🗡️ The Burgundian Wars

Introduction


The Burgundy wars marked the history of Switzerland and affected a large number of castles in the Pays de Vaud, which were damaged and looted very often without a fight. They lasted from 1474 to 1477 and opposed the army of Charles le Téméraire, Duke of Burgundy, to the canton of Berne, reinforced by the other seven cantons of Switzerland at the time.

The Swiss cantons in 1474 constitute the Confederation of the VIII Cantons and include the cantons of: (in brackets, the entry into Confederation):

  • Zurich (1351)
  • Bern (1353)
  • Luzern (1332)
  • Zoug (1352)
  • Glarus (1352)
  • Uri, Schwitz et UnterWald (Nidwald et Obwald) (1291)

A map of Confederation just before the beginning of the Burgundian Wars in 1474.
A map of Confederation just before the beginning of the Burgundian Wars in 1474.

A painting of the Duke of Burgundy known as Charles the Bold at the Museum of the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy in Dijon.
A painting of the Duke of Burgundy known as Charles the Bold 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 present-day France to the North Sea and corresponding approximately to the following actual territories:

  • Netherlands
  • Belgium
  • Luxembourg
  • French department of Lorraine
  • French department of Franche-Comté
  • A part of Burgundy.

Map of Burgundian states at the time of the Burgundian Wars.
Map of Burgundian states at the time of the Burgundian Wars.

The Duchy of Savoy was an ally of the Duke of Burgundy and provide him with men like Jacques de Romont’s army. The territory of the Duchy of Savoy extends over an alpine area from Nice to Murten with, in particular, in present-day Switzerland, the Pays de Vaud, the Chablais and the Bas-Valais.

Preludes to war


The growing opposition between Charles the Bold and the Swiss led to the “Burgundy Wars”. The King of France largely financed the Swiss in their opposition against the Duke of Burgundy in the hope of limiting his influence.

The battles of the Burgundian Wars


Five battles marked the Burgundian wars, which each resulted in the victory of the Swiss and their allies between 1474 and 1477.

  1. Battle of Héricourt
  2. Battle of the Planta
  3. Battle of Grandson
  4. Battle of Morat
  5. Battle of Nancy

A map showing the territory of the parties in conflict 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 parties in conflict during the Burgundian Wars.

1st. The Battle of Héricourt


🕒 Date: November 8, 1474
📍 Current location: Héricourt, Haute-Saône department, France

The first battle of the Burgundian Wars takes place at Héricourt near Belfort very close to the Swiss Jura and is of minor importance.

2nd. The battle on the Planta


🕒 Date: November 13, 1475
📍 Current location: Sion, Canton of Valais, Switzerland

The second battle takes more local considerations and took place in 1475 at La Planta in Sion in the Valais and pitted Savoy alone against the Bishop of Sion reinforced by the Upper Valaisans. Bernese troops arrived as reinforcements to turn the fate of the battle in favour of the Upper Valaisans.

This defeat of Savoy led to a territorial retreat of the latter to Saint-Maurice. A few years later, in 1536, Savoy even withdrew completely from the Valais and the Valais – Duchy of Savoy border was established at the Morge de Saint-Gingolf. This is the current border between Switzerland and France.

The Battle on the Planta. On the right, you can see the flags of Bern and Solothurn and on the left, the Savoy flag. This last flag should not be confused with the flag of Switzerland, which only appeared in the middle of the 19th century. Image: Wikimedia Commons.
The Battle on the Planta. On the right, you can see the flags of Bern and Solothurn and on the left, the Savoy flag

3rd. The battle of Grandson


🕒 Date: March 2, 1476
📍 Current location: Concise, Canton of Vaud, Switzerland

Charles the Bold away from the first two battles is present in the last three. The third battle of the Burgundian Wars takes place near Grandson in the canton of Vaud in 1476. Although it is often referred to as the “Battle of Grandson”, it takes place precisely in Concise, a few kilometres north of Grandson on the shores of Lake Neuchâtel.

Following the massacre of the Swiss garrison that occupied Grandson Castle, an alliance of cantons marched towards the castle to take revenge. A battle broke out at Concise and the Swiss coalition is victorious because of Charles Le Téméraire’s strategic mistakes. However, its army, mainly composed of Lombards, is very well equipped for the time with modern cavalry and artillery. The Swiss, on the other hand, rely on their soldiers equipped with 5-metre long spikes and halberds that advance towards the enemy like a hedgehog and are particularly effective against cavalry charges.

