Switzerland is well-known for its neutrality during the 20th century's two world wars, a fact that has obscured its previous reputation as having the toughest armies in all of Europe. In fact, through most of the second millennium when neighboring European countries required a little "outsourcing" to meet their military needs, the Swiss were everybody's first choice. Who did the Vatican turn to when it needed protection for the Pope? That's right, the Swiss Guards.

But tough as they were as hired swords, Swiss fighters were even better on their home grounds. Take the poor Duke of Burgundy a.k.a. Charles the Bold, a land grabbing Frenchman. In the late winter of 1476, he and an army of 30,000 showed up at the little town of Grandson near Lake Neuchâtel and made short, bloody work of a tiny Swiss garrison. Bad idea. Two days later the army of the Swiss Confederation, 18,000 strong, rolled in and showed 'ol Chuck how the sow ate the kraut. Not only did the Swiss kick a whole lot of French rear-end, they kept the Bold's artillery and his money.

But being Charles the Dumb as well as the Bold, he hitched up his pants, hired a new army and three months later went after another small Swiss town. This time it was the walled city of Murten to which he laid siege. Not for long, however. The Swiss Army, though not yet equipped with those many bladed Victorinox knives, came to the rescue on June 22, 1476, and this time they weren't fooling around. Nearly 8,000 Burgundian soldiers were killed, many drowning in the only possible avenue of escape, Lake Murten (the breast stroke is not so easy when you're wearing armor). According to the Michelin Green Guide for Switzerland, the Duke survived but "a rich booty of fabrics, furs, and arms fell into the hands of the victors."

In Murten, they still talk about this great battle that saved the city. Each June 22nd there is a celebration and in the town's Historical Museum one can see some of the actual armor and weapons used at the battle. Much of what is displayed was captured from the French.

Grandson, site of the earlier battle, is about 80 minutes by train from Murten.

Charles the Bold? The following year, the Swiss bumped into him again at Nancy and he became Charles the Deceased.

January 2000