The Arms & Armour of the Guilds in the Leugemeete Chapel: A Case of Individual Taste?

Brugsepoortsraat (roughly translating to “Bruges Gate Street”) was a major thoroughfare in medieval Ghent, running through most of the western sections of the city outside of the walls proper. In the early fourteenth century, alongside considerable interest in re-fortifying much of the city itself, the existing gates that enclosed the extramural sections were heavily fortified and new ones were built; this effectively enclosed previously opened sections of the city and brought them into the corpus urbanum proper.[1] One such property that was effectively absorbed into the city itself was the Chapel of Saint John and Saint Paul; later known as the “Leugemeete” or “liar” due to a broken a clock on its façade.[2] Demolished in 1912, the chapel housed a suite of monumental wall paintings, which are now preserved in a series of watercolour paintings and wax calques.[3] The chapel was founded in 1316 as a charity for women, and then patronised by the guilds circa 1334.[4] The visual programme included patron portraits of its titular saints, a donor portrait in the form of a prayerful Count Louis I of Flanders (c. 1304 – Aug. 25, 1346), his son Louis II (1330 – 1384), and his wife, Margaret I, Countess of Artois (1310 – May 9, 1382), and a depiction of Christ in Resurrection on the eastern wall—perhaps suggesting the presence of an Easter chapel. Most importantly for scholars of late medieval guilds, however, were the series of monumental guildsmen painted in procession along the upper sections of the chapel, accompanied by pennants and trumpeters and marching towards the altar (Fig.1).[5]

Fig.1: Water colour rendering of the Leugemeete murals by Felix DeVigne, circa 1846. Archive, UGhent 446419BE

            The degree to which autonomous towns and cities such as Ghent took their defence seriously can be inferred by how much money and effort they spent on organising their civic defenders.[6] However, cultural artefacts such as the wall paintings in the Leugemeete are also indicative of the degree to which certain guilds and confraternities asserted their influence throughout their respective urban communities. Just as importantly, liminal visual representations of the guilds—scarce though they may be—provide insight into facets of their organisation and armament that are otherwise lost within armoury inventories and expenditure reports. The relationship between civic defenders and their local arsenals has recently gathered renewed interest among historians of the period, though most of the information at hand is reserved to the early modern period.[7] There are eight distinct, extant groups depicted in procession: the city watch (known as the Witte Kaproenen or “white caps” for their unique head coverings),[8] the Brotherhood of St George (as indicated by a standard bearing a singularly large cross), two unidentified cohorts, the butcher’s guild, the fishmonger’s guild (or poissoniers), and finally for the south wall the baker’s guild. The only extant guild iconography on the north wall is the textile cutter’s guild.[9] All of these attributions are predicated upon the renderings of De Vigne and Bethune, which will prove more than adequate for the purposes of this essay.[10]

Fig.2: Calque reproduction by Jean-Baptiste Bethune and company, circa 1860.
STAM, Ghent, 09555.6-6

            Starting with the city watch, a number of weapons appear alongside the defenders (Fig.2).[11] The mounted man atop the front-facing horse holds a spurred crossbow aloft, while the crowded assemblage of men next to him wield a mix of bows, spears, goedendags (the infamous Flemish spiked club), and small swords at their sides. The diverse nature of their weaponry seems conducive to the aims of a permanent military force, and the specific emphasis being placed on the presence of skilled weaponry such as the bow would appear to corroborate this. Next we have the Brotherhood of St George, who uniformly exhibit their weapon of choice—the crossbow. After them come the first of the two unidentified groups of soldiers, their standard emblazoned with two shields and five crosses. This group carry shields, as well as a variety of spears and goedendags. The second group, similarly unidentified, is of particular interest. They carry shields, like the group just before and dissimilar to the city watch and the Brotherhood of St George, but contain a plurality of weapon varieties that are not present elsewhere in the visual programme (Fig.3 and Fig.4).[12] Lead by a helmeted soldier with his visor upraised, the group contains spears, goedendags, falchions, and axes. The latter two stand out, as aside from a single curved blade seen amongst the ranks of the fishmongers; this group is the only extant cohort of soldiers wielding these specific weapons. The first inclination here is to fixate upon the presence of the axe—single bladed and attached to a long wooden haft—to potentially identify this particular assemblage. Save the unidentified confraternity marching in front of them, this group appears between the civic associations of the city watch and Brotherhood of Saint George, and the beginning of the gathered craft guilds. Using said context, the presence of the axe could indicate a particular craft guild with which said implement would be associated; woodworkers (scrinewerkers, coopers, etc.) of some fashion. However, the prominence with which the falchion is displayed in conjunction with the axe seems to indicate that these weapons function less as indicators of occupation and more as signifiers of prestige. This is most apparent in the last soldier in the party, his massive falchion ostentatiously set against his shoulder for all to see. These members of the militia are defined as being both skilled and wealthy enough to afford particularly notable weapons, and though the contribution of burghers to town militias became much more prominent in the early modern period, could indicate that these specific militiamen were separate from both holy confraternity and craft guild—or at the very least are attempting to indicate as much.[13] The presence of a group of artisans who were not necessarily affiliated with the craft guilds is not without precedent in medieval guild procession, as demonstrated by the participation of the cloth-sellers guild in Leuven and Mechelen.[14] Contemporary documents list the constituent parts of the corpus urbanum as “the mayors, the aldermen, the council, the headmen of the burghers, the deans and sworn men of all the craft guilds, and all the collective commons”, and this descending hierarchical list is reflected in the order by the groups are marching in the Leugemeete.[15]

