Dante, the European Cloth Trade, and the Battle of the Golden Spurs

Dante, the European Cloth Trade, and the Battle of the Golden Spurs (2018)

Pieter Vanhove

Giovanni Villani, Nuova Cronica, ms. Chigiano L VIII 296, Bibl. Vaticana, f. 172r (l. IX, 56)


Dante and the Arte della lana

 When Dante went for a stroll through the alleys of his native city, he might have spotted, as his contemporary Villani has noted in his chronicle, “a vermillion insignia with a sheep in the middle”[1] on one of the town’s facades. It was in this Palagio dell’Arte della Lana—constructed towards the end of the thirteenth century, officially opened in 1308, and today the seat of the Società Dantesca—that the Florentine cloth guild held its offices. The tremendous influence that the cloth trade had on the Florentine and Northern European economies and political realities cannot be underestimated. Not surprisingly, the cloth trade also left its mark on Dante’s poetry.

The Agnus Dei, Coat of arms of the Arte della lana, Palazzo dell’arte della lana, Florence, Wikimedia Commons

With the mandra fortunata allotta in Purgatorio 3 as perhaps the most central occurence, references to sheep, wool, and clothing crowd Dante’s pages. They denote a wide range of historical contexts within both the diegesis of his work as well as its ulterior interpretations (see Appendix). Since the history of the European cloth trade is what interests us here, let us focus on the following passage from Paradiso where Cacciaguida describes to Dante the vestimentary fashions of a long lost Florence of the past. Cacciaguida’s Florence is here painted in a stark contrast with the city Dante himself was familiar with:

Fiorenza dentro da la cerchia antica,
ond’ella toglie ancora e terza e nona,
si stava in pace, sobria e pudica.
Non avea catenella, non corona,
non gonne contigiate, non cintura
che fosse a veder più che la persona.
Non faceva, nascendo, ancor paura
la figlia al padre, che ’l tempo e la dote
non fuggien quinci e quindi la misura. (Par. 15.97-105)

Dante’s verses imply that in the Florence of his day women’s dress (catenella, corona, la dote) as well as men’s clothing (gonne contigiate, cinture) would have been problematically extravagant and sumptuous. The expression gonne contigiate, for instance, refers to a type of men’s dress that was heavily ornamented with precious stones and materials.[2] A gonna would have been fastened around a man’s waist by means of a heavily decorated cintura, which at the time acted as a status symbol.[3]

A 14th-century lanaiolo’s workshop, manuscript by an unknown master, Wikimedia Commons

The Cacciaguida passage is indicative of Dante’s disapproval of his contemporaries’ vestimentary extravagance, a criticism that mirrored a broader social sentiment. Franciscan clergymen—as Giotto’s striking depictions of Saint Francis illustrate—were some of the first to express their own disavowal of lavish expense on clothing and other worldy goods. While Dante did not entirely disapprove of dressing well—as his “bel vestimento” phrase in the Convivio underlines—Dante shows sympathy for this Franciscan valorization of poverty, which tended to focus on items of clothing as symbols of wealth, excess, and lack of misura.[4]

Giotto di Bondone, Renunciation of Worldly Goods, 1295, Upper Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi. Wikimedia Commons


Giotto di Bondone, Saint Francis Giving his Mantle to a Poor Man, 1295, Upper Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi. Wikimedia Commons


The European Cloth Trade and the Franco-Flemish War in the Commedia

Dante would not only have been aware of the fact that the textile industry had far-reaching economic and political ramifications in the Italy of his day—he also knew that it was a pan-European phenomenon. As Villani’s chronicle discusses, Florentine men and women had their dresses made “infino in Fiandra e in Brabante”—Flanders and Brabant being two of the northern-most regions of current-day Belgium.[5] With its lakenhallen or cloth halls, its guilds and production centers dispersed over its fourteenth-century mercantile cities—Bruges, Douai, Lille, Leuven, Ypres, and Ghent—Flanders was one of the most important centers of the European textile industry.

