Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy was a very ambitious man. In earlier medieval times, the area of Burgundy had been a kingdom but in 1004, it was reduced to ducal status. During his reign, Philip pursued a policy of restoring the Burgundian kingdom. He never was able to obtain the crown he so diligently pursued but he did manage to double the size of his duchy. The methods he used were inheritance, treaty, conquest and purchase. The Battle of Brouwershaven was one small incident in this pursuit.
Ever since the Valois Dukes gained control of Burgundy, they had sought to increase their empire by adding the Low Countries. The first to fall was Flanders and Namur. The duchy of Brabant and the counties of Holland, Zeeland and Hainaut were linked to Burgundy by marriage or kinship during the reign of Philip the Bold, Philip the Good’s grandfather. When William of Bavaria, Count of Holland, Hainaut and Zeeland died in 1417, his only heir was his daughter Jacqueline. She inherited Holland, Zeeland and Hainaut in her own right.
Philip the Good’s father, John the Fearless arranged for Jacqueline to marry Duke John IV of Brabant. They were married two years later but this did not cement an alliance for the Burgundians. Holland immediately came into dispute with Jacqueline’s paternal uncle John, prince-bishop of Liège putting forth his claim to the county. The dispute dragged on due to Burgundian interests being engaged elsewhere. Philip the Good would intervene when open warfare was threatened.
In 1420, Jacqueline’s husband settled the dispute by mortgaging Holland and Zeeland to the bishop. Jacqueline refused to accept these terms which in her eyes amounted to the loss of her patrimony. She fled from her husband to Brussels and eventually to England. While there she joined up with Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, uncle of King Henry VI. After Gloucester and Jacqueline were married, he promised her he would assist her in regaining her counties of Holland and Zeeland.
In 1424, prince-bishop John of Bavaria declared Philip the Good his heir. Gloucester arrived with an army allegedly headed for Hainaut which was still under Jacqueline’s control. Philip prohibited the English from marching through Flanders. He was forced to cross Artois with an escort. In the meantime, Jacqueline’s uncle, the prince-bishop died. Technically, the mortgaged lands of Holland and Zeeland should have reverted back to Jacqueline and her erstwhile husband John of Brabant.
Gloucester and Jacqueline took over some of the relinquished territory with little warfare. Relations between Philip the Good and the English Duke were strained. To put it mildly, they did not like each other. Philip found the duke to be brash and resented his interference in the Low Countries on Jacqueline’s behalf. Communication between Gloucester and Philip of Burgundy devolved into provocation and personal attacks. Eventually, it was agreed the two men would fight one-on-one in personal combat to avoid further bloodshed. The date for the duel was set for April 23, 1425.
It was at this point Gloucester lost interest in the venture and returned to England with one of Jacqueline’s ladies-in-waiting, effectively abandoning her. The English king’s council forbid Gloucester from fighting the duel. In September of 1425, Philip managed to capture Jacqueline and imprisoned her in Ghent. Preparations were being made to transfer her to Lille where she would be more secure and more tightly under Philip’s control when she made a daring escape in men’s clothing. She galloped away to Antwerp and eventually made her way to Gouda. She was joined there by supporters and started to rally opposition to stop the seizure of Holland by the Burgundians.
Philip now turned his full attention to waging all-out war in Holland. This would be a civil war of occupation and conquest. Jacqueline had the support of the feudal elements of society along with the aristocrats. Fighting against her were the merchant class, the burgesses of Haarlem, Amsterdam and Rotterdam. As soon as Philip heard the news of Jacqueline’s escape, he put out a call to knights and squires to raise their men and arms and join him in Sluis to fight in Holland and Zeeland. He received oaths of allegiance from many towns in Holland which were loyal to him.
Jacqueline was not going down without a fight. On October 22, 1425, her supporters attacked the Burgundian army at Alphen. Jacqueline and her adherents won the battle against Philip’s superior forces. Philip was disappointed and was forced to reunite his supporters and gather reinforcements. Philip decided to lead his own troops.
In the meantime, Jacqueline was begging Gloucester to send her help from England in the form of troops to fight Philip’s forces. Gloucester heeded her call and was gathering troops. Gloucester’s brother, John Duke of Bedford, was head of the regency council for King Henry VI of England. He wanted to do everything in his power to avoid alienating Philip of Burgundy. Trade relations and alliances depended on good relations between England and Burgundy. Bedford warned Philip in December of Gloucester’s plans and actually confirmed that the English troops set sail for Holland on December 30.
