BECK index

Low Countries and Burgundy 1250-1400

by Sanderson Beck

Flanders under France 1250-1320
Flanders under France 1320-1400
Brabant, Liege and Guelders 1250-1400
Holland, Hainaut and Friesland 1250-1400
Ruusbroec and Groote

This chapter has been published in the book Medieval Europe 1250-1400.
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Flanders under France 1250-1320

France and Flanders 1200-1250

Countess Joan of Flanders had left Countess Margaretha II a debt of £164,000 in 1244, and in the next twelve years Margaretha borrowed at least twice that much fighting her Avesnes sons on behalf of her Dampierre sons. Her husband Guillaume de Dampierre returned from the crusade, but he was killed in a tournament in 1251. Margaretha gained £150,000 selling land and raised another £200,000 from five cities. In 1252 she gave trading privileges to German merchants of the Hanse. The Avesnes claimed territories outside of France and were supported by Willem of Holland, recently proclaimed king of the Romans by Pope Innocent IV. Guy and Jean de Dampierre had French allies, but they were defeated and imprisoned in 1253. Margaretha appealed to Charles of Anjou, who invaded Hainaut to make his claim; but when Louis IX returned the next year, he persuaded his brother Charles to withdraw and imposed the settlement he had previously arranged in 1246. That year Charles had married the heiress Beatrice, and Provence became part of France. Coppersmiths at Dinant revolted in 1255. Margaretha began ruling Hainaut also in 1257.

Countess Margaretha II of Flanders (1244-78) caused a crisis in 1270 when she confiscated English property. Within four years Flemish merchants, who had been perhaps the most prosperous in Europe, lost most of their carrying trade. Workers had gone on strike in Douai as early as 1245. In 1274 weavers and fullers left Ghent to go to Brabant. Margaretha replaced the Thirty-nine of Ghent in 1275; but after she abdicated to her son Guy of Dampierre, a parliament restored them in 1280. When aldermen and Count Guy issued wage limits in 1280 for Bruges, aroused mobs chased out or imprisoned the Count’s officers. Order was restored the next year, and they had to pay £4,000 for the property damage. Rebellions also occurred in Ypres and Douai. When another rebellion broke out in Bruges during the summer of 1281, the Count of Flanders had five hostages beheaded. Assemblies of more than ten persons were prohibited, and the 1280 law remained. Some craftsmen emigrated to England and Italy, where skilled workers were exempt from taxes. Italian trade was greatly increased after the first Genoese voyage to Flanders in 1277.

When the Flemish complained about taxes in 1288, King Philippe IV installed an officer in Ghent to control Count Guy. Two years later Guy issued new privileges to English merchants and tried to negotiate an alliance. After an attack on Rochelle in 1293 Philippe demanded the Gascon perpetrators be made to pay restitution, and after failed negotiations he ordered the mayor and leading citizens of Bayonne arrested. Constable Raoul de Nesles led the French army that took over Gascony while King Edward was busy fighting in Wales. The English were pushed back to Bayonne, Bourg, and Blaye by Charles of Valois in 1295 and by Robert of Artois in 1296. Philippe gained allies by granting money-fiefs to the count of Luxembourg, the dauphin of Vienne, the bishop of Metz, the count of Holland, and the count of Hainaut. The Aquitane war was stopped by the truce of Vyve-Saint-Bavon in 1297.

In 1294 King Edward revoked his safe conduct to Flemish merchants, who were subjects of the French king. Philippe IV raised money from the Church as provincial councils granted him a tenth for two years. Also in 1294 Count Guy arranged for his daughter Philippina to marry the prince Edward of England. Philippe summoned Guy before parliament and imprisoned him and two of his sons for four months until he renounced his agreement with England and sent Philippina to Paris, where she died in 1306. Guy was getting some of his own medicine, for he had previously incarcerated the count of Holland. Guy promised to enforce the French trade embargo against England and in 1295 was allowed to keep the property confiscated from violators. Philippe made more concessions the next year by freeing Flemish cloth from foreign competition and declaring a two-year moratorium on debts of Flemish burghers and on Count Guy’s debt to France.

In February 1296 Pope Boniface VIII issued the bull Clericis laicos forbidding lay taxation of the clergy without papal authorization. The French king had to concede more privileges to the Church in order to gain another tenth that year, and in August he issued an ordinance prohibiting the export of arms, horses, war equipment, and money; the ban on gold and silver especially affected the Pope. King Philippe took more control over Flanders especially after Guy tried to annex Avesnes Hainaut from Valenciennes. Guy was tried in Paris and fined. In January 1297 archbishops of Rheims, Sens, and Rouen asked papal permission to aid Philippe, and the next month Boniface authorized a grant. A council at Paris then gave Philippe a double tenth for as long as the war lasted. Pope Boniface himself was under attack in Rome by the Colonna family, and in July 1297 his bull Etsi de statu allowed the King to ask for subsidies from the clergy without his consent. The Pope also pleased Philippe by canonizing his grandfather Louis IX.