Flanders was the first region on the European continent where the late thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century textile industry took off. The quality of Flemish wool was especially high, partly because of the specific saline composition of Flemish pastures, which supported sheep races that produced fine wools.[6] High quality Flemish cloths, also known as panni franceschi, were exported all over Europe, with Northern Italy as one of Flanders’ main export markets.[7] Demand exceeded the Flemish wool production capacity, and primary materials had to be imported from England, where wool of similar quality could be produced in much larger quantities. Interestingly, many of the merchants and bankers residing in Flemish mercantile cities, such as for example the Del Bene or Bardi families, were Florentine. These merchants provided investment capital, arranged the purchase of English wool, and organized exports to their home town as well as other Northern Italian cities.[8]

A depiction of a woman holding a strand of wool on the facade of the Leuven Cloth Hall, Author’s photograph

Dante’s intimate understanding of the political and economic impact of the cloth and wool trade throughout Europe—and Flanders in particular—explains why the region is mentioned on no less than three occasions in the Commedia. The first of three references to Flanders can be found in Inf. 15, the canto in which Dante encounters Brunetto Latini. In order to lend the description of the infernal topography he is traversing a realistic, recognizable tangibility, he compares the embankments of that particular part of his Inferno to the dikes of the port of Bruges and the (at the time still) Flemish city of Wissant [9]:

Quali Fiamminghi tra Guizzante e Bruggia,
temendo ’l fiotto che ’nver’ lor s’avventa,
fanno lo schermo perché ’l mar si fuggia; (Inf. 15.4-6)

The most revealing passage can be found in Purg. 20, where Dante makes a veiled yet unambiguous reference to both the thriving Flemish cloth industry and its political implications:

Io fui radice de la mala pianta
che la terra cristiana tutta aduggia,
sì che buon frutto rado se ne schianta.
Ma se Doagio, Lilla, Guanto e Bruggia
potesser, tosto ne saria vendetta;
e io la cheggio a lui che tutto giuggia.
Chiamato fui di là Ugo Ciappetta;
di me son nati i Filippi e i Luigi
per cui novellamente è Francia retta. (Purg. 20.43-52)

Speaking is Hugo Capet, founder of the Capetian dynasty and allegedly the son of a Parisian butcher (beccaio di Parigi). His progeny took over after an act of treason against the legitimate heir of the Carovingian dynasty, Charles Duke of Lorraine. Instead of ascending to the throne, draping himself in the royal mantle, and wearing the royal crown, Charles became—as is implied in the next terzina by means of a vestimentary metonymy—a monk wearing a rough, greyish habit known as panni bigi (Purg. 20.54).[10] Dante’s exploration of French dynastic history is here used to stage his criticism of Capet’s successor, Philip IV, also known as Philip the Fair. As the Commento Baroliniano of Purgatorio 20 highlights, Dante’s scorn for Philip the Fair may have been informed by his regret that Italy—unlike France with its long-lasting dynasties—never achieved political unity.

The terzina referring to the Franco-Flemish wars is of particular interest here. The four main mercantile cities of the time, Ghent, Lille, Bruges and Douai, are taken as a whole; they represent the county of Flanders as well as its strong economy, which had caught Philip’s eye. The strong verb potesser, in its initial position followed by a caesura, indicates that Flanders, with its thriving cloth industry, was becoming increasingly powerful and unwilling to accept French interference. Implied in the verse tosto ne saria vendetta is the fact that Philip sent occupying forces to Flanders and introduced retaliatory measures in an effort to re-establish French power in the wealthy fief. These are effectively the circumstances that would lead to the Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302.[11]

It is worth taking note of the Commedia’s third and final reference to Flanders in Paradiso 19, which is more subtle:

Lì si vedrà il duol che sovra Senna
induce,  falseggiando la moneta,
quel che morrà di colpo di cotenna. (Par. 19.118-120)

Speaking is the Eagle, who in passing not only mentions the honorless death of Philip IV, but also the way in which the French paid for the costly military operations of the Franco-Flemish war. Dante here refers to Philip’s decision to debase the French mint by lowering the contents of precious metal present in the coins (“falseggiando la moneta”)—a historical fact that is also mentioned in Villani’s account of the Franco-Flemish conflict.[12]


The Battle of the Golden Spurs in Villani’s Cronica

King Philip IV of France announcing his reprisals to the unruly citizens of Bruges.
Giovanni Villani, Nuova Cronica , ms. Chigiano L VIII 296, Bibl. Vaticana, f. 169v (l. IX, 55)

