Saturday, July 11, 2009

July 11th, Flemish Independence Day (De Guldensporenslag/de Vlaamse Feestdag)

Seven days separate the Flemish national commemorative day, de Guldensporenslag/ de Vlaamse Feestdag,on July 11th from the American national Independence Day on July 4th. Seven hundred and seven years ago an unlikely combination of rebellious Flemish guildsmen from competing towns and renegade Flemish knights defeated a larger, better-equipped and more experienced army of French knights and Genoese crossbowmen just outside the walls of Kortrijk.

My intent in this posting is not to recount the battle - there are solid sources in multiple languages - but rather to point out to English-language native speakers sources around this most important of holy days for Flemish ethnic pride. For the record, I have zero financial interest, direct or indirect, in anything I mention below.

In my climb up the mountain of ethnic self-realization here in America, I was hindered by a poor grasp of Dutch, isolation from possible sources of reference materials, and the general ignorance of most things Flemish by the community I was in. Permit me, then, here Gentle Reader (and by this I especially mean my fellow native English speakers of Flemish extraction), to offer a brief compilation of reference points that may round out - or theoretically make the path less troublesome - for that journey.

The Battle of the Golden Spurs

If you have Flemish ancestry and have not read about the battle and have no context in which to mentally fix the events my recommendation is to start with a superb online summary of the battle here ( Or, better yet, buy the best book on the subject for general readership in the English language: Randall Fegley's The Golden Spurs of Kortrijk (2002).

Fegley is not an historian (rather, a college administrator in Pennsylvania) but has a refreshingly easy to read writing style. Pleasantly for someone who is not of immediately obvious Flemish extraction (I don't know either way, but his surname does not suggest it), he gets the story right. There are parts of the book that I wish he had better footnoted (eg, p.146 he merely cites the books but no specific pages for the reference to De Beurs; and he leaves out some seminal references). But these are minor blemishes in an overall excellent effort. This is someone Flanders House New York should nominate for the Flemish-American Award.

If you are, like me, just as interested at getting behind the scenes of the battle to a solid historian's scholarly viewpoint, we are fortunate to also have in print in English an edited (by Loyola professor Kelly DeVries) and translated edition of the military historian J.F. Verbruggen's classic The Battle of the Golden Spurs (2002). There are parts of this book that are a bit tendentious but the details (eg, lists of participants, minute by minute chronicling of the battle, etc.) nicely complement Fegley's more romantic version. Verbruggen's classic was also a key source for Fegley's account.

Of course purists might point out that any research of the Battle of Golden Spurs by native English speakers interested in understanding Flanders and Flemish history whatsoever should start with the book that arguably sparked the Flemish Movement in Belgium: De Leeuw van Vlaanderen/The Lion of Flanders. First published in the midst of the Francophile elite's terror of Flemish loyalists to the Dutch king in the 1830s, the highly romantic novel is of only vague historical relevance. Nevertheless this book by the Spiritual Father of the Flemish Movement, Hendrik Conscience, remains in print in Dutch and English more than 150 years after its first printing. A tribute to its timelessness and global appeal.

If you also wish to expand your knowledge of written Dutch there is no better way than to purchase both the English translation and the modern Dutch language reprint of The Lion of Flanders. Placed side-by-side, this will enable you to read along sentence by sentence and capture the richness of the Dutch text while understanding (without the too-frequent reference to a dictionary). Is there any substitution for the opening lines: "De rode morgenzon glom aarzelend in het osten..."?

There are other paths to this happiness of adding to one's understanding of Flemish roots and simultaneously working at mastering some level of written Dutch. When one lives far from the centers of the reach of the Dutch-Flemish taalunie that may lie among what are known in English as 'graphic novels'. The above by Bob De Moor combines great illustrations with easy to follow text and action. This would be a superb piece for the Flanders Investment Trade or the Flemish cultural ministry to translate into English and present to business leaders in the Anglo-Saxon world.
Once you are sufficiently comfortable with reading Dutch a whole new world of literature on this subject opens up. The best internet-posted list I am aware of is here ( ).

Of course, French language skills are more common in the Anglo-Saxon world than Dutch. So if you must, the most current French-language book on the subject is understandably titled 1302 Le Desastre de Courtrai (2002). I have not read this book myself and would love to hear a reader's perspective on this book.

For those shifting to other media, why not pick up the difficult-to-find dvd "De Vlaamse Leeuw" ( ). YouTube excerpts - such as this one (mute if you do not like the heavy metal background music) - capture some of the action and the feel for the confusion of the Battle of the Golden Spurs.

There are also two board games for those with that bent. I know that this is an anachronism in the 21st century video game environment we all live in today but for the old-fashioned among you, please check out Flanders/Vlaanderen 1302 (a game that is more strategy than military) and Groeninghe Veld 1302 (a cool military/strategy board game in Dutch). Ironically, these are only available via the internet today. (Flanders House folks: here are some great stocking stuffers for your next event).

Lets assume that you have done all the above and wish to get a better fix on your cultural heritage. Why not make the trek itself? The good folks at Trabel have some preliminary material posted here (
Next week I plan to post, on the start of the festival in Gent (July 18th) the not-so-famous story of the first Flemish American Gentenaar. Stay tuned!

Ik wens jou een fijne Vlaams Feestdag!


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I love your post! I live in Flanders (Antwerp) and find it very difficult to find any books about Flemish history written in English! Thank you for your research ..and I will look forward to purchasing a couple of the books you mentioned!

  3. Flanders free ! Vlaanderen vrij !