Burgundian Wars

The battle of Morat, from Diebold Schilling's Berne Chronicle
Lorraine and northwest Switzerland
Result Franco-Swiss victory
Extinction of Valois Burgundy and division between Valois France and Habsburg heirs
Commanders and leaders
Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy 

The Burgundian Wars (1474–1477) were a conflict between the Burgundian State and the Old Swiss Confederacy and its allies. Open war broke out in 1474, and the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, was defeated three times on the battlefield in the following years and was killed at the Battle of Nancy in 1477. The Duchy of Burgundy and several other Burgundian lands then became part of France, and the Burgundian Netherlands and Franche-Comté were inherited by Charles's daughter Mary of Burgundy and eventually passed to the House of Habsburg upon her death because of her marriage to Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor.


Territories of the house of Valois-Burgundy during the reign of Charles the Bold
Territories of the house of Valois-Burgundy during the reign of Charles the Bold

The dukes of Burgundy had succeeded, over a period of about 100 years, in establishing their rule as a strong force between the Holy Roman Empire and France. Their possessions included, besides their original territories of the Franche-Comté and the Duchy of Burgundy, the economically-strong regions of Flanders and Brabant as well as Luxembourg.

The dukes of Burgundy generally pursued an aggressive expansionist politics, especially in Alsace and Lorraine, seeking to unite their northern and southern possessions geographically. Having already been in conflict with the French king (Burgundy had sided with the English in the Hundred Years' War but then the Yorkists in the Wars of the Roses, when Henry VI sided with France), Charles's advances along the Rhine brought him into conflict with the Habsburgs, especially Emperor Frederick III.


Charles the Bold, a contemporary portrait by Rogier van der Weyden
Charles the Bold, a contemporary portrait by Rogier van der Weyden

Initially in 1469, Duke Sigismund of Habsburg of Austria pawned his possessions in the Alsace in the Treaty of Saint-Omer as a fiefdom to the Duke of Burgundy for a loan or sum of 50,000 florins, as well as an alliance, Charles the Bold, to have them better protected from the expansion of the Eidgenossen (or Old Swiss Confederacy).[citation needed] Charles' involvement west of the Rhine gave him no reason to attack the confederates, as Sigismund had wanted, but his embargo politics against the cities of Basel, Strasbourg and Mulhouse, directed by his reeve Peter von Hagenbach, prompted these to turn to Bern for help. Charles' expansionist strategy suffered a first setback in his politics when his attack on the Archbishopric of Cologne failed after the unsuccessful Siege of Neuss (1474–75).

In the second phase, Sigismund sought to achieve a peace agreement with the Swiss confederates, which eventually was concluded in Konstanz in 1474 (later called the Ewige Richtung or Perpetual Accord). He wanted to buy back his Alsace possessions from Charles, who refused. Shortly afterwards, von Hagenbach was captured and executed by decapitation in Alsace, and the Swiss, united with the Alsace cities and Sigismund of Habsburg in an anti-Burgundian league, conquered part of the Burgundian Jura (Franche-Comté) when they won the Battle of Héricourt in November 1474. Louis XI of France joined the coalition by the Treaty of Andernach in December.[1] The next year, Bernese forces conquered and ravaged Vaud, which belonged to the Duchy of Savoy, who was allied with Charles the Bold. In the Valais, the independent republics of the Sieben Zenden, with the help of Bernese and other confederate forces, drove the Savoyards out of the lower Valais after a victory in the Battle on the Planta in November 1475. In 1476, Charles retaliated and marched to Grandson, which belonged to Pierre de Romont of Savoy but had recently been taken by the Swiss, where he had the garrison hanged or drowned in the lake, despite its capitulation. When the Swiss confederate forces arrived a few days later, he was defeated in the Battle of Grandson and was forced to flee the battlefield, leaving behind his artillery and many provisions and valuables. Having rallied his army, he was dealt a devastating blow by the confederates at the Battle of Morat. Charles the Bold raised a new army, but fell in the Battle of Nancy in 1477 in which the Swiss fought alongside an army of René II, Duke of Lorraine.


Burgundian territories (orange/yellow) and limits of France (red) after the Burgundian War.
Burgundian territories (orange/yellow) and limits of France (red) after the Burgundian War.

With the death of Charles the Bold, the Valois dynasty of the dukes of Burgundy died out. The northern territories of the dukes of Burgundy became a possession of the Habsburgs, when Archduke Maximilian of Austria, who would later become Holy Roman Emperor, married Charles's only daughter, Mary of Burgundy. The duchy proper reverted to the crown of France under king Louis XI. The Franche-Comté initially also became French but was ceded to Maximilian's son Philip in 1493 by Charles VIII at the Treaty of Senlis in an attempt to bribe the emperor to remain neutral during Charles's planned invasion of Italy.

The victories of the Eidgenossen (Swiss Confederation) over what was one of the most powerful military forces in Europe gained it a reputation of being nearly invincible,[citation needed] and the Burgundian Wars marked the beginning of the rise of Swiss mercenaries on the battlefields of Europe.[citation needed] Inside the Confederacy itself, however, the outcome of the war led to internal conflict; the city cantons insisted on having the lion's share of the proceeds since they had supplied the most troops. The country cantons resented that, and the Dreizehn Orte disputes almost led to war. They were settled by the Stanser Verkommnis of 1481.

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ Beck, Sanderson. "France in the Renaissance 1453–1517". san.beck.org.