Saturday 12 July 2014


It's a jittery time this weekend in the Northern quarter of the island of Ireland.  Yesterday 11th of July was the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne. We'll have to see if the Orange Order can continue their tradition of celebrating 'their' victory by sashing up and marching through the neighbourhoods of people who would rather not hear drums and fifes, without anyone getting hurt.  Ooops The Blob's got it wrong because we all know that the BoB was fought on the 12th; but, on these islands, at the date it was fought was 1st July 1690.  In 1752 when the British government finally admitted that the French were right and adopted the Gregorian calendar they also 'lost' 11 days off the calendar (14th September was declared to be 25th September) which caused both confusion and annoyance.  BUT, before 1700 the accumulated discrepancy between the Julian and Gregorian calendars was only 10 days, so 11th July is the best estimate for when the Boyne should be triumphed.  Ever wondered what the losing King did after the battle?  He left Ireland with a waggish quip and sailed to France.  Interesting post on the political language of dates.

Coincidentally, there was an opportunity for sectarian nonsense in another country also yesterday.  The Battle of the Golden Spurs / Guldensporenslag / Bataille des éperons d'or was fought just outside Kortrijk/Courtrai on 11th July 1302: so long ago that nobody had tricked about with the Julian calendar so there is no doubt about the date. There is also no doubt that The French, who believed they were i/c the County of Flanders, occupied the city of Bruges / Brugge in 1302 to assert their rights over the rich spoils of the proto-industrial towns of Flanders. On the 18th May in that year, the burghers murdered all the French people on whom they could lay hands on, an event which has been named with ghoulish irony the Bruges Matins / Brugse Mettin.  It was a conscious echo of the Sicilian Vespers when thousands of French-speakers at the other end of their Empire were murdered in and about Palermo on 30th March 1282.  How do you decide if your neighbour or random people in the streets of your town are French?  You ask them to cry "schild en vriend" [shield and friend] with you or after the whole shameful episode had degenerated into Chinese whispers "gilden vriend" [vriend of the guilds]. The French tended to talk without an endemic clearing the the throat and were readily identified as Southerners by the sch and g.  I guess some English or Hanseatic merchants lost their heads in the mill also. Whoop-whoop nonsense alert.

Needless to say, that pissed off the French king Philip IV and he sent an army to exact retribution.  I reckon he thought the Flemish townies would be a walk-over.  But Brugge mustered a trained militia of 5,500 men, Gent/Gand/Ghent sent 2,500 and Ieper/Ypres/Wipers another 1,000. Using rigid discipline and a variety of lethal weapons (pikegoedendag, morning-star) which reads like a script from dungeons and dragons role-play, the militia stopped the charging French cavalry in a maze of drainage ditches and killed everyone who would stay still long enough to be caught. The French general Robert of Artois was surrounded by pikemen and sued for his life but someone jeered "We spreken niet Frans" and he was bludgeoned to death and stripped of his fancy gear. This debacle for the French is known as the Guldensporenslag, the Field of the Golden Spurs because of the quality of the spoils.  The anniversary is an official holiday for the Flemish parts of Belgium which seems plain bad manners and potentially offensive to the Francophones who occupy most of the rest of the country.

Apparently the Dutch were still exploiting the difficulties of foreigners to speak the language like a native as recently as WWII.  Conversations with suspected German spies were brought round to Scheveningen the name of a seaside resort which could be hawked up no problem by any loyal Nederlander but immediately betrayed anyone from East of Arnhem.

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