Fig.3(A): Calque reproduction by Jean-Baptiste Bethune and company, circa 1860.
STAM, Ghent, 09555.4-6
Fig.4(B): Calque reproduction by Jean-Baptiste Bethune and company, circa 1860.
STAM, Ghent, 09555.5-6

            The presence of a group of burghers wielding a personalised assortment of weaponry is notable, as it disrupts the traditional narrative that town militias were dominated by the craft guilds and indicates a broader level of civic participation in their collective defence that is usually relegated to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It also suggests that these weapons were provided—and prized—by the individuals wielding them; a luxury that may have been unattainable for many craft guilds but demonstrably possible for other civic associations. Above all else, I hope this essay has demonstrated the inherent value in utilizing guild iconography to further understand the functions of a considerable substrata of urban life in the later medieval period.

Acknowledgements: The author would like to thank Dr Kelly DeVries for the exchange from which this essay stems.

Cite this article as: Noah Smith, "The Arms & Armour of the Guilds in the Leugemeete Chapel: A Case of Individual Taste?," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 31/12/2020, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1169.

[1] For a breakdown of the urban development of fourteenth-century Ghent, see Dumolyn et al: Jan Dumolyn, Marc Ryckaert, Heidi Deneweth, Luc Devliegher, Guy Dupont, Medieval Bruges c.850-1550, ed. by Andrew Brown, Jan Dumolyn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), p. 152-195

[2] Jeannine Baldewijns, Lieve Watteeuw , ‘Calques van de muurschilderingen uit de Leugemeete met vourstelling van de stedelijk milities (1861-2004)’, Handelingen der Maatschappij voor Geschiedenis en Oudheidkunde te Gent, LX, (2006), 337-367 (p.340).

[3] The water colours were done by Felix De Vigne, an antiquarian who initially discovered the paintings under whitewash in 1946 and published his illustrations the following year: Félix De Vigne, Recherches Historiques sur Les Costumes Civils et Militaires des Gidles et des Corporations de Métiers, leurs Drapeaux, leurs Armes, leurs Brasons, etc. (Rue des Peignes: Gyselynck, 1847). The calques were undertaken by Baron Jean Baptiste Bethune and a team of historians and architects circa 1860 and are now housed in the STAM museum in Ghent.

[4] J.-B.C.F. Béthune de Villers, Alfons van Werveke, Het godshuis van Sint-Jan & Sint-Pauwel te Gent, bijgenaamd de Leugemeete, 2 edn (Gent: Annoot-Braeckman, 1902, p.IX

[5] Appendix, Fig. 1, Archive, UGhent 446419BE

[6] Jean Henri Chandler, ‘A brief examination of warfare by medieval urban militias in Central and Northern Europe ‘, Acta Periodica Duellatorum, 1, (2013), 106-150 (p. 109).

[7] For an overview of state armouries during the early modern period, see: Kelly DeVries, ‘State Armies in Theory and Practice during the Renaissance’, Krieg in der Geschichte, 111, (2019), 43-69.

[8] Carina Fryklund, Late Gothic Wall Painting in the Southern Netherlands (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepolis, 2011), p. 53

[9] As identified by Felix De Vigne.

[10] There is some evidence of artistic invention in the antiquarian renderings of the wall paintings; I unpack this in my thesis, which is still forthcoming.

[11] Appendix. Fig. 2, STAM, Ghent, 09555.6-6

[12] Appendix, Fig. 3, A / STAM, Ghent, 09555.4-6, B / STAM, Ghent, 09555.5-6.

[13] Chandler, p. 112

[14] Jelle Haemers, Artisans and craft guilds in the medieval city, in V. Lambert & P. Stabel, Golden times. Wealth and Status in the Middle Ages in the Southern Low Countries, Tielt, Lannoo, (2016) 209-239, p.213

[15] Jan Dumolyn, ‘Guild Politics and Political Guilds in Fourteenth-Century Flanders’, The Voices of the People in Late Medieval Europe, Communication and Popular Politics, ed. By Jan Dumolyn, Jelle Haemers, Hipolito Rafael Oliva Herrer, Vincent Challet, Turnhout 2014 (Studies in European Urban History, 33), p.15-48, p. 15


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.