After Count Guy of Dampierre returned to Flanders, he renounced his fealty to Philippe and formed an alliance with England’s Edward on February 2, 1297. That year Guy issued a comprehensive code of laws that became known as the Great Charter of Ghent. A French army led by Charles of Valois invaded western Flanders in June, and troops under Robert of Artois defeated the Flemish at Furnes. Count Guy retained Ypres, Douai, and Ghent, where he resided with Edward. The Flemish were divided between the Lilies who supported France and the Claws who sided with the lion depicted on the Flemish count’s coat of arms. In October 1297 a truce was agreed to last until 1300, and Edward withdrew from Flanders. In 1298 marriages were arranged between Edward and Philippe’s sister Marguerite and between the prince Edward and Philippe’s daughter Isabella. That year Pope Boniface began arbitrating the Flemish war as a private person. The next year the Colonnas fled to France as the Pope had Palestrina razed, plowed, and sown with salt.

The treaty of 1297 divided Flanders, and in 1299 Count Jan II d’Avesnes of Hainaut acquired Holland and Zeeland. After the expiration of the truce on January 6, 1300 a new French army led by Charles of Valois took over the remaining part of Flanders as Count Guy and his son Robert de Béthune surrendered to honorable captivity in royal castles. Philippe IV visited Flanders and annexed it into his royal domain in May, appointing the Flemish noble Jacques de Chatillon his lieutenant-governor. The King of France toured his new territory and cancelled the unpopular consumption taxes in Ghent, putting a strain on the city government and his patrician allies who had farmed the taxes. On November 1, 1301 Philippe’s edict replaced the Thirty-nine with thirteen alderman elected by the prince and the municipal representatives. Chatillon marched with the garrison of Courtrai on Bruges and began destroying the city’s walls. The anti-French forces rallied behind the Count’s sons Jean and Guy of Namur. The weaver Pieter de Cominck led commoners who tried to stop the dismantling of the fortifications.

A Claw magistracy took over Bruges in the spring of 1302. After that guildsmen had the right to serve on town councils. During a famine that year the rural regions, which supported the Count’s sons, boycotted the food supply of the city of Ghent, which favored the French king. Chatillon allowed the Lily government to restore the food taxes on April 1, and the next day the artisans went on strike. In the armed conflict the commoners killed two aldermen and eleven other patricians. The agitation spread to Bruges. On May 11 Chatillon abolished indirect taxation in Ghent and punished the magistrates who had reinstated it with his permission, promising free commerce. Six days later the new Bruges government submitted to Chatillon, but the next day exiled Claws, who had slipped back into the city, massacred the French and their French-speaking supporters. Most of Flanders except Ghent joined the resistance. French troops invaded to suppress the revolt and terrorized the Flemish civilians. A Flemish army from Bruges was supported by about 500 men from Ypres and about 700 dissidents from Ghent. Their infantry in trenches and swamps behind pikes fought off and defeated the French cavalry outside Courtrai on July 11, 1302. This Flemish victory was called the Battle of the Golden Spurs because several hundred pairs of gilded spurs were taken off the French aristocrats. Three days later the people of Ghent welcomed Jean of Namur as their prince. He gave various concessions to Bruges, Ghent, and Ypres and governed until his younger brother Philippe of Thiette arrived from Italy in May 1303.

The patrician regimes at Ghent and Ypres were also overthrown by the craft guilds that set up new governments. In November 1303 people defending the commune of Ypres killed seven aldermen and councilors for taking unauthorized taxes. The following May the aldermen executed 44 people for murder and five for robbery. The guilds were best organized in Bruges, and a fuller became burgomaster. On August 10, 1304 the French fleet supported by Holland’s navy met eighty Flemish ships near Zieriksee. Most of the Flemish ships were sunk or captured, and Count Guy was taken to France as a prisoner. Flemish troops abandoned the siege of Zieriksee, and about 5,000 were captured. Count Jan II of Hainaut died on August 22. The Flemish agreed to a peace in June 1305, promising to pay an indemnity within four years and a rent of £20,000, support a royal army of 600 men, and destroy their cities’ fortifications. Bruges was to send 3,000 citizens on pilgrimages as penance. The Flemings swore allegiance to the King of France.

Guy of Dampierre died in 1305, and the new count Robert of Béthune gained concessions that excepted Holland and Hainaut from the treaty. In 1307 the King commuted the pilgrimages to fines of £300,000 that he collected by taxing the county. The Flemings resented this and compensating the Lilies for their lost properties. After the cities rebelled in 1309, the King stopped demanding the destruction of their fortifications. Then the town governments accepted the treaty. In December 1310 the English burned a Flemish fleet at Graunzon in Brittany for trading with the Scots. That year Count Robert offered German merchants of the Hanse new privileges in Flemish cities, and they moved back to Bruges.

The cities ran up large debts during the war and were inundated with refugees. Robert de Béthune’s oldest son Louis opposed the concessions, and King Philippe IV confiscated his principalities of Nevers and Rethel. The court of peers put Louis in jail in 1311, but he escaped to Flanders. On July 11, 1312 Count Robert agreed to cede Lille, Douai, Orchies, and Béthune to France. He was promised half the rent from the peace of Athis, but he complained it was not enforced. By then the older families were ruling again. One year later the peace of Arras put Courtrai under French rule. In 1314 Robert expelled the French from Courtrai and besieged Lille. France’s Louis X (r. 1314-16) sent his army to invade Flanders, but they were stopped by rainstorms in 1315. The Flemish negotiated with the peace party in Paris, but the treaty signed on September 1, 1316 made the financial obligations of their cities worse. Lilies returned and revived their party. In 1315 Flanders suffered three plagues and then a famine that led to an epidemic the next year which took a few thousand lives in Bruges and Ypres.

