Burgundy Wars

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The scene of the Burgundian Wars

The Burgundian Wars are the military conflicts between 1474 and 1477 between the Duchy of Burgundy on the one hand and the Confederation and the Lower Union on the other.


The House of Burgundy

Charles the Bold , Duke of Burgundy (painting by Rogier van der Weyden , around 1460)
Emperor Friedrich III. of Habsburg

The French King John the Good from the House of Valois enfeoffed his youngest son, Philip the Bold , with the Duchy of Burgundy in 1363 . Philipp fell out with his father and went on to pursue an independent power politics. He enlarged his domain by acquiring Flanders and the Free County of Burgundy . His successors, Johann Ohnefurcht and Philipp III. , expanded the Burgundian country complex to include Brabant , Holland , Limburg , Picardy and Luxembourg . In this way, the Burgundian branch line of the House of Valois created a powerful feudal structure, which was officially committed partly to the French crown and partly to the Holy Roman Empire , but which in fact acted as an independent state. With Brabant and Flanders, the dukes of Burgundy ruled the economically strongest regions of Europe at that time. The Burgundian tax revenues were many times higher than that of the politically and economically weak Holy Roman Empire. The House of Burgundy pursued an expansionist policy aimed at establishing a territorial link between the northern and southern areas. The Burgundian feudal dependence on France was dissolved with the Treaty of Arras (1435) . In the same year, Burgundy also refused the feudal oath to the emperor.

The Duke Charles the Bold , who had ruled since 1465, pursued particularly ambitious goals, who wanted to convert the Burgundian lands into a kingdom. Karl was even said to have ambitions for the imperial title. Before that, however, he wanted to create a closed Burgundian country complex by conquering the Duchy of Lorraine . Charles the Bold had no son, which is why the extinction of the House of Burgundy threatened in direct line.

The opponents of Burgundy

The power-political intentions of Charles the Bold were opposed to the neighbors and those directly affected by the expansion, in particular the King of France and the Roman-German Emperor as well as the imperial cities and the clerical feudal lords on the Upper and Lower Rhine. However, the Confederation was long on good terms with Burgundy and moved most of their salt from the salt pans of Salins . Most recently, on May 22, 1467, a friendship treaty was signed with Duke Philip the Good and his son Charles the Bold. The good understanding was severely disturbed, however, when Charles committed himself in the Treaty of Saint-Omer on May 9, 1469 , Duke Siegmund of Austria , Regent of Tyrol and Upper Austria , in exchange for the pledging of the Habsburg possessions in Alsace and in his Breisgau Support fight against the confederates. Siegmund hoped to regain the lost territories in Aargau and Thurgau. The Swiss Confederation therefore concluded a neutrality pact on September 23, 1470 in Tours with the French King Louis XI, who was one of the main opponents of Charles the Bold.

The Roman-German Emperor Friedrich III. von Habsburg recognized the high probability of the extinction of the Burgundian dynasty in the male line, which is why he demanded Maria of Burgundy for his son Maximilian Karl's daughter . In return, Friedrich promised to give Karl the title of king. However, a meeting of both sides in Trier in 1473 ended with no result. In 1474 Karl undertook a campaign against the Archdiocese of Cologne , which failed because of the siege of Neuss . The Emperor and Duke Siegmund were concerned about their Alsatian possessions and watched the military rise of Charles with concern. Through the mediation of the French King Louis XI. they finally achieved a rapprochement with the Confederation.

Map of the Burgundian sphere of influence around 1477

In 1473/74 the four Alsatian imperial cities of Strasbourg , Basel , Colmar and Schlettstadt and the prince-bishops of Strasbourg and Basel, the Confederation and Duke Siegmund of Austria in Constance concluded the Lower Union . This Landfriedensbund was clearly directed against the expansionist efforts of Charles the Bold. The four imperial cities granted Duke Siegmund a loan of 76,000 guilders to redeem the pledged Habsburg possessions in Alsace. At the same time, another contract was concluded between Duke Siegmund and the Swiss Confederation, the so-called Eternal Direction , in which both parties recognized their property and affirmed an eternal land peace. This made protection by Burgundy superfluous, which had never been granted since the Treaty of Saint-Omer.

