Battle of Nancy
|Battle of Nancy|
|Part of the Burgundian Wars|
"Rene takes the town of Nancy", by Pierre Jacobi
|Duchy of Burgundy||Duchy of Lorraine, Swiss Confederation|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Charles the Bold †|
|~3,000 men||Lorraine 10,000-12,000 men
Swiss 10,000 men
|Casualties and losses|
|Unknown, presumably near total||Unknown|
The Battle of Nancy was the final and decisive battle of the Burgundian Wars, fought outside the walls of Nancy on 5 January 1477 between Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, against René II, Duke of Lorraine, and the Swiss Confederacy.
René's forces won the battle, and Charles' mutilated body was found three days later.
Charles was besieging the city of Nancy, capital of Lorraine, following its recapture by the forces of René II in 1476. Despite the harsh winter conditions Charles was determined to bring the siege to an end at all costs as he was well aware that sooner or later René would arrive with a relieving army once the weather had improved somewhat.
By late December René had gathered some 10-12,000 men from Lorraine, and the Lower Union (of the Rhine). A Swiss army of 10,000 men arrived to help out. René began his advance on Nancy early in January 1477, moving cautiously through the snow-covered landscape until they reached Nancy early on the morning of 5 January. Charles finally learned that René's army was indeed close by and drew up the bulk of his army in a strong defensive position south of Nancy on a heavily-wooded slope behind a stream at the narrowest part of the valley down which he knew the Swiss would have to advance. The exact numbers available to Charles are hard to judge, but contemporary observers put the numbers between 2,000 and 4,000, for even his household troops were by this stage well below strength, while most of the Ordonnance companies were at best only 50% of their theoretical strength.
Charles, as usual, deployed his troops to a precise battle plan despite the short notice he received of the approach of René's forces. The infantry companies and dismounted gendarme formed up in a large square formation with some 30 field guns in front at the top of the slope, while on either flank were mounted knights and coutilliers.
If Charles suffered from a lack of scouting (which had cost him so dearly at Murten six months earlier), the same could not be said for the Allied army. Despite the driving snow cutting visibility to a few yards, the Allied scouts soon recognized that a frontal assault on the Burgundian position would be disastrous. The largely Swiss Vorhut (Vanguard) of 7,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry, were instructed to attack from the right, while the principal thrust would come from the 8,000 infantry and 1,300 cavalry of the Gewalthut (Centre), which was dispatched on a difficult circuitous march round the left flank, over thickly wooded snow-covered slopes out of view of the waiting Burgundians. The small Nachhut (Rearguard) of 800 handgunners acted as a reserve.
After a march lasting some two hours, the Gewalthut emerged from the wooded slopes slightly to the rear of the Burgundian position and formed up in a wedge formation. The early notes of the Swiss horns sounded thrice, and the Swiss charged downhill into the Burgundian positions. The artillery attempted to retrain on the Gewalthut but could not elevate enough to be effective; the single volley discharged killing but two men. Although the right wing Burgundian cavalry saw off their Swiss rivals, the mass of Swiss infantry pushed on to engage the outnumbered Burgundian infantry square in a one-sided fight. The Vorhut threw back the Burgundian left wing and put the artillery to flight. As Charles attempted vainly to stem the Gewalthut's advance by transferring troops from his left flank, the sheer weight of numbers arrayed against him became obvious, and the once proud army of the Duchy of Burgundy started to melt away in flight.
Determined to the last, Charles and his staff tried in vain to rally the broken army, but without success. His small band was carried with the flight until eventually surrounded by a party of Swiss. A halberdier quickly swung at the Duke's head and landed a deadly blow directly on his helmet. He was seen to fall but the battle flowed on around him. It was three days until the Duke's disfigured body was finally found and positively identified amongst the detritus of the slaughter.
Charles the Bold found after the Battle of Nancy (1865), Auguste Feyen-Perrin
Charles the Bold by Peter Paul Rubens
Effigy of René II, Duke of Lorraine
- Battle of Grandson
- Battle of Morat
- Duchy of Burgundy
- Old Swiss Confederacy
- Battles of the Old Swiss Confederacy
- John Foster Kirk (1868). History of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. J.B. Lippincott & Co. p. 537–542.