Infomotions, Inc.Bruges and West Flanders / Omond, George W. T. (George William Thomson), 1846-1929



Author: Omond, George W. T. (George William Thomson), 1846-1929
Title: Bruges and West Flanders
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): bruges; flanders; ypres; flemish; dunes; baldwin bras; west flanders; charles; notre dame
Contributor(s): édée, 1861-1930 [Illustrator]
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 36,344 words (really short) Grade range: 13-15 (college) Readability score: 50 (average)
Identifier: etext18670
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Title: Bruges and West Flanders


Author: George W. T. Omond



Release Date: June 23, 2006  [eBook #18670]

Language: English

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BRUGES AND WEST FLANDERS

Painted by

AMEDEE FORESTIER

Described by

G. W. T. OMOND

1906






[Illustration: A FLEMISH COUNTRY GIRL]




Preface

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.




Contents

CHAPTER I

THE MARKET-PLACE AND BELFRY--EARLY HISTORY OF BRUGES

CHAPTER II

BALDWIN BRAS-DE-FER--THE PLACE DU BOURG--MURDER OF CHARLES THE GOOD

CHAPTER III

THE BEGUINAGE--CHURCHES--THE RELIC OF THE HOLY BLOOD

CHAPTER IV

THE BRUGES MATINS--BATTLE OF THE GOLDEN SPURS

CHAPTER V

DAMME--THE SEA-FIGHT AT SLUIS--SPLENDOUR OF BRUGES IN THE MIDDLE
AGES--THE FALL AND LOSS OF TRADE

CHAPTER VI

'BRUGES LA MORTE'

CHAPTER VII

THE PLAIN OF WEST FLANDERS--YPRES

CHAPTER VIII

FURNES--THE PROCESSION OF PENITENTS

CHAPTER IX

NIEUPORT--THE BATTLE OF THE DUNES

CHAPTER X

THE COAST OF FLANDERS

CHAPTER XI

COXYDE--THE SCENERY OF THE DUNES

INDEX




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




THE MARKET-PLACE AND BELFRY--EARLY HISTORY OF BRUGES




BRUGES AND WEST FLANDERS

CHAPTER I

THE MARKET-PLACE AND BELFRY--EARLY HISTORY OF BRUGES

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.

[Illustration: BRUGES. A corner of the Market on the Grand' Place.]

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_."

[Illustration: BELL-RINGER PLAYING A CHIME.]

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.]

[Illustration: BRUGES. Porte d'Ostende.]




BALDWIN BRAS-DE-FRE--THE PLACE DU BOURG--MURDER OF CHARLES THE GOOD




CHAPTER II

BALDWIN BRAS-DE-FER--THE PLACE DU BOURG--MURDER OF CHARLES THE GOOD

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.

[Illustration: BRUGES. Rue de l'Ane Aveugle (showing end of Town
Hall and Bridge connecting it with Palais de Justice).]

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.

[Illustration: BRUGES. Quai du Rosaire.]

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.




THE BEGUINAGE--CHURCHES--THE RELIC OF THE HOLY BLOOD




CHAPTER III

THE BEGUINAGE--CHURCHES--THE RELIC OF THE HOLY BLOOD

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.

[Illustration: BRUGES. The Beguinage.]

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.'

[Illustration: BRUGES. Quai des Marbriers.]




THE BRUGES MATINS--BATTLE OF THE GOLDEN SPURS




CHAPTER IV

THE BRUGES MATINS--BATTLE OF THE GOLDEN SPURS

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.

[Illustration: A FLEMISH YOUNG WOMAN]

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.

[Illustration: A FLEMISH BURGHER]

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--THE SEA-FIGHT AT SLUIS--SPLENDOUR OF BRUGES IN THE MIDDLE
AGES--THE FALL AND LOSS OF TRADE




CHAPTER V

DAMME--THE SEA-FIGHT AT SLUIS--SPLENDOUR OF BRUGES IN THE MIDDLE
AGES--THE FALL AND LOSS OF TRADE

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.

[Illustration: BRUGES. Qua du Miroir]

'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.




'BRUGES LA MORTE'




CHAPTER VI

'BRUGES LA MORTE'

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.

[Illustration: BRUGES. View of the Palais du Franc.]

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.

[Illustration: BRUGES. Maison du Pelican (Almshouse).]

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.

More than a hundred years later, when the Stuart dynasty was a thing
of the past and George III. was seated on the throne of England,
the Rue Haute saw the arrival of some travellers who were very
different from the roystering Cavaliers and frail beauties who had
made it gay in the days of the Merry Monarch. The English Jesuits
of St. Omer, when expelled from their college, came to Bruges in
August, 1762, and took up their abode in the House of the Seven
Towers, where they found 'nothing but naked walls and empty chambers.'
A miserable place it must have been. 'In one room a rough table of
planks had been set up, and the famished travellers were rejoiced
at the sight of three roast legs of mutton set on the primitive
table. Knives, forks, and plates there were none. A Flemish servant
divided the food with his pocket-knife. A farthing candle gave
a Rembrandt-like effect to the scene. The boys slept that night
on mattresses laid on the floor of one of the big empty rooms of
the house. The first days at Bruges were cheerless enough.'[*]
The religious houses, however, came to the rescue. Flemish monks
and the nuns of the English convent helped the pilgrims, and the
Jesuits soon established themselves at Bruges, where they remained
in peace for a few years, till the Austrian Government drove them
out. The same fate overtook the inmates of many monasteries and
convents at Bruges in the reign of Joseph II., whose reforming
zeal led to that revolt of the Austrian Netherlands which was the
prelude to the invasion of Flanders by the army of the French
Revolution.

[Footnote *: Robinson, _Bruges, an Historical Sketch_, p. 291.]

After the conquest of Belgium by the French it looked as if all
the churches in Bruges were doomed. The Chapel of St. Basil was
laid in ruins. The Church of St. Donatian, which had stood since
the days of Baldwin Bras-de-Fer, was pulled down and disappeared
entirely. Notre Dame, St. Sauveur, and other places of worship,
narrowly escaped destruction; and it was not till the middle of
the nineteenth century that the town recovered, in some measure,
from these disasters.

Bruges has doubtless shared in the general prosperity which has
spread over the country since Belgium became an independent kingdom
after the revolution of 1830, but its progress has been slow. It
has never lost its old-world associations; and the names of the
streets and squares, and the traditions connected with numberless
houses which a stranger might pass without notice, are all so many
links with the past. There is the Rue Espagnole, for example, where
a vegetable market is held every Wednesday. This was the quarter
where the Spanish merchants lived and did their business. There
used to be a tall, dark, and, in fact, very dirty-looking old house
in this street known by the Spanish name of the 'Casa Negra.' It
was pulled down a few years ago; but lower down, at the foot of
the street, the great cellars in which the Spaniards stored their
goods remain; and on the Quai Espagnol was the Spanish Consulate,
now a large dwelling-house. A few steps from the Quai Espagnol is
the Place des Orientaux (Oosterlingen Plaats), where a minaret of
tawny brick rises above the gables of what was once the Consulate
of Smyrna, and on the north side of which, in the brave days of
old, stood the splendid Maison des Orientaux, the headquarters
of the Hanseatic League in Bruges, the finest house in Flanders,
with turrets and soaring spire, and marvellous facade, and rooms
inside all ablaze with gilding. The glory has departed; two modern
dwelling-houses have taken the place of this commercial palace;
but it must surely be a very dull imagination on which the sight
of this spot, now so tranquil and commonplace, but once the centre
of such important transactions, makes no impression. From the Place
des Orientaux it is only a few minutes' stroll to the Rue Cour
de Gand and the dark brown wooden front of the small house, now
a lace shop, which tradition says was one of Memlinc's homes in
Bruges, where we can fancy him, laboriously and with loving care,
putting the last minute touches to some immortal painting.

Then there is the Rue Anglaise, off the Quai Spinola, where the
English Merchant Adventurers met to discuss their affairs in houses
with such names as 'Old England' or 'The Tower of London.' The
head of the colony, 'Governor of the English Nation beyond the
Seas' they called him, was a very busy man 400 years ago.[*] The
Scottish merchants were settled in the same district, close to
the Church of Ste. Walburge. They called their house 'Scotland,'
and doubtless made as good bargains as the 'auld enemy' in the
next street. There is a building called the Parijssche Halle, or
Halle de Paris, hidden away among the houses to the west of the
Market-Place, with a cafe and a theatre where Flemish plays are acted
now, which was formerly the Consulate of France; and subscription
balls and amateur theatricals are given by the English residents of
to-day in the fourteenth-century house of the Genoese merchants
in the Rue Flamande. The list of streets and houses with old-time
associations like these might be extended indefinitely, for in
Bruges the past is ever present.

[Footnote *: In the _Flandria Illustrata_ of Sanderus, vol. i.,
p. 275, there is a picture of the 'Domus Anglorum.']

[Illustration: BRUGES. Vegetable Market.]

Even the flat-fronted, plain houses with which poverty or the bad
taste of the last century replaced many of the older buildings
do not spoil the picturesque appearance of the town as a whole,
because it is no larger now than it was 600 years ago, and these
modern structures are quite lost amongst their venerable neighbours.
Thus Bruges retains its mediaeval character. In the midst, however,
of all this wealth of architectural beauty and historical interest,
the atmosphere of common everyday life seems to be so very dull and
depressing that people living there are apt to be driven, by sheer
boredom, into spending their lives in a round of small excitements
and incessant, wearisome gossip, and into taking far more interest
in the paltry squabbles of their neighbours over some storm in
a teacup than in the more important topics which invigorate the
minds of men and women in healthier and broader societies. Long
before Rodenbach's romance was written this peculiarity of Bruges
was proverbial throughout Belgium.

But it is possible that a change is at hand, and that Bruges may
once again become, not the Venice of the North--the time for that is
past--but an important town, for the spirit of commercial enterprise
which has done so much for other parts of Belgium during the last
seventy-five years is now invading even this quiet place, whose
citizens have begun to dream of recovering some portion of their
former prosperity. In 1895 the Belgian Parliament passed a law
providing for the construction, between Blankenberghe and Heyst,
of a harbour connected with Bruges by a canal of large dimensions,
and of an inner port at the town. The works at See-Brugge, as the
outer port is called, are nearly completed, and will allow vessels
drawing 26-1/2 feet of water to float at any state of the tide.
The jetty describes a large curve, and the bend is such that its
extremity is parallel to the coast, and 930 yards distant from
the low-water mark. The sheltered roadstead is about 272 acres in
extent, and communication is made with the canal by a lock 66 feet
wide and 282 yards in length. From this point the canal, which has a
depth of 26-1/2 feet and is fed by sea-water, runs in a straight
line to Bruges, and ends at the inner port, which is within a few
hundred yards of where the Roya used to meet the Zwijn. It is capable
of affording a minimum capacity of 1,000,000 tons per annum, and
the whole equipment has been fitted up necessary for dealing with
this amount of traffic.

The first ship, an English steamer, entered the new port at Bruges
on the morning of May 29 in the present year (1905). The carillon
rung from the Belfry, guns were fired, and a ceremony in honour
of the event took place in the Hotel de Ville. It now remains to
be seen whether any part of the trade which was lost 400 years ago
can be recovered by the skill of modern engineers and the resources
of modern capital.




THE PLAIN OF WEST FLANDERS--YPRES




CHAPTER VII

THE PLAIN OF WEST FLANDERS--YPRES

To the west of Bruges the wide plain of Flanders extends to the
French frontier. Church spires and windmills are the most prominent
objects in the landscape; but though the flatness of the scenery is
monotonous, there is something pleasing to the eye in the endless
succession of well-cultivated fields, interrupted at intervals by
patches of rough bushland, canals, or slow-moving streams winding
between rows of pollards, country houses embowered in woods and
pleasure-grounds, cottages with fruitful gardens, orchards, small
villages, and compact little towns, in most of which the diligent
antiquary will find something of interest--a modest belfry, perhaps,
with a romance of its own; a parish church, whose foundations were
laid long ago in ground dedicated, in the distant past, to the
worship of Thor or Woden; or the remains, it may be, of a mediaeval
castle, from which some worthy knight, whose name is forgotten
except in local traditions, rode away to the Crusades.