The French King Louis XI, who had been the liege lord of Charles the Bold until 1468/71, tried systematically to weaken the Duke of Burgundy through diplomatic channels. The Dukes of Burgundy had allied themselves with England against the French crown several times during the Hundred Years War . Karl himself led with Ludwig XI. various wars between 1465 and 1472 and inflicted severe defeats on the king. The French king therefore shied away from another direct confrontation and relied on a conflict between the Confederation and Burgundy, as the federal imperial city of Bern had been pursuing an expansionist policy for a long time, which was also aimed at the Burgundian sphere of power in what is now western Switzerland. An important role in the negotiations between Louis XI. and the Swiss Confederation was played by Niklaus von Diesbach from Bern , since 1468 councilor and chamberlain to the French king. Through the mediation of Diesbach came on 21./26. October 1474 the first pay contract between France and the eight federal locations as well as the associated locations Freiburg i. Ü. and Solothurn, in which Ludwig promised the Confederation financial and military aid in the event of a war with Charles the Bold. Until the death of the king, the Confederation was to be paid 20,000 guilders a year, in the event of a war with Burgundy a further 20,000 guilders every quarter as long as Ludwig did not enter the war. The federal mercenaries in the service of France were promised 54 gold guilders per man per year. The bill worked for Ludwig when Bern and Freiburg actually opened the war against Burgundy together with the Upper Alsatian cities in the autumn of 1474.

Outbreak of war

Map of the Duchy of Savoy 1475

The reason for the outbreak of hostilities was the execution of the Burgundian bailiff Peter von Hagenbach in Breisach on May 9, 1474. In retaliation, Hagenbach's brother ravaged Upper Alsace in August of the same year with Burgundian and Lombard mercenaries. The Lower Union therefore moved with an army to the Free County of Burgundy and defeated the Burgundian military leader Heinrich von Neuchâtel-Blamont in the battle of Héricourt . Charles the Bold was also busy with the siege of Neuss .

Bern and Freiburg now turned against the Duchy of Savoy . Since the death of Duke Amadeus XI. In 1472, his widow Jolanda , a sister of Louis XI. of France, as regent for the minor Philibert I, the Duchy of Savoy. In 1473, at the instigation of her confidante Jakob von Savoyen , the Count of Romont, Jolanda renewed the alliance with Burgundy and thus brought herself into conflict with Bern and Freiburg. Bern therefore occupied Erlach am Bielersee at the end of October 1474 , while Freiburg occupied Illens an der Saane in spring 1475 . Since Jolanda did not accept an ultimatum to declare war on Burgundy, an army from Bern and Friborg under Nikolaus von Diesbach invaded the Savoy region of Vaud and conquered 16 cities and 43 castles by October. The Bishop of Sion , allied with Bern , Walter Supersaxo , occupied the Savoy Governorate of Saint-Maurice in Lower Valais after the Battle of the Planta on November 13th .

Course of war

Battle of Murten, depicted in the Zurich Schilling 1480/84

After fighting broke out in the Free County and Savoy and the unsuccessful siege of Neuss, Karl occupied the Duchy of Lorraine in 1475. When the English, allied with Burgundy, landed in Calais in 1475, there was no support from Charles the Bold, as he was too busy with his acquisition of Lorraine territory. On August 29th, Ludwig XI. therefore buy peace with England in the Treaty of Picquigny , which in turn weakened Charles' position in Lorraine.