Flanders under France 1320-1400

On May 5, 1320 Count Robert of Béthune renewed his allegiance to France in the Treaty of Paris, and his grandson, the younger Louis of Nevers, married Philippe V’s daughter Marguerite. Louis I of Nevers died in exile in France on July 22, 1322, and the elderly Count Robert of Béthune died on September 17. The Count’s younger son Robert of Cassel renounced his claims for £10,000 and the western castellanies. The cities of Ghent, Bruges, and Ypres supported Louis II of Nevers, and he confirmed their textile privileges. On March 6, 1323 King Charles IV (r. 1322-28) forced Louis to renounce Zeeland and make peace with Willem I of Hainaut, and Louis returned to Flanders. When he gave Bruges’s streams at Sluis to Jean of Namur, they captured Louis and Jean, burning Sluis. Louis had to reverse his policy on April 4. Rebelling peasants were led by the Bruges burgess Clais Zannekin, and the weavers and fullers controlled Bruges. When Louis of Nevers marched on Courtrai, the Bruges militia attacked his forces, who destroyed bridges and burned suburbs to keep them out. Wind spread the fire which burned much of Courtrai and provoked more rebellion. A few days later they captured Louis and took him to Bruges. Zannekin’s troops helped the weavers take over Ypres. During the summer Ghent appointed Jean of Namur regent and went to war against Robert of Cassel, who changed sides and was pardoned by the King. Count Louis was released on November 30, 1325, and the peace of Arques signed on April 19, 1326 ordered fines, the forts the rebels built destroyed, and innovations rolled back.

In 1327 Count Louis of Nevers tried to take territory from Robert of Cassel, and the Bruges burgess Jacob Peit revived the peasant rebellion, executing anyone who would not back the commons. Peit was assassinated, and the Count fled to Paris. King Edward III of England was only 15 years old when he married 13-year-old Philippa of Hainaut on January 24, 1328. After Charles IV died suddenly on February 1, Edward tried to claim the throne of France. King Philippe VI (1328-50) sent his royal army which routed the Flemish rebels near Cassel on August 23. All charters were withdrawn; rebel leaders were executed, and their property was confiscated. The King ordered Bruges and Ypres to take down their walls and fill in their moats.

On August 12, 1336 Edward III embargoed wool sales to Flanders, and the next month English merchants were seized at Bruges in retaliation. Jacob van Artevelde of Ghent became chief of the five captains in 1338. After his wealthy father-in-law Zeger of Courtrai met with English envoys, Count Louis at King Philippe’s suggestion treacherously had him beheaded. The burghers in Ghent immediately declared they were for King Edward, and parties supporting van Artevelde took over Bruges and Ypres. Revolts at Courtrai in 1340 and Oudenaarde in 1342 were suppressed. King Philippe VI sent wool to Flanders to make up for lost English wool, and Louis of Nevers fled to France in December 1339. Van Artevelde made an alliance with the English, and the embargo was lifted. Edward III was welcomed at Ghent on January 26, 1340 and was proclaimed king of France. His son John “of Gaunt” was born in Ghent that spring. The English defeated the French navy near Sluis in June; but the siege of Tournai failed after Duke Jan III of Brabant was insulted by van Artevelde and withdrew. Van Artevelde put Simon of Mirabello in charge in Ghent, but Simon was killed in 1346.

In January 1343 a rebellion overthrew van Artevelde in Ghent, but troops from Bruges reinstalled him. In March the three cities deposed him and recalled Louis of Nevers. On June 21 Ghent, Bruges, and Ypres divided Flanders and governed by captains. Ghent had a population of about 50,000, second only to Paris, and an army of 15,000, dominating the others. On May 2, 1345 in Ghent the weavers defeated the fullers on the Friday Market as about a thousand men were killed. On July 7 King Edward met van Artevelde at Sluis and asked him to hand over the cities, but the weavers’ dean Gerard Denijs would not unseal the Count. Jacob van Artevelde withdrew from Ghent, and he was killed by a shoemaker avenging his father’s death.

Count Louis II of Nevers fought for the French at Crecy and was killed on August 25, 1346. His heir was the 16-year-old Louis of Male. He swore allegiance to Philippe VI and was welcomed in Flanders on November 12. Rather than marry a daughter of Edward, Louis went back to France. On July 1, 1347 Count Louis of Male married Margaretha, daughter of Jan III of Brabant. He invaded Flanders from Brabant in September 1348 and conquered easily as the Flemings were fighting a civil war against Ghent’s domination. Louis was reconciled with Edward III in the peace of Dunkirk on November 25, and the English blockaded Flanders. The Count’s troops took Ghent on January 13, 1349. He ordered an inquest on August 5, and many were banished. Ten years later he pardoned 566 Gentenars who could pay a £300 bond. The weavers were excluded, had to pay an indemnity, and were forbidden to meet in groups of three or more. The lack of weavers greatly damaged Ghent’s textile industry in the 1350s, and many of the exiles helped England’s industry thrive in Kent and Suffolk. During the plague in 1349 some accused the Jews of poisoning wells, and six hundred Jews in Brussels were massacred.

