DBA Resource Page

Medieval Armies

Burgundian Ordonnance (1471-1477 AD)
DBA 180

Charles the BoldThis DBA army list covers the army of Charles the Bold (a.k.a. Charles the Rash), Duke of Burgundy, from the first of his military ordinances published in 1471 AD until his defeat and death to the Duke of Lorrainer's Swiss mercenaries in 1477. Valois Burgundy was comprised of a series of disjointed territories stretching approximately 500 miles from the North Sea (including Holland) to Lake Geneva. Roughly the size of Great Britian, it was divided in the middle by the Duchy of Lorraine, with France to the west, the Holy Roman Empire to the East, the Swiss Confederation to the South East, and Savoy to the South.

Charles the Bold assumed the Burgundian throne in 1464 AD and revolted against King Louis XI of France, his leige. He launched a campaign against France in 1465-1468 AD over control of the Somme towns, which were recaptured by the French in 1471 AD. Charles was dissatisfied with his army, and published a series of reforms in 1471-1473 AD designed to create a new, professional force. The army was divided into numbered companies, each 900 strong. Each company was comprised of four squadrons. Each squadron contained 25 of each of the following: men-at-arms, valets, light horse (coustiliers), crossbowmen, pikemen, and handgunners, as well as 75 mounted archers who were trained to dismount and shoot while advancing. Squadons were further subdivided into small tactical units called a lance, which consisted of one gendarme, one page, one man-at-arms, three longbows, one handgun, one crossbow and one pike. Weapons, army and even uniforms were specified, with each footman assigned to wear blue and white surcoat with a St. Andrews Cross. Charles also made extensive use of mercenary condottieri (such as the Cola de Montforte, who contributed 1600 knights, 400 mounted crossbowmen, and 300 light infantry to Charles' campaigns circa 1473-1477) and massed artillery.

With his new army, Charles laid seige to Neuss in the Rhineland in June 1474, arraying 12,000 men and 229 guns against the defenders. A cautious advance by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III with a relief force in May 1475 resulted in negotiations that avoided battle. Charles then turned his attention to the rapid conquest of the Duchy of Lorraine, which was completed on November 30, 1476.

Meanwhile Burgundian expansionism had alarmed Strasbourg and other Rhine towns comprising the Lower Union. They formed an alliance (the League of Constance) with the Upper Union of Swiss Cantons. When Alsace rose in rebellion against Charles' tyrannical governor in April 1474, the League seized this opportunity to declare war on Burgundy. Charles made alliances with Milan and Savoy against the League, but the conquest of Vaud by the Swiss of Berne prevented Charles' Italian allies from reaching him. Outnumbered but confident in the superiority of his army, Charles launched a campaign against the Swiss. This was the beginning of the end for Charles the Bold.

The campaign started well enough. He attacked the castle at Granson in February 1476 and hanged the Swiss garrison after it surrendered. Then he moved his army to Vaumarcus, a region of heavy forests dominated by Mount Aubert. At a point where the wooded slopes overlooked a lake-side road, the Swiss army ambushed the Burgundians while in march column. Charles suffered only light casualties, but lost his baggage and over 400 artillery pieces.

The Burgundians regrouped at Lausanne, receiving 8000 reinforcements from Flanders, and set forth to attack Murten, on the road to Bern. Charles lay seige to the city on June 11, 1476 and began preparations for a decisive battle with the anticipated Swiss relieving force. He constructed a pallisade and ditch field fortification (the Grunhag) to be manned by archers, handgunners, and some artillery. The balance of his artillery was placed on the left flank in position to sweep the flank of the advancing Swiss. The Burgundian cavalry was assigned to the right flank as a reserve to deliver the knock-out blow. Unfortunately for Charles, the Swiss were able to rapidly muster 25,000 men and force-march them to the field. The Swiss moved in concealment through the wooded Birchenwald to within a mile of the Burgundian position and attacked immediately upon arrival. The Burgundians were dispersed in their camps enjoying lunch, and did not expect the sudden attack. The Grunhag was lightly defended and the bulk of the Burgundian army was forced to deploy piecemeal into their assigned positions as the battle developed. The Swiss pike and halbardiers easily repulsed piecemeal Burgundian cavalry charges and quickly overran the Grunhag. The disorganized Burgundians found themselves caught between the advancing Swiss, a large lake, and the garrison of Murten in their rear. The Swiss gave no quarter, and Charles lost a third of his army and over 400 pieces of artillery.

