JANUARY 5, 1477

Charles the Bold and his army were cut down by the Swiss at Nancy.

Charles the Bold

In the disastrous conclusion of the Burgundian Wars, Duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy is overwhelmed once again by the aggressive pike-and-halberd tactics of his Swiss opponents. Despite having perhaps the best balanced army in Europe, with a true combined-arms approach to tactics, the Duke’s soldiers lack the ferocious zeal of the Swiss. As at Granson and Morat (1476) the polyglot mix of mercenaries and semi-professional Burgundian compagnies d’ordonnance were unable to hold together in battle; and were swept off the field.

Duke Charles attempted to rally his fleeing forces when he and his entourage were surrounded by a group of pursuing Swiss. The Duke was struck dead with a halberd blow that cleaved his skull. His battered body went undiscovered for three days.

Charles’ army was very advanced for its day, and in theory a well-balanced, combined arms force: he had Flemish pikemen, English longbowmen, handgunners (early firearms), and superbly armored and mounted Franco-Burgundian men-at-arms. His field artillery was at the beginning of the conflict with the Swiss the best in Western Europe.

But he was never able to coordinate all of these troops in battle. First, because in each his lack of scouting led to his army being repeatedly surprised by the Swiss onslaught. That, and the rapidity of the Swiss assault, which gave no time for deployment of his forces. Secondly, as his troops were unable to fully deploy from camp to field before the Swiss were upon them, Charles was forced to use his cavalry unsupported, against an army designed to defeat armored knights.

Nancy put an end to the brief period in which the Duchy of Burgundy strode the European stage as an independent and powerful state. After Charles’ death, his 20 year old daughter, Mary, inherited the vast Burgundian holdings. Her marriage to Archduke Maximilian I of Austria and the future Holy Roman Emperor united the Low Countries and Franche-Comté with Austria and the Empire; and set the stage for many future conflicts between France and Austria in the next two centuries.

13 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve done that, standing in a wall of pikes stabbing away at the enemy. It is rather an interesting thing to do, to stand side-by-side next to someone you may or may not know and rely on them to keep you alive.

    If they’re short pikes or halberds or glaives, between 7-10′ long, you can feint at the guy directly in front of you and then punch laterally and gack the guy to either side, maybe even take a long-shot and poke the dude two people over.

    Longer pikes, 12′ and over, get kind of unwieldy and you can foul your mates’ weapons by going laterally. On the other hand, overlapping layers of pikes makes a hard thing to push through.

    Admittedly, I’ve only done this in fun, not using real weapons, but…

    As to how the Swiss won? They had God on their side, not to mention if they lost, Charles was going to wage a campaign of retribution amongst the Swiss Cantons. That will give one a heck of a motive to fight to the fullest.

      • Ed has age envy now? If you live long enough, you won’t.

        Beans, they also had a few handguns that they used on Charles’ troops that pierced the pikes, and savage dogs that fought in close. You can correct me and please do if I’m wrong. But as I recall (as Ed suggests, I may have been there), the Swiss used two or sometimes three people on a single pike to keep them more wieldy, and they were layered so that one may protrude 10′ from the formation, another 8′, etc. Made for a more formidable hedgehog.

        However they actually worked, the Swiss pikemen were a game changer against cavalry for some time. The flaw in the formation was that it was directional. If you could work your way behind pikes, they fell apart. The foil to that was multiple independent formations within the pike army and they drilled them so that they could move quickly as articulated infantry.

  2. Anyone else heard about the three house members from Texas. In a comment on anther sight (Diplomad) it was posted that they pulled their edc and stood their ground. Can’t find confirmation on this.

  3. Yep, all the ‘combined arms’ in the world aren’t worth spit if you can’t/don’t use them effectively. And against people fighting for their home, all bets are off.

  4. Does history repeat itself? Is the current unholy alliance of the Left, Deep State, moneyed elites and foreign interests today’s Charles the Bold alliance? Are we in opposition, the Swiss? Something to think about.

    • The Oligarchs are not the brain trust that they aspire to be any more than Charles the Bold was. But in the world they inhabit where paid sycophants pander to them continually, they are.

    • The European kingdoms that emerged from the feudal system, still somewhat in place at the time of Charles, were all unwieldy. You’re quite right. Many of the army formations of the time were made up of mercenaries, who were very expensive, but you needed them if you were to defend your borders. The Private Military Corporations of today had their antecedents.

      And the crowned heads of Europe (if they lived to be adults) did not benefit from the sort of circumspection that comes with the kind of information that we have at our fingertips. Having said that, the rulers of the moment don’t seem to be able to manage things all that much better.

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