The Ghent Revolt in the years 1379–1385 turned against the count of Flanders and the king of France. Led successively by Jan Hyoens, Filips van Artevelde and Frans Ackerman, Ghent took on Count Louis II of Male, Duke Philip the Bold, and King Charles VI of France. It was an expression of the Third Estate’s growing power and of the economic ties with England created by the Hundred Years’ War came under pressure.
After six years of hard struggle, Ghent recognized the princely authority without further punishment. The dream of the autonomous city-state was shelved, and the era of royal centralization could now really continue.
The outbreak of the uprising
Count Lodewijk had authorized Bruges to dig a canal to the Leie in Deinze. Ghent threatened to miss out on a lot of income from staple rights. In May 1379, when the Bruges diggers had approached the Ghent area at Sint-Joris-ten-Distel, they were attacked by the White Hoods led by Hyoens. Then bailiff Rogier van Outrive arrested a White Chaperon.
By way of reprisal, the Gentenaars killed the bailiff and reduced the new count’s castle of Wondelgem to ashes. Other reinforcements in the area were also looted. The weavers moved through the Flemish cities and provoked a general revolt against Louis van Male, except for Oudenaarde and Dendermonde. After this triumph, Hyoens died on October 1, 1379. He was given a royal burial.
Comment from Lodewijk van Male
Louis’s son-in-law Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, marched to Flanders and was able to bring about a peace that demanded significant concessions from the count. Louis sought support in Paris in vain, but he responded from nobles from other Dutch regions.
He unleashed a devastating war in the countryside, cut off river traffic to Ghent, and destroyed the windmills on which the urban food supply depended. Louis handily began to tear up the urban coalition. In May 1380, the Bruges weavers lost their power to smaller guilds, and in August, Ypres surrendered. Louis had hundreds of rebels beheaded on the Grote Markt.
Other cities now also gave up the fight, after which only Ghent kept the revolt going. On September 2, the count laid siege to their city, but with winter approaching, he broke up in October. Two new sieges also failed to break through, although, in June 1381, Geraardsbergen was taken, Ghent’s last ally. The town was burned down, and the residents massacred.
Radicalization under Philip van Artevelde and French intervention
The blockade of Ghent became increasingly dire, despite help from Brussels, Leuven, and Liège. Hunger began to lead to compliance, and an agreement was negotiated at a peace conference in Harelbeke, to be ratified by a popular assembly. In the following months, the accord turned into a bloody battle within the city walls, with the grain shippers as the leading proponents of peace and the weavers as opponents.
On January 24, 1382, the people gathered at the Friday Market to decide. The opponents came with a surprising move: they pushed Philip van Artevelde forward as the new leader. He was narrowly proclaimed captain of Ghent and carried to the town hall in triumph.
Pieter van den Bossche began to eliminate rivals with his right hand, and he also had the sons of his father’s murderers killed. Artevelde followed an Anglophile course but failed to obtain military support from the English.
Despite drastic measures, he was also forced to the negotiating table because of hunger. In Tournai, the count made adamant demands: the Gentenaars had to appear before him with a noose around their neck and hear their verdict. Artevelde refused, left the talks, and made a desperate attempt a few days later. On 5 May 1382, he appeared at the head of 4,000 Ghent rebels in Bruges, where they surprised the count’s army during the Holy Blood Procession and defeated it during the battle on the Beverhoutsveld, partly because part of the Bruges militias defected during the battle.
The count was driven into Bruges with his remaining troops and narrowly escaped the slaughter by swimming across the canal at night.
After this defeat, Louis of Male enlisted the help of King Charles VI of France. Notwithstanding his disdain for the count, who adhered to the wrong pope, the young king agreed on Philip the Bold’s advice.
Continuation of the revolt under Frans Ackerman
after the battle, the French failed to subdue Ghent. They first plundered Kortrijk and then had to hurry back to France, where Paris and other cities had revolted. Together with Pieter van den Bossche, Frans Ackerman took over the lead and saw the change when the English bishop Henry Despenser landed in Calais in the spring of 1383.
Ghent’s help was victorious in the Battle of Dunkirk and subsequently captured Kassel, Nieuwpoort, Diksmuide, and other Flemish cities. On the advice of Ghent, Despenser hit it on June 8, Siege of Ypres. The Ypresians gave up their too large walls but stubbornly defended themselves in the center until a new Franco-Burgundian army relieved them at the beginning of August. The English’s flight suggested the worst for the Gentenaars, but undaunted, they took Oudenaarde to gain control over the Scheldt. Meanwhile, the French and English were negotiating peace.
To the dismay of Louis of Male, the Gentenaars enjoyed the result: on January 26, 1384, a general truce was concluded. The old count’s death a few days later and his succession by Philip the Bold seemed to seal the peace, but the crackdown of his great bailiff Jean de Jumont continued to smolder the discontent.
Development in the Hundred Years’ War brought new hostilities. Led by Frans Ackerman, 1,300 Gentenaars took Damme in July 1385 to cut off the French king Charles VI from the fleet in Sluis. He intended to invade England. Charles came with Philip the Bold to besiege the city, but Ackerman offered strong resistance with English archers and a battery of cannons.
Ackerman and his staff secretly sneaked out of the besieged city on 16 August, perhaps because he had information cut to the feet of his regime in Ghent. The troops left behind fought for their lives and also tried to break through the lines on August 26, but they were discovered, hunted, and killed. The next day the city was stormed by the French and reduced to ashes. About 200 surviving Gentenaars were taken to Bruges and beheaded.
For Philip the Bold, subjecting Ghent now preceded the invasion of England. With Charles VI in tow, he advanced to the rebellious city and established his headquarters in the castle of Ertvelde on 1 September.
Like Louis of Male before, he noticed that the city was almost impregnable. What followed was a relentless stripping of the Four Crafts until the besiegers called it a day with winter in sight. Hardly anyone wanted a continuation of the war next summer. The Gentenaars were exhausted, the French wanted to invade England, and the Burgundian duke could not destabilize his most prosperous region.
Peace negotiations and outcome
Chancellor Johannes Canard whispered to Philip the Bold that he was generous. In December, the duke followed his advice and astonished the Ghent envoy Jan van Heyle with the soft peace conditions he was willing to allow. For a moment, a lack of humility on the part of the Ghent delegation threatened to throw a spanner in the works, but the Peace of Tournai was finally signed on December 18, 1385.
The Gentenaars committed themselves to obedience to the duke and the end of the war and their English alliance. In return, the Duke renounced any form of punishment and granted an amnesty, which also extended to the Ghent camp cities. The exiles were able to return, and the prisoners were released. All Ghent privileges were maintained, and the city was even allowed to choose which pope recognized them.
Philip’s generosity did not undermine his authority. Until his death in 1404, no more revolts took place in Flanders. The economic situation was able to recover because six years of unrest had very negative consequences for Flanders’ trade and economic activity.
The next great Ghent uprising of the guilds and the city followed in 1449–1453 against Philip the Good, who aimed for direct taxation and influence.