This part of West Flanders, which lies wedged in between the coast,
with its populous bathing stations, and the better-known district
immediately to the south of it, where Ghent, Tournai, Courtrai,
and other important centres draw many travellers every year, is
seldom visited by strangers, who are almost as much stared at in
some of the villages as they would be in the streets of Pekin. It
is, however, very accessible. The roads are certainly far from
good, and anything in the shape of a walking tour is out of the
question, for the strongest pedestrian would have all his pleasure
spoilt by the hard-going of the long, straight causeway. The ideal
way to see the Netherlands and study the life of the people is
to travel on the canals; but these are not so numerous here as
in other parts of the country, and, besides, it is not very easy
to arrange for a passage on the barges. But, in addition to the
main lines of the State Railway, there are the 'Chemins-de-fer
Vicinaux,' or light district railways, which run through all parts
of Belgium. The fares on these are very low, and there are so many
stoppages that the traveller can see a great many places in the
course of a single day. There are cycle tracks, too, alongside
most of the roads, the cost of keeping them in order being paid
out of the yearly tax paid by the owners of bicycles.[*]

[Footnote *: Bicycles entering Belgium pay an _ad valorem_ duty
of 12 per cent.]

[Illustration: THE FLEMISH PLAIN]

This is the most purely Flemish part of Flanders. One very seldom
notices that Spanish type of face which is so common elsewhere--at
Antwerp, for instance. Here the race is almost unmixed, and the
peasants speak nothing but Flemish to each other. Many of them
do not understand a word of French, though in Belgium French is,
as everyone knows, the language of public life and of literature.
The newspapers published in Flemish are small, and do not contain
much beyond local news. The result is that the country people in
West Flanders know very little of what is going on in the world
beyond their own parishes. The standard of education is low, being
to a great extent in the hands of the clergy, who have hitherto
succeeded in defeating all proposals for making it universal and
compulsory.

But, steeped as most of them are in ignorance and superstition,
the agricultural labourers of West Flanders are, to all appearance,
quite contented with their lot. Living is cheap, and their wants
are few. Coffee, black bread, potatoes, and salted pork, are the
chief articles of diet, and in some households even the pork is a
treat for special occasions. They seldom taste butter, using lard
instead; and the 'margarine' which is sold in the towns does not
find its way into the cottages of the outlying country districts.
Sugar has for many years been much dearer than in England, and the
price is steadily rising, but with this exception the food of the
people is cheap. Tea enters Belgium duty free, but the peasants
never use it. Many villagers smoke coarse tobacco grown in their own
gardens, and a 10-centimes cigar is the height of luxury. Tobacco
being a State monopoly in France, the high price in that country
makes smuggling common, and there is a good deal of contraband
trading carried on in a quiet way on the frontiers of West Flanders.
The average wage paid for field labour is from 1 franc 50 centimes
to 2 francs a day for married men--that is to say, from about 1s.
3d. to 1s. 8d. of English money. Bachelors generally receive 1
franc (10d.) a day and their food. The working hours are long,
often from five in the morning till eight in the evening in summer,
and in winter from sunrise till sunset, with one break at twelve
o'clock for dinner, consisting of bread with pork and black coffee,
and another about four in the afternoon, when what remains of the
mid-day meal is consumed.

The Flemish farmhouse is generally a substantial building, with
two large living-rooms, in which valuable old pieces of furniture
are still occasionally to be found, though the curiosity dealers
have, during the last quarter of a century, carried most of them
away, polished them up, and sold them at a high profit. Carved
chests, bearing the arms of ancient families, have been discovered
lying full of rubbish in barns or stables, and handsome cabinets,
with fine mouldings and brass fittings, have frequently been picked
up for a few francs. The heavy beams of the ceilings, black with
age, the long Flemish stoves, and the quaint window-seats deeply
sunk in the thick walls, still remain, and make the interiors of many
of these houses very picturesque; but the 'finds' of old furniture,
curious brass or pewter dishes, and even stray bits of valuable
tapestry, which used to rouse the cupidity of strangers, are now
very rare. Almost all the brass work which is so eagerly bought by
credulous tourists at Bruges in summer is bran-new stuff cleverly
manufactured for sale--and sold it is at five or six times its
real market value! There are no bargains to be picked up on the
Dyver or in the shops of Bruges.

[Illustration: DUINHOEK. Interior of a Farmhouse.]

The country life is simple. A good deal of hard drinking goes on
in most villages. More beer, probably, is consumed in Belgium per
head of the population than in any other European country, Germany
not excepted, and the system of swallowing 'little glasses' of fiery
spirit on the top of beer brings forth its natural fruits. The
drunken ways of the people are encouraged by the excessive number
of public-houses. Practically anyone who can pay the Government
fee and obtain a barrel of beer and a few tumblers may open a
drinking-shop. It is not uncommon in a small country village with
about 200 inhabitants to see the words 'Herberg' or 'Estaminet' over
the doors of a dozen houses, in which beer is sold at a penny (or
less) for a large glass, and where various throat-burning liquors
of the _petit verre_ species can be had at the same price; and
the result is that very often a great portion of the scanty wage
paid on Saturday evening is melted into beer or gin on Sunday and
Monday. As a rule, the Flemish labourer, being a merry, light-hearted
soul, is merely noisy and jovial in a brutal sort of way in his
cups; but let a quarrel arise, out come the knives, and before
the rural policeman saunters along there are nasty rows, ending
in wounds and sometimes in murder. When the lots are drawn for
military service, and crowds of country lads with their friends
flock into the towns, the public-houses do good business. Those
who have drawn lucky numbers, and so escaped the conscription,
get drunk out of joy; while those who find they must serve in the
army drown their sorrow, or celebrate the occasion if they are
of a martial turn, by reeling about the streets arm in arm with
their companions, shouting and singing. Whole families, old and
young alike, often join in these performances, and they must be
very drunk and very disorderly before the police think of making
even the mildest remonstrance.

The gay character of the Flemings is best seen at the 'kermesse,'
or fair, which is held in almost every village during summer. At
Bruges, Ypres, and Furnes, and still more in such large cities
as Brussels or Antwerp, the kermesse has ceased to be typical of
the country, and is supplanted by fairs such as may be seen in
England or in almost any other country. 'Merry-go-rounds' driven
by steam, elaborate circuses, menageries, waxwork exhibitions,
movable theatres, and modern 'shows' of every kind travel about,
and settle for a few days, perhaps even for a few weeks, in various
towns. The countryfolk of the surrounding district are delighted,
and the showmen reap a goodly harvest of francs and centimes; but
these fairs are tiresome and commonplace, much less amusing and
lively than, for example, St. Giles's Fair at Oxford, though very
nearly as noisy. But the kermesse proper, which still survives in
some places, shows the Flemings amusing themselves in something
more like the old fashion than anything which can be seen in the
Market-Place of Bruges or on the boulevards of Brussels or Antwerp.
Indeed, some of the village scenes, when the young people are dancing
or shooting with bows and arrows at the mark, while the elders sit,
with their mugs of beer and long pipes, watching and gossiping,
are very like what took place in the times of the old painters who
were so fond of producing pictures of the kermesses. The dress of
the people, of course, is different, but the spirit of the scene,
with its homely festivities, is wonderfully little changed.

About twenty miles from the French frontier is the town of Ypres,
once the capital of Flanders, and which in the time of Louis of Nevers
was one of the three 'bonnes villes,' Bruges and Ghent being the
others, which appointed deputies to defend the rights and privileges
of the whole Flemish people.

As Bruges grew out of the rude fortress on the banks of the Roya,
so Ypres developed from a stronghold built, probably about the year
900, on a small island in the river Yperlee. It was triangular
in shape, with a tower at each corner, and was at first known by
the inhabitants of the surrounding plain as the 'Castle of the
Three Towers.' In course of time houses began to appear on the
banks of the river near the island. A rampart of earth with a ditch
defended these, and as the place grew, the outworks became more
extensive. Owing to its strategic position, near France and in a
part of Flanders which was constantly the scene of war, it was of
great importance; and probably no other Flemish town has seen its
defences so frequently altered and enlarged as Ypres has between
the primitive days when the Crusading Thierry d'Alsace planted
hedges of live thorns to strengthen the towers, and the reign of
Louis XIV., when a vast and elaborate system of fortifications
was constructed on scientific principles, under the direction of
Vauban.

The citizens of Ypres took a prominent part in most of the great
events which distinguished the heroic period of Flemish history. In
July, 1302, a contingent of 1,200 chosen men, '500 of them clothed
in scarlet and the rest in black,' were set to watch the town and
castle of Courtrai during the Battle of the Golden Spurs, and in
the following year the victory was celebrated by the institution
of the Confraternity of the Archers of St. Sebastian, which still
exists at Ypres, the last survivor of the armed societies which
flourished there during the Middle Ages. Seven hundred burghers
of Ypres marched to Sluis, embarked in the Flemish boats which
harassed the French fleet during the naval fight of June, 1340,
and at the close of the campaign formed themselves into the
Confraternity of St. Michael, which lasted till the French invasion
of 1794. Forty years later we find no fewer than 5,000 of the men
of Ypres, who had now changed their politics, on the French side
at the Battle of Roosebeke, fighting in the thick mist upon the
plain between Ypres and Roulers on that fatal day which saw the
death of Philip van Artevelde and the triumph of the Leliarts.

[Illustration: ADINKERQUE. At the Kermesse.]

Next year, so unceasingly did the tide of war flow over the plain
of Flanders, an English army, commanded by Henry Spencer, Bishop
of Norwich, landed at Calais under the pretext of supporting the
partisans of Pope Urban VI., who then occupied the Holy See, against
the adherents of Pope Clement VII., who had established himself at
Avignon. The burghers of Ghent flocked to the English standard,
and the allies laid siege to Ypres, which was defended by the French
and the Leliarts, who followed Louis of Maele, Count of Flanders,
and maintained the cause of Clement.

At that time the gateways were the only part of the fortifications
made of stone. The ramparts were of earth, planted on the exterior
slope with a thick mass of thorn-bushes, interlaced and strengthened
by posts. Outside there were more defences of wooden stockades,
and beyond them two ditches, divided by a dyke, on which was a
palisade of pointed stakes. The town, thus fortified, was defended
by about 10,000 men, and un June 8, 1383, the siege was begun by
a force consisting of 17,000 English and 20,000 Flemings of the
national party, most of whom came from Bruges and Ghent.

The English had been told that the town would not offer a strong
resistance, and on the first day of the siege 1,000 of them tried
to carry it at once by assault. They were repulsed; and after that
assaults by the besiegers and sorties by the garrison continued
day after day, the loss of life on both sides being very great.
At last the besiegers, finding that they could not, in the face of
the shower of arrows, javelins, and stones which met them, break
through the palisades and the sharp thorn fences (those predecessors
of the barbed-wire entanglements of to-day), force the gates, or
carry the ramparts, built three wooden towers mounted on wheels,
and pushed them full of soldiers up to the gates. But the garrison
made a sortie, seized the towers, destroyed them, and killed or
captured the soldiers who manned them.

Spencer on several occasions demanded the surrender of the town,
but all his proposals were rejected. The English pressed closer and
closer, but were repulsed with heavy losses whenever they delivered
an assault. The hopes of the garrison rose high on August 7, the
sixty-first day of the siege, when news arrived that a French army,
100,000 strong, accompanied by the forces of the Count of Flanders,
was marching to the relief of Ypres. Early next morning the English
made a fresh attempt to force their way into the town, but they
were once more driven back. A little later in the day they twice
advanced with the utmost bravery. Again they were beaten back.
So were the burghers of Ghent, whom the English reproached for
having deceived them by saying that Ypres would fall in three days,
and whose answer to this accusation was, a furious attack on one
of the gates, in which many of them fell. In the afternoon the
English again advanced, and succeeded in forcing their way through
part of the formidable thorn hedge; but it was of no avail, and once
more they had to retire, leaving heaps of dead behind them. After
a rest of some hours, another attack was made on seven different
parts of the town at the same time. This assault was the most furious
and bloody of the siege, but it was the last. Spencer saw that, in
spite of the splendid courage of his soldiers and of the Flemish
burghers, it would be impossible to take the town before the French
army arrived, and during the night the English, with their allies
from Ghent and Bruges, retired from before Ypres. The failure of
this campaign left Flanders at the mercy of France; but the death
of Count Louis of Maele, which took place in January, 1384, brought
in the House of Burgundy, under whose rule the Flemings enjoyed
a long period of prosperity and almost complete independence.

It was believed in Ypres that the town had been saved by the
intercession of the Virgin Mary, its patron saint. In the Cathedral
Church of St. Martin the citizens set up an image of Notre,
Dame-de-Thuine, that is, Our Lady of the Enclosures, an allusion
to the strong barrier of thorns which had kept the enemy at bay;
and a kermesse, appointed to be held on the first Sunday of August
every year in commemoration of the siege, received the name of
the 'Thuindag,' or Day of the Enclosures.[*] The people of Ypres,
though they fought on the French side, had good reason to be proud
of the way in which they defended their homes; but the consequences
of the siege were disastrous, for the commerce of the town never
recovered the loss of the large working-class population which
left it at that time.