The following year, Charles undertook a campaign against the Confederate territory from the Free County of Burgundy. Karl's roster included numerous archers , and his army also had hundreds of cannons. There were also crossbowmen , heavy cavalry and some soldiers who were equipped with early arquebuses . At first Karl planned to take action against Bern, which he rightly recognized as the driving force behind the anti-Burgundian league. On February 28, 1476, after a brief siege, he took the small town of Grandson , which was occupied by Bern and Freiburg, and had the crew of 412 men executed down to the last man after unconditional surrender. Bern used the short time of the siege to put together a larger contingent with an influx of people from the Swiss Confederation and to pull Karl against them. On March 2, 1476 , the first major meeting took place at the Battle of Grandson . Karl's troops suffered a defeat in the fight against the federal infantry. The Bernese and their allies succeeded in capturing over 400 Burgundian guns . Due to a lack of cavalry, however, they could not pursue the Burgundians, which allowed Karl to get out of this battle with low losses. The rich booty of the Confederates from the Burgundian camp near Grandson became proverbial for extraordinary booty. The Confederates did not use the victory at Grandson politically either, since the eastern cities and provincial towns did not want to support Bern in territorial expansion in the west and withdrew again.

A few months later, Karl had assembled a new army in Lausanne and pushed forward again in the direction of Bern. It first closed on 10/11. June 1476 incorporated the city of Murten , which had been expanded by Bern into its western bulwark and housed over 2,000 men from the Bernese garrison. Since Charles also violated the borders of the old Bernese area, the Confederation entered the war against Burgundy in fulfillment of the alliance with Bern. With the siege of Murten, the Confederation had enough time to assemble an army from all places and allies and to move against Karl. In the battle of Murten on June 22nd, 1476, they inflicted the most devastating defeat on the Duke of Burgundy until then. Around 10,000 Burgundians were killed and the Confederates advanced far into Vaud, which was ruled by the Duchy of Savoy. This forced Charles' ally, Duchess Jolanda of Savoy, to conclude peace in July 1476.

An episode in the context of the Burgundian Wars is the first Saubanner procession of around 2000 Urners, Schwyzers, Unterwaldners, Zugers and Lucerne residents on the occasion of Carnival in February 1477. This raid under a standard that showed a sow on a blue background led through the Vaud to Geneva , where an allegedly outstanding war contribution was to be collected. The city of Geneva actually had to buy itself out of the savage Central Switzerland on March 4, 1477 by paying 8,000 guilders to the towns of Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Zug and Lucerne. In order to accelerate the withdrawal of the predatory and destructive fighters, she also paid two gulden to all 1700 remaining participants in the Saubanner procession and distributed alcohol on the way home.

Charles the Bold returned to Burgundy and turned against the Duchy of Lorraine with a new army in the autumn of 1476. Again he embarked on an elaborate siege, this time the Lorraine capital Nancy . On January 5, 1477, an army of 8,000 federal mercenaries recruited by Duke René of Lorraine, led by Hans Waldmann, reached the plains near the city and smashed the Burgundian army. Duke Charles the Bold lost his life in the turmoil of the Battle of Nancy .

An old mocking rhyme sums up the failure of Charles in the face of the federal military power as follows:

"Duke Charles of Burgundy lost his estate at Grandson, his courage at Murten, and his blood at Nancy."

Hans Erhart Tüsch from Strasbourg described the events in a rhyming chronicle (Burgundian history). Diebold Schilling the Elder recorded numerous events from the Burgundian Wars in his Great Burgundy Chronicle .

End of war

The Burgundian Wars ended with two separate peace agreements in Freiburg i. Ü. (1476) and in Zurich (1478):

On July 25, 1476, the Peace of Freiburg i. Ü. the feud between Bern, Friborg and Valais with the Duchy of Savoy. Duchess Jolanda, regent of Savoy for the underage Duke Philibert I , had to cede the dominions of Aigle and Erlach in exchange for the peace of Bern, Freiburg the rule of Illens; Murten, Grandson, Échallens and Orbe went to Freiburg and Bern as common lords . The parts of Vaud occupied by Bern and Friborg remained a pledge from the two cities until 50,000 guilders were paid. The Bishop of Sion, allied with Bern, Walter Supersaxo, further annexed the Gouvernement of St. Maurice in Lower Valais, which was occupied by the Valais in 1475. Freiburg was also formally released from the sovereignty of Savoy and was allowed to resign from September 1477 with the permission of Frederick III. call it a free imperial city. In November 1477, Savoy also had to accept that the city and the bishop of Geneva concluded a castle rights treaty with Bern and Friborg - the city at the end of Lake Geneva was clearly part of the Savoyard sphere of influence. Further conflicts between the westernmost federal places and the Duchy of Savoy were programmed.

