Swan Song of the Brave Duke

Duke, king, emperor?

Karl the Bold sought to be king (and even better emperor), creating from the French and German lands a powerful power in the very center of Western Europe. The Duke’s plans came up against opposition from both the French king and the German princes; however, Charles managed not only to preserve the legacy of his ancestors, but also to multiply him. Burgundy grew by diplomatic and military methods by Picardy, Gelder, Lorraine, and a number of territories in the Moselle Basin retained only formal independence, falling under the influence of Charles. The Duke himself did not spare any funds for the expansion of his possessions and the strengthening of the army, while at the same time he led a far more modest life than his predecessors.

Burgundy in the reign of Charles the Bold. (hansalma.nl)

After a series of lost wars, in despair of resolving the matter on their own, the French king Louis XI (1461−1483) and the Loring Duke Rene II, called on the forces of the Swiss Confederation for help.

Invincible swiss

The lifestyle of the Swiss mountaineers at the end of the 15th century was strikingly different from modern, peace-loving Switzerland. After winning the independence at the end of the XIV century, the Swiss felt their power: their infantry columns easily smashed the feudal militias of the German princes. The detachments of individual cantons, without any conscience, ran into the adjacent territories, engaging in robbery and robbery. The local rulers could not oppose the villains: even the French king and the Austrian duke could not discourage the raiders from the mountaineers. In the end, the Duke of Lorraine even had to sell part of the territory to Karl the Bold, hoping that he could do something with these bandits. What was the secret of the "Swiss miracle"?

Karl the Brave dreamed of becoming Charles the Great, Emperor of the West

Having proved himself for the first time in the battle of Morgarten (1315), the Swiss relied on the closed columns of infantry militiamen who themselves attacked the ranks of the enemy cavalry, and did not expect an attack on the spot. The tactics of the Swiss were extremely offensive, since the force of the column was in the energy of its strike. The cantonal militia ensured the numerical superiority of the Swiss on the battlefield, and the iron discipline - resilience in the face of the enemy.

Swiss marines since the Burgundian Wars. (pinterest.fr)

In the XV century, the Swiss armed with spikes (up to 5.5 meters in length), put on armor (robbery, obviously, brought great benefits and rich prey), presenting now a real live ram. In battle, the army was divided into three columns, built one after the other ledges. In addition to the pikemen, there were arrows in the army (crossbowmen and arquebusiers or Culivriners), whose task was to cover the infantry columns from enemy archers, reconnaissance by force.

CUTILLA and Culinary

Calling for help from the Swiss, the French king quickly made peace with Karl of Burgundy, providing an opportunity for the opponents to work out for themselves. Karl Brave did not take the Swiss threat seriously. It was difficult to believe that the militia of some mountain shepherds would be able to resist his army. And indeed: the army of Charles the Bold consisted of the most advanced elements of the Middle Ages, as if drawing a line under the whole era of the development of feudalism in Europe.

Horse gendarmerie. (disqus.com)

The army of the duke consisted of ordinal companies (i.e., recruited according to the “ordinance” - decree), borrowed from France. The company consisted of 100 spears, and each spear (by decree of 1473) consisted of a knight, a veil (who fought along with a knight) page (optional), horse archers, foot shooters and a piker. The creation of ordanance companies was not yet a transition to the armies of the New Age, on the contrary, the task of the “ordonances” was to use the main military achievement of the Middle Ages as efficiently as possible - a heavy rider with a spear, backed up with arrows and light cavalry. The spear, in the words of the military historian Svechin, was "a typical medieval combination of all kinds of weapons in a knight's retinue." Service in companies was well paid, so that in return, command required unquestioning obedience and discipline, as far as it was possible in feudal time.

Members of the spear were a support for the knight rider. (blog.naver.com)

The other part of the ducal troops were mercenaries: first of all, the English long-archers recruited from the ducal treasury. In addition to mercenary archers and ordanance companies, militia from Flanders and Artois were recruited into the army, which did not possess either the discipline of ordinances or the training of mercenaries.

Finally, Karl Smely was a great innovator and lover of firearms, in particular, field and siege artillery, which he actively developed and cultivated in his army. Unfortunately for the duke, firearms were not yet as effective on the battlefield, as the ruler himself was able to quickly see.

Burgundian Wars

The first clashes with the Swiss turned for the Burgundians to defeat at Granson in March 1476. Karl rallied and with a new army went to punish the Highlanders. In June 1476, the battle of Murten took place, where ... the Swiss again routed Carl the Bold. The Burgundian troops no longer existed, so René of Lorraine besieged and beat off his capital Nancy without any problems.

Karl the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. (clamarcap.com)

Duke Charles announces the convocation of a new army from the militias of cities and feudal lords, mercenaries and ordanance companies. However, time was expensive: while a new army was being formed, Karl, with the forces he managed to assemble, went back to Lorraine, intending to recapture Nancy - a strategically important point for both the Burgundian and his opponents.

The secret of the Swiss infantry in discipline, pressure and high fighting spirit

At the end of October 1476, Charles the Bold approached the city, which had just been occupied by the enemy (the fortress fell on October 6) and began a siege. It is unlikely that the army of the Duke numbered more than 10 thousand soldiers - two heavy defeats affected the numerical and qualitative composition of the army. Nevertheless, Nancy had to be taken at any cost, otherwise it would have been possible not only to lose money from the northern lands, but also to wait for the uprising in Flanders and Brabant, which were caused by the Duke’s endless wars.