When Philip the Fair’s direct subject, the Count of Flanders, sided with France’s archenemy, King Edward I of England, over wool supplies for the Flemish cloth industry, Philip immediately imposed retaliatory measures. First, he ordered an embargo on the import of wool from England, effectively cutting the lifeline of the Flemish economy. Second, he set a trap for his godfather the Count of Flanders and locked him up in a Parisian jail. Third, he sent special forces to the Flemish towns, along with “guards”—French patricians who took over the cloth trade—and a substitute governor by the name of Jacques de Châtillon who was to take the count’s place. And finally, the Queen and Philip went on highly publicized “Joyous Entries” to the rebellious fief.[13]

Not long after the royal visit, the people of Bruges staged a dramatic uprising known as the Matins of Bruges.[14] Pieter de Coninck (literally Peter the King or “Piero le Roi” as Villani calls him[15]), a poor weaver from Bruges, and his ally by the name of Jan Breydel[16](or “Giambrida” in Villani’s version), an equally as poor butcher from the same town, were the leaders of this rebellion against the Francophone occupiers residing in the city. Legend has it that residents were asked to pronounce the Flemish phrase “schild en vriend” (shield and friend) to identify any French speakers hiding among the town’s citizens.

Flemish insurgents murdering French patricians during the Matins of Bruges in 1299,
Giovanni Villani, Nuova Cronica, ms. Chigiano L VIII 296, Bibl. Vaticana, f. 170r (l. IX, 55)

Contemporary chronicles reveal that Philip was furious when news of the Bruges uprisings reached Paris. His knights were immediately prepared for battle and sent out to the swampy fields of Flanders, convinced that victory would be swift and easy. Villani recounts how the French nobles thought of the Flemish as lightly armed peasants and weavers known to be great eaters, a custom that would surely slow them on the battlefield. According to Villani, the French believed a siege would be too easy an option, unworthy of the “fiore della cavalleria del mondo.” The knights were convinced that the foodloving Flemings would surrender without the French having been able to show off their courage and valor. Villani’s humorous characterization of the Flemish as lazy, fat “buttered rabbits” is worth quoting in full:

(…) e la più vile gente che fosse al mondo, tesserandi, e folloni, e d’altre vili arti e mestieri, e non mai usi di guerra, che per dispetto e loro viltade da tutte le nazioni del mondo i Fiaminghi erano chiamati conigli pieni di burro; e per queste vittorie salirono in tanta fama e ardire, ch’uno Fiamingo a piè con uno godendac in mano avrebbe atteso due cavalieri franceschi.

The Flemish footsoldiers and the French cavalry staking out their positions at Courtrai,
Giovanni Villani, Nuova Cronica, ms. Chigiano L VIII 296, Bibl. Vaticana, f. 171v (l. IX, 56)

Against all odds, the inexperienced Flemish weavers and fullers managed to defeat the heavily armoured French cavalry with nothing more than their humble goedendags, a hybrid of a club and a spear.[17]Villani’s chronicle and the illustrations of the battle included in the Chigiano manuscript have fueled the much-repeated myth that the Flemish militias had staked themselves out in a swampy field traversed by small muddy streams. A tactic that would pay off, since the terrain proved to be too difficult to navigate for the armoured French knights—whose heavy golden spurs that gave the battle its name got stuck in the mud.


The Battle’s Historical (In)Significance

The Battle of the Golden Spurs has a long reception history and continues to fuel heated political debates about the Flemish quest for independence and Belgian unity. July 11 is the Flemish national holiday, the Flemish flag bears the Lion of the Count of Flanders who battled at Courtrai, and the Flemish national anthem commemorates the successes of the Flemish footsoldiers. The battle also became a central point of reference for nationalist, Romantic writers and artists who in the nineteenth century sought to create the myth of a Flemish people—a people that in their view had always already been defined by an ambition to overcome French domination.

Nicaise de Keyser, The Battle of the Golden Spurs (1839), Wikimedia Commons

While Dante clearly deplored the lack of unity in the Italy of his day, it is doubtful that he would have subscribed to the nationalist symbolism that still today informs the memory of the Battle of the Golden Spurs. The Battle of the Golden Spurs, Dante would have realized, was ultimately but a short, insignificant blip in the long arc of history. Just months after the Flemish victory at Courtrai, the Flemish were effectively beaten by Philip the Fair’s cavalry at Mons-en-Pévèle.

