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Sir Jean Froissart:
How Philip van Artevelde was Made Governor of Ghent, 1386

[Tappan Introduction] Toward the end of the fourteenth century, Philip van Artevelde was made governor of Ghent and leader of the people in their war against the Count of Flanders. He was at first successful, but soon King Charles VI of France came to the aid of the count. Philip's army was routed and he himself was slain.

WHEN Peter du Bois saw Ghent thus weakened in her captains and soldiers, and deserted by her allies; that the principal inhabitants began to tire; he suspected they would readily give up the war, but that, whatever peace or treaty they should enter into with the earl, there would not be any possibility for him to save his life. He therefore called to his recollection John Lyon, who had been his master, and with what art he had worked; he saw plainly he could not do everything himself, not having sufficient weight nor knowledge to govern the town; neither did he wish for the principal command, being solely desirous of leading every mad enterprise: he, in consequence, turned his thoughts to a man, of whom the city of Ghent had not any suspicions, one of sufficient prudence, though his abilities were unknown, for until that day they had not paid any attention to him: his name was Philip van Artevelde, son of Jacob van Artevelde, who had ruled over all Flanders for seven years. Peter du Bois had heard it related by his master, John Lyon, and the old people of Ghent, that the whole country was never so well governed, feared, loved, and honored, as during the time of Jacob van Artevelde's reign, which lasted for seven years: the inhabitants added, that if Jacob van Artevelde were alive, things would not be in the state they are now in: they should have a peace according to their wishes, and the earl would be too happy to forgive them.

These words made an impression on Peter du Bois: he recollected that Jacob van Artevelde had left a son called Philip, a handsome and agreeable man, to whom the Queen of England, when she was at Ghent and during the time of the siege of Tournay, had stood god-mother, and who, from respect to her, had been christened Philip. Peter du Bois came one evening to Philip's house, who resided with his mother, maintaining themselves honorably on their rents. Peter, having arranged in his own mind what he should say, thus opened the matter and the cause of his coming: "If you will listen to me, and follow my advice, I will make you the greatest man in Flanders." "How will you do this?" replied Philip. "I will tell you, for we are at this moment in the utmost want of a leader of a good name and fair character: by this means we shall rouse the men of Ghent, through remembrance of your father's fame; for every one says that Flanders was never so flourishing, nor so much feared, as during his lifetime. I will easily place you, if you be willing, in his situation; and when there, you will govern according to my advice until you shall find yourself master of the business, which you will soon acquire." Philip, who was arrived at manhood, and naturally wished to advance himself in honor and wealth more than he then possessed, replied, "Peter, you offer me great things; and, if I be placed in the situation you saw, I swear on my faith that I will never act without your advice."

Peter asked, "Can you be cruel and proud? For a great man among the commonalty, and in particular among such as we shall have to do with, will not be thought anything worth if he be not feared and dreaded, and at times renowned for his cruelty. It is thus that the Flemings wish to be governed; and among them men's lives should be no more valued, nor should they have more pity shown to them, than swallows or larks, which are caught in the proper season for the table." "By my troth," answered Philip, "I know well how to act this part." "All then goes well," said Peter. "You are just such a one as I want, and the chief I look for." On saying this, he took leave and departed to his own house. Night passed, and day returned, when Peter du Bois went to a square where there were upward of four thousand of his followers and others, assembled to hear the news, to discuss how matters ought to be carried on, and who should be governor of the town.

The Lord de Harzelle was there, who chiefly conducted the affairs of Ghent, but he would not undertake to do anything out of the town: some named him for governor: others were also nominated. Peter, who was listening attentively, having heard many names, raised his voice and said, "Gentlemen, I have paid every attention to all you have said, and firmly believe that you have been induced, through your love and affection for the honor and wealth of the town of Ghent, to propose such who are worthy to have a share in the government of this city; but I know one who in no way is thinking of it, and if he would undertake the Government, there could not be any one found of greater abilities, nor of a more propitious name." Peter du Bois was called upon to name him, which he did by saying, " It was Philip van Artevelde, who was christened at the font of St. Peter's in Ghent by that noble queen of England, Philippa, who was his godmother at the time when his father, Jacob van Artevelde, was at the siege of Tournay with the King of England, the Duke of Brabant, the Duke of Gueldres, and the Earl of Hainault; which Jacob van Artevelde, his father, governed the town of Ghent and the country of Flanders better than has ever been done since, from all I hear from those inhabitants who have it strong in their memories: Flanders had been for some time lost, if through his sense and good fortune he had not regained it. Now, it behooves us to love the branches from such a valiant man, in preference to any other person." No sooner had Peter du Bois done speaking than the idea of Philip van Artevelde filled every one's mind, and encouraged them so much that they unanimously cried out, "Let him be sought for: we will not have any one but him for our governor." " No, no," said Peter du Bois: "we will not send for him: it will be much better we go to his house, for we do not at present know how he will take it. We ought not by any means to suffer him to excuse himself from accepting it."

At these words, those present took the road to Philip's house, followed by many others who had been informed of their intentions. When they arrived there, the Lord de Harzelle, Peter du Bois, Peter la Nuitée, and about ten or twelve of the principal tradesmen, addressed him, saying, "That the good town of Ghent was in the greatest danger for want of a chief, with whom alliances might be formed both at home and abroad, and that all ranks of people in Ghent had given him their voices and chosen him to be their sovereign; for the good remembrance of his name, and the love they had borne to his father, made him more agreeable to them than any one else. For which reasons they entreated him affectionately to take on him the Government of the town, with the managementof their affairs both within and without, and they would swear to him obedience and loyalty as completely as to their lord. They likewise engaged to bring every one, how great soever he might be, under his obedience."

Philip, after hearing everything they had to say, made the following prudent reply: "Gentlemen, you require great things from me; and I should imagine you have not weighed the matter so maturely as it ought to have been, when you offer me the government of Ghent. You say, the affection your ancestors had for my father has been your great inducement: when he had performed for them every service in his power, they murdered him. If I should accept the government in the manner you request, and be afterwards murdered, I should gain but a miserable recompense." "Philip," said Peter du Bois, who caught at these words which seemed to make his choice doubtful, "what has passed cannot now be amended: you will act from the advice of your council, and by thus continuing you will ever be so well advised that all mankind shall praise you." Philip answered: "I should never wish to act otherwise." They then elected him; and conducting him to the market-place, he was there sworn into office; the mayors, sheriffs, and rulers of companies were also sworn to obey him.

In this manner was Philip von Artevelde made sovereign of Ghent. He acquired great popularity at the commencement; for he spoke to every one who had any business with him politely and prudently, so that he was beloved by all.


From: Eva March Tappan, ed., The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art, 14 Vols., (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. VII: Germany, The Netherlands, and Switzerland, pp. 297-302.'

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall, November 1998
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