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Descriptions of Battles in Fifteenth-Century Urban Chronicles: A Comparison of the Siege of London in May 1471 and the Battle of Grandson, 2 March 1476

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2013

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Summary

… and [the Swiss] kneeled down in order to pray. But the Burgundians did not let them kneel for long, because they thought they were asking for mercy; they rode with all might to them and cried, “You will get no mercy; you all have to die!”

These words were used by the Zürich chronicler, Heinrich Brennwald, to describe the beginning of the battle of Grandson in 1476. We can ask why the author mentioned this specific act of prayer as the beginning of the actual battle. Why did he present the gesture of prayer, and the reaction of the Burgundians to it, in the way he did? The explanation can be divided into three points. First, it served to portray the Swiss as very pious people, since even on the battlefield they fell on their knees to pray so that God would grant them the victory. This gesture of humility and piety gave them an aura of moral superiority – they deserved to win, because they were so faithful to God. Secondly, the reaction of the Burgundians is telling. They did not recognize the gesture of kneeling as an act of prayer. Rather, they misinterpreted it as a sign of surrender. This stands as a symbol for their own lack of piety and faith: good Christians must recognize a prayer when they see it, yet the Burgundians did not. It also gave the impression of their certainty that the victory would be theirs, otherwise they would not have expected the enemy to surrender before the battle had even started.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2011

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