William Denison McCrackan.

The rise of the Swiss republic: A history online

. (page 10 of 32)
Online LibraryWilliam Denison McCrackanThe rise of the Swiss republic: A history → online text (page 10 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

strained. One point, however, is clear, and that is, that the
conflict was in regard to land, that it turned upon the vital
question of land tenure, which, was the characteristic feature
of the struggle for independence in Schwiz, if not in the other
Forest States.

Habsburg's exasperation was now complete. The failure
of the investigation ordered by Henry VII., and now this
unpardonable behavior of Schwiz, made a peaceful solution
impossible. Day by day the conviction forced itself upon the
parties involved, that the relations which existed between
them would not continue, and that the final decision must be
reached in a resort to arms. Of course this particular strug-
gle was only an incident in a much wider conflict, which was
going on everywhere at this time, between the peasants and
the nobles. Each side followed the dictates of self-interest,

* Rilliet, A. Origines. p. 167 and 373.

Digitized by



with no more reference to general principles of equity than we
find to-day amongst semi-barbaric nations, so that it would be
unfair to stigmatize the conduct of the ducal house as tyran-
nicaly and to exalt that of the peasants unreservedly as holy
and righteous. Undoubtedly the patriots were fighting for
the good cause of popular liberty, but Habsburg at the same
time thought itself justified by law in resisting their attempts
at independence.

Digitized by




BOTH sides made rejidy for the struggle. In the autumn of
1315 Duke Leopold, the King's brother, rallied around
him a formidable army in the Aargau, composed of vassal
Knights, and infantry recruited from the towns subject to him.
Says Johannes Vitoduranus (of Winterthur), a contemporary
chronicler, to whom we are indebted for the best account of the
battle of Morgarten : " The men of this army came together
with one purpose, to utterly subdue and humiliate those peas-
ants who were surrounded with mountains as with walls." ^

Leopold's plan of attack was in every way an admirable one,
but carelessly executed. His main force was to march upon
Schwiz, over the low Sattel pass, skirting the ridge of Morgar-
ten, while minor detachments operated against Unterwalden,
so as to involve these two States in a network from which
there could be no escape.

In the meantime the Confederates had not been idle.
King Ludwig had so far espoused their cause as to publicly
announce their right to the immunity, and to annul the decree
of political interdict launched against them by Frederic, as
punishment for the raid of Schwiz upon Einsiedeln. But
Ludwig gave them no material aid, and they knew well that
his moral support merely would avail them nothing, sur-
rounded as they were on all sides by the subjects of Habsburg.
The Confederates, therefore, looked to their frontier defences,
and got ready their famous halberds, formidable weapons of

1 Oechsli, W. Quellenbuch. p. 54.


Digitized by



their own invention, to be used in striking, thrusting, as well as
dragging men from their horses ; nor did they forget, accord-
ing to the chronicler, to ofifer public prayers for heavenly aid,
according to immemorial custom, on the eve of any great

Morgarten is not a terrifying, craggy Alpine pass, as pop-
ular imagination has painted it, but is a ridge of hills, situated
in the rolling country north of the village of Schwiz. If the
scenery can be said to be remarkable at all, it is by reason of
a certain gentle charm, due to the absence of the higher Alps,
and the softness of the velvet slopes.

On the isth of November, the forces of Schwiz, with rein-
forcements from Uri and Unterwalden, were posted on the
Sattel Pass, to dispute the passage of the Austrians. The
main force of the Austrian Knights advanced along the road
which skirts the Leake of Aegeri, riding toward Schwiz in the
best of spirits. They jested as though out for a day's sport,
never for one moment doubting that they would return victori-
ous, in fact, they were so sure of plunder, that their attendants
had provided themselves with ropes in order to lead away the
captured cattle.

There are certain topographical details which must be
clearly understood, if the course of the battle is to be at all

At the other end of the lake, where the Confederates were
posted, the old path which was in use at the time of the battle,
branches off to the left of the modern carriage road, leading
along the slope of Morgarten to join the modern road again at
an old piece of fortification, called the Tower of Schorno.
This old path alone can reveal the secret of the victory of the

As the knights were'riding up this path, weighed down by
heavy accoutrements, their line of battle necessarily broken,
they came to a spot which suddenly placed them at a grea|
disadvantage, if they should be attacked. Behind them was
the steep path which they had mounted, on their right flank a

