🗡️ The Burgundian Wars

Introduction


The Burgundian Wars were a major event in Swiss history and affected a large number of castles in the Pays de Vaud, which were damaged and plundered very often without a fight. They lasted from 1474 to 1477 and opposed the army of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, to the canton of Berne reinforced by the 7 other cantons of Switzerland at the time. The Swiss cantons in 1474 formed the Confederation of the VIII Cantons and included those of Zurich (1351), Bern (1353), Lucerne (1332), Zug (1352), Glarus (1352) and the founding cantons of 1291 so-called primitive cantons, namely Uri, Schwitz and UnterWald (Nidwlad and Obwalden).

A painting of the Duke of Burgundy at the Museum of the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy in Dijon.
A painting of the Duke of Burgundy at the Museum of the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy in Dijon.

Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, is at the head of heterogeneous territorial possessions called Burgundian states stretching from Macon in France to the North Sea and corresponding approximately to the current countries of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, the French departments of Lorraine, Franche-Comté and part of Burgundy. The Duchy of Savoy, whose territory extends over an alpine area from Nice to Murten, with the Pays de Vaud, Chablais and Bas-Valais in particular, is allied to the Duke of Burgundy and will provide him with men like Jacques de Romont.

A map showing the territory of the belligerents during the Burgundian Wars. The territory of the Swiss Confederation includes its allies and the areas under its control.
A map showing the territory of the belligerents during the Burgundy Wars. The territory of the Swiss Confederation includes its allies and the areas under its control.

The preludes to war


The growing opposition between Charles the Bold and the Swiss led to the “Burgundian War”. The King of France largely financed the Swiss in their opposition against the Duke of Burgundy in the hope of limiting his influence. Five battles marked the Burgundy Wars, each of which resulted in the victory of the Swiss and their allies.

The battles


1st. The Battle of Héricourt


The first battle took place at Héricourt near Belfort near the Swiss Jura and was of minor importance.

2nd. The Battle of La Planta


The second battle took place in 1475 at La Planta in Sion in the Valais and opposed Savoy alone to the Bishop of Sion reinforced by the Haut Valaisans. Bernese troops arrived as reinforcements to turn the tide of the battle and the defeat of Savoy led to a territorial retreat for the latter as far as Saint-Maurice.

3rd. The Battle of Grandson


Charles the Bold absent during the first two battles is present during the last 3 battles. The third battle took place near Grandson in 1476. Following the murder of the Swiss garrison of the Grandson Castle, an alliance of cantons marched towards the castle and was victorious because of strategic errors by Charles the Bold. His army was mainly composed of Lombards and equipped with a powerful and modern cavalry and artillery for the time. The Swiss, on the other hand, rely on their soldiers equipped with 5-metre long spikes or halberds that advance towards the enemy like a hedgehog and are particularly effective against cavalry charges.

This undecided battle is the most important of the Burgundian Wars and allows the Swiss to take over their enemy for the rest of the war. During this battle, the Duke of Burgundy did not lose more than 1000 men in battle but, above all, abandoned a considerable amount of loot that went so far as to cause great tensions between the Swiss cantons. Some of the objects captured at that time are now on display in the cities of Bern, Basel, Freiburg or Lucerne.

Reconstructions of the battles of Grandson and Morat presented in Grandson Castle. In the case of Murten, we can see the city’s siege with the setting up of tents.
Morat battle - burgundian wars- grandson castle grandson battle - burgundian wars- grandson castle

4th. The Battle of Murten


To take his revenge, the Duke of Burgundy undertook to attack the city of Bern directly after reorganizing in Lausanne. On his way, he laid siege to the city of Murten during the fourth battle in 1476. The city resisted in numerical inferiority and owes its salvation to the reinforcements coming from the Swiss cantons who reversed the positions of the Duke and his Savoyard ally, Jacques de Romont.

An image of the Confederates’ victory over Charles the Bold at the Battle of Murten at Fort Cindey to motivate the troops stationed there.
An image of the Confederates' victory over Charles the Bold at the Battle of Murten at Fort Cindey to motivate the troops stationed there.

5th. The Battle of Nancy


The fifth battle took place in Nancy in 1477 when the Duke of Burgundy undertook to subdue the rebellious city, reinforced by Confederation soldiers, to ensure continuity on its territory, which was then divided in two. The Duke of Burgundy died on this occasion in a battle lost due to strategic errors.

The morat battle
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RjZSXLQc9Q

The consequences


It was during the years 1474 to 1477 that a large number of castles in the Pays de Vaud were plundered by Bernese who made incursions into the territory and were known to give no quarter.

The Burgundian States


The Burgundian Wars ended after the death of Charles the Bold, with significant consequences for Central Europe and Switzerland. The Burgundian states were severely weakened with the death of the Duke of Burgundy at the Battle of Nancy. They are losing territories to the profile of the Kingdom of France. His daughter, Marie de Bourgogne, succeeded him and by her marriage to Maximilian, the Burgundian states passed to the House of Habsburg.

Tomb of Charles the Bold in Bruges erected by his grandson Philip the Fair in 1562. Photos Flickr Dimitris Kamaras.
Tomb of Charles the Bold in Bruges erected by his grandson Philip the Fair in 1562. Photos Flickr Dimitris Kamaras.

The Swiss


The Swiss, at the summit of their military glory, and in particular the canton of Berne, were strengthened by these victories, which announced the conquest of the Pays de Vaud in 1536. Despite their clear victory, the Swiss enjoyed only minor territorial gains with Berne, which annexed the Chablais and Cerlier, and shared, in the form of a baillage with Fribourg, Grandson, Echallens, Orbe and Morat. On the other hand, the Swiss benefit from significant material gains, notably with the return of the Pays de Vaud to Savoie in exchange for money. Freiburg, stuck between Bern and Savoy, played a somewhat ambiguous role before the Burgundian wars because it established alliances with these two powers and took part in the Battle of Murten alongside the Bernese. It finally joined the Swiss Confederation as a canton in 1481 with Solothurn.

The Aigle Castle annexed by Berne after the Burgundian Wars.
The Aigle Castle annexed by Berne after the Burgundian Wars.

Savoy


Savoy has been deprived of many cities in the Pays de Vaud and no longer has the means to ensure its sovereignty over what remains of its territory. The Pays de Vaud is devastated by looting and suffers from famine as well as severe bleeding in the population, reduced by 2/3. Its territory was returned to Savoy, a former ally of the Duke of Burgundy, with the exception of Aigle and Cerlier, which were transferred to the Bernese, while the cities of Echallens, Orbe, Grandson and Morat were managed by Berne and Fribourg. The retrocession of the Pays de Vaud satisfies the other Swiss cantons, which do not take a very positive view of a canton of Berne that is too powerful.

Geneva


Geneva, an ally of the Duke of Burgundy, was threatened by the Swiss and had to pay a “fine” for its participation in the war. However, it soon became an ally of Berne, marking the beginning of its history with Switzerland.

The Kingdom of France


The Kingdom of France took advantage of the opportunity to annex many territories that had belonged to the Duke of Burgundy, in particular the Duchy of Burgundy, a territory around Dijon.

To conclude, a very good article retraces the Burgundian Wars.