Charles was besieging the city of Nancy, capital of Lorraine, following its recapture by the forces of René II in 1476. Despite the harsh winter conditions, Charles was determined to bring the siege to an end at all costs as he was well aware that sooner or later René would arrive with a relieving army when the weather improved.
By late December René had gathered some 10,000-12,000 men from Lorraine and the Lower Union (of the Rhine). A Swiss army of 8,000-10,000 men arrived to help out. René began his advance on Nancy early in January 1477, moving cautiously through the snow-covered landscape until they reached Nancy early on the morning of 5 January. Charles finally learned that René's army was indeed close by and drew up the bulk of his army in a strong defensive position south of Nancy on a heavily wooded slope behind a stream at the narrowest part of the valley down which he knew the Swiss would have to advance. The exact numbers available to Charles are hard to judge, but contemporary observers put the numbers between 2,000 and 8,000, for even his household troops were by this stage well below strength, while most of the Ordonnance companies were at best only 50% of their theoretical strength.
Charles, as usual, deployed his troops to a precise battle plan despite the short notice he received of the approach of René's forces. The infantry companies and dismounted gendarme formed up in a large square formation with some 30 field guns in front at the top of the slope, while on either flank were mounted knights and coutilliers.
If Charles suffered from a lack of scouting, which had cost him so dearly at Morat (Murten) six months earlier, the same could not be said for the Allied army. Despite the driving snow cutting visibility to a few yards, the Allied scouts soon recognized that a frontal assault on the Burgundian position would be disastrous. The largely Swiss vanguard of 7,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry were instructed to attack from the right, while the principal thrust would come from the 8,000 infantry and 1,300 cavalry of the center, which was dispatched on a difficult circuitous march round the left flank, over thickly wooded snow-covered slopes out of view of the waiting Burgundians. The small rearguard of 800 handgunners acted as reserve.