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Wikipedia reminds us not to confuse The Battle of the Golden Spurs (Dutch: Guldensporenslag) with the The Battle of the Spurs. I have been guilty of doing just that.

The Battle of the Golden Spurs, also called the Battle of Courtrai, was a major battle in the ongoing Franco-Flemish conflict of that period. Philip IV, in an attempt to annex the County of Flanders to become a part of, or at least subject to, the Kingdom of France, had managed to divide the Flemish nobles. Through the 1290s, while he was able to get some notable support, the Flemish society had divided into “Lilies” (pro-French) and “Claws” (pro independence factions). In 1297, Philip enlisted the force of arms to invade the county and press his claim. By 1300, he had gained complete administrative control of the county and imprisoned the leader of the independence faction, Guy of Dampierre.

In Flanders, the “middle class” (if you will) had developed a system of self-government backed by the merchant guilds that challenged the authority of any royal claim to the right to rule. The burghers of Flanders were in conflict with Guy of Dampierre over the question of authority and, indeed, it was this split that gave Philip’s claim its legitimacy.

The immediate spark was, as it is so much of the time, over the issue of taxation. After Philip had secured his authority in Flanders, he and his wife payed a visit to Bruges. The “Lilies,” who tended at that point to be of the upper classes, welcomed him in such lavish style that even the royal couple was impressed by the opulence. After Philip left, a tax was levied on the (mostly “Claw”) merchants to fund the event. Peter DeConick, the Dean of the Weavers’ Guild, with appeals to liberty, organized a resistance to the payment of the new taxes.

In a story that seems to repeat itself through history, the tax rebellion drew the attention of the royal Governor, who dispatched a force to garrison Bruges and restore order. The ruling magistrates of Bruges, Lilies, but still jealous of their local control, insisted that the city only admit a token force of French soldiers. Instead, the French entered the city with thousands of armed knights. Wild rumors flew throughout the city. It was said that the French had arrived with ropes to hang any Claws that still remained in the city. It was said that the French were preparing to slaughter every last man woman and child. With the people in terror of what was to come, some of the remaining Claws in the city slipped away and met with DeConcik to tell him of the impending doom.

That night, DeConick returned to the city with a force of men and surprised the garrison guards. Far from preparing for a massacre, the French had been engaged in a celebratory feast that lasted late into the night. The attackers roused the masses from the town and then made their way through the city shouting “shield and friend” (schild en vriend), a phrase which Frenchmen were known for being unable to pronounce. Those who were tripped up by their French accent were killed on the spot. This incident, on the morning of May 18th 1302, was called the Bruges Matins – an allusion to the Sicilian Vespers and the Italian revolt against their own French occupiers.

The battle itself took place when Philip sent forth a French force to put down the rebellion and take vengeance upon its leaders. The rebels in Bruges, meanwhile, managed to bring most of the Flemish towns on board. The nobility of Flanders tended to be more sympathetic to the French rule and few took part in the uprising. The forces of the commoners were, however, far from an untrained rabble. Militias were fielded by the merchant class and were both well-equipped and well-trained. The disparity in the two forces was in cavalry. One contemporary source suggests that there were no more than ten mounted soldiers on the Flemish side of the battle, facing something like 2,500 mounted soldiers for the French.

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The Flemish militias deploy behind marshy ground and prepared trenches, ready to meet the French knights.

The Flemish were prepared for the arrival of the French army, having taken the time to select good defensive ground as well as construct obstacles. They forced the French to approach their lines by crossing marshy streams. They also concealed pitfalls with brushwood, causing advancing armored troops, especially the knights, to fall into the water and become trapped by mud and their own heavy armor. Defensive pits were also placed to break up the heavy cavalry charge that ruled the battlefields of the day.

The defensive position of Flanders combined with another factor to produce the outcome, a win for the underdog Flemish rebels. As indicated, the view of the time was that battles were won by a charge of heavily-armored knights. Even against a numerically-superior and well-equipped foe, the heavy horse would carry the day, especially if they were unopposed and allowed the run of the battlefield. Thus, while Philip’s commander, Robert II of Artois**, had a formidable infantry force of his own and while that infantry saw some initial success, he ultimately withdrew his infantry to make way for a charge of his knights. That misplaced confidence was a key to his loss in this battle.

Fighting from the side of Flanders, a suitable representation of this battle is enabled by the new Fog(U) AI. To reproduce the battle’s progress and outcome, it is necessary for the French to ignore the terrain, and press forward with his knights against the prepared Flemish. The old AI would never have done it, but the newly-aggressive AI charges straight into the trap. Predictably, playing as Flanders, I handily won the fight.

I also tried playing from the other side. I surmised that the less aggressive AI of the original Field of Glory would be more suited to the defensive strategy required from Flanders. Playing the scenario in the old version, I did see some of that supported. While the AI wasn’t smart enough to stay put in its strong defensive position, it was hesitant moving forward. That wasn’t enough to gain a victory.

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Occasionally aggressiveness and élan is better than smarts, but usually not.

To mollify my curiosity, I tried the scenario one last time, but in FoG(U). I again played as the French, although I gave the computer a slight advantage in the setup screen. I don’t know what that does, although I assume it tilts resolution odds in the computer’s favor. The difference in computer play was clear – the AI charged forwards, engaging the French deep in the mire of the swamp. I also advanced fairly rapidly, not wanting to skew the results too badly. Early on, it seemed that the computer had a points advantage over the original AI by aggressively pressing the attack and forcing me to engage without being able to bring my units into the line as I would have liked. It also may simply have been that I had tipped the game in the AI’s favor with the mathematical advantage. In the end, the Flemish still lost and I think the old AI probably did a little better.

One difficulty in comparing AI apples to oranges is that the new FoG(U) displays the order (as in cohesion, not rank) of units differently. In the original, units did become progressively more disordered by crossing bad terrain, but the degradation was only visible when mousing over a unit to view the details. In the new version, the decline in cohesion is indicated on the main unit display, with additional indicators like “S” and “DD.” It makes the game a little easier to play, but also makes it look like the armies are doing much worse in the new version than in the old.

Pax Renaissance ties the victory in the Battle of the Spurs to the Flemish negotiating position in the Treaty of Athis-sur-Orge to the granting of local control of taxation in Flanders. This impacts the political situation in the late 15th century through the independence of the County of Flanders coupled with the wealth of its trading interests. In particular, the Great Privilege of 1477 codified the control that the representative body (the States* General) had over the affairs. The creation of a “States General of Burgundy” is part of the Republican victory condition for that game.

A sizeable chunk of Europe’s future seems to flow from the outcome of a fairly mid-sized battle.

*States, in this context, means not a State as in a nation or political subdivision thereof. Instead, it is a reference to the “Estates,” the classes of society, traditional though of as clergy, nobility, and commons. In terms of the States General in Flanders, the term State came to mean the representative body for the “Estates” themselves.

**The death of Robert II in battle left his three-year-old grandson, Robert III, disinherited relative to the County of Artois. Maurice Druon proposes that this was a primary cause for the Hundred Years War.