The revolt of Ghent in 1449 would reach its final act on the field of Gavere on 23 July 1543. Sources give both Burgundian and rebel forces an equal strength of 30,000, but at the end of the day, the Burgundians held the field sending the rebel army in full retreat. Days later, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy arrived before the walls of Ghent to receive the city’s capitulation.
In 1447, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, began a series measures to reduce the authority of the town council of Ghent. These included taxes to be levied on salt and flour, both of which would be collected by ducal officials. Not long after, other Flemish cities were included in the taxation programme and in retaliation town councils with the support of their guilds called for a general strike.
Leading the revolt, the city of Ghent raised troops throughout the county of Vlaanderen, yet not all towns were in favour of the strike. Those cities offering resistance were plundered. A few such towns, as Dender, Aalst and Geraardsbergen offered stiffer resistance and were placed under siege by the army of Ghent. Less successful were the castles of Poeke, Schendelbeke and Gavere which were captured and garrisoned. Seeing the rebellion quickly gaining support throughout Flanders and fearing a similar action developing in his border provinces, King Charles VII of France attempted to negotiate a truce for the two parties. Ghent refused the offer.
In June of 1453, Philip began his military campaign in earnest by sending his fleet, based at Sluis, up the River Scheldt to secure Antwerp. In the south, the main army would march from Lille and begin recapturing rebel held towns before approaching Ghent. Towns fell in rapid succession and by July, Gavere castle became the final bastion before approaching the city of Ghent. The rebels however had other plans.
The polder fields between Semmerzake and Gavere with the Schelde River bordering the battlefield’s northern and western side was the scene of the battle. The town of Gavere is behind the Burgundian position and from here the ground gently rises toward Semmerzake and Vurste. Behind the Burgundian line is a depression through which the Leebeek, a tributary of the Schelde, served to hide the Burgundian right. The castle and village of Gavere played no part in the actual battle and need not be placed on the battlefield, however, woods do line both sides of the Schelde River and the Leebeek.
Map of the battlefield: De Slag Bij Gavere, Antoine de Smet, deel 2, page 11.
The Opposing Forces
Sources give equal numbers for both armies and some quote a low of 16,000 to a high of 30,000 men, 20,000 being most likely. The rebel army left Ghent with 16,000 men and gathered additional troops along the route.
The Burgundian army, mostly recruited from Artesie, Picardy and Burgundy numbered 14,000, were under the command of Thibaut de Neufchatel, Marshal of Burgundy and Jean de Croy, Lord of Chimay. Additional pioneers and artillery personnel would bring the total to 20,000. This also include the Low Country crossbowmen and pikemen from cities and towns still loyal to Philip the Good. Considering the larger numbers that fought, our test games will use doubled the number of elements for each army.
Photos show the layout of terrain features for the battle. A low hill is positioned near the centreline with the road to the right of the rebel deployment leading to Semmerzake and the second to Gavere. Scatter material mark the weide and woods on the rebel right, treat them as rough ground. The Leebeek and screeding trees should leave enough space for the fourth division to deploy in. Technically, their position is on the edge of the wood and movement is 1BW when exiting.
A minor oversight, the board is 80cm x 80cm and for the double size commands should have been 120cm x 80cm. In the end both sides scored a victory, but one can only speculate if the extra room would have benefited the Burgundian player in the first two games. I am still pleased with the results.
View from the rebel position.
Gavere 1453, Feiten en Verhalen
De Slag Bij Gavere, Antoine de Smet
Communal Armies in the County of Flanders, Carl de Roo, Slingshot 201 p.20-22.