Emboldened by the Burgundian setback, Duke Rene of Lorraine recaptured his capital at Nancy. An understrength attempt by Charles (October 6, 1476) to recoup Nancy was easily repulsed. The Duke of Lorraine then recruited Swiss mercenaries and town militias to form an army of 20,000. Charles attempted to block the Lorrainer's advance near Nancy in early 1471 with 7000 men and artillery. In the ensuing battle, he was assailed in overwhelming numbers on both flanks. The Burgundian army broke and Charles was killed in the subsequent rout; his frozen body being found after the battle in a pond half devoured by wolves. Charles' death marks the end of this DBA army list.

Enemies

Charles made enemies of the Later Swiss (161b), the Low Countries (167), the Later Imperialists (167), and the French Ordonnance (179).

Army Composition

3x3Kn/4Bd Burgundian and French gendarmes.
1x3Kn Gendarmes too haughty to dismount.
1x2LH Coustiliers
4x4Lb Presumeably these are Charles' dismounted archers, and would have been primarily armed with longbow and/or crossbow. Ken Blackely suggests depicting the four archer elements as either three longbows and one crossbow or four longbows. Charles also hired German handgonners, who might be mixed in for variety.
2x4Pk The classic lowland pikemen of Holland, Flanders and the Netherlands.
1xArt Large bombards for use in seiges and smaller veuglaires, crapadeux, serpentines, and culverins for use in the field. Reputedly, Charles was able to devise mobile carriages for his artillery.


Tactics

Historically, the Burgundian army of Charles the Bold is thought of as an under-achiever. Based on a combined arms doctrine of foot, horse and mobile artillery that presaged the Napoleonic era, the Burgundian army was designed to fight on open ground in flexible formations that employed both heavy firepower and shock troops. Although impressive in theory, Charles' tactical doctrines failed in practice, in part because of Charles' aggressiveness and overconfidence (especially toward the Swiss, whom he referred to as those "beastish people"). The Burgundian army was frequently employed in difficult country in unfavorable circumstances. The quality of Swiss infantry certainly had something to say about it as well.

DBA rules system does not reflect well the mixed character of Burgundian companies. The DBA Burgundian Ordannance list, however, requires considerable mastery in use of combined arms. The dismountable Knights provide both a strong shock force and/or a steady infantry core, which can be reenforced by the Burgundian pike. Four elements of archers make the army a real threat to enemy horse, while single elements of Light Horse and Artillery provide for interesting specialist roles.

The Burgundian Ordannance list mirrors the composition of its historical opponents, although the proportions of any given troop type vary from army to army. Against the Low Countries, for example, the Burgundians can dismount their Blades or use their extended lines to outflank the Low Country pike. Against the Later Swiss, a better tactic might be to focus the Burgundian Knights against the Swiss Blades and Psiloi, especially if the Knight Quick-Kill vs. Blades variant rule is in effect. Against the Later Imperials, Burgundian Bow can be used to neutralize the German Knights, leaving the Burgundian Knights and Blades to chase after the German Crossbow and Psiloi. Against the French Ordonnance, who have a multitude of options, the best strategic advice is to roll high. One challenge for the Burgundian commander is how to effectively use the single Artillery element.

Camp

A medieval pavillion, an encampment with camp followers, animals and weapons-racks, or even simple baggage makes an appropriate camp for a Burgundian army.

Miniatures

This is an interesting army to model, being comprised of a variety of troop types including handgonners and other specialists. Essex sells a DBA Burgundian Ordonnance army package comprised of their generic medieval troops, which consists of the following blisters:

1xMER53 (General); 3xMER12 (Kn.), 3xMER49 (Kn.), 3xMER50 (Kn.), 3xMER51 (Kn.), 2xMER27 (LH --mtd. crossbowmen), 16xMER25 (Lb.--mtd. archer on foot firing), 8xMER40 (Pk), 2xMer48 (Artillerymen), 1xMFPE3 (Light Cannon).

Other Resources

NEW! Medieval Burgundy, 1364-1477 (Men-at-Arms144), by Nicholas Michael (Stackpole Books, Nov. 1983) contains color plates and background information for the wargamer.

Ken Blackley's Charles the Bold page pays tribute to the Burgundian Ordonannace as a wargames army.

Ian Croxall's outstanding Warflag site includes free printable Burgundian banners and pennants.

The Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on Burgundian History.


| Top of Page | DBA Resource Page |


Comments, questions or suggested additions to this page can be sent to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.

Last Updated: March 16, 2002