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The Troublesome Burghers
by [?]

Philip van Artevelde was a Dutchman. His father, Jacob, had been Governor of Ghent, and had made himself a great name by leading a revolt against the Count of Flanders, and driving that tyrant out of the country on one occasion.

Philip was a quiet man, who attended to his own affairs and took no part in public business; but in the year 1381 the good people of Ghent found themselves in a very great difficulty. Their city was subject to the Count of Flanders, who oppressed them in every way. He and his nobles thought nothing of the common people, but taxed them heavily and interfered with their business.

The city of Bruges was the rival of Ghent, and in those days rivals in trade were enemies. The Bruges people were not satisfied with trying to make more money and get more business than Ghent could, but they wanted Ghent destroyed, and so they supported Count Louis in all that he did to injure their neighboring city.

Having this quarrel on their hands, the Ghent people did not know what to do. Count Louis was too strong for them, and they were very much afraid he would destroy their town and put the people to death.

A public meeting was held, and remembering how well old Jacob van Artevelde had served them against the father of Count Louis, they made his son Philip their captain, and told him he must manage this quarrel for them.

Philip undertook this duty, and tried to settle the trouble in some peaceable way; but the Count was angry, and would not listen to anything that Van Artevelde proposed. He said the Ghent people were rebels, and must submit without any conditions at all, and this the sturdy Ghent burghers refused to do.

Count Louis would not march against the town and give the people a fair chance to fight the matter out. He preferred to starve them, and for that purpose he put soldiers on all the roads leading towards Ghent, and refused to allow any provisions to be taken to the city.

The people soon ate up nearly all the food they had, and when the spring of 1382 came they were starving. Something must be done at once, and Philip van Artevelde decided that it was of no use to resist any longer. He took twelve deputies with him, and went to beg the Count for mercy. He offered to submit to any terms the Count might propose, if he would only promise not to put any of the people to death. Philip even offered himself as a victim, agreeing that the Count should banish him from the country as a punishment, if he would spare the people of the town. But the haughty Count would promise nothing. He said that all the people of Ghent from fifteen to sixty years old must march half-way to Bruges bareheaded, with no clothes on but their shirts, and each with a rope around his neck, and then he would decide how many of them he would put to death and how many he would spare.

The Count thought the poor Ghent people would have to submit to this, and he meant to put them all to death when they should thus come out without arms to surrender. He therefore called on his vassals to meet him in Bruges at Easter, and to go out with him to “destroy these troublesome burghers.”

But the “troublesome burghers,” as we shall see presently, were not the kind of men to walk out bareheaded, with ropes around their necks, and submit to destruction.

Philip van Artevelde returned sadly to Ghent, on the 29th of April, and told the people what the Count had said. Then the gallant old soldier Peter van den Bossche exclaimed:

“In a few days the town of Ghent shall be the most honored or the most humbled town in Christendom.”