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Low Countries

Historical Overview Section


The Low Countries is the name given to the low-lying land around the delta of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse (Maas) rivers in the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Europe when strong centrally governed nations were slowly forming and territorial governance was in the hands of a noble or of a noble house. The Low Countries consisted of medieval fiefs, whose sovereignty resided with either the Medieval French? Kingdom or the Later Medieval German? Holy Roman Empire and which were swapped around by inheritance leading to such historical terms as Burgundian Netherlands, French Netherlands, Spanish Netherlands and Austrian Netherlands. Gradually, separate fiefs were ruled by the same family through intermarriage. This process culminated in the rule of the House of Valois, who were the rulers of the Medieval Burgundian? Duchy of Burgundy.

In one of the more famous incidents, in 1302, the population of Bruges started a successful uprising against the Medieval French?, who had annexed Flanders a couple of years earlier. On May 18, the French population in that city was massacred, an event that could not go unpunished resulting in the famous Battle of the Golden Spurs (Dutch: Guldensporenslag) between the Flemish people, mostly commoners and farmers, and Philip the Fair’s knights took place near Kortrijk on July 11, resulting in a victory for Flanders. This date is now remembered as a national holiday by the whole Flemish community.

The Flemish were primarily town militia who were well equipped, with such weapons as the Goedendag and a long spear known as the Geldon. They were also well organized; the urban militias of the time prided themselves on their regular training and preparation, which allowed them to use the Geldon effectively. They numbered about 9,000, including 400 nobles. The biggest difference from the Medieval French? and other feudal armies was that the Flemish force consisted solely of infantry. The battlefield itself was crossed by numerous ditches and streams causing problems for the French cavalry who were unable to effectively charge the Flemish lines. They sent servants to place wood fascines in the streams but did not wait for this to be completed. The large French infantry force led the initial attack, which went well, but French commander Count Robert II of Artois recalled them so that the noble cavalry could claim the victory. Hindered by their own infantry and the tactically sound position of the Flemish militia, the French cavalry were an easy target for the heavily-armed Flemish. When they realized the battle was lost, the surviving French fled, only to be pursued for miles by the Flemish. Prior to the battle, the Flemish militia had either been ordered to take no prisoners or did not understand (or care for) the military custom of asking for a ransom for captured knights or nobles, and so a great slaughter ensued - leaving many "golden spurs" on the field from dead French knights.

In 1477 the Burgundian holdings in the area, the Ordonnance Burgundian? Netherlands passed through an heiress Mary of Burgundy to the Habsburg (Later Medieval German))s. In the following century the "Low Countries" corresponded roughly to the Seventeen Provinces covered by the Pragmatic Sanction of 1549 of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, which freed the provinces from their archaic feudal obligations.

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