Sunday, 22 June 2014

"While Waterloo with Cannae's carnage vies, / Morat and Marathon twin names shall stand" - Charles the Bold's Defeat at Murten in 1476

22 June 1476, 18 miles west of Bern in Switzerland during the Burgundian Wars, Duke Charles the Bold was decisively defeated by the Swiss Confederation at the Battle of Murten (Morat).
“While Waterloo with Cannae's carnage vies, / Morat and Marathon twin names shall stand; / They were true Glory's stainless victories, / Won by the unambitious heart and hand / Of a proud, brotherly, and civic band, / All unbought champions in no princely cause / Of vice-entail'd Corruption; they no land / Doom'd to bewail the blasphemy of laws / Making kings' rights divine, by some Draconic clause.” (Lord Byron)


 A section of Louis Braun’s (1836 – 1916) panorama painting, the “Murtenpanorama” from 1893


Admittedly, Charles the Bold’s dominions looked a bit like a patchwork rug on a map, between the borders of France, recovering from the Hundred Years’ War, and the Holy Roman Empire, trying hard to recover from itself, with Burgundy in the centre and possessions along the Rhine from then mouth of the river in the Netherlands and Flanders to the west, then the Duchy of Luxembourg to the south and a huge gap, Lorraine and Alsace and the cheeky Swiss confederacy at the borders. In 1474, Charles set forth to close the gap, in a last attempt to revive the old kingdom of Middle Francia, one of three successor states of Charlemagne’s empire, with France and the Empire being the other two. And who knows what might have followed, a king’s crown for the ambitious duke or even a coronation as emperor, the glories of the Carolingians rising again and what not. But even though the ambitious duke, rich like Croesus, fielded the best equipped and most powerful army in western Europe, he had to deal with a few setbacks. His attempt to wrest control of the Middle Rhine region around Cologne from the empire had failed already in 1475 and he got his nose bloodied at Grandson by the Swiss early in 1476, a defeat that had cost him his entire artillery and 1,000 men. It was time to teach the Confederacy a lesson and capture their most important cities, Bern and Zurich.

Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400–1464): “Charles the Bold“ (1460)


It took Charles only three months to reorganise his army in Lausanne and march again on Bern in May with the heavily fortified town of Murten in his flank. He laid siege to the place and awaited the arrival of the Swiss with everything in place, artillery and English longbows to shoot the deadly confederate pike formations to pieces, infantry to hold any advance and heavy cavalry to take them in the flanks and move in for the kill. The Swiss would stand no chance before the walls of Murten. In the meanwhile, the good burghers from Bern, Thun, the four towns of the High Rhine, Strasbourg and 1,800 cavalry under the Duke of Lorraine advanced through miserable weather, 22,000 men, and far quicker than Charles had assumed, pointedly ignoring the reports of his own scouts and pickets. Whatever made him come up with the bright idea to declare Saturday, June 22nd a payday – his mercenaries left their carefully prepared positions to draw their pay and then the Swiss came over the hills and charged, pinned his centre with their pikes, the Lorrainers outflanked and overran his archers before they could even string their bows, the garrison of Murten sallied and Charles had lost the battle and half his excellent army.



Another section of Louis Braun's "Murtenpanorama"


Charles the Bold bobbed up a third time afterwards, pushing into Lorraine in the autumn of 1476, laying siege to Nancy where he was killed in battle on January 5th 1477. The Swiss confirmed their reputation as excellent, almost invincible infantry and would sell themselves as highly paid mercenaries over the next centuries. The Duchy of Burgundy disappeared from the maps after Charles death and the Burgundian Century was over as well as the days of the medieval supranational feudal states while the developing nations of France and Germany would feud over the remains of Charles’ duchy until the 20th century.



Louis Braun’s “Murtenpanorama”, a highly detailed and quite large depiction of the battle, can be studied in detail here:

http://www.murtenpanorama.ch/en/home/index.php

and more about the Battle of Morat or Murten on:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Morat