Reconstitution of the Battle of Grandson presented in Grandson Castle.
Reconstitution of the Battle of Grandson presented in Grandson Castle.

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 the battle, the Duke of Burgundy did not lose more than 1,000 men in battle but, above all, abandoned considerable loot, which 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.

The imposing castle of Grandson. When it is built, it is located on the shores of Lake Neuchâtel, which is no longer the case since the 19th century with the rectifying of the waters of the Jura and the lowering of several metres from the level of the lake.
The imposing castle of Grandson. When it is built, it is located on the shores of Lake Neuchâtel

The reconstruction of the Duke of Burgundy’s fabulous tiara captured by the Swiss and displayed at Grandson Castle. The real object no longer exists today.
The reconstruction of the Duke of Burgundy's fabulous tiara captured by the Swiss and displayed at Grandson Castle

4th. The battle of Murten


🕒 Date: June 22, 1476
📍 Current location: Murten, Canton of Fribourg, Switzerland

To take his revenge, the Duke of Burgundy undertakes to attack the city of Bern directly after reorganizing himself in Lausanne. On his way, he placed the siege on the town of Murten, surrounded by fortifications during the fourth battle in 1476.

The city is defended by 1,500 men from Bern and Fribourg. The latter was not yet part of Confederation at that time. The Duke of Burgundy had a heterocyclic army of about 20,000 men from Holland, England or Lombardy. It is supported by Jacques de Romont’s Savoyard army.

In clear numerical inferiority, the city of Murten suffered great damage but managed to resist and owed its salvation only to reinforcements from the Swiss cantons who took enemy positions from behind. The Duke of Burgundy managed to escape despite the defeat.

An image of the Confederates’ victory over Charles the Bold at the Battle of Murten displayed at Fort Cindey to motivate the troops who were standing there. In the foreground, Fribourg soldiers with the black and white coat of arms.
An image of the Confederates' victory over Charles the Bold at the Battle of Murten displayed at Fort Cindey to motivate the troops who were standing there

Reconstitution of the Battle of Murten displayed in Grandson Castle. One can see the siege of the city with the setting up of tents.
Reconstitution of the Battle of Murten displayed in Grandson Castle.

The Clock Tower of Murten destroyed by the guns during the Battle of Murten and rebuilt shortly afterwards.
The Clock Tower of Murten destroyed by the guns during the Battle of Murten and rebuilt shortly afterwards.

A documentary video about the Battle of Murten.

5th. The battle of Nancy


🕒 Date: January 5, 1477

📍 Current location: Nançy, Department of Meurthe-et-Moselle, France

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

A painting by Eugène Delacroix on the Battle of Nancy. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
A painting by Eugène Delacroix on the Battle of Nancy.

A video about the Battle of Nancy.

The consequences


The Burgundian wars ended with the death of Charles the Bold in 1477, with significant consequences for Central Europe and Switzerland.

The Burgundian States


The Burgundian states are severely weakened with the death of the Duke of Burgundy at the Battle of Nancy. His daughter, Mary of Burgundy, succeeds him and by her marriage to Archduke Maximilian of Austria in 1477, the Burgundian States move to the House of Habsburg.

The “Burgundy Succession War” then breaks out between France and the Habsburgs and ends with a division of the territories of the former Burgundian States of Charles le Téméraire between the two belligerents with the treaties of Arras (1482) and Senlis (1493).

Mary of Burgundy died in 1482 at the age of 25 from the consequences of a horse fall.

Mary of Burgundy painted by Michael Pacher in 1490, the duchess’ godfather is none other than Louis XI. Source: Wikimédia Commons.
Mary of Burgundy painted by Michael Pacher in 1490, the duchess' godfather is none other than Louis XI

Tomb of Charles the Bold in Bruges erected by his grandson Philip the Fair in 1562. In the background is the tomb of his daughter Mary of Burgundy. Photos Flickr Dimitris Kamaras.
Tomb of Charles the Bold in Bruges erected by his grandson Philip the Fair in 1562.

The Swiss Confederation


The Swiss, at the top of their military glory, and in particular the canton of Berne, are strengthened by these victories, which announce the conquest of the Pays de Vaud in 1536. Despite their clear victory, the Swiss benefit only minor territorial gains with Berne, which annexed the Chablais and Cerlier, and share, in the form of a joint bailiwick 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.

