Bruges and West Flanders
by George W. T. Omond
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E-text prepared by Robert J. Hall


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There is no part of Europe more wanting in what is known as 'scenery' than Flanders; and those who journey there must spend most of their time in the old towns which are still so strangely mediaeval in their aspect, or in country places which are worth seeing only because of their connection with some event in history—Nature has done so little for them. Thus the interest and the attraction of Flanders and the Flemish towns are chiefly historical. But it would be impossible to compress the history of such places as Bruges, Ypres, Furnes, or Nieuport within the limits of a few pages, except at the cost of loading them with a mass of dry facts. Accordingly the plan adopted in preparing the letterpress which accompanies Mr. Forestier's drawings has been to select a few leading incidents, and give these at some length.

The Flemish School of Painting and Architecture has been so well and frequently described that it would have been mere affectation to make more than a few passing allusions to that topic.

Some space has, however, been devoted to an account of the recent development of the Flemish littoral, which has been so remarkable during the last quarter of a century.

























List of Illustrations

1. A Flemish Country Girl 2. Bruges: A Corner of the Market on the Grand' Place 3. Bell-ringer Playing a Chime 4. Bruges: Porte d'Ostende 5. Bruges: Rue de l'Ane Aveugle (showing end of Town Hall and Bridge connecting it with Palais de Justice) 6. Bruges: Quai du Rosaire 7. Bruges: The Beguinage 8. Bruges: Quai des Marbriers 9. A Flemish Young Woman 10. A Flemish Burgher 11. Bruges: Quai du Miroir 12. Bruges: View of the Palais du Franc. 13. Bruges: Maison du Pelican (Almshouse) 14. Bruges: Vegetable Market 15. The Flemish Plain 16. Duinhoek: Interior of a Farmhouse 17. Adinkerque: At the Kermesse 18. A Farmsteading 19. Ypres: Place du Musee (showing Top Part of the Belfry) 20. Ypres: Arcade under the Nieuwerk 21. Furnes: Grand' Place and Belfry 22. Furnes: Peristyle of Town Hall and Palais de Justice 23. Nieuport: Interior of Church 24. Furnes: Tower of St. Nicholas 25. Furnes: In Ste. Walburge's Church 26. Nieuport: A Fair Parishioner 27. Nieuport: Hall and Vicarage 28. Nieuport: The Quay, with Eel-boats and Landing-stages 29. Nieuport: The Town Hall 30. Nieuport: Church Porch (Evensong) 31. The Dunes: A Stormy Evening 32. An Old Farmer 33. La Panne: Interior of a Flemish Inn 34. La Panne: A Flemish Inn—Playing Skittles 35. Coxyde: A Shrimper on Horseback 36. Coxyde: A Shrimper 37. Adinkerque: Village and Canal





Every visitor to 'the quaint old Flemish city' goes first to the Market-Place. On Saturday mornings the wide space beneath the mighty Belfry is full of stalls, with white canvas awnings, and heaped up with a curious assortment of goods. Clothing of every description, sabots and leathern shoes and boots, huge earthenware jars, pots and pans, kettles, cups and saucers, baskets, tawdry-coloured prints—chiefly of a religious character—lamps and candlesticks, the cheaper kinds of Flemish pottery, knives and forks, carpenters' tools, and such small articles as reels of thread, hatpins, tape, and even bottles of coarse scent, are piled on the stalls or spread out on the rough stones wherever there is a vacant space. Round the stalls, in the narrow spaces between them, the people move about, talking, laughing, and bargaining. Their native Flemish is the tongue they use amongst themselves; but many of them speak what passes for French at Bruges, or even a few words of broken English, if some unwary stranger from across the Channel is rash enough to venture on doing business with these sharp-witted, plausible folk.

At first sight this Market-Place, so famed in song, is a disappointment. The north side is occupied by a row of seventeenth-century houses turned into shops and third-rate cafes. On the east is a modern post-office, dirty and badly ventilated, and some half-finished Government buildings. On the west are two houses which were once of some note—the Cranenburg, from the windows of which, in olden times, the Counts of Flanders, with the lords and ladies of their Court, used to watch the tournaments and pageants for which Bruges was celebrated, and in which Maximilian was imprisoned by the burghers in 1488; and the Hotel de Bouchoute, a narrow, square building of dark red brick, with a gilded lion over the doorway. But the Cranenburg, once the 'most magnificent private residence in the Market-Place,' many years ago lost every trace of its original splendour, and is now an unattractive hostelry, the headquarters of a smoking club; while the Hotel de Bouchoute, turned into a clothier's shop, has little to distinguish it from its commonplace neighbours. Nevertheless,

'In the Market-Place of Bruges stands the Belfry old and brown; Thrice consumed and thrice rebuilded, still it watches o'er the town.'

It redeems the Market-Place from mediocrity. How long ago the first belfry tower of Bruges was built is unknown, but this at least is certain, that in the year 1280 a fire, in which the ancient archives of the town perished, destroyed the greater part of an old belfry, which some suppose may have been erected in the ninth century. On two subsequent occasions, in the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, the present Belfry, erected on the ruins of the former structure, was damaged by fire; and now it stands on the south side of the Market-Place, rising 350 feet above the Halles, a massive building of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, solemn, weather-beaten, and majestic. 'For six hundred years,' it has been said, 'this Belfry has watched over the city of Bruges. It has beheld her triumphs and her failures, her glory and her shame, her prosperity and her gradual decay, and, in spite of so many vicissitudes, it is still standing to bear witness to the genius of our forefathers, to awaken memories of old times and admiration for one of the most splendid monuments of civic architecture which the Middle Ages has produced.'[*]

[Footnote *: Gilliat-Smith, The Story of Bruges, p. 169 (Dent and Co., London, 1901). Mr. Gilliat-Smith's book is a picturesque account of Bruges in the Middle Ages. Of the English works relating to Bruges, there is nothing better than Mr. Wilfrid Robinson's Bruges, an Historical Sketch, a short and clear history, coming down to modern times (Louis de Plancke, Bruges, 1899).]

In olden times watchmen were always on duty on the Belfry to give warning if enemies approached or fire broke out in any part of the town, a constant source of danger when most of the houses were built of wood. Even in these more prosaic days the custom of keeping watch and ward unceasingly is still maintained, and if there is a fire, the alarum-bell clangs over the city. All day, from year's end to year's end, the chimes ring every quarter of an hour; and all night, too, during the wildest storms of winter, when the wind shrieks round the tower; and in summer, when the old town lies slumbering in the moonlight.

From the top of the Belfry one looks down on what is practically a mediaeval city. The Market-Place seems to lose its modern aspect when seen from above; and all round there is nothing visible but houses with high-pointed gables and red roofs, intersected by canals, and streets so narrow that they appear to be mere lanes. Above these rise, sometimes from trees and gardens, churches, convents, venerable buildings, the lofty spire of Notre Dame, the tower of St. Sauveur, the turrets of the Gruthuise, the Hospital of St. John, famous for its paintings by Memlinc, the Church of Ste. Elizabeth in the grove of the Beguinage, the pinnacles of the Palais du Franc, the steep roof of the Hotel de Ville, the dome of the Couvent des Dames Anglaises, and beyond that to the east the slender tower which rises above the Guildhouse of the Archers of St. Sebastian. The walls which guarded Bruges in troublous times have disappeared, though five of the old gateways remain; but the town is still contained within the limits which it had reached at the close of the thirteenth century.

Behind the large square of the Halles, from which the Belfry rises, is the Rue du Vieux Bourg, the street of the Ouden Burg, or old fort; and to this street the student of history must first go if he wishes to understand what tradition, more or less authentic, has to say about the earliest phases in the strange, eventful past of Bruges. The wide plain of Flanders, the northern portion of the country which we now call Belgium, was in ancient times a dreary fenland, the haunt of wild beasts and savage men; thick, impenetrable forests, tracts of barren sand, sodden marshes, covered it; and sluggish streams, some whose waters never found their way to the sea, ran through it. One of these rivulets, called the Roya, was crossed by a bridge, to defend which, according to early tradition, a fort, or 'burg,' was erected in the fourth century. This fort stood on an islet formed by the meeting of the Roya with another stream, called the Boterbeke, and a moat which joined the two. We may suppose that near the fort, which was probably a small building of rough stones, or perhaps merely a wooden stockade, a few huts were put up by people who came there for protection, and as time went on the settlement increased. 'John of Ypres, Abbot of St. Bertin,' says Mr. Robinson, 'who wrote in the fourteenth century, describes how Bruges was born and christened: "Very soon pedlars began to settle down under the walls of the fort to supply the wants of its inmates. Next came merchants, with their valuable wares. Innkeepers followed, who began to build houses, where those who could not find lodging in the fort found food and shelter. Those who thus turned away from the fort would say, 'Let us go to the bridge.' And when the houses near the bridge became so numerous as to form a town, it kept as its proper name the Flemish word Brugge."

