William Morris. Commonweal 1888

The Revolt of Ghent (Part 4)

Title:The Revolt of Ghent”, Part 4
Author: William Morris
Source: Commonweal, Volume 4, Number 133, pp. 234 28 July 1888 (The fourth of seven parts.)
Transcribed by: Ted Crawford
Proofing and HTML:Graham Seaman

Under the sore discouragement caused by these defeats, the rich men began to murmur and look towards submission as the only end. Peter du Bois was their only leader left, and I suppose, judging from Froissart’s story, that he was not a man of much initiative as we say now-a-days ; anyhow, he looked round for support in the present straits, and says Froissart: “He remembered him of a man the which was not greatly not taken heed of in the town of Ghent ; he was a wise man, but his wisdom was not known, nor was he not taken heed of till the same day.” This was Philip, the son of the great James van Artevelde.

Froissart gives us a little piece of drama, in which one sees and hears the rough sturdy captain coming to the man of ambition and genius, and drawing him into action : “ ... Then Peter du Bois in an evening came to this Philip, who was abiding in his mother’s house, and lived honestly on their rents ; and Peter du Bois began to reason with him, and began to open the matter, wherefore he was come to him, and said thus ‘Philip, if ye will take good heed to my words, and believe my counsel, I will make you the greatest man in all the country of Flanders’ , ‘How can that be, sir?’ said Philip. ‘I shall show you,’ said Peter, ‘ye shall have the governing and ministration of all them in the town of Ghent, for we be now in great necessity to have a sovereign captain of good name, and of good renown, and so by this means your father, James van Artevelde, shall rise again in this town by the remembrance of you; for every man saith, that syth his days, the country of Flanders hath not been so loved, honoured, nor feared, as it was while he lived, and I shall lightly set you in his stead, if ye list yourself ; and when ye be in that authority, then ye shall govern yourself by my counsel, till ye have full understanding of every case, the which ye shall soon learn’. Then this Philip, who was at man’s state, and naturally desired to be advanced, honoured, and have more than he had, answered and said ‘Peter du Bois, you offer me a great thing, and I believe you ; and if, I were in the state that ye speak of, I swear to you by my faith that I should do nothing without your counsel.’ Then Peter answered and said, ‘How say you? Can ye bear yourself high and be cruel among the commons, and specially in such things as we shall have to do ; a man is worth nothing without he be feared, doubted, and some time renowned with cruelty. Thus must the Flemings be governed ; a man must set no more by the life of men nor have no more pity thereof, than of the lives of swallows or larks, the which be taken in season to eat’. ‘By my faith,’ said Philip, ‘all this can I do right well.’ ‘That is well said,’ quoth Peter, ‘and I shall make you so, that ye shall be sovereign above all other.’ And so thereof he took his leave of him and departed.”

The upshot is that Peter proposes to him the leaders and the municipality, and he is made captain. “There he was taken up amongst them and brought into the market-place, and there they make assurance to him, both mayors, aldermen and masters of every craft in Ghent.“

Let us consider this the end of an act again, and draw up the curtain once more on the new leader facing defeat in the field, and discouragement and treachery within the gates.

The Earl laid siege to the town once more, but soon raised it again ; nor could he fairly blockade the town, as Froissart explains to us, “so that Brabant, Holland, and Zealand make them no war.“ So the Earl put the screw on the towns and lords of those countries, and tried to force them to stop their supplies to Ghent. The Liegeois gave him flat denial, but his kinsman, Duke Aubert of Brabant, did his best to aid him “though,” says Froissart, “they of Holland would not leave to aid them for any commandment that Duke Aubert might make.” However, the supplies were much shortened, and Ghent began to pinched by famine. Herewith, the malcontent rich men managed to get a parley with the outsiders. “In the same season the sage men and wise counsellors of Haynault, of Brabant and of Liege set a day of council to be holden at Harlebeke beside Courtray ; and they of Ghent sent thither a twelve of the most notablest men of the town ; and there they showed how generally the most part of the town, except such ribaudes and unthrifty people who desired nothing save evil and noise, all the other gladly they said would have rest and peace whatsoever came thereof ... and the matters were there so well debated that upon certain articles of peace the Ghentois returned to their town. And all such of Ghent as desired rest and peace drew to the houses of two rich men of Ghent who had been at this treaty ; the one called Sir Guisebert Grutte and the other Sir Simon Bette, demanding of them tidings ; and they discovered the matter too soon to some of their friends, saying, ‘Good neighbours, we shall have so good peace, and it please God that such as loveth peace and rest shall have it, and some of those that be evil disposed the town of Ghent to be corrected and punished.”