Digitized by



detached hillock, and on their left the ridge of Morgarten.
Here the battle must have been fought, if the early accounts
of the course of events are to have any meaning. When thus
hemmed in, the Austrians suddenly heard a loud, roaring noise
and looking up, bieheld an avalanche of rocks and trees rolling
down upon them from the Figlerfluh, a prominent spur of the
ridge of Morgarten. A somewhat mistrusted tradition ascribes
this first blow to a detachment of fifty men of Schwiz, who
had been banished from their country, and were desirous of
proving their loyalty by ;some act of patriotism. Be that as it
may, the e£fect of their plan was instantaneous ; the Austrians
were thrown into the wildest confusion, and at this moment,
the main force of the Confederates rushed from their positions
further up the path, swinging their deadly halberds, and
hurled themselves against the invaders with a momentum
made irresistible by their descent. Unable to deploy their
mounted force in this natural trap, the Austrians were obliged
to }rield in the direction of the lake, whence they had come.
The retreat turned into flight, the battle into slaughter.
Some were crushed by the falling masses, some hewn down,
and others crowded into the lake, where they were drowned in
their armor; the rest fled to the friendly shelter of the towns,
which were under Austria's protection.

Amongst the Knights who reached Winterthur that night,
our chronicler, Johannes Vitoduranus, saw: "Lupoid, who
seemed half-dead with overpowering sorrow. That I saw with
my own eyes," he assures us, "for I was a schoolboy at that
time, and ran in great glee to meet my father at the gate, with
other, older schoolboys." ^

Many a noble family in Austrian lands mourned a father,
son or brother, on that day, but the loss of the Confederates
was insignificant.

"When the fight was over, the men of Schwiz pulled off the
wei^ons of the killed and drowned, robbed them also of their
fj/Hbtr possessions, and enriched themselves with arms and

^ Oechsli, W. Quellenbuch. p. 55.

Digitized by



money. " In order to commemorate the victory, a chapel was
erected near by, dedicated to St. Jacob, where a rude, but
exceedingly graphic picture of the battle now hangs.

Morgarten was one of the first occasions in the Middle
Ages, perhaps the very first, on which any army of mounted
Knights was conquered by peasants on foot ; so that for this
reason, if for no other, it deserves an important place in the
annals of military tactics. The Bernese chronicler, Justinger,
supplies an anecdote which, if true, shows that one person,
at least, in the Austrian camp was not without apprehensions.
Jenni von Stocken, the duke's fool, when asked what he
thought of the plan of invasion, remarked that he did not like
it : " You have all taken counsel how best to get into the coun-
try, but have given no explanation of how you are going to get
out again ! " ^

As in the perpetual league of 1291 we heralded the birth of
the Swiss Confederation, so in this battle we must recognize
its martial baptismal day. Henceforth the union of the Forest
States was admitted to membership in the company of the
nations, modest newcomers, occupying humble positions, but
none the less worthy of admiration and respect.

The din of battle had barely subsided when, on the 9th of
December, 131 5, the Confederates hastened to renew their
first league at the village of Brunnen. Nothing more beauti-
ful could be imagined than the surroundings amid which this
document was signed, in the angle formed by the abrupt turn
which the Lake of Luzem takes to the south, where it opens
out into an arm known as the Lake of Uri.

This second league made no change in the general policy of
the Confederation, but rather served to accentuate the princi-
ples previously enunciated. Thus, after repeating that every
man should obey his overlord, exception is made of << those
lords or that lord who shall attack one of the Lands with vio-
lence, or force unjust exactions ; such an one or such men shall
not be served as long as they have not given satisfaction to tfre

iD&ndliker, K. Geschichte. Vol. I., p. 39<-

Digitized by



Lands." An important provision is the following: ''We have
also agreed that none of the Lands, nor any one amongst the
Confederates [here the German name Eidgenosse appears for
the first time] shall give an oath or pledge to a foreigner with-
out the advice of the other Lands or Confederates." ^

As for King Ludwig, as soon as he saw that the Forest
States had given proof of such unexpected powers when aban-
doned to their own resources, he promptly annulled all of
Habsburg*s rights in Uri, Schwiz, and Unterwalden, whether
administrative or proprietary, and confirmed all their charters
of immunity.

Three years after the battle the Dukes of Austria decided to
make peace with the Confederates. Indeed they wefe so hope-
lessly involved in a life and death struggle with King Ludwig,
that they saw no immediate chance of avenging themselves
for the defeat which they had sustained at Morgarten.
Accordingly, the Dukes of Austria formally renounced all
administrative rights within the three States, maintaining,
however, their ancient estates with the serfs and revenues
appertaining to them, in spite of Ludwig's act, which was
intended to deprive them of proprietary rights as well. Provi-
sion was made for debts contracted before and during the war.
The Confederates, on their side, bound themselves not to
form any alliances injurious to the interests of Austria.
They guaranteed safe passage for all men through their terri-
tory, and stipulated that the same should be accorded to them
on the roads leading through the Austrian lands which sur-
rounded them.