[Footnote *: 'Thuin,' or 'tuin,' in Flemish means an enclosed space,
such as a garden plot.]

[Illustration: A FARMSTEADING]

The religious troubles of the sixteenth century left their mark
on Ypres as well as on the rest of Flanders. Everyone has read
the glowing sentences in which the historian of the Dutch Republic
describes the Cathedral of Antwerp, and tells how it was wrecked
by the reformers during the image-breaking in the summer of 1566.
What happened on the banks of the Scheldt appeals most to the
imagination; but all over Flanders the statues and the shrines,
the pictures and the stores of ecclesiastical wealth, with which
piety, or superstition, or penitence had enriched so many churches
and religious houses, became the objects of popular fury. There
had been field-preaching near Ypres as early as 1562.[*] Other
parts of West Flanders had been visited by the apostles of the New
Learning, and on August 15, 1566, the reformers swept down upon
Ypres and sacked the churches.

[Footnote *: Motley, _Rise of the Dutch Republic_, part ii., chapter
vi.]

In the awful tragedy which soon followed, when Parma came upon
the scene, that 'spectacle of human energy, human suffering, and
human strength to suffer, such as has not often been displayed
upon the stage of the world's events' the town had its share of
the persecutions and exactions which followed the march of the
Spanish soldiery; but for more than ten years a majority of the
burghers adhered to the cause of Philip. In July, 1578, however,
Ypres fell into the hands of the Protestants, and became their
headquarters in West Flanders. Five years later Alexander of Parma
besieged it. The siege lasted until April of the following year,
when the Protestants, worn out by famine, capitulated, and the town
was occupied by the Spaniards, who 'resorted to instant measures
for cleansing a place which had been so long in the hands of the
infidels, and, as the first step towards this purification, the
bodies of many heretics who had been buried for years were taken
from their graves and publicly hanged in their coffins. All living
adherents to the Reformed religion were instantly expelled from
the place.'[*] By this time the population was reduced to 5,000
souls, and the fortifications were a heap of ruins.

[Footnote *: Motley, _Rise of the Dutch Republic_, part ii., chapter
vi.]

[Illustration: YPRES. Place du Musee (showing Top Part of the Belfry).]

A grim memorial of those troublous times is still preserved at
Ypres. The Place du Musee is a quiet corner of the town, where a
Gothic house with double gables contains a collection of old paintings,
medals, instruments of torture, and some other curiosities. It was
the Bishop of Ypres who, at midnight on June 4, 1568, announced to
Count Egmont, in his prison at Brussels, that his hour had come; and
the cross-hilted sword, with its long straight blade, which hangs
on the wall of the Museum is the sword with which the executioner
'severed his head from his shoulders at a single blow' on the following
morning. The same weapon, a few minutes later, was used for the
despatch of Egmont's friend, Count Horn.

Before the end of that dismal sixteenth century Flanders regained
some of the liberties for which so much blood had been shed; but
while the Protestant Dutch Republic rose in the north, the 'Catholic'
or 'Spanish' Netherlands in the south remained in the possession
of Spain until the marriage of Philip's daughter Isabella to the
Archduke Albert, when these provinces were given as a marriage
portion to the bride. This was in 1599. Though happier times followed
under the moderate rule of Albert and Isabella, war continued to
be the incessant scourge of Flanders, and during the marching and
countermarching of armies across this battlefield of Europe, Ypres
scarcely ever knew what peace meant. Four times besieged and four
times taken by the French in the wars of Louis XIV., the town had
no rest; and for miles all round it the fields were scarred by the
new system of attacking strong places which Vauban had introduced
into the art of war. Louis, accompanied by Schomberg and Luxembourg,
was himself present at the siege of 1678; and Ypres, having been ceded
to France by the Treaty of Nimeguen in that year, was afterwards
strengthened by fortifications constructed from plans furnished by
the great French engineer.[*]

[Footnote *: Letter from Vauban to Louvois on the fortifications
of Ypres, 1689; Vereecke, pp. 325-357.]

In the year 1689 Vauban speaks of Ypres as a place 'formerly great,
populous, and busy, but much reduced by the frequent sedition and
revolts of its inhabitants, and by the great wars which it has
endured.' And in this condition it has remained ever since. Though
the period which followed the Treaty of Rastadt in 1714, when Flanders
passed into the possession of the Emperor Charles VI., and became
a part of the 'Austrian Netherlands,' was a period of considerable
improvement, Ypres never recovered its position, not even during
the peaceful reign of the Empress Maria Theresa. The revolution
against Joseph II. disturbed everything, and in June, 1794, the town
yielded, after a short siege, to the army of the French Republic.
The name of Flanders disappeared from the map of Europe. The whole of
Belgium was divided, like France, with which it was now incorporated,
into _departements_, Ypres being in the Department of the Lys. For
twenty years, during the wars of the Republic, the Consulate, and
the Empire, though the conscription was a constant drain upon the
youth of Flanders, who went away to leave their bones on foreign
soil, nothing happened to disturb the quiet of the town, and the
fortifications were falling into decay when the return of Napoleon
from Elba set Europe in a blaze. During the Hundred Days guns and
war material were hurried over from England, the old defences were
restored, and new works constructed by the English engineers; but
the Battle of Waterloo rendered these preparations unnecessary, and
the military history of Ypres came to an end when the short-lived
Kingdom of the Netherlands was established by the Congress of Vienna,
though it was nominally a place of arms till 1852, when the
fortifications were destroyed. Nowadays everything is very quiet
and unwarlike. The bastions and lunettes, the casemates and moats,
which spread in every direction round the town, have almost entirely
disappeared, and those parts of the fortifications which remain
have been turned into ornamental walks.[*]

[Footnote *: The evolution of Ypres from a feudal tower on an island
until it became a great fortress can be traced in a very interesting
volume of maps and plans published by M. Vereecke in 1858, as a
supplement to his _Histoire Militaire d'Ypres_. It shows the first
defensive works, those erected by Vauban, the state of the
fortifications between 1794 and 1814, and what the English engineers
did in 1815.]

But while so little remains of the works which were constructed,
at such a cost and with so much labour, for the purposes of war,
the arts of peace, which once flourished at Ypres, have left a
more enduring monument. There is nothing in Bruges or any other
Flemish town which can compare for massive grandeur with the pile
of buildings at the west end of the Grand Place of Ypres. During
two centuries the merchants of Flanders, whose towns were the chief
centres of Western commerce and civilization, grew to be the richest
in Europe, and a great portion of the wealth which industry and
public spirit had accumulated was spent in erecting those noble
civic and commercial buildings which are still the glory of Flanders.
The foundation-stone of the Halle des Drapiers, or Cloth Hall, of
Ypres was laid by Baldwin of Constantinople, then Count of Flanders,
at the beginning of the thirteenth century, but more than 100 years
had passed away before it was completed. Though the name of the
architect who began it is unknown, the unity of design which
characterizes the work makes it probable that the original plans
were adhered to till the whole was finished. Nothing could be simpler
than the general idea; but the effect is very fine. The ground-floor
of the facade, about 150 yards long, is pierced by a number of
rectangular doors, over which are two rows of pointed windows,
each exactly above the other, and all of the same style. In the
upper row every second window is filled up, and contains the statue
of some historical character. At each end there is a turret; and
the belfry, a square with towers at the corners, rises from the
centre of the building.

Various additions have been made from time to time to the original
Halle des Drapiers since it was finished in the year 1304, and of
these the 'Nieuwerck' is the most interesting. The east end of the
Halle was for a long time hidden by a number of wooden erections,
which, having been put up for various purposes after the main building
was finished, were known as the 'Nieuwe wercken,' or new works.
They were pulled down in the beginning of the seventeenth century,
and replaced by the stone edifice, in the style of the Spanish
Renaissance, which now goes by the name of the Nieuwerck, with its
ten shapely arches supported by slender pillars, above whose sculptured
capitals rise tiers of narrow windows and the steeply-pitched roof
with gables of curiously carved stone. Ypres had ceased to be a
great commercial city long before the Nieuwerck was built; but the
Cloth Hall was a busy place during the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries, when Ypres shared with Bruges the responsibility of
managing the Flemish branch of the Hanseatic League.

The extensive system of monopolies which the League maintained
was, as a matter of course, the cause of much jealousy and bad
feeling. In Flanders, Ghent, Bruges, and Ypres defended their own
privileges against other towns, and quarrelled amongst themselves.
The merchants of Ypres had a monopoly which forbade all weaving for
three leagues round the town, under a penalty of fifty livres and
confiscation of the looms and linen woven; but the weavers in the
neighbouring communes infringed this monopoly, and sold imitations of
Ypres linen cloth on all hands. There was constant trouble between
the people of Ypres and their neighbours at Poperinghe. Sometimes
the weavers of Ypres, to enforce their exclusive privileges, marched
in arms against Poperinghe, and sometimes the men of Poperinghe
retaliated by attacking their powerful rivals. Houses were burnt,
looms were broken up, and lives were lost in these struggles, which
were so frequent that for a long time something like a chronic
state of war existed between the two places.

[Illustration: YPRES. Arcade under the Nieuwerk.]

Besides the troubles caused by the jealousy of other towns, intestine
disputes arising out of the perpetual contest between labour and
capital went on from year to year within the walls of Ypres. There,
as in the other Flemish towns, a sharp line was drawn between the
working man, by whose hands the linen was actually woven, and the
merchants, members of the Guilds, by whom it was sold. In these
towns, which maintained armies and made treaties of peace, and whose
friendship was sought by princes and statesmen, the artisans, whose
industry contributed so much to the importance of the community,
resented any infringement of their legal rights. By law the magistrates
of Ypres were elected annually, and because this had not been done
in 1361 the people rose in revolt against the authorities. The mob
invaded the Hotel de Ville, where the magistrates were assembled.
The Baillie, Jean Deprysenaere, trusting to his influence as the
local representative of the Count of Flanders, left the council
chamber, and tried to appease the rioters. He was set upon and
killed. Then the crowd rushed into the council chamber, seized
the other magistrates, and locked them up in the belfry, where
they remained prisoners for some days. The leaders of the revolt
met, and resolved to kill their prisoners, and this sentence was
executed on the Burgomaster and two of the Sheriffs, who were beheaded
in front of the Halle in the presence of their colleagues.[*] It
was by such stern deeds that the fierce democracy of the Flemish
communes preserved their rights.

[Footnote *: Vereecke, p. 41.]

Each town, however, stood for itself alone. The idea of government
by the populace on the marketplace was common to them all, but they
were kept apart by the exclusive spirit of commercial jealousy.
The thirst for material prosperity consumed them; but they had no
bond of union, and each was ready to advance its own interests
at the expense of its rivals. Therefore, either in the face of
foreign invasion, or when the policy of some Count led to revolt
and civil war, it was seldom that the people of Flanders were united.
'L'Union fait la Force' is the motto of modern Belgium, but in the
Middle Ages there was no powerful central authority round which the
communes rallied. Hence the spectacle of Ghent helping an English
army to storm the ramparts of Ypres, or of the Guildsmen of Bruges
girding on their swords to strike a blow for Count Louis of Maele
against the White Hoods who marched from Ghent. Hence the permanent
unrest of these Flemish towns, the bickerings and the sheddings of
blood, the jealousy of trade pitted against trade or of harbour
against harbour, the insolence in the hour of triumph and the abject
submission in the hour of defeat, and all the evils which discord
brought upon the country. No town suffered more than Ypres from
the distracted state of Flanders, which, combined with the ravages
of war and the religious dissensions of the sixteenth century,
reduced it from the first rank amongst the cities of the Netherlands
to something very like the condition of a quiet country town in an
out-of-the-way corner of England. That is what the Ypres of to-day
is like--a sleepy country town, with clean, well-kept streets, dull
and uninteresting save for the stately Cloth Hall, which stands
there a silent memorial of the past.




FURNES--THE PROCESSION OF PENITENTS




CHAPTER VIII

FURNES--THE PROCESSION OF PENITENTS

The traveller wandering amongst the towns and villages in this
corner of West Flanders is apt to feel that he is on a kind of
sentimental journey as he moves from place to place, and finds
himself everywhere surrounded by things which belong to the past
rather than to the present. The very guidebooks are eloquent if we
read between the lines. This place 'was formerly of much greater
importance.' That 'was formerly celebrated for its tapestries.'
From this Hotel de Ville 'the numerous statuettes with which the
building was once embellished have all disappeared.' The tower
of that church has been left unfinished for the last 500 years.
'Fuimus' might be written on them all. And so, some twenty miles
north of Ypres, on a plain which in the seventeenth century was
so studded with earthen redoubts and serrated by long lines of
field-works and ditches that the whole countryside between Ypres
and Dunkirk was virtually one vast entrenched camp, we come to
the town of Furnes, another of the places on which time has laid
its heavy hand.