This was a regular plot you see : but says Froissart, “If there be he that doth, there is he who talketh ;” and Peter du Bois got hold of news of this plot before it was quite ripe. The next morning the traitors attended at the council of the “mayor and aldermen and rich men of the town” to give their report, which was, in short, that the Earl would make peace on the condition of the surrender of two hundred men, named by him. “And he is so free and so noble that it is no doubt but that he will have mercy on them.”

What kind of a grin lit up the face of Peter du Bois at these last words we may well imagine. Says Froissart “With these words Peter du Bois stepped forth and said “Guisebert Grutte how durst you be so bold to make agreement as to send two hundred of our men of Ghent into the town of our enemy in great rebuke and shame to all the town of Ghent ; it were better Ghent were turned upside down than they of Ghent should have such reproach, as to make war and end it so shamefully. We that have heard you may well know that ye shall be none of the two hundred prisoners, nor also Simon Bette. Ye have chosen for yourself, now then we will choose for ourselves. On forth Philip van Artevelde, set hands on these false traitors that would betray and dishonour the town of Ghent!” Therewith Peter du Bois drew out his dagger and came to Guisebert Grutte and struck him in the belly, and so he fell down dead. And Philip van Artevelde drew out his dagger, and he strake Simon Bette and slew him in likewise; and then they cried, &lsqo;Treason! Treason!’ And they that were slain had of their men above and beneath, for they were men of great lineage and the richest men of the town; but they gat themselves out of the town to save themselves, and there was no more but these two slain.”

Thus the plot of the respectables was nipped in the bud ; but the famine in Ghent went from bad to worse. The blockade now being fairly established, and the skirmishing turned into mere garrison-holding. The Earl laid waste the countries that still victualled Ghent, and things seemed drawing to an end. “It was great pity to see and to hear the poor people, both men, women, and children; yea, such as were right notable fell into this danger.”

Philip van Artevelde “caused the garners of the Abbeys to be opened, and of rich men, and set a reasonable price on the corn, whereby the town was greatly comforted.”

About Lent time, 12,000 men, apparently little organised, made a foraging expedition as far as the gates of Brussels, which were shut against them, but they were allowed to buy victuals there. They wandered from town to town; not offering to enter the gates, but living on the goodwill of the country and collecting victuals ; everywhere meeting with goodwill, especially from the Liegeois, and so came back to Ghent after a piteous journey with some 600 waggonloads of victuals, which was received with extravagant joy, small as the help was.

Now took place some goings and comings between the Ghentois and the Duchess of Brabant, who took it upon her to try to get peace from the Earl. A council was held at Tournay, attended by delegates from the towns of Brabant and Haynault, and twelve men from Ghent with Van Artevelde at their head. The Duke of Brabant also sent his council there, and it seems clear that the intention of the go-betweens was friendly to Ghent, while the Ghentmen, now reduced to the last extremity were prepared to accept almost any terms ; but the Earl refusing to meet the council, simply sent on a message announcing that the only terms he would take were surrender at discretion. Froissart tells us that the friends of Ghent urged Philip van Artevelde to take even these terms), and that he answered that the people would not take them, but that if they would, he would not stand in the way.

And now imagine if you can the return of the envoys to the hopeless city, once sovereign, and prosperous, and now encircled by its enemies and at its last gasp; or rather let us for a while let Froissart tell us the story in his own words of the despair the heroism and the temporary triumph of Ghent.


( To be continued.)