The Battle of Grandson

The Battle of Grandson

In this battle between the formidable army of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, and the troupes composed from several cantons of the Swiss Confederation, took place on 2 March in 1476. The Swiss won the battle and a large booty.

After the disappearance of Guillaume VII from the house of Chalon-Arlay in 1475, who owned Château de Grandson, the Swiss troops from Berne took the castle by force. This was just one of several actions they had taken, in response to Burgundian and Austrian advances in the Alsace.

In January 1476, Charles the Bold, having just taken the city of Nancy, turned his men towards Grandson, by way of Besançon and Orbe. Having taken the town of Grandson, he laid siege to the castle and subjected the formidable walls to heavy artillery. The Swiss, rather confused, whether help from its allies was coming or not, surrendered. More than 400 men were executed and hung from trees in the morning of 28 February.

Help had actually been on the way, some 20'000 men were advancing through the forest on the Northern shore of lake Neuchatel. Above the village of Concise, where today neatly arranged vines grow, two advance parties of the Confederates came out of the woods and met the Burgundian cavalry and artillery. They engaged in battle and the Swiss were clearly on the loosing side, - until the Duke ordered his men to retreat a bit, in order to beat the Swiss out on the plain, snow-covered as it was. His men mistook the order, and with the sudden appearance of the two Swiss main armies from the woods, started a headless flight. 300 men were lost by the Burgundians, 200 on the side of the Confederates.

Much has been said and written about the extraordinary booty the Swiss took possession of. Quite apart from the 400 pieces of artillery, there was an amazing display of wealth that Charles of Burgundy had brought into the battlefield. The precious objects apparently did not meet the usual demands of these farmer-soldiers.

A very rare set of mille-fleurs tapestries are preserved at the Kunstmuseum in Berne. At Château de Grandson you will be able to view a collar of gilt bronze, with letters offset in Limoges opaque enamel, spelling out the joint motto of Charles of Burgundy and his third wife, Margaret of York: je l’ay emprins bien en aviengne. Also on view is a reproduction of Charles’ felt hat, which was covered in gold and applied with precious stones.

With their ensuing victories of Charles of Burgundy, at Murten and at Nancy, the Confederates brought about the end of an aspired Kingdom of Burgundy and completely changed the political face of Europe. Having closely bonded to achieve this victory, the Swiss cantons found themselves soon in civil strive and unrest, which ended with the treaty reached at Stans in 1481, mediated by the much admired ascet and mystic, Niklaus von Flüe (1417-1487). As a result of this treaty, Fribourg was incorporated into the Swiss Confederacy, and jointly, with Berne, administered Grandson Castle and the surrounding region until 1798.

Two wise counsels from Niklaus von Flüe to the Confederates were “Machet den zun nit zu wit! (do not stake your fences too far out) and “do not meddle in foreign affairs!”