The small island on which this primitive township stood was bounded on the south and east by the Roya, on the north by the Boterbeke, and on the west by the moat joining these two streams. The Roya still flows along between the site of the old burg and an avenue of lime-trees called the Dyver till it reaches the end of the Quai du Rosaire, when it turns to the north. A short distance beyond this point it is vaulted over, and runs on beneath the streets and houses of the town. The Rue du Vieux Bourg is built over the course of the Boterbeke, which now runs under it and under the Belfry (erected on foundations sunk deep into the bed of the stream), until it joins the subterranean channel of the Roya at the south-east corner of the Market-Place. The moat which joined these two streams and guarded the west side of the island was filled up long ago, and its bed is now covered by the Rue Neuve, which connects the Rue du Vieux Bourg with the Dyver.

Thus the boundaries of early Bruges can easily be traced; but nothing remains of the ancient buildings, though we read of a warehouse, booths, and a prison, besides the dwelling-houses of the townsfolk. The elements, at least, of civic life were there; and tradition says that in or near the village, for it was nothing more, some altars of the Christian faith were set up during the seventh and eighth centuries. Trade, too, soon began to flourish, and grew rapidly as the population of the place increased. The Roya, flowing eastwards, fell into the Zwijn, an arm of the sea, which then ran up close to the town, and on which stood Damme, now a small inland village, but once a busy port crowded with shipping. The commercial life of Bruges depended on the Zwijn; and that much business was done before the close of the ninth century is shown by the fact that Bruges had then a coinage of its own.[*] It was from such small beginnings that this famous, 'Venice of the North' arose.

[Footnote *: Gilliodts van Severen, Bruges Ancienne et Moderne, pp. 7, 8, 9.]




Towards the end of the ninth and at the beginning of the tenth century great changes took place on the banks of the Roya, and the foundations of Bruges as we know it now were laid. Just as in the memorable years 1814 and 1815 the empire of Napoleon fell into fragments, and princes and statesmen hastened to readjust the map of Europe in their own interests, so in the ninth century the empire of Charlemagne was crumbling away; and in the scramble for the spoils, the Normans carried fire and sword into Flanders. Charles the Bald, King of the Franks, at this crisis called to his aid the strong arm of Baldwin, a Flemish chief of whose ancestry we know little, but who soon became famous as Baldwin Bras-de-Fer—Baldwin of the Iron Arm, so called because, in peace or war, he was never seen without his coat of mail. This grim warrior had fallen in love with the daughter of Charles the Bald, Judith, who had been already twice married, first to the Saxon King Ethelwulf (after the death of his first wife Osberga, mother of Alfred the Great) and secondly to Ethelbald, on whose death she left England and went to live at Senlis. Baldwin persuaded the Princess to run away with him; and they were married without the knowledge of her father, to escape whose vengeance the culprits fled to Rome. Pope Nicholas I. brought about a reconciliation; and Charles not only pardoned his son-in-law, but appointed him ruler of Flanders under the title of Marquis, which was afterwards changed into that of Count. It is to the steel-clad Baldwin Bras-de-Fer that the Counts of Flanders trace the origin of their title; and he was, moreover, the real founder of that Bruges which rose to such glory in the Middle Ages, and is still, though fallen from its high estate, the picturesque capital of West Flanders, whither artists flock to wander about amidst the canals and bridges, the dismantled ramparts, the narrow streets with their curious houses, and the old buildings which bear such eloquent testimony to the ruin which long ago overtook what was once an opulent and powerful city.

When the wrath of his father-in-law had been appeased, Baldwin, now responsible for the defence of Flanders, came to Bruges with his wife, and there established his Court. But the old burg, it seems, was not thought capable of holding out against the Normans, who could easily land on the banks of the Zwijn; and Baldwin, therefore, set about building a new stronghold on the east side of the old burg, and close to it. It was surrounded partly by the main stream of the Roya, and partly by backwaters flowing from it. Here he built a fortress for himself and his household, a church dedicated to St. Donatian, a prison, and a 'ghiselhuis,' or house for the safe keeping of hostages. The whole was enclosed by walls, built close to the edge of the surrounding waters.

The Roya is now vaulted over where it ran along the west side of Baldwin's stronghold, separating it from the original burg, and the watercourses which defended it on the north and east are filled up; but the stream on the south still remains in the shape of the canal which skirts the Quai des Marbriers, from which a bridge leads by a narrow lane, called the Rue de l'Ane Aveugle, under an arch of gilded stonework, into the open space now known as the Place du Bourg. Here we are at the very heart of Bruges, on the ground where Baldwin's stronghold stood, with its four gates and drawbridges, and the high walls frowning above the homes of the townsmen clustering round them. The aspect of the place is completely changed since those early days. A grove of chestnut-trees covers the site of the Church of St. Donatian; not a stone remains of Bras-de-Fer's rude palace; and instead of the prison and the hostage-house, there are the Hotel de Ville, now more than five hundred years old, from whose windows the Counts of Flanders swore obedience to the statutes and privileges of the town, the Palais de Justice, and the dark crypt beneath the chapel which shelters the mysterious Relic of the Holy Blood.

In summer it is a warm, quiet, pleasant spot. Under the shade of the trees, near the statue of Van Eyck, women selling flowers sit beside rows of geraniums, roses, lilies, pansies, which give a touch of bright colour to the scene. Artists from all parts of Europe set up their easels and paint. Young girls are gravely busy with their water-colours. Black-robed nuns and bare-footed Carmelites pass silently along. Perhaps some traveller from America opens his guide-book to study the map of a city which had risen to greatness long before Columbus crossed the seas. A few English people hurry across, and pass under the archway of the Rue de l'Ane Aveugle on the way to their tennis-ground beyond the Porte de Gand. The sunshine glitters on the gilded facade of the Palais de Justice, and lights up the statues in their niches on the front of the Hotel de Ville. There is no traffic, no noise. Everything is still and peaceful. The chimes, ever and anon ringing out from the huge Belfry, which rises high above the housetops to the west, alone break the silence.

This is Bruges sleeping peacefully in old age, lulled to rest by the sound of its own carillon. But it is easy, standing there, to recall the past, and to fancy the scenes which took place from time to time throughout the long period of foreign danger and internal strife. We can imagine the Bourg, now so peaceful, full of armed men, rushing to the Church of St. Donatian on the morning when Charles the Good was slain; how, in later times, the turbulent burghers, fiery partisans of rival factions, Clauwerts shouting for the Flemish Lion, and Leliarts marshalled under the Lily of France, raged and threatened; how the stones were splashed with blood on the day of the Bruges Matins, when so many Frenchmen perished; or what shouts were raised when the Flemish host came back victorious from the Battle of the Golden Spurs.

Though every part of Bruges—not only the Bourg, but the great Market-Place, and the whole maze of streets and lanes and canals of which it consists—has a story of its own, some of these stories stand out by themselves; and amongst these one of the most dramatic is the story of the death of Charles the Good.

More than two hundred and fifty years had passed away since the coming of Baldwin Bras-de-Fer; Bruges had spread far beyond the walls of the Bourg; and Charles, who had succeeded his cousin Baldwin VII., was Count of Flanders. He was called 'the Good' because of his just rule and simple life, and still more, perhaps, because he clothed and fed the poor—not only in Bruges, but throughout all Flanders. The common people loved him, but his charities gave offence to the rich. He had, moreover, incurred the special enmity of the Erembalds, a powerful family, who, though not of noble origin themselves, were connected by marriage with many noble houses. They had supported his claim to the throne of Flanders, which had been disputed, and he had rewarded their services by heaping favours on them. But, after a time, they began to oppose the methods of government which Charles applied to Flanders. They resented most of all one of his decrees which made it unlawful for persons not in his service to carry arms in time of peace. This decree, which was pronounced in order to prevent the daily scenes of violence which Charles abhorred, was declared by the Erembalds to be an interference with Flemish liberty. It did not affect them personally, for they held office under the Count; but they none the less opposed it vehemently.

While Charles was thus on bad terms with the Erembalds, a deadly feud existed between them and the Straetens, another notable family, which grew to such a height that the rival clans made open war upon each other, pillaging, burning, and slaying after the manner of these times. Charles called the leaders of both sides before him, and made them swear to keep the peace; but when he was at Ypres in the autumn of 1126, a complaint was laid before him that Bertulf, head of the Erembalds, who was also Provost of St. Donatian's, had sent one of his nephews, Burchard by name, on a raid into the lands of the Straetens, whose cattle he had carried off. On hearing of this outrage, Charles gave orders that Burchard's house should be pulled down, and that he should compensate the Straetens for their losses. The Erembalds were powerless to resist this order, and Burchard's house was razed to the ground.