The early history of Furnes is obscure, though it is generally
supposed to have grown up round a fortress erected by Baldwin
Bras-de-Fer to check the inroads of the Normans. It suffered much,
like its neighbours, from wars and revolutions,[*] and is now one
of the quietest of the Flemish towns. The market-place is a small
square, quaintly picturesque, surrounded by clusters of little
brick houses with red and blue tiled roofs, low-stepped gables,
and deep mouldings round the windows. Behind these dwelling-places
the bold flying buttresses of the Church of Ste. Walburge, whose
relics were brought to Furnes by Judith, wife of Baldwin Bras-de-Fer,
and the tower of St. Nicholas, lift themselves on the north and
east; and close together in a corner to the west are the dark gray
Hotel de Ville and Palais de Justice, in a room of which the judges
of the Inquisition used to sit.

[Footnote *: 'Furnes etait devenue un _oppidium_, aux termes d'une
charte de 1183, qui avait a se defendre a la fois contre les incursions
des etrangers et les attaques d'une population "indocile et cruelle,"
comme l'appelle l'Abbe de Saint Riquier Hariulf, toujours dechiree
par les factions et toujours prete a la revolte.'--GILLIODTS VAN
SEVEREN: _Recueil des Anciennes Coutumes de la Belgique; Quartier
de Furnes_, vol. i., p. 28.]

[Illustration: FURNES. Grand Place and Belfry.]

Though some features are common to nearly all the Flemish towns--the
market-place, the belfry, the Hotel de Ville, the old gateways,
and the churches, with their cherished paintings--yet each of them
has generally some association of its own. In Bruges we think of
how the merchants bought and sold, how the gorgeous city rose,
clothed itself in all the colours of the rainbow, glittered for
a time, and sank in darkness. In the crowded streets of modern
Ghent, the busy capital of East Flanders, we seem to catch a glimpse
of bold Jacques van Artevelde shouldering his way up to the Friday
Market, or of turbulent burghers gathering there to set Pope, or
Count of Flanders, or King of Spain at defiance. Ypres and its flat
meadows suggest one of the innumerable paintings of the Flemish
wars, the 'battle-pieces' in which the Court artists took such
pride: the town walls with ditch and glacis before them, and within
them the narrow-fronted houses, and the flag flying from steeple
or belfry; the clumsy cannon puffing out clouds of smoke; the King
of France capering on a fat horse and holding up his baton in an
attitude of command in the foreground; and in the distance the
tents of the camp, where the travelling theatre was set up, and
the musicians fiddled, and an army of serving-men waited on the
rouged and powdered ladies who had followed the army into Flanders.

[Illustration: FURNES. Peristyle of Town Hall and Palais de Justice.]

Furnes, somehow, always recalls the Spanish period. The Hotel de
Ville, a very beautiful example of the Renaissance style, with
its rare hangings of Cordovan leather and its portraits of the
Archduke Albert and his bride, the Infanta Isabella, is scarcely
changed since it was built soon after the death of Philip II. The
Corps de Garde Espagnol and the Pavilion des Officiers Espagnols
in the market-place, once the headquarters of the whiskered bravos
who wrought such ills to Flanders, are now used by the Municipal
Council of the town as a museum and a public library; but the stones
of this little square were often trodden by the persecutors, with
their guards and satellites, in the years when Peter Titelmann
the Inquisitor stalked through the fields of Flanders, torturing
and burning in the name of the Catholic Church and by authority
of the Holy Office. The spacious room in which the tribunal of the
Inquisition sat is nowadays remarkable only for its fine proportions
and venerable appearance; but, though it was not erected until
after the Spanish fury had spent its force, and at a time when
wiser methods of government had been introduced, it reminds us of
the days when the maxims of Torquemada were put in force amongst
the Flemings by priests more wicked and merciless than any who
could be found in Spain. And in the market-place the people must
often have seen the dreadful procession by means of which the Church
sought to strike terror into the souls of men. Those public orgies
of clerical intolerance were the suitable consummation of the crimes
which had been previously committed in the private conclave of
the Inquisitors. The burning or strangling of a heretic was not
accompanied by so much pomp and circumstance in small towns like
Furnes as in the great centres, where multitudes, led by the highest
in the land, were present to enjoy the spectacle; but the Inquisition
of the Netherlands, under which Flanders groaned for so many years,
was, as Philip himself once boasted, 'much more pitiless than that
of Spain.'

The groans of the victims will never more be heard in the
torture-chamber, nor will crowds assemble in the market-place to
watch the cortege of the _auto-da-fe_; but every year the famous
Procession of Penitents, which takes place on the last Sunday of
July, draws many strangers to Furnes.

It is said in Bruges that the ghost of a Spanish soldier, condemned
to expiate eternally a foul crime done at the bidding of the Holy
Office, walks at midnight on the Quai Vert, like Hamlet's father
on the terrace at Elsinore; and superstitious people might well
fancy that a spectre appears in the market-place of Furnes on the
summer's night when the town is preparing for the annual ceremony.
The origin of the procession was this: In the year 1650 a soldier
named Mannaert, only twenty-two years old, being in garrison at
Furnes, went to Confession and Communion in the Chapel of the Capucins.
After he had received the consecrated wafer, he was persuaded by one
of his comrades, Mathurin Lejeusne, to take it out of his mouth,
wrap it in a cloth, and, on returning to his lodging, fry it over
a fire, under the delusion that by reducing it to powder he would
make himself invulnerable. The young man was arrested, confessed his
guilt, and himself asked for punishment. Condemned to be strangled,
he heard the sentence without a murmur, and went to his death singing
the penitential psalms. Soon afterwards Mathurin Lejeusne, the
instigator of the sacrilege, was shot for some breach of military
duty. This was regarded as a proof of Divine justice, and the citizens
resolved that something must be done to appease the wrath of God,
which they feared would fall upon their town because of the outrage
done, as they believed, to the body of His Son. A society calling
itself the 'Confrerie de la Sodalite du Sauveur Crucifie et de
la Sainte Mere Marie, se trouvant en douleur dessous la Croix,
sur Mont Calvaire,' had been formed a few years before at Furnes,
and the members now decided that a Procession of Penitents should
walk through the streets every summer and represent to the people
the story of the Passion.

[Illustration: NIEUPORT. Interior of Church.]

Though the procession at Furnes is a thing of yesterday compared to
the Procession of the Holy Blood at Bruges, it is far more suggestive
of mediaevalism. The hooded faces of the penitents, the quaint wooden
figures representing Biblical characters, the coarse dresses, the
tawdry colours, the strangely weird arrangement of the whole business,
take us back into the monkish superstitions of the Dark Ages, with
their mystery plays. It is best seen from one of the windows of
the Spanish House, or from the balcony of the Hotel de Ville, on
a sultry day, when the sky is heavy with black clouds, and thunder
growls over the plain of Flanders, and hot raindrops fall now and
then into the muddy streets. The first figure which appears is a
veiled penitent bearing the standard of the Sodality. Then come,
one after another, groups of persons representing various scenes
in the Bible story, each group preceded by a penitent carrying
an inscription to explain what follows. Abraham with his sword
conducts Isaac to the sacrifice on Mount Moriah. A penitent holding
the serpent and the cross walks before Moses. Two penitents wearily
drag a car on which Joseph and Mary are seen seated in the stable
at Bethlehem. The four shepherds and the three Magi follow. Then
comes the flight into Egypt, with Mary on an ass led by Joseph,
the infant Christ in her arms. Later we see the doctors of the
Temple walking in two rows, disputing with the young Jesus in their
midst. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem is represented by a crowd
of schoolchildren waving palm-branches and singing hosannahs round
Jesus mounted on an ass. The agony in the garden, Peter denying
his Lord and weeping bitterly, Jesus crowned with thorns, Pilate
in his judgment-hall, the Saviour staggering beneath the cross,
the Crucifixion itself, the Resurrection and the Ascension, are
all shown with the crude realism of the Middle Ages. There are
penitents bearing ponderous crosses on their shoulders, or carrying
in their hands the whips, the nails, the thorns, the veil of the
Temple rent in twain, a picture of the darkened sun, and other
symbols of the Passion. At the end, amidst torches and incense
and solemn chanting, the Host is exhibited for the adoration of
the crowd.

[Illustration: FURNES. Tower of St. Nicholas.]

Much of this spectacle is grotesque, and even ludicrous; but there
is also a great deal that is terribly real, for the penitents are
not actors playing a part, but are all persons who have come to
Furnes for the purpose of doing penance. They are disguised by
the dark brown robes which cover them from head to foot, so that
they can see their way only through the eyeholes in the hoods which
hide their faces; but as they pass silently along, bending under
the heavy crosses, or holding out before them scrolls bearing such
words as, 'All they that see Me laugh Me to scorn,' 'They pierced
My hands and My feet,' or, 'See if there be any sorrow like unto
My sorrow,' there are glimpses of delicate white hands grasping the
hard wood of the crosses, and of small, shapely feet bare in the
mud. What sighs, what tears and vain regrets, what secret tragedies
of passion, guilt, remorse, may not be concealed amongst the doleful
company who tread their own Via Dolorosa on that pilgrimage of
sorrow through the streets of Furnes!

[Illustration: FURNES. In St. Walburge's Church.]




NIEUPORT--THE BATTLE OF THE DUNES




CHAPTER IX

NIEUPORT--THE BATTLE OF THE DUNES

On the morning of July 2, in the year 1600, two armies--Spaniards,
under the Archduke Albert, and Dutchmen, under Prince Maurice of
Nassau--stood face to face amongst the dunes near Nieuport, where
the river Yser falls into the sea about ten miles west from Ostend.

In a field to the east of Nieuport there is a high, square tower,
part of a monastery and church erected by the Templars in the middle
of the twelfth century, which, though it escaped complete destruction,
was set on fire and nearly consumed when the town was attacked and
laid in ruins by the English and the burghers of Ghent in 1383,
the year of their famous siege of Ypres. It is now in a half-ruinous
condition, but in July, 1600, it was an important part of the
fortifications, and from the top the watchmen of the Spanish garrison
could see the country all round to a great distance beyond the
broad moat which then surrounded the strong walls of Nieuport.
A few miles inland, to the southwest, in the middle of the plain
of Flanders, were the houses of Furnes, grouped round the church
tower of St. Nicholas. To the north a wide belt of sandhills (the
'dunes'), with the sea beyond them, extended far past Ostend on
the east, and to the harbour of Dunkirk on the west. Nearer, on
the landward side of the dunes to the east, and within less than a
mile of each other, were the villages of Westende and Lombaerdzyde.
Close at hand, all round Nieuport, there were numerous small lakes
and watercourses connected with the channel of the Yser, which,
flowing past the town, widened out until it joined the sea, and
became a harbour, which on that morning was full of shipping.

A new chapter had just begun in the history of West Flanders when
the Dutchmen and the Spaniards thus met to slaughter each other
amongst the sand and rushes of the dunes. Philip II. had offered to
cede the Spanish Netherlands to his daughter, the Infanta Isabella,
on condition that a marriage was arranged between her and the Archduke
Albert of Austria. After the death of Philip II. this offer was
confirmed by his successor, Philip III., and the wedding took place
in April, 1599.

[Illustration: NIEUPORT. A Fair Parishioner.]

Albert and Isabella were both entering on the prime of life, the
Archduke being forty and the Infanta thirty-two at the time of
their marriage, and were both of a character admirably fitted for
the lofty station to which they had been called. In their portraits,
which hang, very often frayed and tarnished, on the walls of the
Hotel de Ville of many a Flemish town, there is nothing very royal
or very attractive; but, even after making every allowance for the
flattery of contemporary historians, there can be little doubt
that their popularity was well deserved--well deserved if even a
part of what has been said about them is true. The Archduke is
always said to have taken Philip II. as a model of demeanour, but
he had none of the worst faults of the sullen, powerful despot,
with that small mind, that 'incredibly small' mind of his, and
cold heart, cold alike to human suffering and human love, who had
held the Flemings, whom he hated, for so many years in the hollow
of his hand. His grave mien and reserved habits, probably acquired
during his sojourn at the Court of Spain, were distasteful to the
gay and pleasure-loving people of Flanders, who would have preferred
a Prince more like Charles V., whose versatility enabled him to
adapt himself to the customs of each amongst the various races over
whom he ruled. Nevertheless, if they did not love him they respected
him, and were grateful for the moderation and good feeling which
distinguished his reign, and gave their distracted country, after
thirty years of civil war, a period of comparative tranquillity.

