At this time, Ghent was subject to the rule of the Holy Roman Emperor and Spanish king Charles V, though it was his sister, Mary of Hungary, who actually governed the region as his regent. Ghent was in the Burgundian Circle of the Holy Roman Empire. Ghent and the Low Countries in general were an international center of trade and industry and therefore an important source of revenue. Ghent had lucrative commercial ties to France. Ghent had a population of 40,000 to 50,000 people.
In early 1515, Charles imposed upon Ghent the Calfvel edict, which, among other things, prevented the guilds from selecting their own deans.
In 1536, Charles went to war with the French king Francis I for control of northern Italy (the Italian War of 1536–1538). Charles asked Mary to raise money and conscripts from the Dutch provinces. In late March 1537, Mary declared a levy of 1.2 million guilders and an army of 30,000 conscripts along with munitions and artillery. Flanders would have to pay a third of the money (400,000 guilders); Ghent was asked to contribute 56,000. Ghent was already deep in debt due to fines imposed by its rulers in the previous century.
Ghent refused to pay the taxes on the grounds that old pacts with previous rulers meant that no tax could be levied on Ghent without its consent, though they did offer to supply troops in lieu of money. Mary tried haggling with Ghent's leaders, but Charles firmly insisted that Ghent pay its share without condition.
Of the four Dutch provinces, Ghent was the only one to reject the new taxes. When the other Dutch provinces refused to support Ghent, Ghent secretly offered its allegiance to the French king Francis I in exchange for protection from Charles. Francis rejected Ghent's petition, possibly because Charles had insinuated that he might give Francis control over Milan when he abdicated (this did not happen), and consequently Francis wanted to stay on good terms with Charles.