him money to keep him quiet. The drunk Chaplain finds the money and learns the Burgomaster is not deceased. He takes some of the money, and they go to the inn. People dance and sing at the inn.
Cornelia and the Duke go out for fresh air. They see Jan and Siska in a boat embracing and planning their future. The Duke urges Cornelia to travel, and he says he is lonely. They hear thunder, and he wishes he had a wife like her. She asks him to decree a marriage. She leaves to find them. She finds the Deputy telling the Burgomaster that the painter is kissing his daughter. She asks the Deputy to draw up a marriage certificate for Siska and Jan. The Duke comes in and sprays water on the Burgomaster, who flinches.
Jan and Siska find the Chaplain. Cornelia gets the marriage certificate drawn up, and the Duke signs. The Chaplain comes in with the couple and begins the ceremony. A young lady cries and is taken out by the Dwarf.
During the night the Burgomaster says the silence is driving him crazy and sends the butcher to get his wife. The butcher sees her come out of her room and go to another room. The Dwarf makes the man take his two monkeys and carry him on his shoulders to a good bed. The butcher goes back and tells the Burgomaster that his wife is cheating on him. The Burgomaster gets up and goes with him. He finds his wife nursing the baby. He says he will challenge the Duke. She says he may be hanged. The butcher goes in to the Duke, who reprimands him. He tells the Duke that the Burgomaster duped him. The Duke has him kicked out of his room. He blames the Burgomaster who slaps him.
A drummer leads the soldiers out of the town. Soldiers kiss women goodbye and depart. The Chaplain is carrying a bag and pays the woman with indulgences. He gets in the carriage and leaves. The people wave goodbye to the marching soldiers. Cornelia waves to the Duke who is riding a horse. Siska tells Jan in bed that the Spaniards are leaving. The Burgomaster tells his wife to get back inside. She speaks from the balcony to the people in the street and reads a proclamation from the Duke exempting them from taxes for one year. She says it is because of the heroism of the Burgomaster. He notices her new necklace, and she says it is wedding gift from the Duke to Siska. The people cheer the Burgomaster.
This comedy makes fun of a foreign army occupying a town by letting the women take control and cooperate with the Spaniards who have a kind and friendly Duke leading them. As a result a young couple who are in love are allowed to marry despite their father’s disapproval.