Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy (1433-77) was a warlike leader, famous at the time for his willingness to take on any foe and the quality of his army, but better known now for his defeat and death at the hands of the Swiss pikemen. He only ruled Burgundy for ten years (from 1467), but he was an active figure in European affairs during his fathers life, becoming involved with wars in France and on the fringes of the Wars of the Roses. His death without a male heir produced a division of Burgundy between France and the Hapsburg, removed a buffer state between those two powers and played a part in producing the long series of Hapsburg-Valois Wars (the Italian Wars).
The articles start with a look at the Swiss infantry that defeated Charles. This was a powerful infantry force, most famous as pikemen but also using long axes and halberds. This article looks at the strengths, but also on the limits imposed by their relative lack of organisation. They were effective in the Burgundian Wars and early in the Italian Wars but eventually suffered at the hands of enemies with more balanced armies (and especially against firearms and cannon where the massed infantry formations were very vulnerable). Another article looks at the sources for the Swiss army at Morat, and examines what they tell us about its structure.
This is followed by a look at Charles's own well organised army. He improved the quality of this army, especially with the reforms of 1473, and his army was famous for its high quality artillery. We thus have to ask how such a powerful force suffered so many defeats.
Three articles look at Charles's army in combat. The first examines the siege of Neuss, an attack on an Imperial city that distracted Charles for far too long, forcing him to disappoint his allies who wanted him to fight in France, and ended in failure. Next is his first major defeat at the hands of the Swiss, at Grandson. Here the main problem appears to have been his desire to force the Swiss into a position from where they could be hit by his artillery, putting his own men out of place when Swiss reinforcements arrived. Last is his final battle at Nancy, where Charles was outnumbered (and his opponents probably matched him in quality as well). Here Charles was killed after spending too long attempting to restore order and safe the day. What we get is a picture of a commander capable of creating an excellent army, but not really capable of successfully using that army.
Away from the main theme there is a quick look at the mace, a long-lived but unglamorous weapon, and articles on two very different approaches to the warrior. The first looks at the lessons we can learn from the duals fought by Tristan and Ywain in Medieval romances, examples of the attitude of the chivalric warrior. We finish with Egil Skallagrímson, a bloodthirsty Viking warrior who was almost the exact opposite of the later chivalric heroes.
Je lay emprins: Historical Introduction
'The first true infantry': Swiss forces of the Burgundian Wars
Forming the Burgundian lance: Tactical organization and structure
Fools rush in: Charles the Bold and the Siege of Neuss
The Battle of Grandson: Burgundian blunder at Concise
The mace: Countering the armoured opponents
Bernese at Morat: Documenting the participants
Battle of Nancy: End game for Charles the Bold
An epic legacy: Legendary duals of Ywain and Tristan
Shakespeare of slaughter: The wild times of Egil Skallagrimsson
Go to Ancient Warfare Magazine Website