Weavers and millers led revolts at Bruges in 1351 and at Ghent in 1353. Count Louis refused to do homage to King Jean II (r. 1350-64) until the French agreed to restore the Walloon castellanies in the 1351 Treaty of Fountainebleau. Jean gave Dendermonde to imperial Flanders, and Duke Philippe de Rouvre of Burgundy married Margaretha, daughter of Louis. In 1352 Louis began using the Flemish language in administration. When Jan III of Brabant died in 1355, Louis, who had not received his wife’s dowry, took Mechelen, provoking a war. His forces blockaded Scheldt and defeated the Brabantine army at Asse on August 17, 1356. Duke Wenceslaus agreed to a peace at Ath on June 4, 1357, ceded Mechelen, and granted Antwerp to Louis as a fief. The Brabant war was expensive, and in 1358 weavers revolted. Etienne Marcel, who was leading a rebellion in Paris, sent letters to the cities, and that summer the Count remitted those in exile. That year the Hanse merchants announced a blockade of Flanders for not protecting their waters, and in 1360 Count Louis and the three cities accepted a humiliating peace. The Hanse was established again at Dordrecht.

By August 1361 the weavers were back in power in the cities. That year Philippe de Rouvre died, and Margaretha van Male’s betrothal to Edward III’s son Edmund of Langley was arranged in the Treaty of Dover on October 19, 1364. However, the French persuaded Pope Urban V to refuse a dispensation because of consanguinity; but he approved her marriage to Philippe of Burgundy with the same fourth degree of relationship. They were married at Ghent in 1369, but King Charles V (r. 1364-80) had to return the Walloon castellanies. The English were upset, and in April 1371 their ships sank 22 Flemish boats in the Bay of Bourgneuf. The Flemings retaliated, and commerce was disrupted for a year. In 1377 cloth workers at Ypres were sentenced by the Inquisition and were burned as heretics. One of these was the Franciscan alchemist John of Roquetaillade, who had written prophecies. He was imprisoned by popes in 1345 and 1356 when he wrote Vademecum in tribulationibus, which was translated into English, Catalan, and Czech.

Another civil war began in 1379. Jan Yoens led a band from Ghent and attacked men from Bruges who were working on a canal that would take trade from Ghent. Count Louis of Male went into exile, and on December 1 he confirmed the privileges of the rebel cities. A truce did not last long, and a blockade of Ghent caused starvation by late 1381. Jacob’s son Philip van Artevelde became captain on January 24, 1382 and led a revolutionary party. He also hunted down and killed those he blamed for his father’s murder. On May 3 the Ghent militia attacked Bruges during a religious procession, and Louis narrowly escaped to Lille. Ghent built the Dulle Griete cannon that could fire a granite ball weighing 700 pounds. On November 27 the French army defeated the Flemish forces at Westrozebeke and killed Philip van Artevelde. Ghent had 40,000 men and lost 26,000; the French lost only 43 men. The rest of Flanders submitted, and rebels had their property confiscated. After the inquests 262 people in Bruges were executed. Ghent did not submit and appointed Frans Ackerman as regent. In 1383 King Richard II sent a crusade led by Bishop Henry Despenser of Norwich to support Ghent, but they only destroyed some suburbs of Ypres. Count Louis of Male died at Lille on January 30, 1384, and he was succeeded by his daughter Margaretha and her husband, Philippe “the Bold” of Burgundy.

Philippe the Bold became the duke of Burgundy in 1363, and he married Margaretha of Dampierre in 1369. He also ruled over Flanders, Artois, Nevers, and Rethel from 1384 to his death in 1404. He made peace with the people of Ghent in 1385, granted an amnesty, and increased the privileges of the towns. He only visited Flanders eight times, and his wife Margaretha van Male acted as regent. England’s Richard II sent John le Bourrier to advise the Flemings, but Philippe made peace with Ghent and Tournai on December 18, 1385. He granted a general amnesty to rebels, but the Flemings had to renounce their alliance with England. The cities wanted to trade with England, and anglophile parties formed in Ghent and other cities. The Franc of Bruges joined the three cities of Ghent, Ypres, and Bruges in 1386 as one of the Four Members of Flanders, and their power increased under Burgundy’s dukes. That year Philippe established his council at Lille, and it came to be known as the Chamber of Accounts. French became the official language in Flanders.

On January 15, 1387 Duke Philippe announced freedom of trade with all except the English. Small groups of rebels from the weavers guild at Bruges were easily suppressed in 1387 and 1391 and at Ghent in 1392. When France and England agreed on a 28-year truce in 1396, privileges of English merchants were restored.

Low Countries and Burgundy 1400-53

Brabant, Liege and Guelders 1250-1400

In 1251 Hendrik III van Brabant (r. 1248-61) married Adelaide of Burgundy. Their mentally weak son Hendrik IV was deposed by his younger brother Jan in 1267. He married Louis IX’s daughter Marguerite in 1270, but she died the next year. In 1273 he married Margaretha of Flanders. Jan took over Limburg by winning the battle of Worringen in 1288. Jan II (r. 1294-1312) married Edward I’s daughter Margaret Plantagenet, and their only child was Jan III (r. 1312-55). In 1306 workers revolted against the patricians, but they were defeated. In 1312 Jan II granted the Charter of Kortenberg that established a council of four nobles and ten representatives from five cities, but in 1332 Jan III cancelled its supervision. After Count Robert of Flanders visited him that year, Jan made an alliance with France for five years. However, when Edward III claimed France for England in 1337, his cousin Jan supported him. Duke Jan also suppressed the guilds in 1340. Edward left France in 1341, and four years later Brabant renewed its alliance with France. Jan’s daughter Margaretha broke her engagement to Edward the Black Prince and married Count Louis of Male, and Brabant signed a treaty with France in June 1347.