On January 24, 1478, Maximilian von Habsburg, the heir of Charles the Bold, Duke René of Lorraine, Archduke Sigmund of Austria, the Confederation and the rest of the Lower Union signed the Peace of Zurich. The contracting parties assured each other of mutual neutrality and the Swiss Confederation returned Maximilian to the Free County of Burgundy for 150,000 guilders .

Consequences of war

The division of the dominion of Charles the Bold after the Burgundian Wars

On August 19, 1477, Maria von Burgund - the adult heir to Charles the Bold - married Maximilian von Habsburg , the son of the Roman-German Emperor Friedrich III. , to whom she was engaged since 1475. As a result, the duchy, which had been largely occupied by France after the death of Charles, became part of the Habsburg household, after it had previously been partially under the feudal rule of the Holy Roman Empire . In the Burgundian War of Succession (1477-1493) Maximilian put through a large part of his claims to the legacy of Charles the Bold first with a victory in the Battle of Guinegate (1479) , while France was only able to hold Picardy and the actual Duchy of Burgundy . When Mary of Burgundy died in 1482, the Burgundian inheritance finally passed to the Habsburgs. Maximilian , who was the guardian of his underage son Philip , was only able to finally enforce his claim to Flanders at the end of the Burgundian War of Succession with the Treaty of Senlis (1493). By gaining a large part of the former Burgundian state, the Habsburgs' position of power increased significantly, but a latent conflict arose with France, which broke out openly a few years later during the Italian wars and led to centuries-long Habsburg-French conflict .

The self-confidence of the Confederates had grown strongly due to their success in the fight against the Burgundians. Due to the internal disagreement of the Swiss Confederation, however, there were no major territorial expansions. So the beneficiary of the Burgundian Wars was not the divided federal alliance from which Savoy got the lost territories in Vaud cheaply back and France temporarily acquired the Free County of Burgundy. The seven eastern towns did not want to be co-opted for the western expansion of Bern and preferred to get cash. But the Confederation, strengthened by the victories against Burgundy, was subsequently able to oppose Maximilian I's reform of the empire and maintain its independence within the empire in the Swabian War of 1499. The clout of the Swiss rank and file made up of pikemen and halberds prompted various European rulers to recruit mercenaries from Switzerland up until the 19th century. The superiority of the infantry on the battlefield, which was established by the tactics of the confederate violence , lasted until the further development of handguns in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The fall of the "New Burgundian State" had shown that in Europe on the threshold of modern times there was no longer any room for another supranational feudal empire. The Burgundian century had come to an early end.

Film documentaries


  • Henri Dubois: Charles le Téméraire . Fayard, Paris 2004.
  • Klaus Schelle: Charles the Bold: Burgundy between lily banner and imperial eagle. Magnus, Essen 1976.
  • Claudius Sieber-Lehmann : Late medieval nationalism: the Burgundy Wars on the Upper Rhine and in the Confederation . (Publications of the Max Planck Institute for History, 116). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1995.
  • Richard Vaughan: Charles the Bold: the last Valois Duke of Burgundy . The Boydell Press, Woodbridge 2002 (ND with updated introduction; orig. 1973).

Web links

Commons : Burgundy Wars  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Burgundian Wars  - Sources and full texts


  1. According to the Aargau historical paperback first attested in an “old woodcut” in the version “Duke Carolus lost courage in front of Elicurth (1474), in front of Granson the estate (1476), in front of Murten his hat (1476), in front of Nancy the blood. “, Karl Friedrich Wilhelm Wander, German Proverbs Lexicon: A household treasure for the German people , Brockhaus, 1870, 1143.
  2. Victor von Kraus : Maximilian I. His life and work. Vienna 1877, p. 14 ff. ( Online ).
  3. Manfred Hollegger: The Burgundian War of Succession 1477–1493. In: (ders.): Maximilian I (1459–1519) ruler and man of a turning point. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-17-015557-1 , p. 78 f.
  4. Thomas Maissen : History of Switzerland. here + now publishing house, Baden 2010, p. 60.