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did not immediately return, Bernese troops continued to make
several incursions into his territory, then penetrated into the
land of Vaud, at that time under the dominion of the house of
Savoy, and advanced as far as Geneva, which city was forced
to pay a large ransom in order to rid itself of these unwelcome

At length, Charles, the Bold, returned from his German
expedition, collected his troops at Nancy, and prepared to
march upon Bern by way of the lake of Neuchatel On the

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19th of February, 1476, he stopped to lay siege to the little
town of Grandson, at that time held by a detachment of men
from Bern and Fribourg. He met with desperate and unex-
pected resistance. The garrison retired to the castle, where
they repulsed his repeated assaults with so much success, that
he felt himself wasting precious time and grew daily more
impatient to advance on his way to NeuchateL But as rein-
forcements, now long expected, failed to come to the relief of
the brave garrison, the latter, reduced to extremities, discour-
aged, and no longer united, finally surrendered to the Bur-
gundians. In a Chronicle of the Canons of Neuchatel, it is
said that a certain Knight de Rondchamps tricked them into
submission, by assuring them that the Duke had taken the
whole country round about, and would be merciful to them if
they surrendered. However that may be, it is certain that
when the captives were led before Charles he ordered them
all, to the number of four hundred and twelve, to. be hanged
or drowned in the lake, an act of atrocity which was designed
to intimidate the Confederates, but in reality filled them with
the bitterness of revenge. Panigarola, the ambassador of the
Duke of Milan in Charles' camp, wrote home: "It is a hor-
rible, a fearful sight, that of so many dangling corpses."^

Now the Duke of Burgundy was ready to march upon Neu-
chatel. His army has been computed at about 20,000 strong,
horse and foot, equipped with the best arms of the age, and
especially well supplied with artillery. The camp itself was
fitted up most lavishly, for Charles passed for the richest and
most extravagant prince of his day. Like the Austrian Dukes
at Morgarten and Sempach, he never for one moment doubted
the issue of the battle, in his over-confidence even neglecting
to take the proper precautions against surprise.

In the meantime, the Confederates had been quietly collect-
ing their contingents at Neuchatel. There had been great
delays ; they had not arrived in time to relieve Grandson, but
on the 2d of March, they advanced, somewhat over 18,000

1 Kirk, J. F. History of Charles, the Bold. Vol. III., p. 316.

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men in all, a well-armed, well-trained host, under experienced
leaders, to meet the redoubtable prince.

In order to understand the course of the battle, the follow-
ing topographical details must be noted. The Jura mountains
run almost parallel with the shore of the lake of Neuchatel
throughout its length, but at a point between Neuchatel and
Grandson, a spur of the range approaches so close to the
water's edge as to form a narrow pass, known as La Lance
Chartreuse, The possession of this spur and this passage was
of prime importance to both armies, and it was here that they
met unexpectedly, coming from opposite directions.

Instead of following the road along the water's edge, the
vanguard of the Confederates struck up over the spur of the
mountain into an old Roman road, known locally as the via
ditra^ driving before them the Burgundian archers who had
been posted there to dispute their passage. As they rounded
the point they suddenly beheld the whole Burgundian army
spread out in the plain below, as far as Grandson, in all the
pride and perfection of accoutrement, just preparing to march.
It was the intention of Charles to take the spur, but finding it
already occupied by the Swiss, he changed his plan and tried
to draw the enemy down into the plain, where he could sur-
round them with his superior numbers.

The Swiss vanguard decided not to wait for the main body
which was on the march behind them, but promptly formed
into a square, bristling with spears, fell on their knees to pray,
amid the derisive laughter of the Burgundians, and as soon as
they rose, the battle began. At first, the Burgundian artillery
brought many of them to the ground, but by moving a little to
one side they could place themselves out of range. Then
Charles sent his cavalry upon their right flank, but with no
success. Finally he led a charge himself from the centre,
only to find the Swiss square unshaken.

