Battle of Mons-en-Pevele

Mons-en-Pévèle, août 1304 (French Edition) (French) Paperback – July 25, 2015

by Gérard Hugot (Author)

After the victory at the battle of Arques, Willem van Jülich’s rebel Flemish army marched against the French-allied Tournai, but the town did not fall. However, Philip IV (the Fair) was not ready to send an army against the Flemings, wishing instead to negotiate a truce. The king even released the imprisoned Count of Flanders, Guy of Dampierre, to aid in this peace process. Ultimately, this allowed Philip to rebuild his army. Early in 1304 the French king was ready to attack the Flemings. While the French army, led by the king himself, marched north to attack Flanders, the French navy sailed to Zeeland and struck the first blow on 11 May 1304 when it soundly defeated the Flemish army and navy at Zierkzee. Philip the Fair camped at Mons-en-Pevele, then in Flanders. Willem van Jülich, the Flemish leader, decided it was there he would fight the French. The battle of Mons-en-Pevele is one of the most difficult medieval battles to describe, although not because of a paucity of contemporary sources, including most importantly one by a French soldier, Guillaume Guiart, who had fought in the battle, and another by the generally reliable Annales Gandenses (Annals of Ghent).

The French army was reputedly smaller than the Flemish one, although none of the contemporary sources have credible numbers. It also contained a large number of French knights, whereas the Flemish army, as at the battles of Courtrai and Arques, was almost entirely made up of townspeople, although now more experienced in warfare after almost three years of armed rebellion. The French army in addition had a number of artillery pieces- large mounted crossbows and perhaps some trebuchets- although the Flemings seem to have destroyed them in a raid before the battle began. Finally, the French had brought the oriflamme, a banner of almost relic reputation that was normally only used in fighting against heretics or heathens.

Nevertheless, the French army faced Flemish soldiers highly encouraged by their victories thus far in the rebellion, who desired to fight the French king and believed they could defeat him. They arrived at Mons-en-Pevele on 13 August and set up their line opposite the French. Their formation was similar to that used successfully at Courtrai, but with the addition of a field fortification made up of their wagons and carts circled at their rear. However, the battle was not fought for five days after the arrival of the Flemings, although skirmishing and crossbow fire were frequent during this period. Peace was also discussed between ambassadors from both sides, but to no avail. The impasse was broken on the morning of 18 August when a French cavalry charge into the Flemish line initiated battle. The French fought well, but the Flemings held their position, and both sides took heavy casualties. By midday, after several hours of fighting, the Flemings began to gain the upper hand. Panic ran through the French army, and some began to flee from the battlefield. In desperation, Philip IV sent other cavalry to attack the flanks of the Flemish line, hoping that this would divert Flemish attention; an attempt was also made to attack the field fortification. But the Flemish infantry line continued to hold its position.

Soon the length of the battle and the August heat began to take its toll on both armies. Fatigue and thirst plagued everyone, but the French cavalry, in their heavier armor, seem to have been especially affected by it and many left the fighting. Some of the Flemish leaders believed that the battle was theirs and they withdrew their tired troops, leading Willem van Jülich to meet with the remaining Flemish leaders. They decided to break from their defensive formation and to charge into those French forces left on the battlefield. Initially the Flemish attack was successful, taking the discouraged French troops by surprise and forcing more into flight. Soon the Flemings were among the French camp, even threatening Philip the Fair. Only with great effort did the king’s bodyguards save him, all but two dying in the effort. The oriflamme was destroyed. But now the Flemings were even more exhausted, and Philip was able to rally his army and lead a counterattack that caught the fatigued and disordered Flemish army unprepared for such an assault. They turned and fled in a rout, with the French troops pursuing the fleeing Flemings well into the night. During this phase of the battle Willem van Jülich was killed, perhaps as some sources insist by fatigue and dehydration. Losses were high on both sides, but the Flemings were clearly demoralized, enough so that they agreed to the Treaty of Athis-sur-Orge in June 1305, ending their rebellion.

Willem van Jülich

Willem van Jülich (Gulik in Dutch) was the son of Willem V van Jülich and Maria, the daughter of Guy de Dampierre, Count of Flanders. Two years after his grandfather had been imprisoned by the French king Philip IV (the Fair) for treason, Willem – sometimes called “the Younger” to distinguish him from his father- came to prominence when he and his uncle, Guy of Namur, joined the 1302 Flemish rebellion against the king. It is not known how old he was at the time, but his capabilities as a military leader were recognized the following 11 July at the battle of Courtrai. Although only one of the leaders of the Flemings, he certainly was among the chief tacticians there, and following that victory he took over the generalship of the largest rebel army, leading them through the next two years. In 1303 at the battle of Arques, the Flemings again defeated the French, but in 1304, at the battle of Mons-en-Pevele, after a daylong engagement and suffering numerous casualties, the rebels were defeated. During the fighting Willem van Jülich died, from fatigue and thirst if the account in the Annales Gandenses (Annals of Ghent)- which is very critical of the young general- is accurate.


Primary Sources

Guiart, Guillaume. “Branche des royaux lignages.” In Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France, vol. 22, edited by J. D. Guignant and J. N. de Wailly. Paris, 1860. Johnstone, Hilda, ed. and trans. Annales Gandenses (Annals of Ghent). New York: Nelson, 1951.

Secondary Works

DeVries, Kelly. Infantry Warfare in the Early Fourteenth Century: Discipline, Tactics, and Technology. Woodbridge, Suffolk, U. K.: Boydell, 1996. Verbruggen, J. F. The Art of Warfare in Western Europe During the Middle Ages: From the Eighth Century to 1340. 2d ed. Translated by Sumner Willard and Mrs. R. W. Southern. Woodbridge, U. K.: Boydell, 1997. Verbruggen, J. F. Vlaanderen na de Guldensporenslag. Bruges, Belgium: West Flanders Gidsenkring, 1991.