It has been said that this was only the beginning of strong measures which Charles was about to take against the Erembalds; but there is no certainty as to what his intentions really were. He then lived in the Loove, a mansion which he had built in the Bourg at Bruges, on the site now occupied by the Palais de Justice; and there, on his return from Ypres, he had a meeting with some of the Erembalds, who had been sent to plead on behalf of Burchard. As to what took place at this interview there is some doubt. According to one account, Charles drank wine with the delegates, and granted a free pardon to Burchard, on condition that he kept the peace. According to another account, his demeanour was so unbending that the Erembalds left his presence full of angry suspicions, which they communicated to their friends. Whatever may have happened, they were bent on mischief. Burchard was sent for, and a secret consultation was held, after which Burchard and a chosen few assembled in a house on the Bourg and arranged their plans. This was on the night of March 1, 1127.

At break of day next morning a cold, heavy mist hung low over Bruges, and in the Bourg everything was shrouded in darkness. But already some poor men were waiting in the courtyard of the Loove, to whom Charles gave alms on his way to early Mass in the Church of St. Donatian. Then he went along a private passage which led into the church, and knelt in prayer before the Lady Altar. It was his custom to give help to the needy when in church, and he had just put some money into the hands of a poor woman, when suddenly she called out: 'Beware, Sir Count!' He turned quickly round, and there, sword in hand, was Burchard, who had stolen up the dim aisle to where Charles was kneeling. The next moment Burchard struck, and Charles fell dead upon the steps of the altar.

Then followed a scene of wild confusion. The woman ran out into the Bourg, calling loudly that the Count was slain. In the midst of the uproar some of the royal household fled in terror, while others who entered the church were butchered by the Erembalds, who next attacked the Loove, and, having pillaged it, rushed over Bruges, slaughtering without mercy all who dared to oppose them.

After some time one of the Count's servants ventured to cover the dead body with a winding-sheet, and to surround it with lighted tapers; and there it remained lying on the pavement, until at last the Erembalds, who were afraid to bury it in Bruges lest the sight of the tomb of Charles the Good should one day rouse the townsmen to avenge his death, sent a message to Ghent, begging the Abbot of St. Peter's to take it away and bury it in his own church. The Abbot came to Bruges, and before dawn the body of the murdered Count was being stealthily carried along the aisles of St. Donatian's, when a great crowd rushed in, declaring that the bones of Charles must be allowed to rest in peace at Bruges. The arches rang with cries, chairs were overturned, stools and candlesticks were thrown about, as the people, pressing and struggling round the Abbot and his servants, told Bertulf, with many an oath, that he must yield to their wishes. At last the Provost submitted, and on the morrow, just two days after the murder, the body of Charles was buried before the Lady Altar, on the very spot, it is said, where the statue of Van Eyck now stands under the trees in the Bourg.

The triumph of the Erembalds was short, for the death of Charles the Good was terribly avenged by his friends, who came to Bruges at the head of a large force. A fierce struggle took place at the Rue de l'Ane Aveugle, where many were slain. The Erembalds were driven into the Bourg, the gates of which they shut; but an entrance was forced, and, after desperate fighting, some thirty of them, all who remained alive, were compelled to take refuge, first in the nave and then in the tower of the Church of St. Donatian, where, defending themselves with the courage of despair, they made a last stand, until, worn out by fatigue and hunger, they surrendered and came down. Bertulf the Provost, Burchard, and a few of the other ringleaders had fled some days before, and so escaped, for a time at least, the fate of their companions, who, having been imprisoned in a dungeon, were taken to the top of the church tower and flung down one by one on to the stones of the Bourg. 'Their bodies,' says Mr. Gilliat-Smith, 'were thrown into a marsh beyond the village of St. Andre, and for years afterwards no man after nightfall would willingly pass that way.' In the Church of St. Sauveur there is a costly shrine containing what are said to be the bones of Charles the Good, taken from their first resting-place, at which twice every year a festival is held in commemoration of his virtues.




Bruges is one of the most Catholic towns in Catholic Flanders. Convents and religious houses of all sorts have always flourished there, and at present there are no less than forty-five of these establishments. Probably one of the most interesting to English people is the Couvent des Dames Anglaises, which was founded in 1629 by the English Augustinian Nuns of Ste. Monica's Convent at Louvain. Its chapel, with a fine dome of the eighteenth century, contains a beautiful altar built of marbles brought from Egypt, Greece, and Persia; and amongst its possessions is the rosary of Catherine of Braganza (Queen of Charles II. of England), who died at Bruges.

And then there is the Beguinage. There are Beguinages at Amsterdam and Breda, but with this exception of Holland, Belgium is now the only country in Europe where these societies, the origin of whose name is uncertain, are to be found. They consist of spinsters or widows, who, though bound by a few conventual oaths during their connection with the society, may return to the world. On entering each sister pays a sum of money to the general funds, and at first lives for a time along with other novices. At the end of this term of probation they are at liberty to occupy one of the small dwellings within the precincts of the Beguinage, and keep house for themselves. They spend their time in sewing, making lace, educating poor children, visiting the sick, or any form of good works for which they may have a taste. They are under a Mother Superior, the 'Grande Dame,' appointed by the Bishop of the diocese, and must attend the services in the church of their Beguinage. Thus the Beguine, living generally in a house of her own, and free to reenter the world, occupies a different position from the nuns of the better-known Orders, though so long as she remains a member of her society she is bound by the vows of chastity and obedience to her ecclesiastical superiors.

The Beguinage at Bruges, founded in the thirteenth century, is situated near the Minnewater, or Lac d'Amour, which every visitor is taken to see. This sheet of placid water, bordered by trees, which was a harbour in the busy times, is one of the prettiest bits of Bruges; and they say that if you go there at midnight, and stand upon the bridge which crosses it on the south, any wish which you may form will certainly come to pass. It is better to go alone, for strict silence is necessary to insure the working of this charm. A bridge over the water which runs from the Lac d'Amour leads through a gateway into the Beguinage, where a circle of small houses—whitewashed, with stepped gables, and green woodwork on the windows—surrounds a lawn planted with tall trees. There is a view of the spire of Notre Dame beyond the roofs, a favourite subject for the painters who come here in numbers on summer afternoons. The Church of Ste. Elizabeth, an unpretentious building, stands on one side of the lawn; and within it, many times a day, the Sisters may be seen on their knees repeating the Offices of the Church. When the service is finished they rise, remove their white head-coverings, and return demurely to their quaint little homes.

Bruges has, needless to say, many churches, but nothing which can be compared to the magnificent Cathedral of Antwerp, to the imposing front of Ste. Gudule at Brussels, or to the huge mass which forms such a conspicuous landmark for several leagues round Malines. Still, some of the churches are not without interest: the Cathedral of St. Sauveur, where the stalls of the Knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece, which was founded at Bruges, are to be seen in the choir, and over one of them the arms of Edward IV. of England; the curious little Church of Jerusalem, with its 'Holy Sepulchre,' an exact copy of the traditionary grave in Palestine—a dark vault, entered by a passage so low that one must crawl through it, and where a light burns before a figure which lies there wrapped in a linen cloth; and the Church of Notre Dame, which contains some treasures, such as a lovely white marble statue of the Virgin and Child, from the chisel of Michael Angelo; the tombs of Charles the Bold of Burgundy and his daughter—the 'Gentle Mary,' whose untimely death at Bruges in 1482, after a short married life, saved her from witnessing the misfortunes which clouded the last years of her husband, the Archduke Maximilian; and a portion of the Holy Cross, which came to Bruges in the fifteenth century. The story goes that a rich merchant, a Dutchman from Dordrecht, Schoutteeten by name, who lived at Bruges, was travelling through Syria in the year 1380. One day, when journeying with a caravan, he saw a man hiding something in a wood, and, following him, discovered that it was a box, which he suspected might contain something valuable. Mijnheer Schoutteeten appropriated the box, and carried it home from Syria to Dordrecht, where a series of miracles began to occur of such a nature as to make it practically certain that the box (or some wood which it contained, for on this point the legend is vague) was a part of the true Cross! In course of time Schoutteeten died in the odour of sanctity, having on his death-bed expressed a wish that the wood which he had brought from the East should be given to the Church of Notre Dame at Bruges. His widow consoled herself by taking a second husband, who, Uutenhove by name, fulfilled the pious request of his predecessor, and thus another relic was added to the large collection which is preserved in the various churches and religious houses of Bruges. It was brought to Flanders in the year 1473, and must have been a source of considerable revenue to the Church since then.

