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Kortrijk (Municipality, Province of West Flanders, Belgium)


Last modified: 2022-02-27 by ivan sache
Keywords: kortrijk | courtrai |
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Flag of Kortrijk - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 4 September 2005

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Presentation of Kortrijk

The municipality of Kortrijk (in French, Courtrai; 73,777 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 8,002 ha; municipal website) is located 20 km north-east of the French Lille-Roubaix-Tourcoing conurbation, 35 km south-west of Ghent and 25 km north-west of Tournai. The municipality of Kortrijk was established in 1976 as the merger of the former municipalities of Kortrijk, Aalbeke, Bellegem, Bissegem, Heule, Kooigem, Marke, and Rollegem.

Kortrijk is located on the river Leie (in French, Lys); archeological remains prove that the place was already settled 1500 years BC, although there was no permanent settlement there. The early village (vicus) developed later in the alluvial plain of the Leie around two main Roman ways (Tongeren-Cassel and Tournai-Oudenburg).
In the Frankish times, the village grew up to a small town. In the 9th century, Kortrijk was threatened by the Northmen. A first wooden fort was built to protect the town, soon replaced in the Xth century by a stone castle with towers. In the beginning of the County of Flanders, Kortrijk controlled a district stretching over the modern territories of Kortrijk and Harelbeke. It was also the seat of a lordship (kasselrij). The burghers of Kortrijk were granted their first municipal chart by Duke Philip of Alsace in 1190. City walls were built in the 13th century and increased in the 14th-15th centuries.

On 11 July 1302, the militia of the Flemish towns defeated the French knights, commanded by Robert d'Artois. The battle, aka the Golden Spurs battle, was the first victory of infantry against knights and is a founding event of the Flemish identity; it is described in more detail below. The same year, the French took their revenge in Westrozebeke and burned down the castle of Kortrijk as well as the municipal archives. The town was revamped and a new castle was built near the Leie. The two Broel towers were also built in that period.
During the next centuries, Kortrijk was often besieged and occupied by the French, the Spaniards and the Austrians. In the peaceful periods, linen and damask production significantly contributed to the developemnt of the town and its region. In the 17th century, damask from Kortrijk was used in all the courts of Europa. Linen industry was the most important industry in Kortrijk and all the south-west of Flanders. Retting was done with the water from the Leie, nicknamed the Golden River.

The Newfoundland Courtrai Memorial, located just outside Kortrijk on the road to Ghent, commemorates the Royal Newfoundland Regiment's crossing of the Leie under British divisional command.
During the battle of Kortrijk, which started on 14 October 1918, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment's objective was the railway running north from Kortrijk, eight kilometres from the starting line. The attack went in at 5:35 a.m.. As they moved forward, the Newfoundlanders had to deal with a number of German pillboxes that were threatening to stall the advance. A serious situation developed when leading companies were held up by German field gun shelling in some houses a few hundred metres away on the right flank. As a Newfoundland platoon moved out to try to outflank the German battery, Private Thomas Ricketts, a member of the Lewis Gun detachment, displayed great initiative and daring in engaging the enemy with his accurate fire. At one stage he had to double back across 90 metres of bullet-swept ground to replenish his ammunition. The fire from Ricketts' gun put the enemy to flight and the platoon was able to capture the four field guns, four machine-guns and eight prisoners without themselves sustaining any casualties. For his bravery, Private Ricketts, who was only 17 at the time, became the youngest winner of the Victoria Cross in the British Army.
When the Royal Newfoundland Regiment dug in at dusk on the 14th, it had taken 500 prisoners and 94 machine-guns, eight field guns and large quantities of ammunition. But this had not been accomplished without suffering heavy casualties. At dawn next day, the Battalion could muster only 300 rifles.
Separate attempts by three divisions to establish bridgeheads over the canalized Leie on October 16 and 17 for an advance to the river Scheldt failed in the face of determined German resistance. Finally, on the night of October 19-20, a major assault by three divisions abreast succeeded, the Newfoundlanders rafting across in the pre-dawn hours of the 20th.
[Veterans Affairs Canada