Philip himself wrote a letter to his council in Dijon on January 19, 1426 recounting what had occurred at the battle. There is also the record of a chronicler who spoke to a participant of the battle which substantially corroborates Philip’s account. Philip headed his own troops which numbered about four thousand and consisted of his own personal retainers and municipal levies from Dutch towns loyal to Philip. They included municipal militia from Dordrecht and citizen soldiers from The Hague and Delft. Some of the men from Dordrecht were gunners and there were also over one thousand crossbowmen. Jacqueline’s troops amounted to about fifty-five hundred. These included English troops along with four thousand men from Zeeland led by Floris, the lord of Heemstede and his cousin the count of Heemstede.
Early in the morning of January 5, Philip received word in Leiden in Holland that fifteen hundred English troops under Walter, Lord Fitzwalter, lieutenant for the Duke of Gloucester in Holland and Zeeland had arrived near Zierikzee in Zeeland. Their mission was to join forces with Jacqueline and fight in Holland and Zeeland. Philip left Leiden at dawn and arrived at Rotterdam later the same day. The next day, Philip sailed with combined troops from Burgundy, Holland and Zeeland with the goal of finding and fighting the English at sea.
His troops discovered about three hundred English troops. He either killed or took as prisoner all of them. They then pursued the rest of the English to the port of Brouwershaven in Zeeland where they had disembarked. As Philip was anchored in the port, herald Gloucester was sent by Fitzwalter to offer a time and place for battle. Philip sent herald Burgundy to reply to Fitzwalter that it wasn’t up to him to choose the battlefield. Philip’s army was strong enough to position itself and offer battle whenever and wherever he choose.
Severe and windy weather dictated that Philip remain at sea and blockade the English. While they were immobilized in the port, the citizens of Zierikzee did a good business with the two armies selling them provisions. The winds finally died down on Sunday, January 13th. Philip and his four thousand men began to leave the ships at Brouwershaven and attack the English. As they disembarked they were hindered by the ebb tide. The English were able to block or obstruct the troops from leaving the ships. Only about two-thirds of Philip’s men had reached the shore but these included all of his gunners from Dordrecht who wore special uniforms including hats banded in red and white.
The battle started with the gunners firing their coulevrines against the English troops. The Dutch were greatly impressed by the bravery and fighting tactics of the English. They marched forward in step taking no notice of a salvo fired at them by the cannoneer from Dordrecht. Then the Dutch heard a piercing shout from the English and the trumpets and bugles let out a fanfare. The Dutch waited until the English were within range and then shot at them with a large volume of arrows from crossbows. These arrows were useless. The English returned the volley with lethal arrows from long-bows. The Dutch were driven back in disarray.
About this time Philip and his heavily-armored mounted knights arrived on the scene. The arrows had no effect on them. However, many men’s cuirasses and even Duke Philip’s banner were dented or damaged by arrows. The Dutch drove back the English along a dyke. The English were cruelly slaughtered. Some of the archers jumped into the ditches where they drowned or were killed as they tried to climb out.
Of the English, the captains and principle men were all dead except for the lord of Heemstede who was taken prisoner. The Burgundians took two hundred of the English who tried to flee as prisoner. Part of Fitzwalter’s armor was found on the battlefield along with his banner which had been flung to the ground. Several people witnessed Fitzwalter fleeing the battle but Philip was unable to confirm if he was taken or dead.
Philip had several wounded men and lost one nobleman. Andrieu de Valines was downed by an arrow in the eye because he was not wearing his helmet. The casualties on Jacqueline’s side numbered about three thousand.
This is an obscure battle in English history and although the defeat of the English at Brouwershaven did nothing to convince the Hollanders to surrender to Philip, it was the first decisive victory of the Burgundians in Holland and he did capture most of Zeeland. Philip was in for a hard fight in Holland which would occupy his time, his troops and his money. The fighting between Jacqueline and Philip lasted from September 1425 until April of 1428.
Jacqueline won again at Alphen in April of the next year and successfully laid siege to Haarlem. Philip once again led his troops with the siege of Zevenbergen which finally surrendered. There were a few more skirmishes until Jacqueline was forced to admit defeat and surrender. The Treaty of Delft, signed on July 3, 1428 allowed Jacqueline to retain her titles of Countess of Holland, Zeeland and Hainaut but governing was turned over to a regency council controlled by Philip. His conquest of the Low Countries was complete.
Further reading: “The Artillery of the Dukes of Burgundy 1363-1477” by Robert Douglas Smith and Kelly DeVries, “Philip the Good: Apogee of Burgundy” by Richard Vaughan