The buildings of Notre Dame, with the well-known Gruthuise Mansion which adjoins them, and the singularly graceful spire, higher than the Belfry tower, rising from the exquisite portico called 'Het Paradijs,' form a very beautiful group; but, with this exception, there is nothing remarkable about the churches of Bruges. One of them, however, has a peculiar interest—the Chapelle du Saint-Sang, which stands in the Place du Bourg in the corner next to the Hotel de Ville. It is built in two stories. The lower, a dark, solemn chapel, like a crypt, was dedicated to St. Basil at an early period, and is one of the oldest buildings in Bruges. The greater part of the upper story does not date further back than the fifteenth century. But it is not the fabric itself, venerable though that is, but what it contains, that makes this place the Holy of Holies in the religious life of Bruges; for here, in a costly shrine of gold and silver adorned with precious stones, they guard the wonderful relic which was brought from Palestine in the time of the Crusaders by Thierry d'Alsace, Count of Flanders, and which is still worshipped by thousands of devout believers every year.

Thierry d'Alsace, the old chroniclers tell us, visited the Holy Land four times, and was the leader of the Flemish warriors who, roused by the eloquence of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, joined the second Crusade in the summer of 1147. He had married Sybilla, sister of Baldwin, King of Jerusalem; and when the time came for his return to Europe, his brother-in-law and the Patriarch of Jerusalem resolved to reward his services by giving him a part of the most valuable relic which the Church in Palestine possessed, which was a small quantity of a red liquid, said to be blood and water, which, according to immemorial tradition, Joseph of Arimathaea had preserved after he had washed the dead body of Jesus.

The earlier history of this relic is unknown, and is as obscure as that of the other 'Relics of the Holy Blood' which are to be found in various places. But there can be no doubt whatever that in the twelfth century the Christians at Jerusalem believed that it had been in existence since the day of the Crucifixion. It was, therefore, presented to Thierry with great solemnity in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during the Christmas festivals of 1148. The Patriarch, having displayed the vessel which contained it to the people, divided the contents into two portions, one of which he poured into a small vial, the mouth of which was carefully sealed up and secured with gold wire. This vessel was next enclosed in a crystal tube, shut at the ends with golden stoppers, to which ax chain of silver was attached. Then the Patriarch gave the tube to Baldwin, from whose hands Thierry, kneeling on the steps of the altar, received it with profound emotion.[*]

[Footnote *: Canon van Haecke, Le Precieux Sang a Bruges (fourth edition), pp. 95, 96.]

The Count, however, did not think his hands, which had shed so much human blood, worthy to convey the relic home; and he entrusted it to Leonius, chaplain of the Flemish Army, who hung it round his neck, and so carried it to Bruges, where he arrived in May, 1150, along with Thierry, who, mounted on a white horse led by two barefooted monks, and holding the relic in his hand, was conducted in state to the Bourg, where he deposited the precious object in the Chapel of St. Basil, which is commonly known as the Chapel of the Holy Blood.

After some time the relic was found to be dry, but, strange to say, it became liquid, we are told upon the authority of Pope Clement V., every Friday, 'usually at six o'clock.' This weekly miracle continued till about the year 1325. Since then it has never taken place except once, in 1388, when the vial containing the relic was being transferred to a new crystal tube; and on this occasion William, Bishop of Ancona, was astonished to see the relic turning redder than usual, and some drops, as of newly-shed blood, flowing within the vial, which he was holding in his hand. Many notable persons who were present, one of them the Bishop of Lincoln, testified to this event!

Other miracles wrought through the agency of this relic are recorded. A child which had been born dead was taken to the shrine, and came to life after three days. A young girl who had suffered for twenty months from an issue of blood, and for whom the doctors could do nothing, was cured by the application of a piece of cloth which had been used to cover the relic. Another girl who had been paralyzed for a long time, being carried into the Chapel of St. Basil, was restored to complete strength the moment she kissed the crystal tube. In December, 1689, a fire broke out in the Bourg, and threatened to destroy the Hotel de Ville; but a priest brought forth the tube containing the relic, and held it up before the flames, which were instantly extinguished. These and many other similar miracles, confirmed by the oath of witnesses and received by the Church at the present day as authentic, make the relic an object of profound devotion to the people of Bruges and the peasants of the surrounding country, who go in crowds to bow before it twice every Friday, when it is exhibited for public worship.

It was nearly lost on several occasions in the days of almost constant war, and during the French Revolution it was concealed for some years in the house of a private citizen. The Chapel of St. Basil suffered from the disturbed condition of the country, and when Napoleon came to Bruges in 1810 it was such a complete wreck that the magistrates were on the point of sweeping it away altogether. But Napoleon saved it, declaring that when he looked on the ruins he fancied himself once more amongst the antiquities of Egypt, and that to destroy them would be a crime. Four years after the Battle of Waterloo the relic was brought out from its hiding-place, and in 1856 the chapel was restored from the designs of two English architects, William Brangwyn and Thomas Harper King.[*]

[Footnote *: Gilliat-Smith, The Story of Bruges, p. 103.]

On the first Monday after the 2nd of May every year the town of Bruges is full of strangers, who have come to witness the celebrated 'Procession of the Holy Blood,' which there is good reason to believe has taken place annually (except during the French Revolution) for the last 755 years.

Very early in the day a Mass is celebrated in the Upper Chapel of the Holy Blood, which is crowded to the doors. In the crypt, or lower chapel, where many people are kneeling before the sacred images, the gloom, the silence, the bent figures dimly seen in the faint yellow light of a few tapers, make up a weird scene all the morning till about nine o'clock, when the relic, in its 'chasse,' or tabernacle, is carried to the Cathedral of St. Sauveur, and placed on the high altar, while a pontifical Mass is celebrated by one of the Bishops. When that is done, the procession starts on its march along the chief thoroughfares of the town. The houses are decorated with flags, and candles burn in almost every window. Through the narrow streets, between crowds of people standing on the pavements or looking down from the windows, while the church bells ring and wreaths of incense fill the air, bands of music, squadrons of cavalry, crucifixes, shrines, images, the banners of the parishes and the guilds, heralds in their varied dresses, bareheaded pilgrims from England, France, and other countries, pages, maidens in white, bearing palms, or crowns of thorn, or garlands, priests with relics, acolytes and chanting choristers, pass slowly along. The buffoonery of the Middle Ages, when giants, ballet-dancers, and mythological characters figured in the scene, has been abandoned; but Abraham and Isaac, King David and King Solomon, Joseph and the Virgin Mary, the Magi, and many saints and martyrs, walk in the long procession, which is closed by the Bishops and clergy accompanying the gorgeous shrine containing the small tube of something red like blood, before which all the people sink to the ground, and remain kneeling till it has passed.

The proceedings of the day end with a benediction at an altar erected in front of the Hotel de Ville. The Bourg is filled from side to side with those who have taken part in the procession, and by thousands of spectators who have followed them from all parts of the town to witness the closing scene. The crowd gathers under the trees and along the sides of the square, the centre of which, occupied by the processionists, is a mass of colour, above which the standards and images which have been carried through the streets rise against the dark background of the Hotel de Ville and the Chapel of the Holy Blood. The relic is taken out of the chasse, and a priest, standing on the steps of the altar high above the crowd, holds it up to be worshipped. Everyone bows low, and then, in dead silence, the mysterious object is carried into the chapel, and with this the chief religious ceremony of the year at Bruges is brought to a close.

There are sights in Bruges that night, within a stone's-throw of the Chapel of the Holy Blood, which are worth seeing, they contrast so strangely with all this fervour of religion.

The curtain has fallen upon the drama of the day. The flags are furled and put aside. The vestments are in the sacristy. Shrines, canopies, censers, all the objects carried in the procession, have disappeared into the churches. The church doors are locked, and the images are left to stand all night without so much as one solitary worshipper kneeling before them. The Bourg is empty and dark, steeped in black shadows at the door of the chapel where the relic has been laid to rest. It is all quiet there, but a stroll through the Rue de l'Ane Aveugle and across the canal by the bridge which leads to the purlieus of the fish-markets brings one upon another scene. Every second house, if not every house, is a cafe, 'herberg,' or 'estaminet,' with a bar and sanded floor and some rough chairs and tables; and on the night of the Procession of the Holy Blood they are crowded to the doors. Peasants from the country are there in great force. For some days before and after the sacred festival the villagers are in the habit of coming into Bruges—whole families of them, father and mother, sons and daughters, all in their best finery. They walk through the streets, following the route by which the Holy Blood is carried, telling their beads and saying their prayers, crossing themselves, and kneeling at any image of Christ, or Madonna, or saint, which they may notice at the street corners. It is curious to watch their sunburnt faces and uncouth ways as they slouch along, their hands busy with their beads, and their lips never ceasing for a moment to mutter prayer after prayer. They follow in the wake of the Procession of the Holy Blood, or wait to fall upon their knees when it passes and receive the blessing of the Bishop, who walks with fingers raised, scattering benedictions from side to side. In the evening, before starting for home, they go to the cafes.