All three of Jan III’s sons had died, and he was succeeded by his oldest daughter Johanna. Her first husband, Willem IV of Holland had died in battle in 1345, and in 1352 she had married Wenceslaus of Luxembourg, brother of Emperor Karl IV, whose Golden Bull issued in 1349 favored the cities of Brabant. Jan III summoned deputies from the cities to meet at Leuven (Louvain) on March 8, 1354. He granted them a liberal charter, which was called La Joyeuse Entrée because it was proclaimed as Johanna and Wenceslaus entered Brussels in January 1356. Trade was to be free subject only to legal taxes; treaties were to be respected; and even the duke was to obey the laws and could not pardon murderers or rapists. Representatives of the clergy, nobles, and towns formed an assembly and had to approve alliances and war. When the patricians became overbearing, Duke Wenceslaus supported the guilds. Louis of Flanders invaded in 1356 and was aided by the patricians. The guilds led by Everhard Tserclaes at Brussels and William de Zadelaere at Leuven supported the Duke.

Pieter Coutereel became mayeur of Leuven and strengthened the guilds in 1360; but Duke Wenceslaus banished him two years later. On August 22, 1371 Duke Wilhelm II of Guelders and Jülich took Wenceslaus prisoner at Baesweiler and released him for a large ransom, causing him to give concessions to the patricians of Leuven. In 1378 White Hoods led by Walter of Leyden attacked the government of Leuven and made the patricians yield. Wenceslaus marched on the city and rescinded the democratic reforms of 1360. During riots Walter was murdered. The guilds fought back, and peace was restored. After this debacle Leuven declined.

After Wenceslaus died in 1383, Johanna ruled Brabant, depending on Burgundy until her death in 1406. She was attacked by Guelders in 1387, and Philippe the Bold persuaded King Charles VI to send a French army to defend Brabant. In 1388 Tserclaes led an uprising against the rich noble Zweder van Abcoude of Gaesbeck in Brussels. Other cities supported them, and they destroyed the castle of Gaesbeck. That year military aid from Burgundy could not suppress an uprising at Grave in Jülich supported by Duke Willem at Ravestein. In retaliation Philippe sent a French army of about 80,000 men through the Ardennes to avoid Brabant. Duke Willem was persuaded to negotiate, and Grave was returned to Johanna. On September 28, 1390 she declared her niece Margaretha van Dampierre and her husband, Duke Philippe of Burgundy, her heirs.

A feud between the house of Waroux and the family of Awans began at Liege in 1297 and lasted a century and a half. Bishop Adolf de la Mark mediated a peace at Fexhe in June 1315. The sale of offices was forbidden, and the confiscation of property was limited. In 1343 four cities forced the same bishop to establish the court of the Twenty-two, and the guild deacons were permitted to meet freely. The court was not used much until Bishop Jan van Arkel reinstated it on December 2, 1373. In 1390 the warlike Johann of Bavaria became bishop of Liege at the age of seventeen. Soon the city rebelled, and Johann fled to Diest in 1393. He returned and was driven away again in 1403.

Count Reinald I ruled Guelders 1271-1318 and married a daughter of the duke of Limburg. He claimed the dukedom and fought a war of succession against Duke Jan I of Brabant from 1283 to 1288. After his wife died, Reinald married Margaretha, the daughter of Count Guy of Flanders. In 1288 Flanders supported him in the battle for Limburg, but he was defeated by Brabant. Guelders was mortgaged to Flanders for five years to pay its war debts. Guelders was under the German emperors, and in 1310 Heinrich VII rescinded the privileges of their cities. However, in 1317 challenged Friedrich renounced his claims, and Emperor Ludwig later accepted this. Count Reinald II (r. 1326-43) began acting as regent in 1318 when his father was imprisoned at Montfort. He supported the English in their war against France and married Edward III’s sister Eleanor in May 1332. After supporting Emperor Ludwig he was raised to a duke in 1339.

Burdened by war debts, Reinald III the Fat (r. 1343-71) did not consolidate his power until he married Marie van Brabant in July 1347. During his reign rival factions of Bronkhorsts and Heeckerens arose in Guelders. The Bronkhorsts and Hooks usually supported the English, and the Heeckerens and the Cods the French. In 1349 Reinald III joined the Heeckerens with the lords of Arkel. In the first armed conflict in 1350 Reinald’s brother Edward was allied with the Bronkhorsts, and he was supported by the margrave of Jülich, the counts of Meuse and Mark, and Bishop Jan van Arkel. In 1353 Reinald recognized Edward as his guardian for seven years. Mediation efforts led to a court of arbitration which appointed a council of representatives from both parties. In 1359 the two brothers and the count of Cleves made peace, but the agreement broke down the next year. On May 25, 1361 Edward captured Reinald and forced him to abdicate. Edward was duke until he was mortally wounded at the battle of Baesweiler in August 1371. Weakened Reinald III was released but died three months later, ending rule by the house of Wassenberg in Guelders.