It was at this moment that the Duke bethought him of a
new disposition of troops, by which he might entice the Swiss
vanguard into the plain and annihilate them, for, in spite of

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their brave stand, their ranks were thinning perceptibly. He
ordered the artillery and infantry to deploy from the front to
the flanks. As fortune would have it, the long-expected main
body of the Confederates appeared over the brow of the spur,
just as his troops were effecting this change. It was the con-
junction of these two movements which decided the issue of
the battle, for the rear of the Burgundian army, seeing the
simultaneous withdrawal of their own artillery and infantry
with the jubilant advance of the Swiss down the hillside^
became panic-stricken and fled, shouting, ^^ Sauve qui pent,**

Etterlin describes this scene in his "Kronica der Loblichen
Eydtgnoschaft " : " Now, when the Duke of Burgundy saw the
hosts descending the mountains, the sun just shone upon them,
and they glittered* like a mirror; at the same time the horn of
Uri bellowed, and the war horns of Luzern, and there was such
a roar that the Duke's men shuddered at it and retreated."*
Charles himself, exasperated beyond measure by the stupid
cowardice of his troops, rode amongst them with drawn sword,
striking them furiously, in the vain effort to bring them to a
standstill. But his army had passed entirely beyond his con-
trol ; it fled, without looking back, helter-skelter, leaving
everything in the camp in hopeless disarray, and back to

When the Confederates arrived before the castle of Grand-
son, they were horrified at the sight of their comrades hanging,
"still fresh, from the trees." "There hang father and son
together," writes Etterlin ; "there two brothers or some friend
or other; and the good men who knew them, their friends,
cousins, and brothers, found them there, hanging so pitifully."

But in the camp another and very different reward awaited
the Confederates. A greater part of the wealth in arms and
apparel, in gold and silver and precious stones, which Charles,
the Bold, carried about with him, lay open to pillage. It has
been calculated that more than a million florins' worth of spoils
fell into the hands of the Swiss. Diebold Schilling, a Bernese

^Ochsli, W. Quellenbuch, p. 174.

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chronicler, in 1484, drew up a more or less accurate list of the
booty taken at Grandson. He enumerates amongst other art-
icles : 420 pieces of artillery with much powder, many silken
banners, costly garments, silken tents and great stores of mer-
chandise and provisions ; precious stones of such value that no
man could properly estimate them, notably three great dia-
monds, whose subsequent adventures read like romances. One
now adorns the papal tiara, another is said to be in the treas-
ury of Vienna, and the third to have been until lately amongst
the crown jewels of France. Schilling is very careful in his
description of a wonderful golden casket, containing holy
relics, pieces of the true cross and the crown of thorns. A
comical aspect is lent to this wholesale plunder by the fact
that, for sometime after the battle, silken clothes and doublets
and other precious articles were worn as commonly throughout
the Confederation as ordinary cloth had been before. But the
after effects of this sudden wealth were more serious in other
respects, for there was engendered a whole train of corrup-
tions, a taste for plunder, a feeling of envy> and, in general, a
departure from the simple habits of the olden time.

The loss of life was not very great in the battle of Grand-
son, for the Burgundians hardly fought at all, while the con-
querors had no cavalry to complete the pursuit. On the
whole, therefore, the Swiss victory was more of a moral than
a material one. It was evident that Charles would soon be in
position to renew the struggle, his forces being only scattered
and not annihilated. Full of exultation and of confidence in the
future, the Confederates disbanded and returned to their homes.

As soon as the Duke of Burgundy had recovered sufficiently
from the stupefaction into which this unexpected defeat had
plunged him, he swore revenge against the impudent peasants
who had brought such shame upon him. This time again
Bern was made the objective point, but he determined to reach
that city by the way of Murten (Morat), a walled town on the
lake of the same name, which was defended at the time by a
Bernese garrison, under Adrian von Bubenberg.

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There was considerable difficulty in getting the Confederate
army together, and in the meantime, Charles settled down
before Murten with a force of about 25,000 men, determined
not to move until he had reduced the stronghold. The siege
began on the 9th of June, 1476. It was carried on with great
vigor ; assault followed assault in quick succession ; g^eat siege-
guns were trained against the wall; a part of the town wall
and adjacent houses were shot down; and Charles counted
upon taking the place in a few days. But Bubenburg dis-
played great courage and skill in the defence. With the help
of some artillery pieces, sent from Strassburg, and carefully
constructed intrenchments, he repulsed all the charges of the
enemy. Still his position was, at the best, very critical, and he
looked with growing impatience for the arrival of the Confeder-
ate army.

