Overview of the Flemish Cities in Medieval 2: Total War

By Kor

Rebel Factions: the Flemish rebels

In Medieval II: Total War, the Low Countries are divided into two provinces, both of which start off occupied by Flemish rebels. Their two cities are Bruges and Antwerp. This article seeks to tell the history of these places, and motivate why CA picked them to represent the given area.


Bruges was an important city, economically as well as militarily. After Ghent, it was the largest city of the Netherlands, but its economy was more powerful. Rightly called the "Venice of the north", the city had a great number of traders and bankers from all over Europe, including Venice and Genoa, which also caused industry to flourish. Aware that their privileged position was worth defending, the guilds quickly organised their own defences, setting up a powerful citizen army. The citizens were ready to take up arms and fought their own masters, the counts of Flanders, on multiple occasions - with varied success.
The principle achievement of the Brugois must be the battle of Kortrijk in 1302: a citizen army of some 8,000 men - 6,000 of whom came from Bruges - fought against a royal French army. Flanders was, at the time, officially part of France, but the count, Gwij or Guy de Dampierre, was in open rebellion. After he had been imprisoned by Philip the Fair, king of France, the Flemish still continued their resistance, and French-speaking citizens were driven out of Bruges. The citizen army then marched out to besiege the principal border city of Kortrijk, held by the French. It was not long before a French army came to try and break up the siege.
Taking up a strong defensive position behind a small stream, the citizens, fighting entirely on foot, used spears, pikes, and their popular local weapon, the goedendag, to defend against waves of French cavalry. The goedendag was a pole-arm weapon of relatively short length - perhaps 1 to 1.5 metres long - with a broader metal base at the end with a dagger blade protruding from it. It could be used both as a type of spear (stabbing oncoming cavalry) and a club, the metal base being excellent at bashing dismounted knights.
Following a tough melee the Flemish were still standing, while the flower of the French chivalry lay dead on the field. The French fled, and after chasing down their enemy and killing every knight they came across, the Flemish gathered up some 900 pairs of golden spurs, taken from their victims. Locally, the battle is still known as the "Battle of the Golden Spurs". The merciless way of dealing with the French chivalry was unprecedented at the time, and regarded with distaste by most of Europe. The Flemish were viewed almost as barbarians for this act, but to the Flemish it was the only way of winning the war. A contemporary Flemish poem described the death of the count of Artois, commander of the army and brother to the king, with some irony:
I am, so he said in French, the count of Artois! They replied: there is no one here who speaks your language; after which they struck him down.

Battle of Golden Spurs
[description: Flemish citizens defeating the French army; some can be seen wielding goedendags]

It was at this time that the economy of Bruges had its peak, with 35,000 inhabitants; it attracted more and more foreign merchants, but political power was slowly shifting towards Ghent. The latter city grew bigger, and stronger, than Bruges, and took the initiative in forming an alliance between Flanders and England during the first phase of the Hundred Years War. Flemish armies served the English during this period, but without achieving spectacular victories such as Kortrijk, and their co-operation often caused more trouble than it was worth. When the political leader of Ghent, an artisan by the name of Jacob van Artevelde, was overthrown and assassinated by his rivals, Flemish aid to the English came to an end. The count could re-establish his authority in the rebellious province, and a second attempt by the citizens of Ghent to take control of the province was halted in 1382, when Jacob's son, Filips van Artevelde, died leading an army of Ghenters at Westrozebeke.
Due to the internal unrest in Ghent, Bruges was a more internationally welcoming place, and it remained an important trading centre throughout the 15th century. While it is true that there were attempts by the artisans to force the count's hand in the first half of the century, these were resolved through arbitration rather than violence (although the latter option was also explored by both sides, unsuccessfully). By then the city's population had declined to 20,000, but it had become one of the favourite residences of the new lords of Flanders, the dukes of Burgundy. In 1478 the future king of Spain, Philip the Fair, was born in the ducal palace, perhaps the ultimate sign that the Brugois had accepted authority and had become followers rather than leaders.
In the 16th century the economy of Bruges stagnated. Many houses were deserted, and the city became a shell of its former glory. However, as no new industries were developed, this complete lack of modernisation in Bruges lead to the city remaining almost entirely intact. It was only in the 19th century that Bruges was rediscovered, and its beautiful medieval and renaissance buildings now attract more tourists than any other Belgian city.


Despite its powerful economy and massive population (an estimated 45,000) at the end of the 15th century, for the majority of the Middle Ages Antwerp didn't have a patch on either Bruges or Ghent. Its citizens were comparatively docile, and preferably avoided disputes with their overlords, the dukes of Brabant. Initially a small port, its strategic position at the mouth of the Schelde river made it a natural place to go for merchants. In 1300 the city could boast only 10,000 inhabitants, and its economic boom was started only in the last half of the 15th century. By that time it had finally overtaken the popular annual market and fair at Hertogenbosch in importance, and the city's attempt to stimulate continuous trade (rather than annual, such as the markets elsewhere in Brabant and Europe) were finally paying off.
Despite the city's massive size by 1500 - it was then the largest city of the Low Countries - its choice as a city for Medieval II can only strike one as peculiar. Antwerp's growth started only at the complete end of the game's period, and, more importantly, the city had no military achievements to boast about during the period. While an important port, it took Antwerp a long time to get the deserved recognition, and it was never marked as a strategic spot.
Even more oddly, the choice of Antwerp robs the larger northern part of the Netherlands from any population centres whatsoever, and while it is true that none of the cities there were as large as those in the southern half of the land, there were nevertheless multiple cities with over 10,000 inhabitants by 1400 (Deventer, Zwolle, Kampen) and many approaching that size (such as Utrecht, Nijmegen, Dordrecht and Haarlem); being an Episcopal see, the importance of Utrecht, for example, by far outmatched that of Antwerp.