This series has four easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Duke of Burgundy’s Climatic Battle.
Burgundy may have been just a duchy but occupying territory in eastern France from the North Sea to Switzerland made it a major power in Europe. Duke Charles the Bold had got the better of the King of France. Now he was ready to expand his power and his territory.
This selection is from The Reign of Louis XI 1461-83 by Philippe De Comines published in 1524. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
This selection’s author Philippe de Comines was a French statesman and historian, who, after being for a time in the service of Charles the Bold, went over to Louis and became his personal counselor. He was therefore intimately versed in the history of these times.
The Duke of Lorraine and his army of Germans broke up from St. Nicholas, and advanced toward the Duke of Burgundy, with a resolution to give him battle. The Count of Campobasso joined them that very day, and carried off with him about eightscore men-at-arms; and it grieved him much that he could do his master no greater mischief. The garrison of Nancy had intelligence of his design, which in some measure encouraged them to hold out; besides, another person had got over the works, and assured them of relief, otherwise they were just upon surrendering, and would have capitulated in a little time, had it not been for the treachery of this Count; but God had determined to finish this mystery.
The Duke of Burgundy, having intelligence of the approach of the Duke of Lorraine’s army, called a kind of council, contrary to his custom, for generally he followed his own will. It was the opinion of most of his officers that his best way would be to retire to Pont-à-Mousson, which was not far off, and dispose his army in the towns about Nancy; affirming that, as soon as the Germans had thrown a supply of men and provisions into Nancy, they would march off again; and the Duke of Lorraine being in great want of money, it would be a great while before he would be able to assemble such an army again; and that their supplies of provisions could not be so great but, before half the winter was over, they would be in the same straits as they were now; and that in the mean time the Duke might raise more forces and recruit himself; for I have been told by those who ought to know best, that the Duke of Burgundy’s army did not then consist of full four thousand men, and of that number not above one thousand two hundred were in a condition to fight. Money he did not want; for in the castle of Luxembourg — which was not far off — there were in ready cash four hundred fifty thousand crowns, which would have raised men enough. But God was not so merciful to him as to permit him to take this wise counsel or discern the vast multitude of enemies who on every side surrounded him. Therefore he chose the worst plan, and, like a rash and inconsiderate madman, resolved to try his fortune, and engage the enemy with his weak and shattered army, notwithstanding the Duke of Lorraine had a numerous force of Germans, and the King’s army was not far off.
As soon as the Count of Campobasso arrived in the Duke of Lorraine’s army, the Germans sent him word to leave the camp immediately, for they would not entertain such traitors among them. Upon which message he retired with his party to Condé, a castle and pass not far off, where he fortified himself with carts and other things as well as he could, in hopes that, if the Duke of Burgundy were routed, he might have an opportunity of coming in for a share of the plunder, as he did afterward. Nor was this practice with the Duke of Lorraine the most execrable action that Campobasso was guilty of; but, before he left the army, he conspired with several other officers — finding it was impracticable to attempt anything against the Duke of Burgundy’s person — to leave him just as they came to the charge; for at that time he supposed it would put the army into the greatest terror and consternation; and if the Duke fled, he was sure he could not escape alive, for he had ordered thirteen or fourteen sure men, some to run as soon as the Germans came up to charge them, and others to watch the Duke of Burgundy and kill him in the rout; which was well enough contrived, for I myself have seen two or three of those who were thus employed to kill the Duke. Having thus settled his conspiracy at home, he went over to the Duke of Lorraine upon the approach of the German army; but, finding they would not entertain him, he retired to Condé, as I said before.
The German army marched forward, and with them a considerable body of French horse, whom the King had given leave to be present in that action. Several parties lay in ambush not far off, that, if the Duke of Burgundy were routed, they might surprise some person of quality or take some considerable booty. By this everyone may see into what a deplorable condition this poor Duke had brought himself by his contempt of good counsel. Both armies being joined, the Duke of Burgundy’s forces, which had been twice beaten before, and were weak and ill-provided besides, were quickly broken and entirely defeated. Many saved themselves by flight; the rest were either taken or killed; and among them the Duke of Burgundy himself was killed on the spot. Not having been in the battle myself, I will say nothing of the manner of his death; but I was told by some that they saw him beaten down, but, being prisoners themselves, were not able to assist him; yet, while they were in sight, he was not killed, but a great body of men coming that way afterward, they killed and stripped him in the throng, not knowing who he was. This battle was fought on January 5, 1476, upon the eve of Twelfth-day.
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