The peril was great, for, should Murten yield, Bern was
exposed to almost certain capture. In this extremity, the
Bernese council sent a missive to the Confederates, urging
them to make haste. "Dearest friends and brothers," runs
the letter, "were the need not so great, we should be loath
to use such pressing and burdensome solicitations. But
our affairs, alas! are in a state which obliges us to load
you beyond our desire. If God grant that we preserve our
existence and power, we will show our eternal gratitude, to
the extent of our ability, with steadfast brotherly love, never
separating ourselves from you." At length the contingents
began to arrive in the city, and were then promptly dispatched
to a general meeting-place in the village of Giimminen, on the
road to Murten. Besides the troops of the Swiss states them-
selves, came Duke Renatus of Lorraine, Count Tierstein, an
Austrian Governor, the Count of Gruyfcres, and reinforcements
from Elsass — making a total of about 25,000 men, the same
in number as the Burgundian army. The men of Zurich alone
failed to respond promptly, in spite of Hans Waldmann's earn-
est entreaties. It was not until the 22d of June that the
whole Confederate army advanced upon Murten.

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The battle was fought in the rolling country, partly wooded
and partly rising in tablelands, which separates the lake
of Murten from the valley of the Saane (Sarine). Charles,
the Bold, had brought his troops from Murten to meet
the enemy in this region, leaving only a small body to
watch the besieged town. He placed his centre at Miinchen-
wiler, the right wing at Cressier, where stood a chapel
dedicated to St. Urbaine, and his left near the forest of
Murten. The Confederates sent a body of cavalry, their
Alsatian allies, to spy out his position in the early morning,
causing the Burgundians to hastily take up their position in
battle-array. In reality it was not till noon that the attack
began. In the meantime, as hour after hour slipped by with-
out leading to hostilities, Charles allowed his troops to scatter
and gave up all expectation of a battle that day. When finally
the whole Swiss army appeared, he was taken by surprise, and
his dispositions had to be made with g^eat haste.

It appears that the Confederates were at first brought to
a standstill by a palisade of some sort which the Burgundians
had erected. They were mercilessly cut down by a well-
directed artillery fire. A detachment, however, was sent
around to attack the right wing of the enemy. As soon as
the success of this latter movement was assured, the whole
Swiss force broke through and drove the Burgundians pell mell
upon Murten. In vain did Charles try to stem the current
of retreat; his troops, as at Grandson, seemed incapable of
facing the Swiss; neither his splendid cavalry nor the far-
famed English bowmen who accompanied him, could be
brought to a standstill. He himself escaped by the road to
Avenches, but the mass of the infantry were hemmed in at
Murten by the pitiless hosts of the Confederates and the
cavalry of their allies. Here the defenceless and demoralized
Burgundians were butchered without remorse or driven into
the lake and drowned. It was an act of deliberate ferocity,
for the Confederates had agreed to slay everyone within
reach. The loss of the enemy was, therefore, enormous —

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according to Panigarola, the Milanese ambassador, somewhere
between 8,000 and io,ooO| while the Swiss did not lose more
than a few hundred men. On the other hand, the booty was
nothing like as valuable as that of Grandson.

The last chapter of this great Burgundian war was enacted
a year later, at Nancy, when Renatus, Duke of Lorraine,
called upon his allies, the Swiss, to help him reconquer his
country from Charles, the Bold. More than 8,000 Confeder-
ates took part in a decisive battle under the walls of Nancy.
Two days after, the body of the restless and foolhardy Duke
was discovered near the city, disfigured almost beyond recog-
nition. He had been carried away in the general flight of
his troops and killed by some unknown hand.