Dante’s writerly mind was more interested in capturing the little everyday details and human stories that lurk behind historical markers—events that are often distorted by whomever is writing history at any given time. The Battle of the Golden Spurs awakened Dante’s imagination because it highlighted the economic and political implications of the powerful Florentine arte della lana, the broader European wool trade and cloth industry, and the unlikely defeat of Philip’s army by a band of weavers and fullers from Nothern Europe’s swampy fields. Teodolinda Barolini’s call to young Dante scholars to “only historicize” seems particularly apt here.[18] Dante’s craft was poetry, not history—yet history, in all its minute detail, was for Dante one of the building blocks of the great work of world literature we still read and love.


Appendix: Dante’s Pecorelle

Below are listed some of the most striking occurences of pecorelle and their derived products in Dante’s work. The categories are not exhaustive, but they give an idea of the wide range of historical and hermeneutical contexts in which one of Dante’s favorite tropes appears. I hope this attempt at a brief outline, as well as the mini-concordance at the end, will be useful for future research.

Man vs. Sheep

In the Convivio, Dante includes a vivid description of his personal encounters with flocks of sheep in the countryside. Dante highlights the gregarious, “non human”[19] behavior of the sheep, and refers to Boethius’ reflection on the philosophical “animal vs. human spirit” problematic:

Questi sono da chiamare  pecore, e non uomini; ché se una pecora si gittasse da una ripa di mille passi, tutte l’altre l’anderebbero dietro; e se una pecora per alcuna cagione al passare d’una strada salta, tutte l’altre saltano, eziandio nulla veggendo da saltare. E io ne vidi già molte in uno pozzo saltare per una che dentro vi saltò, forse credendo saltare uno muro, non ostante che ’l pastore, piangendo e gridando, colle braccia e col petto dinanzi a esse si parava. (Conv. I.xi.9-10)

The “man vs. sheep” trope is not an uncommon find in Dante’s work. Beatrice’s monologue in Par. 5 is a good example. Dante uses the monologue to dedicate ample textual real estate to the issue of the voto or religious vow. Dante’s ambition here, as the Commento Baroliniano of Par. 5 discusses, is to “trace a genealogy of the economics of devotion.” Beatrice encourages Christians not to make a laughing stock of themselves among non-Christians, such as Jews, when it comes to vows. The “man vs. sheep” trope at the heart of Beatrice’s exhortation is cunningly embraced by two pastoral similes:

Avete il novo e ’l vecchio Testamento,
e ’l pastor de la Chiesa che vi guida;
questo vi basti a vostro salvamento.
Se mala cupidigia altro vi grida,
uomini siate, e non pecore matte,
sì che ’l Giudeo di voi non rida!
Non fate com’agnel che lascia il latte
de la sua madre, e semplice e lascivo
seco medesmo a suo piacer combatte! (Par. 5.79-84)


 Bucolic Settings

Sheep often appear in pastoral scenes and bucolic settings. The following simile in Inf. 24 would not have been a misfit in one of Horace’s Odes or Vergil’s Bucolica[20]:

lo villanello a cui la roba manca,
si leva, e guarda, e vede la campagna
biancheggiar tutta; ond’ei si batte l’anca,
ritorna in casa, e qua e là si lagna,
come ’l tapin che non sa che si faccia;
poi riede, e la speranza ringavagna,
veggendo ’l mondo aver cangiata faccia
in poco d’ora, e prende suo vincastro,
e fuor le pecorelle a pascer caccia. (Inf. 24.7-15)

This bucolic scene describing the fears and renewed audacity of a shepherd herding his flock in early spring here signifies nothing but its most direct connotations: freshness, birth, new beginnings. In the terzine that follow, we learn that these emotions of renewed hope are applicable to the feelings of the pilgrim making his way through Inferno with Vergil as his guide.