As evening passes into night the sounds of music and dancing are heard. At the doors people sit drinking round tables placed on the pavement or in the rank, poisonous gutter. The hot air is heavy with the smell of decayed fish. Inside the cafes men and women, old and young, are dancing in the fetid atmosphere to jingling pianos or accordions. The heat, the close, sour fumes of musty clothing, tobacco, beer, gin, fried fish, and unwashed humanity, are overpowering. There are disgusting sights in all directions. Fat women, with red, perspiring faces and dirty fingers, still clutching their rosaries; tawdry girls, field-workers, with flushed faces, dancing with country lads, most of whom are more than half tipsy; ribald jokes and laughter and leering eyes; reeling, drunken men; maudlin affection in one corner, and jealous disputing in another; crying babies; beer and gin spilt on the tables; and all sorts of indecency and hideous details which Swift might have gloated over or Hogarth painted.

This is how the day of the Holy Blood procession is finished by many of the countryfolk. The brutal cabaret comes after the prayers and adoration of the morning! It is a world of contrasts. But soon the lights are out, the shutters are put up, the last customer goes staggering homewards, and the Belfry speaks again, as it spoke when the sweet singer lay dreaming at the Fleur-de-Ble:

'In the ancient town of Bruges, In the quaint old Flemish city, As the evening shades descended, Low and loud and sweetly blended, Low at times and loud at times, And changing like a poet's rhymes, Rang the beautiful wild chimes From the Belfry in the market Of the ancient town of Bruges. Then, with deep sonorous clangour, Calmly answering their sweet anger, When the wrangling bells had ended, Slowly struck the clock eleven, And, from out the silent heaven, Silence on the town descended. Silence, silence everywhere, On the earth and in the air, Save that footsteps here and there Of some burgher home returning, By the street lamps faintly burning, For a moment woke the echoes Of the ancient town of Bruges.'




The visitor to Bruges is reminded, wherever he goes, of the stirring events which fill the chronicles of the town for several centuries. Opposite the Belfry, in the middle of the Market-Place, is the monument to Peter De Coninck and John Breidel, on which garlands of flowers are laid every summer, in memory of what they did when the burghers rose against the French in May, 1302; and amongst the modern frescoes which cover the walls of the Grande Salle des Echevins in the Hotel de Ville, with its roof of fourteenth-century woodwork, is one which represents the return from the Battle of the Golden Spurs, that famous fight in which the hardy peasantry of Flanders overthrew the knights of France whom Philip the Fair had sent to avenge the blood of the Frenchmen who had died on the terrible morning of the 'Bruges Matins.'

The fourteenth century had opened. The town had now reached the limits which have contained it ever since—an irregular oval with a circumference of between four and five miles, surrounded by double ditches, and a strong wall pierced by nine fortified gateways; and as the town had grown, the privileges and liberties of the townsmen had grown likewise. Sturdy, independent, and resolved to keep the management of their own affairs in their own hands, the burghers of Bruges, like those of the other Flemish towns, had succeeded in establishing a system of self-government so complete that it roused the opposition of Guy de Dampierre, Count of Flanders, whose efforts to diminish the power of these communities at length brought about a crisis which gave Philip the Fair of France an excuse for interfering. The Count, having to contend both against his own subjects and against the ambitions of the King of France, fell from power, and in the end Flanders was annexed to France.

Soon after this rich province had been added to his domains, Philip came with his wife, Joanna of Navarre, on a visit to Bruges. Already there were two factions in the town—the Leliarts, or French party, consisting chiefly of the upper classes, and the Clauwerts, or Flemish party, to which the mass of the people belonged. By the former Philip was received in royal fashion, and so magnificent were the dresses and jewels worn by the wives and daughters of the nobles and rich burgesses, who sat in the windows and balconies as the royal procession passed along, that the Queen was moved to jealousy. 'I thought,' she said, 'that I alone was Queen; but here in this place I have six hundred rivals.' But in the streets below there were sullen looks and murmurs of discontent, which grew louder and louder every day, when, after the departure of the Court, the magistrates, who belonged to the French party, proposed that the merchant guilds should find money to defray some of the expenses which had been incurred on this occasion.

At this time Peter De Coninck was Dean of the Guild of Weavers, a man of substance, popular and eloquent. There was a tumultuous gathering in the Market-Place, when, standing in front of the Belfry, with the leaders of five-and-twenty guilds around him, he declaimed on liberty, and attacked the magistrates, calling on his fellow-townsmen to resist the taxes. The city officers, on the order of the magistrates, arrested De Coninck and his chief supporters, and hurried them to the prison in the Bourg. But in a few hours the mob forced an entrance and released them. The signal for revolt had been given, and for some months Bruges, like the rest of Flanders, was in disorder. De Coninck, who had been joined by John Breidel, Dean of the Guild of Butchers, was busy rousing the people in all parts of the country. He visited Ghent, amongst other places, and tried to persuade the magistrates that if Ghent and Bruges united their forces the whole Flemish people would rise, crush the Leliarts, and expel the French. But the men of Ghent would not listen to him, and he returned to Bruges. Here, too, he met with a rebuff, for the magistrates, having heard that Jacques de Chatillon, whom Philip had made Governor of Flanders, was marching on the town, would not allow him to remain amongst them. He went to Damme, and with him went, not only Breidel, but 5,000 burghers of the national party, stout Clauwerts, who had devoted themselves to regaining the liberty of their country.

When Chatillon rode up to the walls of Bruges and demanded entrance the magistrates agreed to open the gates, on condition that he brought with him only 300 men-at-arms. But he broke his word, and the town was entered by 2,000 knights, whose haughty looks and threatening language convinced the people that treachery was intended. It was whispered in the Market-Place that the waggons which rumbled over the drawbridges carried ropes with which the Clauwerts who had remained in the town were to be hanged; that there was to be a general massacre, in which not even the women and children would be spared; and that the Frenchmen never unbuckled their swords or took off their armour, but were ready to begin the slaughter at any moment. It was a day of terror in Bruges, and when evening came some of the burghers slipped out, made their way to Damme, and told De Coninck what was passing in the town.

That night Chatillon gave a feast to his chief officers, and amongst his guests was Pierre Flotte, Chancellor of France, perhaps the ablest of those jurists by whose evil councils Philip the Fair was encouraged in the ideas of autocracy which led him to make the setting up of a despotism the policy of his whole life. With Flotte—'that Belial,' as Pope Boniface VIII. once called him—and the rest, Chatillon sat revelling till a late hour. The night wore on; De Chatillon's party broke up, and went to rest; the weary sentinels were half asleep at their posts; and soon all Bruges was buried in silence. Here and there lights twinkled in some of the guild-houses, where a few of the burghers sat anxiously waiting for what the morrow might bring forth, while others went to the ramparts on the north, and strained their eyes to see if help was coming from Damme.

At early dawn—it was Friday, May 18, 1302—the watchers on the ramparts saw a host of armed men rapidly approaching the town. They were divided into two parties, one of which, led by De Coninck, made for the Porte Ste. Croix, while the other, under Breidel, marched to the Porte de Damme, a gateway which no longer exists, but which was then one of the most important entrances, being that by which travellers came from Damme and Sluis. Messengers from the ramparts ran swiftly through the streets, in which daylight was now beginning to appear, and spread the news from house to house. Silently the burghers took their swords and pikes, left their homes, and gathered in the Market-Place and near the houses in which the French were sleeping. The French slept on till, all of a sudden, they were wakened by the tramp of feet, the clash of arms, and shouts of 'Flanders for the Lion!' Breidel had led his men into the town, and they were rushing through the streets to where Chatillon had taken up his quarters, while De Coninck, having passed through the Porte Ste. Croix, was marching to the Bourg. The Frenchmen, bewildered, surprised, and only half awake, ran out into the streets. The Flemings were shouting 'Schilt ende Vriendt! Schilt ende Vriendt!'[*] and every man who could not pronounce these words was known to be a Frenchman, and slain upon the spot. Some fled to the gates; but at every gate they found a band of guards, who called out 'Schilt ende Vriendt!' and put them to the sword.

[Footnote *: 'Shield and Friend!']

All that summer's morning, and on throughout the day, the massacre continued. Old men, women, and children hurled stones from the roofs and windows down upon the enemy. Breidel, a man of great strength, killed many with his own hand, and those whom he wounded were beaten to death where they fell by the apprentices with their iron clubs. In the Market-Place, close to where the monument to De Coninck and Breidel stands, a party of soldiers, under a gallant French knight, Gauthier de Sapignies, made a stand; but they were overpowered and slaughtered to the last man. Chatillon tried to rally his forces, but the surprise had been too complete, and, disguising himself in the cassock of a priest, he hid, in company with Chancellor Flotte, till it was dark, when they managed to escape from the town. By this time the carnage had ceased; the walls of the houses and the gutters ran with blood; and the burghers of Bruges had done their work so thoroughly that 2,000 Frenchmen lay dead upon the streets.

