Reconstructing the Execution and Burial of 41 Brigands in Mechelen During the Flemish Peasants' War in 1798

Authored by: Katrien Van de Vijver , Frank Kinnaer

The Routledge Handbook of the Bioarchaeology of Human Conflict

Print publication date:  November  2013
Online publication date:  December  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415842198
eBook ISBN: 9781315883366
Adobe ISBN: 9781134677979

10.4324/9781315883366.ch25

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Abstract

In 1798 the peasantry rebelled against the French occupation in parts of Flanders and Brabant, in what became known as the Peasants' War, in response to dissatisfaction with the new regime, particularly the conscription for men between 20 and 25 years into the French army. These rebels are called “brigands”, a term commonly used in Belgian scientific publications since 1840 to indicate the participants of the 1798 revolt (Baelde et al. 1999: 123). During the revolt, “brigandage” signified a disruption of the peace by a group. The term “brigand” later acquired a more negative connotation of bandit (Deneckere 1999: 23). The revolt lasted only a few months. In Mechelen a group of300–400 brigands, armed with tools and possibly firearms, took the city on 22 October 1798. The French troops, infantry, cavalry and artillery then retook the city only hours later. It is possible that soldiers used firearms, as well as bayonets and sabres. Around 90 rebels and civilians were arrested for carrying arms and put before a court martial. Of these, 41 were executed and buried on the evening of 23 October in the St Rombout's cemetery (Kocken 2011). The Peasants' War and the subsequent executions are considered an important part of Flemish history. The event was romanticized (Figure 25.1) and has an almost mythical status, while the executed brigands are considered as freedom fighters. These stories reflect this and offer different, sometimes colourful accounts.

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