The Infanta Isabella, _debonnaire_, affable, tolerant, and
noble-hearted, as she is described, gained the hearts of the Flemings
as her husband never did. 'One could not find any Court more truly
royal or more brilliant in its public fetes, which sometimes recall
the splendid epoch of the House of Burgundy. Isabella loves a country
life. She is often to be seen on horseback, attending the tournaments,
leading the chase, flying the hawk, taking part in the sports of
the bourgeoise, shooting with the crossbow, and carrying off the
prize.' Above all things, her works of charity endeared her to the
people. In time of war she established hospitals for the wounded,
for friends and enemies alike, where she visited them, nursed them,
and dressed their wounds with her own hands, with heroic courage
and tenderness.[*]

[Footnote *: De Gerlache, i. 260.]

[Illustration: NIEUPORT. Hall and Vicarage.]

Even on their first coming into Flanders, before their characters
were known except by hearsay, they were received with extraordinary
enthusiasm. Travelling by way of Luxembourg, they came to Namur, where
their first visit was made the occasion of a military fete, conducted
under the personal supervision of Comte Florent de Berlaimont. At
Nivelles the Duc d'Arschot paid out of his own purse the cost of
the brilliant festivities to which the people of Brabant flocked
in order to bid their new rulers welcome, and himself led the
procession, accompanied by the Archbishop of Malines and the Bishop
of Antwerp. So they journeyed on amidst scenes of public rejoicing
until they came to Brussels, where they established their Court in
accordance with the customs and ceremonies which had been usual
under the Dukes of Burgundy and the Kings of Spain.

But when the Archdukes, as they were called, passed from town to
town on this Royal progress, the phantoms of war, pestilence, and
famine hung over the land. The great cities of Flanders had been
deserted by thousands of their inhabitants. The sea trade of the
country had been destroyed by the vigorous blockade which the Dutch
ships of war maintained along the coast. Religious intolerance
had driven the most industrious of the working classes to find a
refuge in Holland or England. Villages lay in ruins, surrounded
by untilled fields and gardens run to seed. Silent looms and empty
warehouses were seen on every side. To such a pass had the disastrous
policy of the Escurial brought this fair province of the Spanish
Empire! From all parts of Flanders the cry for peace went up, but
the time for peace was not yet come.[*]

[Footnote *: _L'Abbe Nameche_, xxi. 6-8.]

The new reign had just begun when Maurice of Nassau suddenly invaded
Flanders with a great force, and laid siege to Nieuport, the garrison
of which, reinforced by an army, at the head of which the Archduke
Albert had hurried across Flanders, was under the command of the
Archduke himself, and many Spanish Generals of great experience
in the wars.

[Illustration: NIEUPORT. The Quay, with Eel-boats and Landing-stages.]

Though the Court at Brussels had been taken by surprise, the Dutch
army was in a position of great danger. Part of it lay on the west
side of the Yser, and part to the east, amongst the dunes near
Lombaerdzyde and Westende, with a bridge of boats thrown across
the river as their only connection. Their ships were at anchor
close to the shore; but Prince Maurice frankly told his men that
it was useless to think of embarking in case of defeat, and that,
therefore, they must either win the day or perish there, for the
Spaniards were before them under the protection of Nieuport, the river
divided them, the sea was behind them, and it would be impossible
for a beaten army to escape by retreating through the dunes in the
direction of Ostend.

Such was the position of affairs beneath the walls of Nieuport
at sunrise on July 2, 1600. The morning was spent by the Dutch
in preparing for battle. Towards noon the Spanish leaders held
a council of war, at which it was decided to attack the enemy as
soon as possible, and about three o'clock the battle began. A stiff
breeze from the west, blowing up the English Channel, drove clouds
of sand into the eyes of the Spaniards, and the bright rays of the
afternoon sun, shining in their faces as they advanced to the attack,
dazzled and confused them. But, in spite of these disadvantages, it
seemed at first as if the fortunes of the day were to go in their
favour.

The bridge of boats across the Yser was broken, and some of the
Dutch regiments, seized by a sudden panic, began to retreat towards
the sea; but, finding it impossible to reach the ships, they rallied,
and began once more to fight with all the dogged courage of their
race. For some hours the battle was continued with equal bravery
on both sides, the Spaniards storming a battery which the Dutch
had entrenched amongst the dunes, and the Dutch defending it so
desperately that the dead and wounded lay piled in heaps around
it. But at last the Spanish infantry were thrown into confusion
by a charge of horsemen; the Archduke Albert was wounded, and had
to retire from the front to have his injuries attended to. Prince
Maurice ordered a general advance of all his army, and in a few
minutes the enemy were fleeing from the battlefield, leaving behind
them 3,000 dead, 800 prisoners, and more than 100 standards. The
loss on the Dutch side was about 2,000.

The Archduke Albert, who had narrowly escaped being himself taken
prisoner, succeeded in entering Nieuport safely with what remained
of his army. The town remained in the hands of the Spaniards, for
Prince Maurice, after spending some days in vain attempts to capture
it, marched with his whole force to Ostend, where soon afterwards
began the celebrated siege, which was to last for three long years,
and about which all Europe never tired of talking.[*]

[Footnote *: 'Le siege d'Ostende fut, pendant ces trois ans, la
fable et la nouvelle de l'Europe; on ne se lassait pas d'en parler.
Des princes, des etrangers de toutes les nations venaient y
assister.'--_L'Abbe Nameche_, xxi. 24.]

[Illustration: NIEUPORT. The Town Hall.]

The history of Nieuport since those days has been the history of
a gradual fall. Its sea trade disappeared slowly but surely; the
fishing industry languished; the population decreased year by year;
and it has not shared to any appreciable extent in the prosperity
which has enriched other parts of Flanders since the Revolution of
1830. It is now a quiet, sleepy spot, with humble streets, which
remind one of some fishing village on the east coast of Scotland.
Men and women sit at the doors mending nets or preparing bait. The
boats, with their black hulls and dark brown sails, move lazily
up to the landing-stages, where a few small craft, trading along
the coast, lie moored. Barges heavily laden with wood are pulled
laboriously through the locks of the canals which connect the Yser
with Ostend and Furnes. The ancient fortifications have long since
disappeared, with the exception of a few grass-grown mounds; and
only the grim tower of the Templars, standing by itself in a field
on the outskirts of the town, remains to show that this insignificant
place was once a mighty stronghold.

In those old Flemish towns, however, it is always possible to find
something picturesque; and here we have the Cloth Hall, with its
low arches opening on the market-place, and the Gothic church,
one of the largest in Flanders, with its porch and tower, where
the bell-ringers play the chimes and the people pass devoutly to
the services of the church. But that is all. Nieuport has few
attractions nowadays, and is chiefly memorable in Flemish history
because under its walls they fought that bloody 'Battle of the
Dunes,' in which the stubborn strength and obstinacy of the Dutch
overcame the fiery valour of the Spaniards.

They are all well-nigh forgotten now, obstinate Dutchman and valiant
Spaniard alike. Amongst the dunes not a vestige remains of the
field-works for which they fought. Bones, broken weapons and shattered
breastplates, and all the debris of the fight, were long ago buried
fathoms deep beneath mounds of drifting sand. Old Nieuport--Nieuport
Ville, as they call it now--for which so much blood was shed, is
desolate and dreary with its small industries and meagre commerce;
but a short walk to the north brings us to Nieuport-Bains, and to
the gay summer life which pulsates all along the Flemish coast,
from La Panne on the west to the frontiers of Holland.

[Illustration: NIEUPORT. Church Port (Evensong).]




THE COAST OF FLANDERS




CHAPTER X

THE COAST OF FLANDERS

To walk from Nieuport Ville to the Digue de Mer at Nieuport-Bains
is to pass in a few minutes from the old Flanders, the home of
so much romance, the scene of so many stirring deeds, from the
market-places with the narrow gables heaped up in piles around
them, from the belfries soaring to the sky, from the winding streets
and the narrow lanes, in which the houses almost touch each other
from the tumble-down old hostelries, from the solemn aisles where
the candles glimmer and the dim red light glows before the altar,
from the land of Bras-de-Fer, and Thierry d'Alsace, and Memlinc,
and Van Eyck, and Rubens, the land which was at once the Temple
and the Golgotha of Europe, into the clear, broad light of modern
days.

The Flemish coast, from the frontiers of France to the frontiers
of Holland, is throughout the same in appearance. The sea rolls
in and breaks upon the yellow beach, which extends from east to
west for some seventy kilometres in an irregular line, unbroken
by rocks or cliffs. Above the beach are the dunes, a long range
of sandhills, tossed into all sorts of queer shapes by the wind,
on which nothing grows but rushes or stunted Lombardy poplars,
and which reach their highest point, the Hoogen-Blekker, about 100
feet above the sea, near Coxyde, a fishing village four or five
miles from Nieuport. Behind the dunes a strip of undulating ground
('Ter Streep'), seldom more than a bare mile in width, covered with
scanty vegetation, moss, and bushes, connects the barren sandhills
with the cultivated farms, green fields, and woodlands of the Flemish
plain. On the other side of the Channel the chalk cliffs and rocky
coast of England have kept the waves in check; but the dunes were,
for many long years, the only barrier against the encroachments
of the sea on Flanders. They are, however, a very weak defence
against the storms of autumn and winter. The sand drifts like snow
before the wind, and the outlines of these miniature mountain ranges
change often in a single night. At one time, centuries ago, this
part of Flanders, which is now so bare, was, it is pretty clear,
covered by forests, the remains of which are still sometimes found
beneath the subsoil inland and under the sea. When the great change
came is unknown, but the process was probably gradual. At an early
period, here, as in Holland, the fight against the invasions of the
sea began, and the first dykes are said to have been constructed
in the tenth century. The first was known as the Evendyck, and
ran from Heyst to Wenduyne. Others followed, but they were swept
away, and now only a few traces of them are to be found, buried
beneath the sand and moss.[*]

[Footnote *: Bortier, _Le Littoral de la Flandre au IXe et au XIXe
Siecles._]

[Illustration: THE DUNES. A Stormy Evening.]

The wild storms of the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries changed
the aspect of the coast of Flanders. Nieuport rose in consequence
of one of these convulsions of Nature, when the inhabitants of
Lombaerdzyde, which was then a seaport, were driven by the tempests
to the inland village of Santhoven, the name of which they changed
to 'Neoportus'--the new harbour. This was in the beginning of the
twelfth century, and thenceforth the struggle against the waves
went on incessantly. Lands were granted by Thierry d'Alsace on
condition that the owner should construct dykes, and Baldwin of
Constantinople appointed guardians of the shore, charged with the
duty of watching the sea and constructing defensive works. But the
struggle was carried on under the utmost difficulties. In the twelfth
century the sea burst in with resistless force upon the low-lying
ground, washing away the dunes and swallowing up whole towns. The
inroads of the waves, the heavy rains, and the earthquakes, made
life so unendurable that there were thousands who left their homes
and emigrated to Germany.

Later, in the thirteenth century, there was a catastrophe of appalling
dimensions, long known as the 'Great Storm,' when 40,000 Flemish
men and women perished. This was the same tempest which overran
the Dutch coast, and formed the Zuyder Zee, those 1,400 square
miles of water which the Dutch are about to reclaim and form again
into dry land. In the following century the town of Scarphout, in
West Flanders, was overwhelmed, and the inhabitants built a new
town for themselves on higher ground, and called it Blankenberghe,
which is now one of the most important watering-places on the coast.

Ever since those days this constant warfare against the storms
has continued, and the sea appears to be bridled; but anyone who
has watched the North Sea at high tide on a stormy day beating
on the shores of Flanders, and observed how the dunes yield to
the pressure of the wind and waves, and crumble away before his
eyes, must come to the conclusion that the peril of the ocean is
not yet averted, and can understand the meaning of the great modern
works, the _digues de mer_, or sea-fronts, as they would be called
in England, which are being gradually constructed at such immense
cost all along the coast.

A most interesting and, indeed, wonderful thing in the recent history
of the Netherlands is the rapid development of the Flemish littoral
from a waste of sand, with here and there a paltry fishing hamlet
and two or three small towns, into a great cosmopolitan pleasure
resort. Seventy-five years ago, when Belgium became an independent
country, and King Leopold I. ascended the throne, Ostend and Nieuport
were the only towns upon the coast which were of any size; but
Ostend was then a small fortified place, with a harbour wholly
unsuited for modern commerce, and Nieuport, in a state of decadence,
though it possessed a harbour, was a place of no importance. To-day
the whole coast is studded with busy watering-places, about twenty
of them, most of which have come into existence within the last
fifteen years, with a resident population of about 60,000, which
is raised by visitors in summer to, it is said, nearly 125,000. The
dunes, which the old Counts of Flanders fought so hard to preserve
from the waves, and which were at the beginning of the present
century mere wastes of sand, a sort of 'no man's land,' of little
or no use except for rabbit-shooting, are now valuable properties,
the price of which is rising every year.