Wilhelm II of Jülich claimed Guelders in the name of his wife Maria of Guelders, and he fought Count Jean of Blois, who was married to Mechteld of Guelders. The battle for the succession began in 1372. Wilhelm had kept his brother, Duke Wenceslaus of Brabant, in prison, but now he yielded at Aachen to Emperor Karl IV and was recognized as regent for his son for five years. In 1377 Karl granted Guelders to Wilhelm III of Jülich, but he did not win the war and become duke until March 24, 1379 when Machteld and Count Jean of Blois renounced their claims to Guelders and Zutphen. Wilhelm III did not recognize the municipal privileges that Reinald III had conceded. He fought on the side of England, and he invaded Brabant over Grave in July 1388; but the French forced him to recognize Brabant’s claims. In 1393 his father Wilhelm II died, and Wilhelm III became duke of Jülich as well.

Low Countries and Burgundy 1400-53

Holland, Hainaut and Friesland 1250-1400

Count Willem II of Holland was elected alternative king of the Romans in 1248 after Friedrich II was excommunicated. He fought against Flanders and made himself count of Zeeland, defeating the Flemish army at Westkapelle in July 1253. The next year he went to war against the Frisians, and he was killed in battle on January 28, 1256. His son Floris V was only two years old, and his guardians governed. Floris began administering Holland ten years later, and he married Guy of Dampierre’s daughter Beatrix in 1269. His attempt to avenge his father’s death in 1272 failed. In 1274 he survived a rebellion of nobles led by Gijsbrecht IV of Amstel, Zweder of Abcoude, Arnoud of Amstel, and Herman VI of Woerden. He made a treaty with the craftsmen and gave concessions to the peasants of Kennemerland.

In 1282 Floris fought the Frisians again at Vronen, and he finally defeated them in 1288. He tried to gain control of the Scheldt River in Zeeland, but the nobles sided with the invading Flemings in 1290. Floris arranged to meet with Count Guy, but he was captured in Biervliet, abandoned his claims, and was released. England’s Edward I denied his claim to Scotland but supported Floris in his war against Flanders. After Edward moved his wool trade from Dordrecht to Mechelen to get Flemish support against France, Floris changed sides in 1296 and supported France. Edward used Gerard of Velzen and the humiliated Gijsbrecht and Herman to have Floris captured. When they were stopped by angry peasants, Gerard killed him. Gerard was later caught and executed in Leyden. The nobles mockingly called Floris “the God of the Peasants,” and he became a folk hero of Dutch songs, plays, and books.

Hainaut and Holland were united in 1299 under Count Jan II of Avesnes who had been ruling Hainaut since 1280. Jan’s son Willem (r. 1304-37) was count of Hainaut, Avesnes, Holland, and Zeeland. He had been defeated by Guy of Namur and Jan II of Brabant in 1304; but he regained the territory in Zeeland and Holland when he became count the same year. In 1305 he married Jeanne of Valois, sister of the future Philippe VI, and his daughters married Edward III, Emperor Ludwig, and Duke Wilhelm V of Jülich. Willem’s war against Flanders went on until 1323, when Count Louis II of Flanders relinquished Zeeland. After the death of his uncle, Bishop Guy of Utrecht, Willem also occupied much of Utrecht and incorporated Amstel and Woerden, but he failed to take Friesland.

His son Willem II succeeded him in 1337 and renewed his treaty with King Edward III. When Willem refused to support Edward’s invasion toward Picardy, the English army passed through Hainaut. Willem then sided with France, but he returned to the English alliance the next year and invaded France. In 1345 Count Willem declared war on Utrecht, and he was killed while fighting against Frisian peasants at Staveren on September 26. After the plague of 1348 religious fanatics did penance by flagellating themselves in processions that lasted 33 days, but this was not approved by the Church. Others danced in protest of the Church.

Willem II’s heir was Empress Margaretha, and his uncle Johann of Beaumont supported her second son Wilhelm I of Bavaria as regent. Margaretha struggled for power against Wilhelm in Holland and Hainaut in 1350. The next year many of her supporters were killed as the Hook nobles were banished and had their castles and houses destroyed. Margaretha fled to England. Wilhelm went there too and married Matilda, daughter of Duke Henry of Lancaster. Edward III mediated an agreement by which Wilhelm retained Holland, Zeeland, and Friesland while she got Hainaut and an annual income of £2,400. Wilhelm’s patrician supporters formed the Cod league in 1353 and defeated the Hook league. Edward changed sides, and Margaretha recognized her son Wilhelm I of Bavaria as count of Hainaut and Holland before her death on June 23, 1356. He helped the cities and contained the aristocrats by having the sheriffs elected and by giving privileges to Jews.