Mr. Freeman has justly said: "The history of Charles is
a history of the highest and most varied interest. The tale
as a mere tale, as a narrative of personal adventure and a dis-
play of personal character, is one of the most attractive in
European history.** * Walter Scott has sufficiently popularized
the outlines of his general career in the two novels of "Anne
of Geierstein " and " Quentin Durward *', to make him a famil-
iar figure to readers of English. But nothing can surpass the
simple, concise pathos of the ancient rhyme which told how
Charles lost :

Bei Grandson das Gut,
Bei Murten den Mut,
Bei Nancy das Blut. ^

* Freeman, E. A. Historical Essays. Vol. i, p. 335.
3 Dandliker, K. Geschichte. p. 226.

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THE effect of the Burgundian war upon the Swiss people
has been aptly likened to that of the Persian wars upon
the Greeks or the Punic upon the Romans. It widened their
horizon ; it opened up new fields of enterprise, and led to the
point of highest military renown in the history of Switzerland ;
but, at the same time, it admitted fresh dangers and hitherto
unknown temptations, and proved the precursor of an internal
crisis which brought the Confederation to the verge of dissolu-
tion. The generation, which grew up after the Burgundian
period, was corrupted by booty or the lust of it, by the uncer-
tain pay and flattering annuities of Sovereigns who cared
nothing for the real welfare of the Swiss, but only sought to
procure them as mercenaries.

No sooner was the exhilaration of actual warfare a thing of
the past, than the old rivalry between the cities and the coun-
try districts flamed up anew. This time a further cause of
dissension came to light, namely, the dissatisfaction of the
Forest States with the distribution of booty taken in the late
war, and with the tribute exacted from conquered states.

The preponderance of power had been for a long time tend-
ing to pass over to the three cities of the Confederation, in
fact, the leadership of the country districts, if it existed at all,
was purely historical, and the cities, especially Bern, had
undoubtedly managed the campaign against Charles of Bur-
gundy. A number of incidents followed each other in quick
succession which helped to increase the antagonism. In 1477,
some unemployed mercenaries at Carnival time broke forth

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from Zug and overran the country, demanding tribute from
the cities. Even distant Geneva was obliged to pay a good
round sum in order to propitiate this "joyous band of the mad
life", as the adventurers called themselves. Under the plea
that this uproar had received the connivance of the authori-
ties in the country districts, the cities met and formed them-
selves into a separate league with a separate Diet. By entering
into this alliance, Luzern broke that article of her league with
the Forest States, which especially declared that none of the
contracting parties were to make alliances with other powers
except by the permission of the rest. For this broken faith
the Forest Cantons incited the Entlibuch to rebel, a district
held in subjection by Luzern. The rebellion did not suc-
ceed in its object, but served to increase the tension which
already existed between the two parties. Another object of
contention was the admission of Fribourg and Solothurn into
the Confederation, demanded by the cities. The country dis-
tricts, on the other hand, refused, because this addition to the
number of cities would have given them a definite preponder-
ance in the Confederation. A welcome diversion for a mo-
ment drew the attention of the contending parties elsewhere,
to an expedition into Milanese territory, where they gained a
brilliant victory at the little village of Giomico, in 1478. No
sooner was this adventure over, than the quarrel broke out
afresh, with increased violence. It became evident that noth-
ing short of a complete revision of the leagues which bound
together the various States of the Confederation would pre-
vent this Constitutional crisis from developing into Civil war.

An agreement was finally made to hold a Diet at Stans in
the State of Unterwalden. There the grievances of the two
parties could be discussed and a definite solution given to the
questions which were demoralizing the state.

In 148 1, this assembly of delegates drew up a charter, which
was known as "The Covenant of Stans" {Stanser Verkommnis),
but not before the delegates, thus convened, had been several
times upon the point of going apart amid scenes of the great-

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est disorder. It is related by the only contemporary chron-
icler of this famous convention, Diebold Schilling, of Luzern,
that just as the meeting was breaking up without having
reached an agreement, and war seemed inevitable, Nicholas
von der Fllie, a hermit who lived near by at Sachseln, was
asked for advice by the parish priest of Stans; The excited
delegates were persuaded to listen to his words of reconcilia-
tion and peace. In consequence of this intervention the Diet
was not fruitless, for the delegates resumed their labors, and
brought thenr to a successful termination by drawing up the
above-mentioned Covenant. It was agreed that the separate
leagues of the cities should be annulled, and that Fribourg
and Solothurn should be admitted into the Confederation.