Sheep-like behavior and its connotation of simplemindedness and innocence is also at the heart of the bucolic simile of the “mandra fortunata allotta” of Purg. 3:

Come le pecorelle escon del chiuso
a una, a due, a tre, e l’altre stanno
timidette atterrando l’occhio e ’l muso;
e ciò che fa la prima, e l’altre fanno,
addossandosi a lei, s’ella s’arresta,
semplici e quete, e lo ’mperché non sanno;
sì vid’io muovere a venir la testa
di quella mandra fortunata allotta,
pudica in faccia e ne l’andare onesta. (Purg. 3.79-87)

The innocent and timid demeanor of the fortunate flock of saved souls and their slow-paced movement upward at the foot of Mount Purgatury is prototypical of this central cantica, where a calculated amount of purging time is allotted to each soul.[21]


Socio-Political and Ecclesiastical Contexts

Images of innocent sheep in need of an experienced guide to show them the path to the fold cannot but appear in political and ecclesiastical contexts. Dante would have come across this analogy in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.[22] The Commedia abounds with similes depicting the pope as a shepherd, the faithful as his flock, and the Church as his sheepfold, as Dante’s description of pope Clement V as a pastor senza legge in Inf. 19 illustrates:

Ma più è ’l tempo già che i piè mi cossi
e ch’i’ son stato così sottosopra,
ch’el non starà piantato coi piè rossi:
ché dopo lui verrà di più laida opra,
di ver’ ponente, un pastor senza legge,
tal che convien che lui e me ricuopra. (Inf. 19.79-84)

Dante also refers to monastic orders using the metaphorical language of sheep and shepherds. The most noteworthy passages can be found in Par. 11, where Saint Francis is dubbed as the “archimandrita” or “prince of shepherds” (Par. 11.99) of his flock. The division and corruption of the Dominican order is in turn metaphorized as a dispersed flock of sheep. The Dominican sheep eventually return to the fold deprived of their milk:

e quanto le sue pecore remote
e vagabunde più da esso vanno,
più tornano a l’ovil di latte vòte. (Par. 11.127-129)

The next terzina builds on this pastoral simile and includes a reference to monastic dress and cloth production. Dante tells us that there were so few sheep—i.e. Dominican monks—remaining by their shepherd’s side that little cloth would be needed to sew the hoods of the monks’ habits:

Ben son di quelle che temono ’l danno
e stringonsi al pastor; ma son sì poche,
che le cappe fornisce poco panno. (Par. 11.130-132)[23]


Liturgical Contexts

The Lamb of God or Agnus Dei not only denotes Christ but also a hymn sung during Catholic liturgy as the symbolic bread is broken. The two distinct meanings of the Lamb of God occur in this passage from Purg. 16:

Sentia voci, e ciascuna pareva
pregar per pace e per misericordia
l’Agnel di Dio che le peccata leva.
Pur “Agnus Dei” eran le loro essordia;
una parola in tutte era e un modo,
sì che parea tra esse ogne concordia. (Purg. 16.16-21)

Jan van Eyck, central panel of the Ghent altarpiece known as The Lamb of God or The Adoration of the Lamb (ca. 1430-32). Wikimedia Commons


Pecorelle in the Bible

The Commedia is full of biblical material involving sheep, likely because the Bible itself often uses this metaphor. Dante not only mentions the Bethlehem shepherds (Purg. 20.140) but also makes references to the parable of the lost sheep (Par. 9.131 and Par. 11.127; Matt. 18:22) and the image of the wolf in sheep’s clothes (Par. 27. 55-57 and Par. 9.127-142; Matt. 7:15).


Wool, Cloth, and Other Derived Products

 As discussed above, references to clothing are plentiful in the Commedia. They include “ammanto” or “gran manto” to indicate the papacy (Inf. 2.27 and Inf. 19.69), references to monastic dress, the Florentine fashions of cintura and gonne contegiate, the bianche stole of Par. 25, and the bende of Purg. 8 and Par. 3 to name but a few.


Mini-Concordance

 “pecore”:

Inf. 32.15/ Purg. 33.51/ Par. 5.80/ Par. 9.131/ Par. 11.127

“pecorelle”:

Inf. 14.15/ Purg. 3.79/ Par. 24.106

“agnel”:

Inf. 25.68/ Purg. 16.18/ Par. 5.82/ Par. 16.117/ Par. 17.33

“agnello”:

Par. 16.71/ Par. 24.2/ Par. 25.5

“agni”:

Par. 9.131/ Par. 10.94

“agno”:

Par. 4.4

“Agnus”:

Purg. 16.19

“lanose”:

Inf. 3.97

“archimandrita”:

Par. 11.99

“mandra”:

Purg. 3.86

“pastor”:

Inf. 19.83,106/ Purg. 3.124/ Purg. 16.98/ Purg. 18.126/ Purg. 20.140/ Purg. 27.80/ Par. 5.77/ Par. 11.131/ Par. 15.144/ Par. 20.57/ Par. 27.55

“pastore”:

Inf. 20.68/ Purg. 19.107/ Par. 6.17/ Par. 9.132

“ovil”:

Par. 11.129/ Par. 16.25

“chiuso”:

Purg. 3.79.