In 1357 Wilhelm went insane and killed a noble for no reason. He was confined, and in 1358 Emperor Ludwig appointed his own son by Margaretha, Albrecht, to govern as regent. In 1359 the Cods revolted in Delft, and they were not completely suppressed. In 1379 Albrecht’s daughter Katharina married Duke Wilhelm III of Guelders and Jülich; his daughter Johanna married King Wenceslaus of Bohemia; and in 1385 his daughter Margaretha married Duke Jean of Burgundy while his son Willem married Marguerite of Burgundy. In 1384 Willem Beukels in Zeeland began cutting and gutting fish when caught and storing them in barrels with salt, enabling an expansion of the herring trade.

Wilhelm died in 1388, and Albrecht was count of Holland, Hainaut, and Zeeland until his death in 1404. He was so influenced by his mistress Alied van Poelgeest that Hook nobles murdered her on September 21, 1392 at the Hague. In revenge Albrecht persecuted the Hooks and destroyed their castles. In August 1396 he invaded Friesland with an army of more than a hundred thousand. They met about 30,000 Frisians, killed 1,400, and the rest fled. The Frisians resisted this conquest, and Albrecht led a smaller force with his son again in April 1398. The Frisians continued to revolt, and a treaty promised them peace on September 30, 1402. Amsterdam had received a new charter in 1400 that allowed them to elect their own council.

West Friesland was taken over by Floris V of Holland. Their feuding parties were called the Schieringers and the Vetkoopers. The name Schieringer comes from the grey cowl of the Cistercian monks. Vetkooper is one who keeps cattle, and they opposed the Cistercians and supported the invaders from Holland. A reform movement against Count Willem of Holland began in 1323. Captain Focco Ukena of Leer fought against the Vetkoopers and defeated Keno and Widzelt ten Broek in 1399 near Deeren, ending Holland’s hegemony across the Ems.

Low Countries and Burgundy 1400-53

Ruusbroec and Groote

Jan van Ruusbroec (Ruysbroeck) was born in 1293 at Ruusbroec near Brussels. His mother was a devoted Christian, but at age eleven he went to Brussels to live with his uncle Jan Hinckaert, a canon at the church of St. Gudula. His mother followed him there and joined the Béguines, but she died before Jan was ordained in 1317. He was the chaplain at St. Gudula for the next 26 years.

Ruusbroec was concerned about contemporary heresies, especially the Free Spirits who considered themselves beyond the doctrines of the Church. He made enemies by opposing Bloemmardine, daughter of a rich merchant in Brussels. In the 1330s he wrote his major work, The Spiritual Espousals. He gave an extensive interpretation of the spiritual meaning of the line in the parable of the virgins when Jesus said, “See, the bridegroom is coming. Go out to meet him.” (Matthew 25:6) The three books explain the active life, the interior life, and the contemplative life. In the first part of the first book he discusses how one sees materially and spiritually. The second part describes the qualities of the Christ as manifested in Jesus—his humility, charity, and patient enduring of suffering. The second coming of the Christ takes place daily in one’s life, and the third coming is the final judgment. In the third part of the first book Ruusbroec described the virtues needed to “Go out.” These are humility, obedience, renouncing one’s own will, patience, peacefulness, kindness, compassion, generosity, devotion, sobriety, and purity. One needs purity of spirit, of the heart, and of the body. These virtues must be practiced until one dies. The way “to meet him” is to direct the mind to God, making sure nothing else is equal to God, and by resting in God above all creatures.

In the second book of The Spiritual Espousals on the interior life the three things necessary for seeing are the Light of God, stripping strange images from one’s heart, and turning the will and all one’s spiritual and bodily powers into the unity of God. Enlightenment occurs in that unity. The coming of the Christ is compared to the shining sun, and our response should be like the bee that gathers pollen. Christ’s coming is like the sun in the three bright signs of Gemini, Cancer, and Leo. The withdrawal of Christ is like Virgo, and then the sign of Libra is a balancing. Ruusbroec uses various similes to describe the interior life by physical metaphors. The coming of Christ is also like a spring of water. One may meet God with or without an intermediary, but it is always by the grace of God. One must revere God and be kind. The third gift is knowledge, and one must have courage. The Christ provides counseling and understanding with a loving will and finally wisdom. One may meet Christ without an intermediary by going through the modes of emptiness, an active desire for God, and then resting and working in accord with what is right.

Book three on the contemplative life is short. To see God in contemplation one must have an ordered life, be devoted to God, and lose oneself in the process. The coming of the bridegroom is in the eternal now, and our eternal being has gone out to God before its creation in time. Meeting God in contemplation is by blissful love.

In 1343 Ruusbroec left St. Gudula’s church with Jan Hinckaert and Frans van Coudenberg. They went to a hermitage at Groenendael, which was given to them by Duke Jan III of Brabant. The community grew, and on March 10, 1349 the Bishop of Cambrai formalized their abbey under the Augustinians. They often had visitors, and Geert Groote visited in 1378 to discuss Ruusbroec’s writings. Groote translated several of them into Latin.

In The Sparkling Stone Ruusbroec emphasized that after one is zealous to do good, has interior devotion, and is lifted up in contemplation, it is important to go forth to all in common. He wrote The Seven Enclosures for the Poor Clare community in Brussels, and in 1359 he wrote A Mirror of Eternal Blessedness for another Clare. This book recommends responding to God’s grace by loving, being attentive at prayer, desiring wisdom, restraining the senses, resisting temptation and confessing sins, and abandoning suffering by following the example of Jesus. The second part discusses the interior life and emphasizes the beatitudes, purity, knowing God, and humility, and it discusses the sacraments. The third part is on spiritual living.

