2008-05-19

SCHIELT ENDE VRIEND

May 18, 1302, 706 years ago today, was an important day in the history of Belgium. As you probably do not know, the history of my country (before it's independence) is complex, and mostly depressing. There's not much pride to be found when studying the story as a young man. In short, it was a tiny chunk of land endlessly tossed back and forth, under a constantly changing rule and oppression. But there is one day that everyone remembers learning about. The one day the people had finally had enough of the oppression, and out of their own will, fought back. In 1302, a resistance rose to the attempted annexation of the country by the King of France.

"After being exiled from their homes by French troops, the citizens of Bruges went back to their own city and murdered every Frenchman they could find there on May 18, 1302, known as the Brugse Metten. At this time, those suspected of being Walloons or Frenchmen who could speak Dutch were asked to say "schielt ende vriend" (shield and friend), an expression regarded as particularly difficult for those who were not native speakers. Those who did not pronounce it correctly were determined to be the enemy and killed."

The King of France reacted to the massacre by sending an army of 8000, including a cavalry of 2500 knights (contemporary military theory valued each knight as equal to roughly ten infantry, making the total worth over 30.000 men) to fight a militia of 9000, mostly civilians. In what is known as The Battle of the Golden Spurs, the French cavalry was defeated by the small civilian army, using primitive weapons such as clubs and spears. No prisoners were taken, and thousands of golden spurs from defeated French knights were kept to commemorate the victory. The battle is of significance in military history as the first recorded occasion on which an army of footsoldiers defeated professional cavalry.

Two years later, however, the French recaptured the land, and another few centuries of oppression followed. So please, share with me just this one, this single glorious moment in the history of my otherwise depressing country.

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