“ovile”:

Par. 25.5

“panni”:

Inf. 15.40/ Inf. 33.141/ Purg. 20.54/ Purg. 27.30

“panno”:

Par. 11.132/ Par. 32.141

“gonna”:

Par. 26.72/ Par. 32.141

“gonne”:

Par. 15.1

“cintura”:

Par. 15.101/ Par. 30.105

“manti”:

Purg. 13.47/ Par. 21.133

“manto”:

Inf. 19.69/ Inf. 20.55/ Inf. 23.67/ Inf. 31.66/ Purg. 19.104/ Purg. 30.32/ Par. 16.7/ Par. 23.112

“vesta”:

Inf. 23.42/ Purg. 1.75/ Par. 14.39/ Par. 25.92/ Par. 27.55

 “vestito”:

Inf. 19.69/ Inf. 24.31/ Inf. 27.129/ Par. 31.60

“vestita”:

Purg. 30.33/ Par. 25.91

“vestite”:

Inf. 1.17/ Purg. 29.65,131

“bende”:

Purg. 8.74/ Par. 3.114

“cappa”:

Inf. 24.32

“cappe”:

Inf. 23.61

“cappuccio”:

Par. 29.117

“cappucci”:

Inf. 32.61

“capello”:

Inf. 32.126/ Par. 19.34/ Par. 21.125/ Par. 25.9

“stola”:

Inf. 32.90/ Purg. 32.81/ Par. 25.95,127/ Par. 30.129

“sartor”:

Inf. 15.21

“sartore”:

Par. 32.140


Notes

[1] See Giovanni Villani, Nuova cronica, ed. Giuseppe Porta (Parma: Fondazione Pietro Bembo, 1990), VIII, 13. Jill Harrison has written an interesting article on the iconography of the Palazzo dell’Arte della lana’s interior and exterior. See Jill Harrison, “Being Florentine: A Question of Identity in the Arte della Lana, Florence,” in Sandra Cardarelli et al. eds., Art  and Identity: Visual Culture, Politics and Religion in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012), 127-142.

[2] Dante Alighieri, Divina Commedia, ed. Chiavacci Leonardi (Milano: Mondadori, 1991), 430.

[3] See Susan Mosher Stuard, Gilding the Market: Luxury and Fashion in Fourteenth-Century Italy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), 45-46.

[4] See Santa Casciani, Dante and the Franciscans: Poverty and the Papacy in the Commedia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

[5] Villani, Nuova cronica, XI, 151.

[6] See Raoudha Guemara, Les Arts de la laine à Vérone aux XIVième et Xvième siècles (Tunis: Publications de l’Université de Tunis, 1987).

[7] The extent of the import of Flemish wool to Florence is documented by the numerous references to Flemish wool and cloth in the official statuti of the Florentine arte della lana. See especially Anna Maria Agnoletti ed., Statuto dell’arte della lana di Firenze (1317-1319) (Firenze: Felice le Monnier Editore, 1940-1948), 86-87.

[8] See John H. Munro, “The Rise, Expansion, and Decline of the Italian Wool-Based Cloth Industries 1100-1730: A Study in International Competition, Transaction Costs, and Comparative Advantage,” Studies in Medieval Renaissance History 3.9 (2012): 45-207.

[9] “Dante here uses Bruges to denote the eastern limit of the Flemish seaboard, and Wissant the western; hence they represent the two ends of the great Flemish dike.” In Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: Commentary, ed. Charles S. Singleton (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), Inf., 252.

[10] The ascent of the Capetian dynasty might not have been as peaceful as Dante suggests here, as Chiavacci Leonardi demonstrates in her commentary on this passage.

