Bruges had had the exclusive rights for the importation of sheep's wool from England. This trade was in the hands of the bourgeois but when Edward I began to deal directly with the customers, the traders lost their advantage. They and their political agents, the aldermen, called upon their liege, Philip the Fair, to maintain their dominant monopolistic position. To do so, he garrisoned French troops in the town.
During the night of 18 May, 1302, armed insurrectionists with Pieter de Coninck and Jan Breydel at their head entered the houses where the French were garrisoned. According to tradition, to distinguish the French from the natives, they asked suspects to repeat the shibboleth: "schild en vriend" which means "shield and friend" a sentence difficult to pronounce for a French speaker. Another version suggests the alternative "des gildens vriend", "friend of the guilds". Only the governor, Jacques de Châtillon, and a handful of the French managed to escape with their lives.
After the Bruges, Matins Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck were celebrated as the leaders of the insurrection. Their statue, which was an initiative of Julius Sabbe, has decorated the market in Bruges since 1887.