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A village on the lakeshore some 4km north of Yverdon, GRANDSON resonates in the mind of every Swiss schoolchild as the location of one of the three greatest victories ever won by a Swiss army. Its castle – focus of the battle (against Charles of Burgundy in 1476) – now houses one of the best castle museums in the country.
Although a tower was built by Adalbert of Grandson as early as 1050, the main buildings date from 1281, when Otto I of Grandson returned from the Eighth Crusade wealthy enough to build a new castle, a Franciscan cloister in the village and a Carthusian monastery further along the lake near Concise. Otto’s tomb is prominent within Lausanne cathedral.
In 1475, during clashes throughout western Switzerland and eastern France as Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, expanded his territory and influence, the Swiss confederate army besieged the fortress at Grandson for the first time; after less than a month, the Burgundian garrison surrendered and was allowed to escape. Early the following year, on February 26, the Burgundian army under Charles retook the town of Grandson and, on the 28th, the castle. Treacherously, the Swiss garrison of 412 men were hanged from the apple trees in the castle orchard. Two days later, on March 2, the Swiss army marched against Charles, and met him in battle north of Grandson, lining up rank after rank of their feared fusiliers, pikemen and halberdiers. “The sun was opposite them,” reports an eyewitness, “and their weapons sparkled like mirrors. At the same time, the raised bugles and battle-trumpets of Uri and the Luzerner battalion were bellowing, and the din was such that the Duke’s men took fright and began to retreat.” The Swiss had no cavalry to give chase, and so they let most of the Burgundians run away unscathed, only to discover that the Bold Duke had abandoned his vast riches on the battlefield: 400 decorated tents and precious tapestries, countless items of gold and silver, 400 cannon, 10,000 horses, 600 flags, 300 tons of powder … booty totalling several hundred million pounds at today’s value, much of which remains on display in Grandson and other Swiss museums.
Soon afterwards, the Swiss defeated Charles twice more, at Murten and conclusively at Nancy, thus in short order eliminating the principal threat to the French throne and, in at least a small way, permitting France instead of Burgundy to grow as a united imperial force in the centuries following. The château at Grandson, meanwhile, faded from central importance, passing between the governments of Bern, Fribourg and Canton Vaud until its rejuvenation as a museum in the 1980s.
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