[11] See Chiavacci Leonardi, 590. Singleton gives an account of the circumstances of the 1302 battle as implied in the word “vendetta”: “(…) the cruelty and oppression of Châtillon, the French governor, drove the lower classes to arms, they rose in every part of the country, and with an army, which consisted mostly of peasants and artisans, they totally defeated the French at Coutrai (the Battle of the Spurs) on July 11, 1302. In this battle, in which they lost the flower of their nobility, the count of Artois among them, the French met with the vengeance to which Dante alludes.” In Singleton, Purg., 475-476.

[12] “Lo re di Francia, passato il dolore, fece come valente signore, che incontanente fece bandire oste generale per tutto il reame; e per fornire sua guerra sì fece falsificare le sue monete; e la buona moneta del tornese grosso, ch’era a XI once e mezzo di fine, tanto il fece peggiorare, che tornò quasi a metade, e simile la moneta prima; e così quelle dell’oro, che di XXIII e mezzo carati le recò a men di XX, faccendole correre per più assai che non valeano: onde il re avanzava ogni dì libbre VIm di parigini e più, ma guastò e disertò il paese, che la sua moneta non tornò a la valuta del terzo.” In Villani, Nuova cronica, IX, 58. See also Singleton, Par., 325.

[13] Randall Fegley has a colorful account of this state visit to Bruges, a visit that took place just months before the battle at Kortrijk. See Randall Fegley, The Golden Spurs of Kortrijk: How the Knights of France Fell to the Footsoldiers of Flanders in 1302 (Jefferson: McFarland, 2002), 115.

[14] See John H.A. Munro, Textiles, Towns and Trade: Essays in the Economic History of Late-Medieval England and the Low Countries (Brookfield: Variorum, 1994), 2 and Villani, IX, 55.

[15] “E nota che ’l detto Piero le Roi fu il capo e commovitore de la Comune, e per sua franchezza fu sopranominato Piero le Roi, e in fiammingo Connicheroi, cioè Piero lo re. Questo Piero era tessitore di panni povero uomo, e era piccolo di persona e sparuto, e cieco dell’uno occhio, e d’età di più di LX anni; lingua francesca né latina non sapea, ma in sua lingua fiamminga parlava meglio, e più ardito e stagliato che nullo di Fiandra e per lo suo parlare commosse tutto il paese a le grandi cose che poi seguiro, e però è bene ragione di fare di lui memoria.” In Villani, Nuova cronica, IX, 51.

[16] See Fegley, The Golden Spurs of Kortrijk, 116.

[17] “(…) uno con uno grande bastone noderuto come manica di spiedo, e dal capo grosso ferrato e puntaguto, legato con anello di ferro da ferire e da forare; e questa salvaggia e grossa armadura chiamano godendac, cioè in nostra lingua buono giorno.” In Villani, Nuova cronica, IX, 56.

[18] Teodolinda Barolini, “‘Only Historicize’: History, Material Culture (Food, Clothes, Books), and the Future of Dante Studies,” Dante Studies 127 (2009): 37-54.

[19]  The difference between humans and animals (of which sheep are a prototype) is also discussed by Dante in Conv. II.vii.4, where he describes sheep as “bestia abominevole.” See also Par. 5.80, where the phrase “uomini siate, e non pecore matte” can be found.

[20] Singleton has pointed out that Dante might have been inspired by Horace here. See Singleton, Inf., 409. Vergil’s Bucolica is also an important intertext—sheep can be found in Eclogae II, IV, VI, VII, VIII,  and X.

[21] Further on, in Paradiso, in a simile that compares sheep to Christian faithful, Dante’s “pecorelle che non sanno” are not entirely innocent, as they too are to be held to account for having listened to false preachers. (Par. 32.103-108)

[22] Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics notably quotes a passage from Homer in which Agamemnon is described as “shepherd of the peoples.” See Aristotle, Nicomachean ethics, trans. W.D. Ross (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1908), VIII.11.

[23] References to monastic dress abound in the Commedia. The most colorful examples can be found in Inf. 23.63,102, where Dante alludes to the frati godenti and the Benedictine Cluny monastery.


Pieter Vanhove

(Recommended Citation: Vanhove, Pieter. “Dante, the European Cloth Trade, and the Battle of the Golden Spurs.” Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2018. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/history/vanhove-battle-goldenspurs)

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