Kate Innes was once an archaeologist and museum education officer, but she now enjoys living in the past by writing historical fiction. Her first novel, The Errant Hours, is a Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choice and included on a medieval reading list at Bangor University. The sequel, All the Winding World, was recently published. Her poetry collection, Flocks of Words, was shortlisted for the International Rubery Award. Kate runs creative writing workshops around the West Midlands.
www.kateinneswriter.com @kateinnes2 @kateinneswriter
Battle_of_Courtrai - Chroniques de France ou de St Denis, BL Royal MS 20 C vii f. 34
In All the Winding World, my latest medieval novel set in the late 13th century during the Anglo-French War, one particular historical character galloped into the plot displaying all the necessary qualifications. Rich, cruel, self-centred, eccentric, creepy, sadistic – Robert II Count of Artois had it all. Including a gory and well-deserved demise.
You’ve probably never heard of him. Neither had I. Born in 1250 AD, he was the son of Count Robert I and Matilda of Brabant – and nephew of the sainted King Louis IX of France. However, the piety of his uncle had not rubbed off. Count Robert II was a hedonist with the means to satisfy all his many and varied desires. At birth he had inherited the wealthy territory of Artois on the border between France and Flanders, as his father was already dead when he was born.
Over the course of his early life, he became a ruthless and talented military leader, taking part in many of the wars that were prevalent in the 13th century. He married three times and had several mistresses. This was not unusual, as women were highly likely to die in childbirth. So, based on this brief biography, perhaps you could say that he was a typical aristocrat of the time.
|Aberdeen Bestiary – The Wolf|
We often think that medieval people had little in the way of what we would call ‘technology’. But this was not so. As well as real exotic animals, Hesdin housed automata – skillfully constructed mechanical beings that moved, ‘spoke’ and frightened the guests. In a later set of accounts, these were described as including a talking mechanical owl, caged birds that spat water, and waving monkeys covered in badger fur. I can think of several horror films featuring this kind of thing.
|Detail from The Luttrell Psalter, British Library Add MS 42130|
But I digress. If a story has a villain, it follows that he must get his just deserts. It happened to the Count a few years after the action of my novel, but it was worth waiting for.
Robert, along with the cream of the French aristocracy, rode into Flanders in July 1302, to teach the region a lesson. After two years of brutal occupation and unrest, the people of Flanders had revolted against the French rule in May 1302 and killed many Frenchmen in Bruges. King Philip IV sent in 8,000 men to quell the uprising and put Count Robert II of Artois in charge. But when the two armies met outside the town of Kortrijk (Courtrai) on the 11th July in what came to be know as the ‘Battle of the Golden Spurs’, all did not go as the French had planned.
The French cavalry proved to be no match for the Flemish infantry and their pike formation. In the end, three hundred noblemen of France were slaughtered by the yeomanry of Flanders. In revenge for French cruelty, they took few if any knights prisoner, counter to the usual practice of holding nobles for ransom. Count Robert was one of those to be killed, in a most satisfying and humiliating way.
|Battle of the Golden Spurs in Kortrijk 1302|
This is what the Annals of Ghent had to say about the matter:
“. . . the art of war, the flower of knighthood, with horses and chargers of the finest, fell before the weavers, fullers and the common folk and foot soldiers of Flanders . . . the beauty and strength of that great French army was turned into a dung-pit, and the glory of the French made dung and worms.”
‘Good riddance!’ one can almost hear the fed-up peasants of Artois cry.
(All images Public Domain)