The work of turning the sand into gold, for that is what the development
of the Flemish coast comes to, has been carried out partly by the
State and partly by private persons. In early times this belt of
land upon the margin of the sea was held by the Counts of Flanders,
who treated the ridge of sandhills above high-water mark as a natural
rampart against the waves, and granted large tracts of the flat
ground which lay behind to various religious houses. At the French
Revolution these lands were sold as Church property at a very low
figure, and were afterwards allowed, in many cases, to fall out of
cultivation by the purchasers. So great a portion of the district
was sold that at the present time only a small portion of the dune
land is the property of the State--the narrow strip between Mariakerke
and Middelkerke on the west of Ostend, and that which lies between
Ostend and Blankenberghe on the east. The larger portions, which
are possessed by private owners, are partly the property of the
descendants of those who bought them at the Revolution, and partly
of building societies, incorporated for the purpose of developing
what Mr. Hall Caine once termed the 'Visiting Industry'--that is
to say, the trade in tourists and seaside visitors.[*]

[Footnote *: Letter to the Manx Reform League, November, 1903.]

[Illustration: AN OLD FARMER]

Plage de Westende, Le Coq, and Duinbergen--three charming summer
resorts--have been created by building societies. Nieuport-Bains
and La Panne have been developed by the owners of the adjoining
lands, the families of Crombez and Calmeyn. Wenduyne, on the other
hand, which lies between Le Coq and Blankenberghe, has been made
by the State, while the management of Blankenberghe, Heyst, and
Middelkerke, as bathing stations, is in the hands of their communal
councils.

On the coast of Flanders, Ostend--'La Reine des Plages'--is, it
need hardly be said, the most important place, and its rise has
been very remarkable. Less than fifty years ago the population was
in all about 15,000. During the last fifteen years it has increased
by nearly 15,000, and now amounts to about 40,000 in round numbers.
The increase in the number of summer visitors has been equally
remarkable. In the year 1860 the list of strangers contained 9,700
names; three years ago it contained no less than 42,000. This floating
population of foreign visitors who come to Ostend is cosmopolitan
to an extent unknown at any watering-place in England. In 1902
11,000 English, 8,000 French, 5,000 Germans, and 2,000 Americans
helped to swell the crowds who walked on the sea-front, frequented
the luxurious and expensive hotels, or left their money on the
gaming-tables at the Kursaal. On one day--August 15, 1902--7,000
persons bathed.[*]

[Footnote *: I give these figures on the authority of M. Paul Otlet,
Advocate, of Brussels, to whom I am indebted for much information
regarding the development of the coast of Flanders. See also an
article by M. Otlet in _Le Cottage_, May 15 to June 15, 1904.]

Blankenberghe, with its 30,000 summer visitors, comes next in importance
to Ostend, while both Heyst and Middelkerke are crowded during
the season. But the life at these towns is not so agreeable as at
the smaller watering-places. The hotels are too full, and have,
as a rule, very little except their cheapness to recommend them.
There is usually a body calling itself the _comite des fetes_,
the members of which devote themselves for two months every summer
to devising amusements, sports, and competitions of various kinds,
instead of leaving people to amuse themselves in their own way,
so that hardly a day passes on which the strains of a second-rate
band are not heard in the local Kursaal, or a night which is not
made hideous by a barrel-organ, to which the crowd is dancing on
the _digue_. At the smaller places, however, though these also
have their _comite des fetes_, one escapes to a great extent from
these disagreeable surroundings.

May, June, and September are the pleasantest months upon the coast
of Flanders, for the visitors are not so numerous, and even in
mid-winter the dunes are worth a visit. Then the hotels and villas
fronting the sea are closed, and their windows boarded up. The
bathing-machines are removed from the beach, and stand in rows in
some sheltered spot. The _digue_, a broad extent of level brickwork,
is deserted, and the wind sweeps along it, scattering foam and
covering it with sand and sprays of tangled seaweed. The mossy
surface of the dunes is frozen hard as iron, and often the hailstones
rush in furious blasts before the wind. For league after league
there is not a sign of life, except the sea-birds flying low near
the shore, or the ships rising and falling in the waves far out
to sea. In the winter months the coast of Flanders is bleak and
stormy, but the air in these solitudes is as health-giving as in
any other part of Europe.

Of late years the Government, represented by Comte de Smet de Naeyer,
has bestowed much attention on the development of the littoral,
and King Leopold II. has applied his great business talents to
the subject. Large sums of money have been voted by the Belgian
Parliament for the construction of public works and the extension
of the means of communication from place to place. There is a light
railway, the 'Vicinal,' which runs along the whole coast, at a
short distance from the shore, from Knocke, on the east, to La
Panne in the extreme west, and which is connected with the system of
State railways at various points. From Ostend, through Middelkerke,
to Plage de Westende, an electric railway has been constructed,
close to the beach and parallel to the Vicinal (which is about
a mile inland), on which trains run every ten minutes during the
summer season. As an instance of the speed and energy with which
these works for the convenience of the public are carried out,
when once they have been decided upon, it may be mentioned that the
contract for the portion of the electric line between Middelkerke
and Plage de Westende, a distance of about a mile and a half, was
signed on May 9, that five days later 200 workmen began to cut
through the dunes, embank and lay the permanent way, and that on
June 25, in spite of several interruptions owing to drifting sand
and heavy rains, the first train of the regular service arrived
at Plage de Westende.

[Illustration: LA PANNE. Interior of a Flemish Inn.]

A large sum, amounting to several millions of francs, is voted
every year for the protection of the shores of Flanders against
the encroachments of the sea, by the construction of these solid
embankments of brickwork and masonry, which will, in the course
of a few years, extend in an unbroken line along the whole coast
from end to end. The building of these massive sea-walls is a work
of great labour and expense, for what seems to be an impregnable
embankment, perhaps 30 feet high and 90 feet broad, solid and strong
enough to resist the most violent breakers, will be undermined and
fall to pieces in a few hours, if not made in the proper way. A
_digue_, no matter how thick, which rests on the sand alone will
not last. A thick bed of green branches bound together must first
be laid down as a foundation: this is strengthened by posts driven
through it into the sand. Heavy timbers, resting on bundles of
branches lashed together, are wedged into the foundations, and
slope inwards and upwards to within a few feet of the height to
which it is intended to carry the _digue_. On the top another solid
bed of branches is laid down, and the whole is first covered with
concrete, and then with bricks or tiles, while the edge of the
_digue_, at the top of the seaward slope, is composed of heavy blocks
of stone cemented together and bound by iron rivets.

_Digues_ made in this solid fashion, all of them higher above the
shore than the Thames Embankment is above the river, and some of
them broader than the Embankment, will, before very many years
have passed, stretch along the whole coast of Flanders without
a break, and will form not only a defence against the tides, but
a huge level promenade, with the dunes on one side and the sea on
the other. This is a gigantic undertaking, but it will be completed
during the lifetime of the present generation.

[Illustration: LA PANNE. A Flemish Inn--Playing Skittles.]

Another grandiose idea, which is actually being carried into effect,
is to connect all the seaside resorts on the coast of Flanders by
a great boulevard, 40 yards wide, with a road for carriages and
pedestrians, a track for motor-cars and bicycles, and an electric
railway, all side by side. Large portions of this magnificent roadway,
which is to be known as the 'Route Royale,' have already been completed
between Blankenberghe and Ostend, and from Ostend to Plage de Westende.
From Westende it will be continued to Nieuport-Bains, crossing the
Yser by movable bridges, and thence to La Panne, and so onwards,
winding through the dunes, over the French borders, and perhaps
as far as Paris!

A single day's journey through the district which this 'Route Royale'
is to traverse will lead the traveller through the most interesting
part of the dunes, and introduce him to most of the favourite _plages_
on the coast of Flanders, and thus give him an insight into many
characteristic Flemish scenes. La Panne, for instance, and Adinkerque,
in the west and on the confines of France, are villages inhabited
by fishermen who have built their dwellings in sheltered places
amongst the dunes. The low white cottages of La Panne, with the
strings of dried fish hanging on the walls, nestle in the little
valley from which the place takes its name (for _panne_ in Flemish
means 'a hollow'), surrounded by trees and hedges, gay with wild
roses in the summer-time. Each cottage stands in its small plot
of garden ground, and most of the families own fishing-boats of
their own, and farm a holding which supplies them with potatoes
and other vegetables.

For a long time these cottages were the only houses at La Panne,
which was seldom visited, except by a few artists; but about fifteen
years ago the surveyors and the architects made their appearance,
paths and roads were laid out, and, as if by magic, cottages and
villas and the inevitable _digue de mer_ have sprung up on the
dunes near the sea, and not very far from the original village. The
chief feature of the new La Panne is that the houses are, except
those on the sea-front, built on the natural levels of the ground,
some perched on the tops of the dunes, and others in the hollows
which separate them. The effect is extremely picturesque, and the
example of the builders of La Panne is being followed at other places,
notably at Duinbergen, one of the very latest bathing stations,
which has risen during the last three years about a mile to the
east of Heyst.

Another very interesting place is the Plage de Westende, the present
terminus of the electric railway from Ostend. The old village of
Westende lies a mile inland on the highway between Nieuport and
Ostend, close to the scene of the Battle of the Dunes. This Plage
is, indeed, a model seaside resort, with a _digue_ which looks down
upon a shore of the finest sand, and from which, of an evening,
one sees the lights of Ostend in the east, and the revolving beacon
at Dunkirk shining far away to the west. The houses which front
the sea, all different from each other, are in singularly good
taste; and behind them are a number of detached cottages and villas,
large and small, in every variety of design. Ten years ago the
site of this little town was a rabbit warren; now everything is
up to date: electric light in every house, perfect drainage, a
good water-supply, tennis courts, and an admirable hotel, where
even the passing stranger feels at home. Though only three-quarters
of an hour from noisy, crowded, bustling Ostend by the railway, it
is one of the quietest and most comfortable places on the coast
of Flanders, and can be reached by travellers from England in a
few hours.

Some years hence the lovely, peaceful Plage de Westende may have
grown too big, but when the sand has all been turned into gold,
and when the contractors and builders have grown rich, those who
have known Westende in its earlier days will think of it as the
quiet spot about which at one time only a few people used to stroll;
where perhaps the poet Verhaeren found something to inspire him;
where many a long summer's evening was spent in pleasant talk on
history, and painting, and music by a little society of men and
women who spoke French, or German, or English, as the fancy took
them, and laughed, and quoted, and exchanged ideas on every subject
under the sun; where the professor of music once argued, and sprang
up to prove his point by playing--but that is an allusion, or, as
Mr. Kipling would say, 'another story.'

The district in which Westende lies, with Lombaerdzyde, Nieuport,
Furnes, and Coxyde close together, is the most interesting on the
coast of Flanders. Le Coq, on the other hand, is in that part of
the dune country which has least historical interest, and is chiefly
known as the place where the Royal Golf Club de Belgique has its
course. It is only twenty minutes from Ostend on the Vicinal railway,
which has a special station for golfers near the Club House. There
is no _digue_, and the houses are dotted about in a valley behind
the dunes. This place has a curious resemblance to a Swiss village.

A few years ago the owners of lands upon the Flemish littoral began
to grasp the fact that there was a sport called golf, on which
Englishmen were in the habit of spending money, and that it would be
an addition to the attractions of Ostend if, beside the racecourse,
there was a golf-course. King Leopold, who is said to contemplate
using all the land between the outskirts of Ostend and Le Coq for
sporting purposes, paid a large sum, very many thousands of francs,
out of his own pocket, and the golf-links at Le Coq were laid out.
The Club House is handsome and commodious, but, unfortunately, the
course itself, which is the main thing, is not very satisfactory,
being far too artificial. The natural 'bunkers' were filled up,
and replaced by ramparts and ditches like those on some inland
courses in England. On the putting greens the natural undulations
of the ground have been levelled, and the greens are all as flat
and smooth as billiard-tables. There are clumps of ornamental wood,
flower-beds, and artificial ponds with goldfish swimming in them. It
is all very pretty, but it is hardly golf. What with the 'Grand Prix
d'Ostende,' the 'Prix des Roses,' the 'Prix des Ombrelles, handicap
libre, reserve aux Dames,' the 'Grand Prix des Dames,' and a number
of other _objets d'art_, which are offered for competition on almost
every day from the beginning of June to the end of September, this
is a perfect paradise for the pot-hunter and his familiar friend
Colonel Bogey. Real golf, the strenuous game, which demands patience
and steady nerves, perhaps, more than any other outdoor game, is
not yet quite understood by many Belgians; but the bag of clubs
is every year becoming more common on the Dover mail-boats.

