The Burgundian Wars (1474–1477) were a conflict between the Dukes of Burgundy and the Kings of France, later involving the Old Swiss Confederacy, which would play a decisive role. Open war broke out in 1474, and in the following years the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, was defeated three times on the battlefield and killed in the Battle of Nancy in 1477. The Duchy of Burgundy and several other Burgundian lands then became part of France, while the Burgundian Netherlands and the 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.
The general situation
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 geographically unite their northern and southern possessions. Having already been in conflict with the French king (Burgundy had sided with the English in the Hundred Years' War), Charles' advances along the Rhine brought him in conflict with the Habsburgs and especially emperor Frederick III.
Initially in 1469, Duke Sigismund of Habsburg of Austria assigned his possessions in the Alsace as a fiefdom to the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, to have them protected better against the expansion of the Eidgenossen (or Old Swiss Confederacy). 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 (1473–1474).
In a 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). He wanted to buy back his Alsace possessions from Charles, which the latter 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. 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 which had recently been taken by the Swiss, where he had the garrison hanged or drowned in the lake despite their capitulation. When the Swiss confederate forces arrived a few days later, he was defeated in the Battle of Grandson, and he was forced to flee the battlefield, leaving behind his artillery and many provisions and valuables. Having rallied a new army, he was dealt a devastating blow by the confederates in the Battle of Morat. Charles the Bold fell in the Battle of Nancy in 1477, where the Swiss fought alongside an army of René II, Duke of Lorraine.
With the death of Charles the Bold, the dynasty of the dukes of Burgundy died out. The Flemish territories of the Dukes of Burgundy subsequently became a possession of the Habsburgs, when Archduke Maximilian of Austria, who would later become Holy Roman Emperor, married Charles' 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 the French king Charles VIII in 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 one of the most powerful military forces in Europe at the time gained them a reputation of near invincibility, and the Burgundian Wars marked the beginning of the rise of Swiss mercenaries on the battlefields of Europe. Inside the Confederacy itself, however, the outcome of the war did lead to internal conflict when the city cantons insisted on having the lion's share of the proceeds since they had supplied the most troops. The country cantons resented this and the Dreizehn Orte disputes almost led to war. They were settled by the Stanser Verkommnis of 1481.
- Vaughan, Richard (1973), Charles the Bold: The Last Valois Duke of Burgundy, London: Longman Group, ISBN 0-582-50251-9.
- (German) Deuchler, Florens (1963), Die Burgunderbeute: Inventar der Beutestücke aus den Schlachten von Grandson, Murten und Nancy 1476/1477, Bern: Verlag Stämpfli & Cie.