Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Occupy Cassel

Lower classes revolting against taxation and economic unfairness is as old as taxation itself. In 14th century France, a situation arose that brought most of the country into conflict, and involved a pope and England as well.

Battle of Cassel, from a manuscript in the
Bibliothèque Nationale of France
In the 1320s, the Count of Flanders was collecting taxes for the King of France, Charles IV. Residents of several communes, including Cassel, gathered under the leadership of a Flemish farmer, Nicholas Zannekin, and refused to pay. Under Zannekin, a coalition of farmers and peasants captured several towns, including Ypres and Kortrijk, in which they found and captured the Count of Flanders himself. At this point, Charles IV had to intervene; in February 1326, the Count was released and the Peace of Arques was agreed upon.

That, however, was not to last. Revolts resumed. Charles asked Pope John XXII to place Flanders (except for the aristocracy) under Interdict, denying sacraments to the rebels. The clergy of Flanders were divided: do they follow the dictates of their pope? Is it fair to do so, since some felt the pope in Avignon had become a puppet of the king? Or do they not  enforce the Interdict because, if they did, the peasants might turn on them and imprison or kill them?

In 1328, realizing how precarious his position was, the Count fled from Flanders to France, where he appealed to the new king, Philip VI (Charles having died on 1 February), for military aid. Of course, Philip's claim to the throne had been disputed by King Edward III of England (for reasons too complicated to discuss here). Edward having been rejected by the French aristocracy in favor of Philip, it was feared that he would ally himself with the Flemish rebels. When Edward was betrothed to Philippa of Hainault, whose father was an ally of King Charles, the fear of an English-Flemish alliance was put to rest.

In fact, Philippa's father, Count William I of Hainault, was on of the leaders of the French army that was sent to quell the Flemish rebels once and for all. The French army, with military support from several dukes, Austria, and the King of Navarre, brought 12,000 troops and 2500 mounted knights to Cassel where Zannekin and 15,000 men had taken over. On 23 August 1328, Zannekin himself was killed in the Battle of Cassel and the uprising was finished for good.

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