Artillery before it became the "god of war." (ravenslab.blogspot.com)

The star of the duke seemed to rise again: just as he had been besieging Nancy again a few years before, having banished the duke of Lorraine from the country. The only hope for René II to return the capital and the country was the Swiss, who, after their victories at Granson and Murten, quietly went home. After much controversy and persuasion, the Swiss managed to convince them to go on the march again. Not without cost, of course, without French gold. There was a decisive battle for Lorraine and the whole of Burgundy.

Winter war

While Rene was gathering troops, the siege of Nancy was delayed - the city did not want to surrender, although the forces of the defenders and the reserves of supplies were all melting. Like the troops of Charles the Bold: the winter of 1476/1477 was cold and full of rain. The Burgundian troops were not ready for a long siege in winter, many soldiers died from cold and disease, but the fortress of Nancy kept its last strength.

At that time, the united Swiss-Lorraine army under the command of René II approached the city. The Swiss and Duke managed to put about 20 thousand soldiers, while Burgundy did not even have half of this number. Carl would have to retreat, but the march in Lorraine in the winter could be too expensive, especially since Nancy was about to fall. Stubborn Duke decided to stand on his own and take the fight under the walls of the city. It happened on January 5, 1477.

Battle of Nancy January 5, 1477. (pinterest.ru)

The day before the battle, a rainstorm had passed, and cold struck at night: rivers and streams froze around. Karl decided not to wait for the enemy in the camp, but to go out to meet the enemy and meet him in the field. South of Nancy, the duke noticed a comfortable position, where the road to the south narrowed, and the flanks were covered with a stream and a forest.

On the embankment, on the embankment was artillery aimed at leaving the small forest of Gerville, behind it a column of infantry with archers who were supposed to hold back the impulse of the Swiss, and the flanks covered the cavalry - a squadron of knights, guilt and archers. Karl's plan was to catch the Swiss coming out of the forest and smash their columns in turn, so that they could not use their numerical advantage.

In the Burgundian wars, the Middle Ages "stumbled" about the infantry

The allied Swiss-Lotarin army advanced on Nancy around 8 am. Thanks to competent intelligence and information from the defectors, the Swiss commanders learned the disposition of Karl the Bold and unraveled his plan. And although Rene Lorraine already felt like a winner, wanting to rush forward and disperse the hated burgundy, experienced Swiss warriors did not share his rush. It was decided to act cunning.


At noon, the Swiss troops moved into position. The weather was good for the attacker: a real snow storm began, so nothing could be seen. Of course, it is difficult to move and attack in such conditions, but it is much easier to hide your actions from the enemy.

On the road, at the exit from the forest, the Swiss riflemen loomed, who, however, did not hurry to attack, but only showed an attack. Suddenly, on the right flank of the Burgundians there was a noise: they were Swiss horns. For a moment, the storm stopped and Karl the Bold was surprised to find that the Swiss were about to fall on the right flank of his troops. The artillerymen wanted to impose their guns on unexpected guests, but, fearing the advancing Swiss, fled. On one of the wings, the Knights of Lorraine and Burgundy fought, but the latter were scattered, attacked by the Swiss infantry.

It soon became clear that both wings of Karl of Burgundy were captured by the enemy: the second column of the Swiss passed along the stream, hiding behind a blizzard and crumpled the left wing of the Burgundians. The case took a bad turn.

Karl decided to take the fight, despite the superiority of the enemy

Karl Brave, perhaps, was not the most subtle politician and certainly not the most humane ruler, but he cannot be denied personal prowess. Seeing the situation in which his people found themselves, he chose death over flight. On a beautiful warhorse, in skillful armor, with a spear at the ready, he threw himself on the attackers. Here, in Lorraine, the independent Burgundy perished and nothing could be done about it.

The army of Charles the Bold was completely crushed: out of about 10 thousand soldiers under Nancy, more than 7 thousand fell, including the duke himself. The body of Karl of Burgundy was discovered only two days later, in a swamp nearby: it was likely that the duke, with the remaining forces, was trying to break through the creek, to the northeast. The losses of the attackers were insignificant - less than a thousand people. The Burgundian lion fell.

The body of Charles the Bold, found after the battle of Nancy. (fracademic.com)

The exemplary actions of the Swiss commanders, the endurance and reliability of ordinary infantrymen, the skillful interaction of individual columns, ensured the victory of the Allied army over the formidable Duke.

After the battle

With the death of the duke ended the war with the Swiss - Karl the Bold had no heirs, and the only daughter Maria was married to Maximilian Habsburg. The dynasty of Valois in Burgundy was cut short. But she did not stop in France, where King Louis XI already dreamed of joining the whole of Burgundy to his country.

Cohesive actions of commanders and privates are the key to victory

Very soon a war for the Burgundian inheritance will start between the Habsburgs and Valois, which will lead to a long confrontation between France and the Habsburgs in the international arena. The Netherlands will go to Austria, and after that they will come under the rule of the Spanish crown (during the reign of Charles V), and Burgundy and the other French lands of Charles the Bold will become part of the French kingdom.

Burgundy had a chance to become the largest state in Western Europe and with the death of Charles the Bold, this chance was lost. It should be noted that in many ways, Karl himself was the cause. A brave warrior and a talented commander, he put too much of his people on his shoulders, forcing him to fight against a whole conglomerate of states. Yet the decisive argument in the fight against the irrepressible duke were the columns of the Swiss infantry.

After Nancy, the power of Charles was divided between the Hapsburgs and Valois

The latest achievements of the military affairs of the Middle Ages were powerless against the new phenomenon - closed columns of heavy infantry. After the high-profile victories of the Swiss, the news of them spread throughout Europe, so that very soon columns of pikemen appeared in all advanced European armies. Needless to say, they were often mercenaries from the Swiss cantons? However, the real renaissance in the art of war occurred only during the Italian Wars, which unfolded soon after the death of Charles the Bold in 1494-1559.

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