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In late 1476, despite earlier defeats at Grandson and Murten, Duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy moved to besiege the city of Nancy which had been taken by Duke Rene II of Lorraine earlier in the year. Fighting severe winter weather, the Burgundian army encircled the city and Charles hoped to win a swift victory as he knew Rene to be gathering a relief force. Despite the siege conditions, the garrison at Nancy remained active and sortied against the Burgundians. In one foray, they succeeded in capturing 900 of Charles's men.
Outside the city walls, Charles's situation was made more complicated by the fact that his army was not linguistically unified as it possessed Italian mercenaries, English archers, Dutchmen, Savoyards, as well as his Burgundian troops. Acting with financial support from Louis XI of France, Rene succeeded in assembling 10 to 12,000 men from Lorraine and the Lower Union of the Rhine. To this force, he added 10,000 Swiss mercenaries. Moving deliberately, Rene began his advance on Nancy in early January. Marching through the winter snows, they arrived south of the city on the morning of Jan. 5, 1477.
The Battle of Nancy
Moving swiftly, Charles began deploying his smaller army to meet the threat. Making use of the terrain, he positioned his army across a valley with a small stream to its front. While his left was anchored on the River Meurthe, his right rested on an area of thick woods. Arranging his troops, Charles positioned his infantry and thirty field guns in the center with his cavalry on the flanks. Assessing the Burgundian position, Rene and his Swiss commanders decided against a frontal assault believing that it could not succeed.
Instead, the decision was made to have the largely Swiss vanguard (Vorhut) move forward to attack Charles's left, while the center (Gewalthut) swung to the left through the forest to attack the enemy right. After a march that lasted around two hours, the center was in position slightly behind Charles's right. From this location, the Swiss alpenhorns sounded three times and Rene's men charged down through the woods. As they slammed into Charles's right, his cavalry succeeded in driving off their Swiss opposites, but his infantry was soon overwhelmed by superior numbers.
As Charles desperately began shifting forces to realign and reinforce his right, his left was driven back by Rene's vanguard. With his army collapsing, Charles and his staff frantically worked to rally their men but with no success. With the Burgundian army in mass retreat toward Nancy, Charles was swept along until his party was surrounded by a group of Swiss troops. Attempting to fight their way out, Charles was struck in the head by a Swiss halberdier and killed. Falling from his horse, his body was found three days later. With the Burgundians fleeing, Rene advanced to Nancy and lifted the siege.
While the casualties for the Battle of Nancy are not known, with Charles's death the Burgundian Wars effectively came to an end. Charles's Flemish lands were transferred to the Hapsburgs when Archduke Maximilian of Austria married Mary of Burgundy. The Duchy of Burgundy reverted to French control under Louis XI. The performance of the Swiss mercenaries during the campaign further bolstered their reputation as superb soldiers and led to their increased use across Europe.