It is during this period of war that a large number of castles in the Pays de Vaud are looted by the Bernese who make incursions into enemy territory and are known not to make any quarters. In the comparative table of castles in French-speaking Switzerland, the Torpille team lists the castles affected or not by the Burgundian Wars.

Freiburg, stuck between Bern and Savoy, played a somewhat ambiguous role before the Burgundian Wars because it establishes alliances with the Swiss and Savoy. However, it takes part in the Battle of Murten alongside the Bernese and finally joins the Swiss Confederation as a canton in 1481 with Solothurn. It is the first French-speaking canton to join the Confederation even if, at the time, only German is the official language in the canton.

A map of the Confederation in 1515 after the Burgundian Wars.
A map of the Confederation in 1515 after the Burgundian Wars.

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

The Duchy of 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 is returned to Savoy, a former ally of the Duke of Burgundy, with the exception of Aigle and Cerlier (Erlach in German), which are ceded to the Bernese, while the cities of Echallens, Orbe, Grandson and Morat are jointly managed by Bern 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.

The flag of Savoy. It resembles the Swiss flag created in the mid-19th century. Compared to the Swiss flag, the Savoy flag has narrower white branches that touch the edges.
The flag of Savoy. It resembles the Swiss flag created in the mid-19th century. Compared to the Swiss flag, the Savoy flag has narrower white branches that touch the edges.

The City of Geneva


Geneva, an ally of the Duke of Burgundy, is threatened by the Swiss, it must pay a “fine” for its participation in the war. However, it soon becomes an ally of Berne, marking the beginning of its history with Switzerland 350 years before it joins the Confederation.

The Cathedral of Saint Pierre in Geneva, an emblematic figure of Geneva in the Middle Ages and still today.
The Cathedral of Saint Pierre in Geneva, an emblematic figure of Geneva in the Middle Ages and still today.

The Kingdom of France


The Kingdom of France takes 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.

King Louis XI of France during the Burgundian wars, he was the cousin of Charles the Bold.King Louis XI of France during the Burgundian wars, he was the cousin of Charles the Bold.

Informations


There are no museum dedicated to the Burgundian Wars in French-speaking Switzerland.

However, the most interesting information is available in two symbolic places of these wars:

  • The Grandson Castle
  • The ramparts of the old town of Murten.

Other places provide minor information:

  • The castle of the Old Bishop’s Palace which welcomed the Duke of Burgundy.
  • The artillery museum of the Morges Castle, which displays artillery pieces from the time of the Burgundian Wars.

The Grandson Castle


In one of its rooms, the Grandson Castle displays weapons from the time of the Burgundy Wars. In the same place, two lead models (photos above) reproduce the battles of Grandson and Murten. In a turret is the reconstruction of the famous tiara of the Duke of Burgundy which was captured by the Swiss at the Battle of Grandson (photo above).

The room of the castle of Grandson exhibiting armours and weapons from the time of the Burgundian Wars.
The room of the castle of Grandson exhibiting armours and weapons from the time of the Burgundian Wars.

The ramparts of Murten


Throughout the part of the ramparts of the old town of Murten that can be visited, information panels retrace the history of the Burgundian Wars and in particular the Battle of Murten.

The covered path of the ramparts which displays plates on the battle of Murten.
The covered path of the ramparts which displays plates on the battle of Murten.

The Old Bishop’s Palace of Lausanne


The castle of the Old Bishop’s Palace of Lausanne below the cathedral receives the Duke of Burgundy in 1476 after his defeat in Grandson. Charles the Bold is at this time preparing to rebuild an army to take revenge and attack Bern.

The castle of the Old Bishop’s Palace houses the Historical Museum of Lausanne, which includes a magnificent model of Lausanne in the Middle Ages.

La salle du château de l’Ancien Évêché où est reçu le duc de Bourgogne en 1476.
La salle du château de l'Ancien Évêché où faut reçu le duc de Bourgogne en 1476.

The Artillery Museum of Morges Castle


The Morges Castle houses four military museums:

  • Vaud Military Museum
  • Museum of the Vaud Gendarmerie
  • Military Figurine Museum
  • Artillery Museum

The Artillery Museum, located under the courtyard of the Château de Morges, displays artillery pieces from the time of the Burgundian Wars.

Artillery pieces in the cellars of the Morges Castle.
Artillery pieces in the cellars of the Morges Castle.