Little Bits of History

May 18

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 18, 2017

1302: The Matins of Bruges takes place. Today, Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium. Matins refers to the monastic liturgy in which prayers are offered up at specific times of the day or night with the ones here being recited during the night and ending at dawn. It is also a reference to the Sicilian Vespers of 1282 when locals rebelled against French rule on the island. Bruges held the exclusive rights to import sheep’s wool from England. This greatly benefited bourgeoisie of the city. Edward I, King of England (1272 – 1307) began to deal directly with European customers and the monopolies of Bruges lost their advantage.

The traders and their political allies called on Philip the Fair (King of France from 1285 – 1314) to help them maintain the monopoly. The King sent in French troops and had them garrisoned in houses around the city. Pieter de Coninck was a local weaver. He teamed up with Jan Breydel, a butcher, and the two gathered together a group of concerned citizens. Many people feared the troops in Bruges and saw them as an incursion from France. The armed men went from house to house and asked suspects to repeat a shibboleth. “Schild en vriend” means “shield and friend” and was difficult for the Frenchmen to say. This gave them away as being French and they were stabbed, still in their nightgowns.

The governor, Jacques de Chatillion, escaped along with a few others. About 2,000 people were killed. The night’s events led to the Battle of the Golden Spurs on July 11 which found the French defeated. The Franco-Flemish War would continue on for a few more years and France won, overall. Flanders remained independent, but at a high cost. Both Coninck and Breydel were seen as heroes and their statue has stood in Bruges since 1887.

Shibboleths have been used since biblical times and the terms itself comes from the Bible. It literally means the part of the plant containing the grains but in other contexts can mean “stream, torrent”. It was used to distinguish Ephraimites from Gileadites because the latter could not pronounce the SH as in shoe. It appeared in the Book of Judges as a way to tell one group from the other. It has been used militarily, with this being one early incidence. While the test may seem foolproof, there is controversy over it. Some of the people belonging to the “in” group may be from a slightly different cultural setting and not have the same phonetics available to them. Today, it has even taken on the mean of jargon which identifies people as members of certain subcultures.

Since governments take the right of death over their people, it is not astonishing if the people should sometimes take the right of death over governments – Guy de Maupassant

Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being. – Albert Camus

Awake, arise or be for ever fall’n. – John Milton

So few want to be rebels anymore. And out of those few, most, like myself, scare easily. – Ray Bradbury


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