In the 1360s Ruusbroec wrote The Seven Rungs in the Ladder of Spiritual Love which are good will, voluntary poverty, purity, humility, zeal to serve God, contemplative union with the Trinity, and complete immersion in the Godhead. In The Little Book of Clarification, which is also known as The Book of Supreme Truth and The Little Book of Enlightenment, Ruusbroec described union as renouncing one’s own will for God’s will. Late in life he completed a long allegory called Tabernacle in which he gave a Christian interpretation of doctrines in the book of Exodus. More manuscripts of this book were found than any of his other books. Ruusbroec died peacefully on December 2, 1381.

Geert Groote was born on October 16, 1340 at Deventer, where his father Werner Groote was a magistrate and treasurer. He went to school in Aachen, Cologne, and the University of Paris, where he studied canon law, philosophy, medicine, and astrology for several years. In 1374 Groote experienced a serious illness and a spiritual conversion. He began reading spiritual books and sharing his house with poor religious women, eight in the front and eight in the back. He wrote his “Resolutions and Intentions, But Not Vows,” which begins,

I intend to order my life to the glory, honor,
and service of God and to the salvation of my soul;
to put no temporal good of body, position, fortune,
or learning ahead of my soul’s salvation;
and to pursue the imitation of God
in every way consonant with learning and discernment
and with my own body and estate,
which predispose certain forms of imitation.1

He wanted no further office nor benefice, and he realized that the more he had, the more he would want. He wrote, “The hunger for more must be cut away, then the possessions themselves discerningly reduced to a minimum.”2 He decided to “spend no time on geometry, arithmetic, rhetoric, dialectic, grammar, lyric poetry, civil law, or astrology.”3 The books he wanted to study were the Gospel of Christ, collations of the Fathers by John Cassian, the epistles of Paul, the Acts of the Apostles, devotional books by Bernard, Anselm, and Heinrich Süs, legends of the saints, books on morality by Gregory and Augustine, homilies on the Gospels, and commentaries on the holy Fathers. He intended to hear mass read to the end every day, and he resolved to keep prescribed fasts and never eat flesh.

Groote spent three years in retreat at the Carthusian monastery of Munnikhuizen near Arnhem. In 1378 he visited Ruusbroec at Groenendael, and the next year he was ordained as a deacon with a license to preach. For nearly four years he preached in the diocese of Utrecht. In late 1383 his bishop asked him to preach to a synod of clerics, and he castigated them for incontinence and living with concubines. This ended his preaching tours, and he appealed to Rome. He died of the plague on August 20, 1384.

Some of the “Noteworthy Sayings of Master Geert” are the following:

It is the highest of all learning
to know that one knows nothing….
Seek ever to observe and conceive
something good about another….
Always put more hope in eternal glory than fear in hell.3

In a sermon to the laity Groote noted that the first gift the angels announced to all people of good will at the birth of Jesus was peace. Peace measures good will because they depend on each other.

Before he died, Groote appointed Florens Radewijns (c. 1350-1400) as the new leader. He was a vicar in Deventer, and he opened his vicarage to gatherings. When he noticed the difference in wealth, he decided to unite the wages into a common fund, thus beginning the Brethren of the Common Life. Radewijns wrote the “Treatise on Spiritual Exercises.” Sisters and brothers continued to gather in private houses and called themselves the Modern Devout or New Devout. The Windesheim Congregation of Canons Regular was founded near Zwolle in 1387. Windesheim combined four houses into a chapter in 1395 and adopted statues in 1402. In the mid 1390s Gerard Zerbolt of Zutphen (1367-98) wrote a legal defense against charges that had been made against the Modern Devout by inquisitive Dominicans. He also wrote Spiritual Ascensions in which he recommended daily self-examination and turning away from sin by penance, contrition, confession, and satisfaction; devotion and meditation on the life of Jesus, holy reading, and prayer were other spiritual exercises. He described the eight vices of gluttony, lust, avarice, anger, envy, tedium, vainglory, and pride. Finally he urged serving others.

The Brethren of the Common Life started the house of Florens in 1391, and in 1398 they added a house for poor clerks. They were approved by Utrecht’s bishop Frederick of Blankenheim in 1400, and two years later he approved the Modern Devout communities. Jan Brinckerinck (1359-1419) organized houses for women, and he insisted that they work or leave the house.

Imitation of Christ


1. Devotio Moderna: Basic Writings tr. John Van Engen, p. 65.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid., p. 67.

Copyright © 2009 by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book Medieval Europe 1250-1400.
For information on ordering click here.


Crusaders and Byzantine Decline 1250-1400
Eastern Europe 1250-1400
Catholic Ethics 1250-1350
German Empire 1250-1400
Scandinavia 1250-1400
Castile, Aragon, Granada, and Portugal 1250-1400
Italian City States 1250-1400
Dante and Marsilius
Petrarca and Boccaccio
Low Countries and Burgundy 1250-1400
France and National War 1250-1400
England, Scotland, and Ireland 1250-1400
Mystics, Wyclif, Gower, and Chaucer
Summary and Evaluation


World Chronology 750-1300
World Chronology 1300-1400
Chronology of Europe to 1400

BECK index