Most of these golf-bags find their way to Knocke, where many of
the English colony at Bruges spend the summer, and which, as the
coast of Flanders becomes better known, is visited every year by
increasing numbers of travellers from the other side of the Channel.
Knocke is in itself one of the least attractive places on the Flemish
littoral. The old village, a nondescript collection of houses, lies
on the Vicinal railway about a mile from the sea, which is reached
by a straight roadway, and where there is a _digue_, numerous hotels,
pensions, and villas, all of which are filled to overflowing in the
season. The air, indeed, is perfect, and there are fine views from
the _digue_ and the dunes of the island of Walcheren, Flushing,
and the estuary of the Scheldt; but the place was evidently begun
with no definite plan: the dunes were ruthlessly levelled, and the
result is a few unlovely streets, and a number of detached houses
standing in disorder amidst surroundings from which everything
that was picturesque has long since departed.

But the dunes to the east are wide, and enclose a large space of
undulating ground; and here the Bruges Golf and Sports Club has
its links, which present a very complete contrast to the Belgian
course at Le Coq. The links at Knocke, if somewhat rough and ready,
are certainly sporting in the highest degree. Some of the holes,
those in what is known as the Green Valley, are rather featureless;
but in the other parts of the course there are numerous natural
hazards, bunkers, and hillocks thick with sand and rushes. It has
no pretentions to be a 'first-class' course (for one thing, it is
too short), but in laying out the eighteen holes the ground has
been utilized to the best advantage, and the Royal and Ancient
game flourishes more at Knocke than at any other place in Belgium.
The owners of the soil and the hotel-keepers, with a keen eye to
business, and knowing that the golfing alone brings the English,
from whom they reap a golden harvest, to Knocke, do all in their
power to encourage the game, and it is quite possible that before
long other links may be established along the coast. The soil of
the strip behind the dunes is not so suitable for golf as the close
turf of St. Andrews, North Berwick, or Prestwick, for in many places
it consists of sand with a slight covering of moss; but with proper
treatment it could probably be improved and hardened. It is merely
a question of money, and money will certainly be forthcoming if
the Government, the communes, and the private owners once see that
this form of amusement will add to the popularity of the littoral.

A short mile's walk to the west of Knocke brings us to Duinbergen,
one of the newest of the Flemish _plages_, founded in the year
1901 by the Societe Anonyme de Duinbergen, a company in which some
members of the Royal Family are said to hold shares. At Knocke
and others of the older watering-places everything was sacrificed
to the purpose of making money speedily out of every available
square inch of sand, and the first thing done was to destroy the
dunes. But at Duinbergen the good example set by the founders of
La Panne has been followed and improved upon, and nothing could
be more _chic_ than this charming little place, which was planned
by Herr Stuebben, of Cologne, an architect often employed by the
King of the Belgians, whose idea was to create a small garden city
among the dunes. The dunes have been carefully preserved; the roads
and pathways wind round them; most of the villas and cottages have
been erected in places from which a view of the sea can be obtained;
and even the _digue_ has been built in a curve in order to avoid
the straight line, which is apt to give an air of monotony to the
rows of villas, however picturesque they may be in themselves,
which face the sea at other places. So artistic is the appearance
of the houses that the term 'Style Duinbergen' is used by architects
to describe it. Electric lighting, a copious supply of water rising
by gravitation to the highest houses, and a complete system of
drainage, add to the luxuries and comforts of this _plage_, which
is one of the best illustrations of the wonders which have been
wrought among the dunes by that spirit of enterprise which has
done so much for modern Flanders during the last few years.




COXYDE--THE SCENERY OF THE DUNES




CHAPTER XI

COXYDE--THE SCENERY OF THE DUNES

The whole of the coast-line is within the province of West Flanders,
and its development in recent years is the most striking fact in
the modern history of the part of Belgium with which this volume
deals. The change which has taken place on the littoral during the
last fifteen or twenty years is extraordinary, and the contrast
between the old Flanders and the new, between the Flanders which
lingers in the past and the Flanders which marches with the times,
is brought vividly before us by the difference between such mediaeval
towns as Bruges, Furnes, or Nieuport, and the bright new places
which glitter on the sandy shores of the Flemish coast. But in
almost every corner of the dunes, close to these signs of modern
progress, there is something to remind us of that past history
which is, after all, the great charm of Flanders.

One of the most characteristic spots in the land of the dunes is
the village of Coxyde, which lies low amongst the sandhills, about
five miles west from Nieuport, out of sight of the sea, but inhabited
by a race of fisherfolk who, curiously enough, pursue their calling
on horseback. Mounted on their little horses, and carrying baskets
and nets fastened to long poles, they go into the sea to catch
small fish and shrimps. It is strange to see them riding about
in the water, sometimes in bands, but more frequently alone or in
pairs; and this curious custom, which has been handed down from
father to son for generations, is peculiar to the part of the coast
which lies between La Panne and the borders of France.

Near Coxyde, and at the corner where the road from Furnes turns
in the direction of La Panne, is a piece of waste ground which
travellers on the Vicinal railway pass without notice. But here
once stood the famous Abbey of the Dunes.

[Illustration: COXYDE. A Shrimper on Horseback.]

In the first years of the twelfth century a pious hermit named
Lyger took up his abode in these solitary regions, built a dwelling
for himself, and settled down to spend his life in doing good works
and in the practice of religion. Soon, as others gathered round
him, his dwelling grew into a monastery, and at last, in the year
1122, the Abbey of the Dunes was founded. It was nearly half a
century before the great building, which is said to have been the
first structure of such a size built of brick in Flanders, was
completed; but when at last the work was done the Abbey was, by all
accounts, one of the most magnificent religious houses in Flanders,
consisting of a group of buildings with no less than 105 windows,
a rich and splendid church, so famous for its ornamental woodwork
that the carvings of the stalls were reproduced in the distant
Abbey of Melrose in Scotland, and a library which, as time went
on, became a storehouse of precious manuscripts and hundreds of
those wonderfully illustrated missals on which the monks of the
Middle Ages spent so many laborious hours. We can imagine them
in the cells of Coxyde copying and copying for hours together,
or bending over the exquisitely coloured drawings which are still
preserved in the museums of Flanders.

But their most useful work was done on the lands which lay round
the Abbey. There were at Coxyde in the thirteenth century no fewer
than 150 monks and 248 converts engaged at one time in cultivating
the soil.[*] They drained the marshes, and planted seeds where
seeds would grow, until, after years of hard labour on the barren
ground, the Abbey of the Dunes was surrounded by wide fields which
had been reclaimed and turned into a fertile oasis in the midst
of that savage and inhospitable desert.

[Footnote *: Derode, _Histoire Religieuse de la Flandre Maritime_,
p.86.]

When St. Bernard was preaching the Crusade in Flanders he came to
Coxyde. On his advice the monks adopted the Order of the Cistercians,
and their first abbot under the new rule afterwards sat in the
chair of St. Bernard himself as Abbot of Clairvaux. Thereafter
the Cistercian Abbey of the Dunes grew in fame, especially under
the rule of St. Idesbaldus, who had come there from Furnes, where
he had been a Canon of the Church of Ste. Walburge. 'It has also a
special interest for English folk. It long held lands in the isle
of Sheppey, as well as the advowson of the church of Eastchurch,
in the same island. These were bestowed on it by Richard the
Lion-Hearted. The legend says that these gifts were made to reward
its sixth abbot, Elias, for the help he gave in releasing Richard
from captivity. Anyhow, Royal charters, and dues from the Archbishop
of Canterbury, and a Bull of Pope Celestine III., confirmed the
Abbey in its English possessions and privileges. The Abbey seems
to have derived little benefit from these, and finally, by decision
of a general congregation of the Cistercian Order, handed them over
to the Abbot and Chapter of Bexley, to recoup the latter for the
cost of entertaining monks of the Order going abroad, or returning
from the Continent, on business of the Order.'[*]

[Footnote *: Robinson, _Bruges, an Historical Sketch_, p. 176.]

[Illustration: COXYDE. A Shrimper.]

The English invasion of the fifteenth century destroyed the work
of the monks in their fields and gardens, but the Abbey itself
was spared; and the great disaster did not come until a century
later, when the image-breakers, who had begun their work amongst the
Gothic arches of Antwerp, spread over West Flanders, and descended
upon Coxyde. The Abbey was attacked, and the monks fled to Bruges,
carrying with them many of their treasures, which are still to
be seen in the collection on the Quai de la Poterie, beyond the
bridge which is called the Pont des Dunes. The noble building,
so long the home of so much piety and learning, and from which so
many generations of apostles had gone forth to toil in the fields
and minister to the poor, was abandoned, and allowed to fall into
ruins, until at last it gradually sunk into complete decay, and was
buried beneath the sands. Not a trace of it now remains. History
has few more piteous sermons to preach on the vanity of all the
works of men.

The fishermen on the coast of Flanders have, from remote times,
paid their vows in the hour of danger to Notre Dame de Lombaerdzyde.
If they escape from some wild storm they go on a pilgrimage of
thanksgiving. They walk in perfect silence along the road to the
shrine, for not a word must be spoken till they reach it; and these
hardy seafaring men may be seen kneeling at the altar of the old,
weather-beaten church which stands on the south side of the highway
through the village, and in which are wooden models of ships hung
up as votive offerings before an image of the Virgin, which is
the object of peculiar veneration. The Madonna of Lombaerdzyde
did not prevail to keep the sea from invading the village at the
time when the inhabitants were driven to Nieuport, but the belief
in her miraculous power is as strong to-day as it was in the Dark
Ages.

[Illustration: ADINKERQUE. Village and Canal.]

There is a view of Lombaerdzyde which no one strolling on the dunes
near Nieuport should fail to see--a perfect picture, as typical
of the scenery in these parts as any landscape chosen by Hobbema
or Ruysdael. A causeway running straight between two lofty dunes
of bare sand, and bordered by stunted trees, forms a long vista at
the end of which Lombaerdzyde appears--a group of red-roofed houses,
with narrow gables and white walls, and in the middle the pointed
spire of the church, beyond which the level plain of Flanders,
dotted with other villages and churches and trees in formal rows,
stretches away into the distance until it merges in the horizon.
Adinkerque, a picturesque village beyond Furnes, is another place
which calls to mind many a picture of the Flemish artists in the
Musee of Antwerp and the Mauritshuis at The Hague; and the recesses
of the dune country in which these places are hidden has a wonderful
fascination about it--the irregular outlines of the dunes, some
high and some low, sinking here into deep hollows of firm sand,
and rising there into strange fantastic shapes, sometimes with
sides like small precipices on which nothing can grow, and sometimes
sloping gently downwards and covered with trembling poplars, spread
in confusion on every side. Often near the shore the sandy barrier
has been broken down by the wind or by the waves, and a long gulley
formed, which cuts deep into the dunes, and through which the sand
drifts inland till it reaches a steep bank clothed with rushes,
against which it heaps itself, and so, rising higher with the storms
of each winter, forms another dune. This process has been going
on for ages. The sands are for ever shifting, but moss begins to
grow in sheltered spots; such wild flowers as can flourish there
bloom and decay; the poplars shed their leaves, and nourish by
imperceptible degrees the fibres of the moss; some hardy grasses
take root; and at length a scanty greensward appears. By such means
slowly, in the microcosm of the dunes, have been evolved out of
the changing sands places fit for men to live in, until now along
the strip which guards the coast of Flanders there are green glades
gay with flowers, and shady dells, and gardens sheltered from the
wind, plots of pasture-land, cottages and churches which seem to
grow out of the landscape, their colouring so harmonizes with the
colouring which surrounds them. And ever, close at hand, the sea is
rolling in and falling on the shore. 'Come unto these yellow sands,'
and when the sun is going down, casting a long bar of burnished
gold across the water, against which, perhaps, the sail of some
boat looms dark for a moment and then passes on, the sky glows
in such a lovely, tender light that those who watch it must needs
linger till the twilight is fading away before they turn their faces
inland. There are few evenings for beauty like a summer evening
on the shores of Flanders.