But the final reckoning with France was yet to come. Then Chatillon reached Paris and told his master the direful story of the Bruges Matins, Philip swore revenge; and a few weeks later an army 40,000 strong invaded Flanders, under the Comte d'Artois, with whom rode also Chatillon, Flotte, and many nobles of France. The Flemings went to meet them—not only the burghers of Bruges, led by De Coninck and Breidel, marching under the banners of their guilds, but men from every part of Flanders—and on July 11, near Courtrai, the Battle of the Golden Spurs was fought.

The ground was marshy, with a stream and pools of water between the two armies; and just as the Scots at Bannockburn, twelve years afterwards, prepared pitfalls for the heavy cavalry of England, so the Flemings laid a trap for the French knights by cutting down brushwood and covering the water. The horsemen, clad in cumbrous armour, charged, the brushwood gave way, and most of them sank into the water. The Comte d'Artois got clear, but was beaten to the ground and killed. The Chancellor Flotte, who had boasted that he would bring the people of Bruges to their knees, was trampled to death. Chatillon died too; and when, at last, a long day's fighting came to an end, the Flemings had gained a complete victory. By this battle, which took its name from the thousands of golden spurs which were torn from the French knights who fell, the victors secured—for a time, at least—the liberty of their country, and the memory of it was for many a day to Flanders what the memory of Bannockburn was to Scotland, or of Morgarten to Switzerland.




Damme, where the patriots mustered on the eve of the Bruges Matins, is within a short hour's stroll from the east end of the town. The Roya, which disappears from view, as we have already seen, opposite the Quai du Rosaire, emerges from its hidden course at the west end of the Quai du Miroir, where the statue of Jan van Eyck stands near the door of the building now used as a public library. This building was once the Customs House of Bruges, conveniently situated in the neighbourhood of the Market-Place, and on the side of the Roya, which thence stretches eastwards between the Quai du Miroir and the Quai Spinola for a few hundred yards, and then turns sharply to the north, and continues between the Quai Long and the Quai de la Potterie, which are built in rambling fashion on either side of the water. Some of the houses are old, others of no earlier date, apparently, than the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries; some large and well preserved, and some mere cottages, half ruinous, with low gables and faded yellow fronts, huddled together on the rough causeway, alongside of which are moored canal-boats with brown hulls and deck-houses gay with white and green paint. At the end of the Quai de la Potterie is the modern Bassin de Commerce, in which the Roya loses itself, the harbour for the barges and small steamers which come by the canal connecting Ostend with Bruges and Ghent; and near this was, in ancient days, the Porte de Damme, through which Breidel and his followers burst on that fateful morning in May 600 years ago.

To the right of the Bassin a broad canal, constructed by Napoleon in 1810, extends in a straight line eastwards, contained within dykes which raise it above a wide expanse of level meadow-lands intersected by ditches, and dotted here and there by the white-walled cottages with red roofs and green outside shutters which are so typical of Flemish scenery. About two miles out of Bruges one comes in sight of a windmill perched on a slope at the side of the canal, a square church-tower, a few houses, and some grassy mounds, which were once strong fortifications. Even the historical imagination, which everyone who walks round Bruges must carry with him, is hardly equal to realizing that this was once a bustling seaport, with a harbour in which more than a hundred merchant ships, laden with produce from all parts of the world, were sometimes lying at the same time. In those busy times Damme, they say, contained 50,000 inhabitants; now there are only about 1,100.

Beyond Damme the canal winds on through the same flat landscape, low-lying, water-logged, with small farmhouses and scanty trees, and in the distance, on the few patches of higher ground, the churches of Oostkerke and Westcapelle. At last, soon after passing the Dutch frontier, the canal ends in a little dock with gray, lichen-covered sides; and this is Sluis, a dull place, with a few narrow streets, a market-place, two churches, and a belfry of the fourteenth century. It is quite inland now, miles from the salt water; and from the high ramparts which still surround it the view extends to the north across broad green fields, covering what was once the bed of the sea, in the days when the tide ebbed and flowed in the channel of the Zwijn, over which ships passed sailing on their way to Bruges. But any English traveller who, having gone a little way out of the beaten track of summer tourists, may chance to mount the ramparts, and look down upon the fields which stretch away to the shores of the North Sea and the estuary of the Scheldt, and inland beyond Damme to the Belfry and the spires of Bruges, is gazing on the scene of a great event in the naval history of England.

Here, on what is now dry land, on the morning of June 24, 1340, 800 ships of war, full of armed men—35,000 of them—were drawn up in line of battle; and further out to sea, beyond the entrance of the Zwijn, the newly-risen sun was shining on the sails of another fleet which was manoeuvring in the offing.

'In the cities of Flanders,' says Dr. Gardiner, 'had arisen manufacturing populations which supplied the countries round with the products of the loom. To the Ghent and Bruges of the Middle Ages England stood in the same relation as that which the Australian colonies hold to the Leeds and Bradford of our own day. The sheep which grazed over the wide, unenclosed pasture-lands of our island formed a great part of the wealth of England, and that wealth depended entirely on the flourishing trade with the Flemish towns in which English wool was converted into cloth.' When, therefore, Edward III. claimed the throne of France, and the Hundred Years' War began, it was of vital importance to the trade of Flanders and England that the merchants of the two countries should maintain friendly relations with each other. But Philip of Valois had persuaded the Count of Flanders, Louis de Nevers, to order the arrest of all the English in Flanders, and Edward had retaliated by arresting all the Flemings who were in England, and forbidding the export of English wool to Flanders. The result was that the weavers of Bruges and the other manufacturing towns of Flanders found themselves on the road to ruin; and, having no interest in the question at issue between the Kings of France and England, apart from its effect on their commercial prosperity, the burghers of Bruges, Ghent, and Ypres, under the leadership of the famous Jacob van Artevelde (anticipating, as one of the modern historians of Bruges has noticed, what the Great Powers did for Belgium in 1830[*]), succeeded in securing, with the assent of Philip, the neutrality of Flanders. The French King, however, did not keep faith with the Flemings, but proceeded to acts of aggression against them, and a league against France was formed between England and Flanders.

[Footnote *: Robinson, Bruges, an Historical Sketch, p. 107.]

In June, 1340, Edward, who was then in England, hearing that an immense number of French ships of war were at anchor in the Zwijn, set sail to give them battle with a squadron of 300 vessels. The English fleet anchored off the coast between Blankenberghe and Heyst on the evening of June 23, and from the top of the dunes the English scouts saw in the distance the masts of the French ships in the Zwijn.

As soon as there was light next morning, the English weighed anchor and sailed along the coast to the east; past lonely yellow sands, which have swarmed during recent years with workmen toiling at the construction of the immense harbour of See-Brugge, which is to be the future port of Bruges; past what was then the small fishing hamlet of Heyst; past a range of barren dunes, amongst which to-day Duinbergen, the latest of the Flemish watering-places, with its spacious hotel and trim villas, is being laid out; past a waste of storm-swept sand and rushes, on which are now the digue of Knocke, a cluster of hotels and crowded lodging-houses, and a golf-course; and so onwards till they opened the mouth of the Zwijn, and saw the French ships crowding the entrance, 'their masts appearing to be like a great wood,' and beyond them the walls of Sluis rising from the wet sands left by the receding tide.

It was low-water, and while waiting for the turn of the tide the English fleet stood out to sea for some time, so that Nicholas Behuchet, the French Admiral, began to flatter himself that King Edward, finding himself so completely outnumbered, would not dare to risk fighting against such odds. The odds, indeed, were nearly three to one against the English seamen; but as soon as the tide began to flow they steered straight into the channel, and, Edward leading the van, came to close quarters, ship to ship. The famous archers of England, who six years later were to do such execution at Crecy, lined the bulwarks, and poured in a tempest of arrows so thick that men fell from the tops of the French ships like leaves before a storm. The first of the four lines in which Behuchet had drawn up his fleet was speedily broken, and the English, brandishing their swords and pikes, boarded the French ships, drove their crews overboard, and hoisted the flag of England. King Edward was wounded, and the issue may have been doubtful, when suddenly more ships, coming from the North of England, appeared in sight, and hordes of Flemings from all parts of Flanders, from the coast, and even from inland towns so far away as Ypres,[*] came swarming in boats to join in the attack. This decided the fate of the great battle, which continued till sunset. When it ended, the French fleet had ceased to exist, with the exception of a few ships which escaped when it was dark. The Flemings captured Behuchet, and hung him then and there. Nearly 30,000 of his men perished, many of whom were drowned while attempting to swim ashore, or were clubbed to death by the Flemings who lined the beach, waiting to take vengeance on the invaders for having burned their homesteads and carried off their flocks. The English lost two ships and 4,000 men; but the victory was so complete that no courtier was bold enough to carry the news to King Philip, who did not know what had befallen his great fleet till the Court jester went to him, and said, 'Oh! the English cowards! the English cowards! They had not the courage to jump into the sea as our noble Frenchmen did at Sluis.'

