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Jacob van Artevelde: 1338-1345

The dramatic seven-year rule of Jacob van Artevelde, a citizen of Ghent and probably a brewer by trade, is an indication of the power of the commercial classes in Flanders by this time. A man of considerable wealth, he plays no part in public affairs until war between England and France (at the start of the Hundred Years' War) prompts him to take action to protect Flemish trade. The cities of Flanders depend upon England for wool, their main industrial staple. War will disrupt the supply.

At a great public meeting in 1338 Artevelde proposes that the Flemish towns form an alliance to maintain an armed neutrality. His plan is accepted.

The cities rapidly demonstrate their independence, when Artevelde makes a commercial treaty on their behalf with England. The count of Flanders attempts to reassert his feudal authority. He marches against the cities, but is defeated in battle. In June 1338 the count signs a treaty acknowledging the status of Ghent, Bruges and Ypres as the 'three members of Flanders'.

But neutrality proves short-lived. By January 1340 the cities are in the English camp. Artevelde, undisputed leader of the league, negotiates directly with Edward III - who eagerly takes the opportunity of campaigning within the French king's feudal territory.

The Flemish cities prosper under Artevelde's leadership. But his dictatorial tendencies, and an eagerness to become too fully involved with the English cause, provoke a reaction.

In 1345 there is a popular uprising in Ghent. Artevelde is captured by the crowd and is murdered. The Flemish cities after his death resume their more usual (and frequently uneasy) relationship with their immediate feudal overlord, the count of Flanders. In 1381 Jacob's son Philip leads another revolt of Ghent. He dies in 1382 at Roosebeke, where a French army crushes the rebellion.

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