The battle of the Golden Spurs took place on 11 July 1302. In 1300, France annexed Flanders. Accordingly, two parties were consituted, the Liebaarts (a word meaning "leopard" and refering to the coat of arms of the Count of Flanders) supporting the Count of Flanders, and the Leliaarts (a word meaning "fleur-de-lis") who supported the French and decorated their houses with fleurs-de-lis. Originally, the Count of Flanders was supported only by the nobles because he attempted to restrict the municipal liberties; after the French invasion, the Flemish commoners massively joined the Liebaart party, whereas the rich burghers and traders were Leliaarts. On 18 May 1302, a few hundreds French were killed in Bruges and some 90 knights were captured in what is known as the Good Friday (Goede Vrijdag; Mâtines) of Bruges; the rebellion spread all over Flanders.
A huge French army marched on Flanders to take revenge of the massacre. The Flemish decided to besiege the royal castle in Kortrijk in order to eventually expel the French from Flanders, and the two armies met on the Groeninge fields (Groeningenkouter) on 11 July. The Flemish army was mostly made of municipal militias (that is commoners, farmers and craftmen) from Bruges, Ghent, Ieper and the other Flemish towns, commanded by a few nobles (9,000 men and 400 nobles). The French army was the best ever (6,500 men organized in ten batallions), with 2,500 noble horsemen (knights and their squires). Fighting only on foot, the Flemish had not the least chance to win.
The battle started with unconclusive crossbow shooting from the two sides. Then the knights of the left wing of the French army charged but they had problems to reform a line after having crossed the Groeninge brook. The Flemish waited them with spurs and maces and no decisive breakthrough was made. The right wing of the French army charged in a more organized way but the Flemish still resisted. The garrison from the royal castle attempted to attack the Flemish line in the back but was repelled by the militia of Ieper. The French knights eventually managed to break the middle of the Flemish line but the Flemish troops, commanded by Jan van Renesse, forces them to withdraw. The battle turned into close combat on the front line, which did not favour the French knights decimated by the Flemish maces.
The commander of the French troops, Count Robert d'Artois, decided to join the battle when he understood his knights were about to be defeated. He crossed the brook, made a big breakthrough into the Flemish ranks and even ripped a piece of a Flemish banner. He was killed by the Flemish and the battle turned into a general scattering of the French knights; those who could not cross back the brook were slaughtered by the Flemish.
After a three-hour battle, the French defeat was complete. The biggest army ever lost his commander, sixty barons and lords, hundreds of knights and a thousand squires.
The next day, the winners picked up from the battlefield five hundred pairs of golden spurs, which gave the name of the battle, and placed them in the Notre-Dame church of Kortrijk. Such golden spurs were worn only by knights, whereas squires wore normal or silver spurs.
King of France Philippe le Bel took revenge two years later during the battle of Mons-en-Pévèle. The golden spurs were transferred to another church in Dijon. The treaty of Athis-sur-Orge, signed on 23 June 1305 allocated to France the towns of Lille, Douai and Béthune, while Flanders preserved its independence.

The battle of the Golden Spurs was the first victory of an army fighting on foot against horsemen. It became a founding event in the Flemish national awareness, especially after the release of the book "The Flemish lion" by Hendrik Conscience (1812-1883) in 1838.
The 11 July is now the National Day in Flanders.
[De Liebaart]

Ivan Sache, 4 September 2005

Flag of Kortrijk

The flag of Kortrijk is white with a red chevron and engrailed border.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02], the flag, adopted by the Municipal Council on 14 June 1985, is prescribed by a Decree issued on 7 July 1987 by the Executive of Flanders and published on 3 December 1987 in the Belgian official gazette.

The flag is a banner of the municipal arms, "Argent a chevron and a border engrailed gules. The shield surmounted with a mural crown with five towers argent and supported by twosalvages proper, surrounded and crowned with oak leaves vert and standing on a mace proper", which were used by the hereditary Burgraves of Kortrijk in the 12th century. The mural crown recall the municipal rights granted to the town in the 12th century while the two salvages are commonly used supporters. They were a kind of watchers always represented as half naked giants, armed with a mace, alluding to vigilance, defense and preparation to fight.


Old flag of Kortrijk - Image by Ivan Sache, 4 September 2005

A fairly old postcard (collection Jan Mertens) showing the town hall of Kortrijk decorated with vertically divided red-white flags, which were probably used as the municipal colours before the adoption of the current flag.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat, Jan Mertens & Ivan Sache, 25 August 2005