[Footnote *: Vereecke, Histoire Militaire de la Ville d'Ypres, p. 36.]

It is strange to think that Flemish peasants work, and cattle feed, and holiday visitors from Knocke, or Sluis, or Kadzand ramble about dry-shod where the waves were rolling in on that midsummer's morning, and that far beneath the grass the timbers of so many stout ships and the bones of so many valiant seamen have long since mouldered away. And it is also strange to think, when wandering along the canals of Bruges, where now the swans glide silently about in the almost stagnant water which laps the basements of the old houses, how in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries ships of every nation carried in great bales of merchandise, and that rich traders stored them in warehouses and strong vaults, which are now mere coal-cellars, or the dark and empty haunts of the rats which swarm in the canals.

'There is,' says Mr. Robinson, 'in the National Library at Paris a list of the kingdoms and cities which sent their produce to Bruges at that time. England sent wool, lead, tin, coal, and cheese; Ireland and Scotland, chiefly hides and wool; Denmark, pigs; Russia, Hungary, and Bohemia, large quantities of wax; Poland, gold and silver; Germany, wine; Liege, copper kettles; and Bulgaria, furs.' After naming many parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa, that sent goods, the manuscript adds: 'And all the aforesaid realms and regions send their merchants with wares to Flanders, besides those who come from France, Poitou, and Gascony, and from the three islands of which we know not the names of their kingdoms.' The trade of Bruges was enormous. People flocked there from all quarters.

'Lombard and Venetian merchants with deep-laden argosies; Ministers from twenty nations; more than royal pomp and ease.'

We read of 150 ships entering in one day, and of German merchants buying 2,600 pieces of cloth, made by Flemish weavers, in a morning's marketing. A citizen of Bruges was always at the head of the Hanseatic League, and maintained the rights of that vast commercial society under the title of 'Comte de la Hanse.' Merchant princes, members of the Hanse, lived here in palaces. Money-changers grew rich. Edward III. borrowed from the Bardi at Bruges on the security of the Crown jewels of England. Contracts of insurance against maritime risks were entered into from an early period, and the merchant shipping code which regulated traffic by sea was known as the 'Roeles de Damme.'[*] There were twenty consulates at one time in Bruges, and the population of the town is said, though it is difficult to believe that this is not an exaggeration, to have been more than 200,000 before the middle of the fourteenth century.

[Footnote *: Gilliodts van Severen, Bruges Ancienne et Moderne, p. 14.]

Six years after the Battle of Sluis, Louis of Nevers was killed at Crecy, and his son, Louis of Maele, reigned in his stead as Count of Flanders. He was a Leliart to the core, and his reign of nearly forty years, one long struggle against the liberties of his people, witnessed the capture of Bruges by Philip van Artevelde, the invasion of Flanders by the French, the defeat of the Nationalists, and the death of Van Artevelde on the field of Roosebeke. Nevertheless, during this period and after it Bruges grew in beauty and in wealth. The Hotel de Ville, without the grandeur of the Hotel de Ville at Brussels, but still a gem of mediaeval architecture, was built on the site of the old 'Ghiselhuis' of Baldwin Bras-de-Fer. Other noble buildings, rich in design and beautiful in all their outlines, and great mansions, with marble halls and ceilings of exquisitely carved woodwork, rose on every side; towers and pinnacles, shapely windows and graceful arches, overhung the waterways; luxury increased; in the homes of the nobles and wealthy merchants were stores of precious stones, tapestries, silk, fine linen, cloth of gold; the churches and many buildings gleamed with gilded stone and tinted glass and brilliant frescoes. Art flourished as the town grew richer. The elder and the younger Van Eyck, Gerard David, and Memlinc, with many others before and after them, were attracted by its splendour, as modern painters have been attracted by its decay; and though the 'Adoration of the Immaculate Lamb' hangs in the choir of St. Bavon at Ghent, the genius which coloured that matchless altar-piece found its inspiration within the walls of Bruges.

The history of Bruges for many long years, especially under the rule of the House of Burgundy, was, in the midst of war, turmoil, and rebellion, the history of continuous progress. But all this prosperity depended on the sea. So long as the Zwijn remained open, neither war nor faction, not even the last great rising against the Archduke Maximilian, which drove away the foreign merchants, most of whom went to Antwerp, and so impoverished the town that no less than 5,000 houses were standing empty in the year 1405,[*] could have entirely ruined Bruges. These disasters might have been retrieved if the channel of communication with Damme and Sluis had not been lost; but for a long time the condition of this important waterway had been the cause of grave anxiety to the people of Bruges. The heavy volume of water which poured with every ebbing tide down the Scheldt between Flushing and Breskens swept past the island of Walcheren, and spread out into the North Sea and down the English Channel, leaving the mud it carried with it on the sands round the mouth of the Zwijn, which itself did not discharge a current strong enough to prevent the slow but sure formation of a bank across its entrance. Charters, moreover, had been granted to various persons, under which they drained the adjoining lands, and gradually reclaimed large portions from the sea. The channel, at no time very deep, became shallower, narrower, and more difficult of access, until at last, during the second half of the fifteenth century, the passage between Sluis and Damme was navigable only by small ships. Soon the harbour at Damme was nearly choked up with sand. Many schemes were tried in the hope of preserving the Zwijn, but the sea-trade of Bruges dwindled away to a mere nothing, and finally disappeared before the middle of the sixteenth century.

[Footnote *: Gilliodts van Severen, p. 25.]

And so Bruges fell from greatness. There are still some traces of the ancient bed of the Zwijn amongst the fields near Coolkerke, a village a short distance to the north of Bruges—a broad ditch with broken banks, and large pools of slimy water lying desolate and forlorn in a wilderness of tangled bushes. These are now the only remains of the highway by which the 'deep-laden argosies' used to enter in the days of old.




They call it 'Bruges la Morte,' and at every turn there is something to remind us of the deadly blight which fell upon the city when its trade was lost. The faded colours, the timeworn brickwork, the indescribable look of decay which, even on the brightest morning, throws a shade of melancholy over the whole place, lead one to think of some aged dame, who has 'come down in the world,' wearing out the finery of better days. It is all very sad and pathetic, but strangely beautiful, and the painter never lived who could put on canvas the mellow tints with which Time has clothed these old walls, and thus veiled with tender hand the havoc it has made. To stand on the bridge which crosses the canal at the corner of the Quai des Marbriers and the Quai Vert, where the pinnacles of the Palais du Franc and the roof of the Hotel de Ville, with the Belfry just showing above them, and dull red walls rising from the water, make up a unique picture of still-life, is to read a sermon in stones, an impressive lesson in history.

The loss of trade brought Bruges face to face with the 'question of the unemployed' in a very aggravated form. How to provide for the poor became a most serious problem, and so many of the people were reduced to living on charity that almshouses sprang up all over the town. God's Houses ('Godshuisen') they called them, and call them still. They are to be found in all directions—quaint little places, planted down here and there, each with a small chapel of its own, with moss-grown roofs and dingy walls, and doors that open on to the uneven cobbles. Every stone of them spells pauperism. The Church does much towards maintaining these shelters for the poor—perhaps too much, if it is true that there are 10,000 paupers in Bruges out of a population of about 55,000. There is a great deal of begging in the streets, and a sad lack of sturdy self-respect amongst the lower class, which many think is caused by the system of doles, for which the Church is chiefly responsible. Bruges might not have been so picturesque to-day if her commerce had survived; but the beauty of a town is dearly purchased at the cost of such degradation and loss of personal independence.

It was not only the working class which suffered. Many rich families sank into poverty, and their homes, some of which were more like palaces than private houses, had to be dismantled. The fate of one of these lordly mansions is connected with an episode which carries us back into the social life of Bruges in the middle of the seventeenth century. On the right side of the Rue Haute, as one goes from the Place du Bourg, there is a high block containing two large houses, Nos. 6 and 8, of that street. It is now a big, plain building without a trace of architectural distinction; but in the seventeenth century it was a single mansion, built about the year 1320, and was one of the many houses with towers which gave the Bruges of that time almost the appearance of an Oriental city. It was called the House of the Seven Towers, from the seven pinnacles which surmounted it; and at the back there was a large garden, which extended to the canal and Quai des Marbriers.

In April, 1656, the 'tall man above two yards high, with dark brown hair, scarcely to be distinguished from black,' for whom the Roundheads had searched all England after the Battle of Worcester, found his way to Bruges, with his brother Henry, Duke of Gloucester, and the train of Royalists who formed their Court. For nearly three years after Worcester, Charles II. had lived in France; but in July, 1654, the alliance between Cromwell and Mazarin drove him to Germany, where he remained till Don John of Austria became Governor of the Spanish Netherlands. Thereupon the prospect of recovering the English throne by the assistance of Spain led him to remove his Court, which had been established for some time at Cologne, to Flanders. He arrived at Bruges on April 22, 1656. His brother James, Duke of York, and afterwards King of England, held a commission in the French army, and Mazarin offered him a command in Italy. Charles, however, requested him to leave the French army, and enter the service of Spain. At first James refused; but by the mediation of their sister, the Princess of Orange, he was persuaded to do as his brother wished, and join the Court at Bruges. The Irish Viscount Tarah received Charles, when he first arrived, in his house in the Rue du Vieux Bourg, and there gave him, we read in local history, 'une brillante hospitalite.' But in the beginning of June the Court took up its quarters in the House of the Seven Towers.