Moved by the remembrance of the popular excesses which
had been of frequent occurrence within recent years, the Con-
federates were persuaded to insert into the Covenant two
articles of a restrictive character. " We have also agreed and
determined," says the text, "that hereafter no one amongst
us and in our Confederation shall secretly or openly, in town
or country, hold any unusual, dangerous gatherings, assemblies
or discussions, from which there might result harm, tumult or
mischief to any one, without the will and permission of his
lords and superiors." . . . "And if contrary to this [stip-
ulation], any amongst us should undertake to hold, or give
help, or advice, concerning any such aforesaid dangerous
gatherings, assemblies or discussions, he and those men shall
straightway and without hindrance from their lords and supe-
riors be punished according to their fault." ^

The stipulations of the Covenant of Sempach and the Priest's
Charter were reaffirmed at the end of this document ; and to
familiarize the rising generation with the leagues which bound
the several States to each other, it was agreed that they should
be sworn to every five years.

It is important to note the drift of public opinion at this
time as expressed in the article I have quoted above. The

^ Oechsli, W. Quellenbuch. p. 203.

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repression of popular excesses was undoubtedly within the
province of the constitutional rights of the Confederates, but
to forbid all popular meetings of any sort, all expressions of
the public will, whatever their purport, was to deal a crushing
blow to the democratic principles and practices which had so
far been the chief glory of Switzerland In fact, an aristocratic
wave was passing over the land, due partly to the prepon-
derance of the cities which were governed by powerful mag-
istrates instead of open-air assemblies like the country districts,
and partly to the influence of foreign Courts. As a sign of the
times, therefore, these stipulations of the Covenant are omin-
ous, and prophetic of a certain decay of democracy.

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THE signing of the Covenant of Stans was followed by
about fifteen years of comparative peace, broken only
momentarily by a successful expedition into Milanese terri-
tory, and by the autocratic, and at times violent, career of
Hans Waldmann, now Biirgermeister of Zurich.

In 1449, the reigning tranquility was brought to a close in
an unexpected manner. The Swiss Confederates became
involved in a quarrel with the German emperor himself, a
quarrel which finally resulted in their complete separation
from the empire. Heretofore there had been no thought of
breaking with the traditional allegiance ; on the contrary the
Confederates had always set a great value upon the protection
thus received. But a change in the relations between the two
parties was now imminent.

Of course the Swiss Confederation was originally only one
of many leagues which arose in the course of the thirteenth
century, and its creation was due not to hostility against the
empire, but against the encroachments of Habsburg-Austria.
When, however, all the other leagues gradually sank into
impotence, leaving the Swiss alone to testify to the principles
inherent in such organizations, the latter naturally assumed a
peculiar position within the Empire. Moreover, as the bouse
of Habsburg, the traditional enemy, once more came to the
throne of Germany, the amicable relations between the Swiss
and the sovereign received a severe shock.

Add to this that the Burgundian War had taught the Con-
federates their real strength and self-sufficiency ; that they had


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entered into a close alliance with the King of France, then at
enmity with the German Emperor ; and finally that their dem-
ocratic principles and practices were in continual contrast to
the aristocratic organization of Germany, and we have an
explanation of the movement which, at this time, led to the
separation of Confederates from the Empire of which they
nominally formed a part.

It will be remembered that Maximilian I. carried out a com-
plete reorganization of the Empire at the celebrated Diet of
Worms, in 1495, instituting an Imperial Chamber and new sub-
divisions of the whole country. The Swiss, being still nominal
members of the Empire, were asked to give their acquiescence
to these changes and to subscribe their share to the public
expenses ; but, proud of their independent position, and satisfied
with their own way of governing themselves, the Swiss refused

Online LibraryWilliam Denison McCrackanThe rise of the Swiss republic: A history → online text (page 18 of 32)