INDEX

Abbey of the Dunes; of Melrose
Adinkerque
'Adoration of the Immaculate Lamb'
Albert, Archduke, portrait at Furnes; at the Battle of the Dunes,
  marries the Infanta Isabella; character of; wounded
Albert, Prince, at Bruges
Ancona, Bishop of
Andre, St., village of
Ane Aveugle, Rue de l'
Angelo, Michael
Anglaises, Couvent des Dames
Antwerp, Cathedral of
Arschot, Duc d'
Artevelde, Jacques van
Artevelde, Philip van
Artois, Comte d'
Augustinian Nuns

Baldwin, Bras-de-Fer, real founder of Bruges; defends Flanders;
  marries Judith; builds Church of St. Donatian
Baldwin, King of Jerusalem
Baldwin of Constantinople
Baldwin VII.
Bannockburn
Bardi, money-changers at Bruges
Bassin de Commerce at Bruges
Battle of the Dunes _et seq._
Battle of the Golden Spurs _et seq._
Beguinage at Bruges; grove of
Behuchet, Nicholas
Belfry of Bruges
Belgian Parliament passes law for harbour near Heyst
Berlaimont, Comte Florent de
Bernard, St., of Clairvaux
Bertulf, Provost of St. Donatian
Bexley
Bicycles, import duty on 'Bird of Honour'
Blankenberghe, new harbour near; English fleet at, in 1340
Boniface VIII.
Bouchoute, Hotel de
Borthwick, Colonel
Boterbeke
Bourg, Place du, at Bruges
Brangwyn, William
Breidel, John
Breskens
Bristol, Earl of, at Bruges
Bruges, described by John of Ypres; origin of name; primitive
  township of; boundaries in early times; Market-Place; Halles; early
  trade; the Loove at; growth of; capital of West Flanders; Baldwin
  Bras-de-Fer its real founder; Place du Bourg; murder of Charles the
  Good; Joanna of Navarre at; death of Marie, wife of Maximilian; Hotel
  de Ville; Customs House; Oriental appearance in Middle Ages; produce
  sent to, in Middle Ages; Hanseatic League at; Consulates at;
  splendour of, in Middle Ages; under the House of Burgundy; loss of
  trade; pauperism; Charles II. at _et seq._; list of Charles II.'s
  household at; death of Catherine of Braganza at; fate of Church at
  French Revolution; Napoleon at; state of, since Revolution of 1830;
  English Jesuits at; Queen Victoria at; relic of Holy Blood at
  _et seq._; Procession of the Holy Blood _et seq._; relic of the
  Holy Cross
Bruges Matins
Brussels, Charles II. at; Church of Ste. Gudule; Hotel de Ville
Burchard
Burgundy, Charles, Duke of
Burgundy, House of
Burnet, Bishop
Butler, Mr. J.

Caine, Mr. Hall
'Cairless,' Mr.
Capucins, Chapel of, at Furnes
Casa Negra
Cathedral of Antwerp
Cathedral of St. Martin at Ypres
Cathedral of St. Sauveur at Bruges
Catherine of Braganza
Celestine III.
Chapel of the Capucins at Furnes
Chapelle du Saint-Sang (St. Basil's) at Bruges
Charlemagne
Charles II. of England at Bruges _et seq._
Charles the Bald
Charles the Bold
Charles the Good
Charles V.
Charles VI.
Chatillon, Jacques de
Chemins-de-fer Vicinaux
Church of Jerusalem at Bruges
Church of Notre Dame at Bruges
Church of St. Donatian at Bruges
Church of Ste. Walburge
Cistercians
Clairvaux
Clauwerts
Clement V.
Clement VII.
Cologne
Comte de la Hanse
Congress of Vienna
Coninck, Peter de
Consulate of France; of Spain; of Smyrna
Coolkerke
Courtrai
Couvent des Dames Anglaises
Coxyde
Cranenberg
Crecy, Battle of
Cromwell
Customs House at Bruges

Dalgetty, Dugald
Damme _et seq._; population of; Roeles de; harbour blocked up
Dampierre, Guy de
David, Gerard
Deprysenaere, Jean of Ypres
_Digues de mer_, construction of
Donatian, Church of St., built by Baldwin Bras-de-Fer; Bertulf,
  Provost of; site of; murder of Charles the Good in; destroyed
Don John of Austria
Dordrecht
Duinbergen
Dunes, Battle of the; scenery of _et seq._
Dyver, the, at Bruges

Edward III.
Edward IV.
Egmont, Count
Elias, sixth Abbot of Coxyde
English Merchant Adventurers
Erembalds _et seq._; feud with Straetens; destruction of Ethelbald
Ethelwulf, husband of Judith, daughter of Charles the Bald Evendyck
Eyck, van, elder and younger

Flanders, state of, in early times; invaded by Normans; origin of title
  'Count of'; defended by Baldwin Bras-de-Fer; allied to England;
  neutrality of, in 1340 and 1830; invaded by French; plain of _et seq._;
  ignorance of country people in; smuggling between France and; annexed
  to France; invaded by English; causes of disunion in; ceded to the
  Infanta Isabella; contrast between different parts of; coast of _et seq._
Flotte, Pierre, Chancellor of France
Flushing
Fox, Sir Stephen
France, Flanders annexed to
France, Palais du
French Consulate at Bruges
Furnes; procession of penitents at; Church of Ste. Walburge; Hotel de
  Ville and Palais de Justice; Church of St. Nicholas; Corps de Garde
  Espagnol and Pavillon des Officiers Espagnols

Gand, Porte de
Gardiner, Dr., quoted
Gauthier de Sapignies
Genoese merchants, house of, at Bruges
George III.
Germany, emigrations from Flanders to Ghent
Ghiselhuis
Gilliat-Smith, author of _The Story of Bruges_
Gloucester, Henry, Duke of _et seq._
Godshuisen
Golden Fleece, Order of the
Golden Spurs, Battle of the
Golf in Belgium
'Governor of the English Colony beyond the Seas'
Grande Dame of Beguinage
Grande Salle des Echevins at Bruges
Great storm of thirteenth century
Gruthuise
Guildhouse of St. Sebastian at Bruges
Gustavus Adolphus
Guy de Dampierre

Haecke, Canon van
Halle de Drapiers at Ypres
Halle de Paris at Bruges
Halles at Bruges
Hamilton, Sir James
Hanseatic League
Het Paradijs
Heyst
Hobbema
Hogarth
Holland, Beguinages in
Holy Blood, relic and chapel of, at Bruges; Procession of the
Holy Cross, relic of
Holy Sepulchre, Church of, at Jerusalem
Hoogenblekker
Horn, Count
Hotel de Bouchoute at Bruges
Hotel de Ville at Bruges; at Furnes
House of the Seven Towers
Hyde (Lord Clarendon)

Idesbaldus, St.
Inquisition in Flanders
Isabella, the Infanta

Jerusalem, Baldwin, King of
Jerusalem, Church of, at Bruges
Jesse, _Memoirs of the Court of England_
Jesuits at Bruges
Joanna of Navarre
John of Ypres
Joseph II.
Joseph of Arimathaea
Judith, wife of Baldwin Bras-de-Fer
Justice, Palais du, at Bruges; at Furnes

Kadzand
Kermesse
King, Thomas Harper
Knights of the Golden Fleece
Knocke

Lac d'Amour
La Panne
Le Coq
_Legend of Montrose_
Lejeusne, Mathurin
Leliarts
Leonius
Leopold I.
Leopold II.
Lilly the astrologer
Lincoln, Bishop of
Lombaerdzyde
Longfellow, quoted
Loove, the, at Bruges
Louis of Maele
Louis of Nevers
Louis XIV.
Louvain
Luxembourg
Lyger

Maele, Louis of
Maison des Orientaux
Mannaert
Marbriers, Quai des
Mariakerke
Maria Theresa
Market-Place of Bruges
Mary, 'The Gentle'
Matins of Bruges
Maurice of Nassau
Mauritshuis at The Hague
Maximilian, Archduke
Mazarin
Melrose Abbey
Memlinc
Meuninxhove, John van
Michael Angelo
Middelkerke
Minnewater
Miracles wrought by the Holy Blood at Bruges
Morgarten
Mother Superior of Beguinage
Murray, Sir Robert

Napoleon at Bruges; return from Elba; canal to Sluis
  constructed by
Navarre, Joanna of
Neutrality of Flanders in 1340 and 1830
Nevers, Louis of
Nicholas I., Pope
Nicholas, Sir Edward
Nieuport; origin of; besieged by Prince Maurice; fallen state of
Nieuport-Bains
'Nieuwerck,' at Ypres
Nimeguen, Treaty of
Nivelles
Noe, Michael
Normans in Flanders
Norwich, Earl of
Notre Dame, Church of, at Bruges
Notre Dame de Lombaerdzyde
Notre Dame de Thuine

'Old England' at Bruges
Oosterlingen Plaats
Oostkerke
Orientaux, Maison des; Place des
Ormonde
Osburga
Ostend, growth of
Otlet, M. Paul _note_
Ouden Burg

Palais de Justice, at Bruges; at Furnes
Palais du Franc
Paradijs, Het
Parijssche Halle
Paris
Parma, Duke of, in Flanders
Pauperism of Bruges
Philip II. cedes Spanish Netherlands to his daughter
Philip III.
Philip of Valois
Philip the Fair
Place des Orientaux
Place du Bourg
Pont des Dunes
Pope Clement V.; VII.; Boniface VIII.; Celestine III.; Urban VI.
Poperinghe
Porte de Damme
Porte de Gand
Porte Ste. Croix
Procession of the Holy Blood at Bruges _et seq._; of Penitents at Furnes
Pruyssenaere, Peter

Quai Espagnol; Long; des Marbriers; du Miroir; de la Potterie; du Rosaire;
  Spinola; Vert

Rastadt, Treaty of
Richard I.
Robinson, Mr. Wilfrid, author of _Bruges, an Historical Sketch_
Rochester, Earl of
Rodenbach
Roeles de Damme
Rome, flight of Baldwin and Judith to
Roosebeke, Battle of
Rosaire, Quai du
Roulers
Route Royale
Roya
Rue Anglaise, in Bruges; de l'Ane Aveugle; des Carmes; Cour de Gand;
  Espagnole; Flamande; Haute; Neuve; du Vieux Bourg Ruysdael

Santhoven
Scarphout
'Schielt ende Vriendt'
Schomberg
Schoutteeten
'Scotland,' at Bruges
Scottish merchants at Bruges
Scott, Sir Walter
See-Brugge
Senlis
Sheppey, Isle of
Sluis
Smith, Gilliat-
Smet de Naeyer, Comte
Smyrna, Consulate of, at Bruges
Spaniards, at Bruges; at Furnes
Spanish Inquisition
Spencer, Henry, Bishop of Norwich
St. Andre, Village of
St. Basil, Church of
St. Bavon
St. Bernard of Clairvaux
St. Donatian, Church of
St. George, Society of
St. Idesbaldus
St. John, Hospital of
St. Martin, Church of, at Furnes
St. Nicholas, Church of, at Furnes
St. Omer, Jesuits of
St. Peter's, at Ghent
St. Sauveur, Church of
St. Sebastian, Society of, at Bruges; at Ypres
Ste. Elizabeth, Church of
Ste. Gudule, Church of
Ste. Monica, Church of
Ste. Walburge, Church of, at Bruges; at Furnes
Straetens
Stuebben, Herr
Swift, Dean
Sybilla, wife of Thierry d'Alsace
Sydenham, Colonel
Syria

Tarah, Viscount
'Ter Streep'
Thierry d'Alsace _et seq._
'Thuindag'
Thurloe State papers
Titelman the Inquisitor
Torquemada
Tournai
'Tower of London' at Bruges
Turner, Sir James

Valois, Philip of
Van Eyck
Vauban, fortifies Ypres
Verhaeren, M., Belgian poet
Vienna, Congress of
Vieux Bourg, Rue du
Virgin and Child, Statue of, at Bruges

Urban VI.

Victoria, Queen, at Bruges

Walburge, Ste., Church of, at Bruges; at Furnes
Walcheren
Waterloo, Battle of
Weavers, Guild of
Wenduyne
Westcapelle
Westende, village; Plage
William, Bishop of Ancona

York, Duke of, at Bruges _et seq._
Ypres; field preaching near; churches sacked; taken by Parma; by the
  Protestants; Place du Musee; besieged by Louis XIV.; fortified by
  Vauban; ceded to France; described by Vauban in 1689; taken by the
  French in 1794; during the Hundred Days; end of military history;
  Grand Place and Cloth Hall; monopoly of weaving linen; manages with
  Bruges the Hanseatic League in Flanders; the Nieuwerck; riots at;
  siege of, by English _et seq._; John of Ypres describes early Bruges
Yser

Zwijn
Zuyder Zee



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