During his sojourn in Flanders, Charles was carefully watched by the secret service officers of the Commonwealth Government, who sent home reports of all he did. These reports, many of which are in the Thurloe State Papers and other collections, contain some curious details about the exiled Court.

There never was a more interesting 'English colony' at Bruges than at that time. Hyde, who received the Great Seal at Bruges, was there with Ormonde and the Earls of Bristol, Norwich, and Rochester. Sir Edward Nicholas was Secretary of State; and we read of Colonel Sydenham, Sir Robert Murray, and 'Mr. Cairless', who sat on the tree with Charles Stewart after Worcester fight. Another of the exiles at Bruges was Sir James Turner, the soldier of fortune, who served under Gustavus Adolphus, persecuted the Covenanters in Scotland, and is usually supposed to have been the original of Dugald Dalgetty in Sir Walter Scott's Legend of Montrose. A list of the royal household is still preserved at Bruges. It was prepared in order that the town council might fix the daily allowance of wine and beer which was to be given to the Court, and contains the names of about sixty persons, with a note of the supply granted to each family.

A 'Letter of Intelligence' (the report of a spy), dated from Bruges on September 29, 1656, mentions that Lilly, the astrologer of London, had written to say that the King would be restored to the throne next year, and that all the English at Bruges were delighted. But in the meantime they were very hard up for ready money. Ever since leaving England Charles and his followers had suffered from the most direful impecuniosity. We find Hyde declaring that he has 'neither shoes nor shirt.' The King himself was constantly running into debt for his meals, and his friends spent many a hungry day at Bruges. If by good luck they chanced to be in funds, one meal a day sufficed for a party of half a dozen courtiers. If it was cold they could not afford to purchase firewood. The Earl of Norwich writes, saying that he has to move about so as to get lodgings on credit, and avoid people to whom he owes money. Colonel Borthwick, who claims to have served the King most faithfully, complains that he is in prison at Bruges on suspicion of disloyalty, has not changed his clothes for three years, and is compelled by lack of cash to go without a fire in winter. Sir James Hamilton, a gentleman-in-waiting, gets drunk one day, and threatens to kill the Lord Chancellor. He is starving, and declares it is Hyde's fault that the King gives him no money. He will put on a clean shirt to be hanged in, and not run away, being without so much as a penny. Then we have the petition of a poor fencing-master. 'Heaven,' he writes piteously, 'hears the groans of the lowest creatures, and therefore I trust that you, being a terrestrial deity, will not disdain my supplication.' He had come from Cologne to Bruges to teach the royal household, and wanted his wages, for he and his family were starving.

Don John of Austria visited Charles at Bruges, and an allowance from the King of Spain was promised, so that men might be levied for the operations against Cromwell; but the payments were few and irregular. 'The English Court,' says a letter of February, 1657, 'remains still at Bridges [Bruges], never in greater want, nor greater expectations of money, without which all their levies are like to be at a stand; for Englishmen cannot live on bread alone.'

A 'Letter of Intelligence' sent from Sluis says that Charles is 'much loocked upon, but littell respeckted.' And this is not wonderful if the reports sent home by the Commonwealth agents are to be trusted. One of the spies who haunted the neighbourhood of Bruges was a Mr. Butler, who writes in the winter of 1656-1657: 'This last week one of the richest churches in Bruges was plundered in the night. The people of Bruges are fully persuaded that Charles Stewart's followers have done it. They spare no pains to find out the guilty, and if it happen to light upon any of Charles Stewart's train, it will mightily incense that people against them.... There is now a company of French comedians at Bruges, who are very punctually attended by Charles Stewart and his Court, and all the ladies there. Their most solemn day of acting is the Lord's Day. I think I may truly say that greater abominations were never practised among people than at this day at Charles Stewart's Court. Fornication, drunkenness, and adultery are esteemed no sins amongst them; so I persuade myself God will never prosper any of their attempts.'[*] In another letter we read that once, after a hunting expedition, Charles and a gentleman of the bedchamber were the only two who came back sober. Sir James Turner was mad when drunk, 'and that was pretty often,' says Bishop Burnet.

[Footnote *: Letter from Mr. J. Butler, Flushing, December 2, 1656, Thurloe State Papers, V., 645.]

But, of course, it was the business of the spies to blacken the character of Charles; and there can be little doubt that, in spite of his poverty and loose morals, he was well liked by the citizens of Bruges, who, notwithstanding a great deal of outward decorum, have at no time been very strait-laced. 'Charles,' we learn from a local history, 'sut se rendre populaire en prenant part aux amusements de la population et en se pliant, sans effort comme sans affectation, aux usages du pays.' During his whole period of exile he contrived to amuse himself. Affairs of gallantry, dancing, tennis, billiards, and other frivolous pursuits, occupied as much of his attention as the grave affairs of State over which Hyde and Ormonde spent so many anxious hours. When on a visit to Brussels in the spring of 1657, he employed, we are told, most of his time with Don John dancing, or at 'long paume, a Spanish play with balls filled with wire.' And, again: 'He passes his time with shooting at Bruges, and such other obscure pastimes.'

This 'shooting' was the favourite Flemish sport of shooting with bow and arrows at an artificial bird fixed on a high pole, the prize being, on great occasions, a golden bird, which was hung by a chain of gold round the winner's neck. In the records of the Guilds of St. George and St. Sebastian at Bruges there are notices relating to Charles. The former was a society of cross-bowmen, the latter of archers. On June 11, 1656, Charles and the Duke of Gloucester were at the festival of the Society of St. George. Charles was the first to try his skill, and managed to hit the mark. After the Duke and many others had shot, Peter Pruyssenaere, a wine merchant in the Rue du Vieux Bourg, brought down the bird, and Charles hung the golden 'Bird of Honour' round his neck. On June 25 Charles visited the Society of St. Sebastian, when Michael Noe, a gardener, was the winner. The King and Gloucester both became members of the St. Sebastian, which is still a flourishing society. Going along the Rue des Carmes, the traveller passes the English convent on the left, and on the right, at the end of the street, comes to the Guild-house of St. Sebastian, with its slender tower and quiet garden, one of the pleasantest spots in Bruges. There the names of Charles and his brother are to be seen inscribed in a small volume bound in red morocco, the 'Bird of Honour' with its chain of gold, a silver arrow presented by the Duke of Gloucester, and some other interesting relics. On September 15, 1843, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, King Leopold I., and the Queen of the Belgians, went to the Rue des Carmes and signed their names as members of this society, which now possesses two silver cups, presented by the Queen of England in 1845 and 1893. The Duke of York seems to have been successful as an archer, for in the Hotel de Ville at Bruges there is a picture by John van Meuninxhove, in which Charles is seen hanging the 'Bird of Honour' round his brother's neck.

In April, 1657, the English Government was informed that the Court of Charles was preparing to leave Bruges. 'Yesterday' (April 7) 'some of his servants went before to Brussels to make ready lodgings for Charles Stewart, the Duke of York, and the Duke of Gloucester. All that have or can compass so much money go along with Charles Stewart on Monday morning. I do admire how people live here for want of money. Our number is not increased since my last. The most of them are begging again for want of money; and when any straggling persons come, we have not so much money as will take a single man to the quarters; yet we promise ourselves great matters.' They were hampered in all their movements by this want of hard cash, for Charles was in debt at Bruges, and could not remove his goods until he paid his creditors. It was sadly humiliating. 'The King,' we read, 'will hardly live at Bruges any more, but he cannot remove his family and goods till we get money.' The dilemma seems to have been settled by Charles, his brothers, and most of the Court going off to Brussels, leaving their possessions behind them. The final move did not take place till February, 1658, and Clarendon says that Charles never lived at Bruges after that date. He may, however, have returned on a short visit, for Jesse, in his Memoirs of the Court Of England under the Stuarts, states that the King was playing tennis at Bruges when Sir Stephen Fox came to him with the great news, 'The devil is dead!' This would be in September, 1658, Cromwell having died on the third of that month. After the Restoration Charles sent to the citizens of Bruges a letter of thanks for the way in which they had received him. Nor did he forget, amidst the pleasures of the Court at Whitehall, the simple pastimes of the honest burghers, but presented to the archers of the Society of St. Sebastian the sum of 3,600 florins, which were expended on their hall of meeting.

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