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The Late Middle Ages (1300-1500)

The tensions between merchants and craftsmen on the one hand and between the Count of Flanders and the King of France on the other, led to the Battle of the Spurs in 1302. It was won by the craft guilds who gained power in various Flemish cities. In the Brabant cities however, power stayed in the hands of the aristocracy. In the principality-episcopacy of Liege, the power of the Prince-Bishop was reduced in favour of the cities that were also ruled by the craft guilds.

In the fifteenth century, all districts except the Principality-episcopacy, came under the rule of the Burgundy dukes. They curtailed the power of the large Flemish cities. The dukes created overarching institutions for government and the administration of law, but the districts remained largely autonomous.

The textile industries in the cities concentrated on luxury goods from this time on. The cheaper cloth and linen were produced in the smaller cities and in the countryside. The export of cloth increasingly fell into foreign hands. Bruges did become the transhipment port between the Baltic and the Mediterranean, but the trade was controlled by foreigners. As a result of the silting up of the Zwin, the waterway linking Bruges to the sea, but also because of political and economic reasons, Antwerp took over from Bruges as the most important transit port of Western Europe.