Seven times were these articles of peace renewed, until, in
1323, they were allowed to lapse, without this fact, however,
leading to immediate hostilities.

At this point we have reached the first stage in the rise of
the Swiss Confederation. We have seen three separate com-
munities, different in their origin and development, but one in
their interests, growing side by side into vigorous democracies,

1 Oechsli, W. Quellenbuch p. 56.

Digitized by



then uniting in an indissoluble bond, and finally defeating in
battle the hereditary foe who had refused to acknowledge their
independent position in the German Empire. We have been
impressed throughout by the sobriety and moderation of the
patriots, above all by their marvelous patience in adversity.

The next stage is to be the growth of this primitive league
into a powerful Confederation by the adherence of other sov-
ereign communities.

Digitized by




THE Confederates did not lapse into inactivity after their
victory at Morgarten, nor were they deceived as to the
enemy's ultimate intentions by the temporary cessation of
hostilities which followed that battle. No sooner, therefore,
had the conditions of peace expired in 1323, than they cast
about for allies amongst the communities in their neighbor-
hood, whose aspirations for independence were being opposed
by Habsburg.

In this emergency they turned to Luzern, a small city at
that time, growing into comparative importance on account
of its connection with the pass over the St. Gothard. In-
deed the union of the three States to Luzern was, in a
sense, a physical necessity. The waters of the lake served
both as a natural bond, and also as a convenient highway
for their commerce — the lake being, in fact, called the
Vierwaldstdttersee^ or the Lake of the Four Forest States.
They were mutually dependent upon each other's good will
for whatever measure of trade they might acquire, so that
it was no difficult matter to convert their commercial bond
into a political one, resting on the surest of foundations, a
community of interests. On the 7th of November, 1832, a
perpetual league was concluded between the Schultheiss,
Council and Burghers of the city of Luzern and the people
of Uri, Schwiz, and Unterwalden. The original document is
not extant ; its contents are only known from copies.

After a preamble, which reads like that prefixed to the


Digitized by



league of 131 5, the contracting parties engage under oath
to help each other in certain specified ways. It is first
expressly stipulated that Austria's rights in Luzem and those
of the Emperor in Uri, Schwiz, and Unterwalden shall be
respected as heretofore. In case, however, one of the Four
States is unjustly treated by foes from without or within,
the injured parties shall meet under oath, and the majority of
them shall decide whether the injury is such as to require
the help of the Confederates. Should this be the case,
the threatened States shall issue a warning call {Mahnung)
to the others, and the latter shall be bound to go to the
rescue, without investigating the case for themselves, and at
their own expense. Difficulties between the Confederates
shall be settled by arbitration, "the best and wisest" being
selected as judges. An important provision declares that
no separate alliance shall be contracted without the permis>
sion of all the Confederates.^

Documentary evidence of a later date tends to show that
the little semi-independent villages of Gersau, Weggis, and
Vitznau, at the foot of the Rigi, also joined the league at
this time, although they are not mentioned in the document.

Rude and unpolished as are some of the terms contained
in this document, they speak unmistakably for the wisdom
of the contracting parties. The rights of the individual
States were carefully maintained, their private affairs left
untouched, while, at the same time, a firm union between them
was established through which their common interests were
guarded. The result was a federal organization which could
be safely counted upon to withstand external pressure and
internal dissensions. Especially is that rule to be commended
which forbade the contracting parties to enter into separate
alliances without the permission of all the Confederates. Had
this rule been observed by members which joined the Confed-
eration after Luzem, some of the saddest and most humiliating
chapters in Swiss history would never have had to be written,

^Oechsli, W. Quellenbuch. p. 71.

Digitized by



Luzern owes its origin to a colony of monks from the
Alsacian Abbey of Murbach, who, about the middle of the
eighth century, founded a little monastery in honor of St.
Ledger on the bank of the Reuss, at the point where that river
leaves the lake. Around this nucleus there grew up a city
bearing the name of Luzerren, or Luciaria, in the documents.
It was at one time supposed that a Roman lighthouse (lucema)
had stood here, but there is no evidence of a Roman settle-
ment, and a more reasonable interpretation of the name seems
to be that of Leodegar's-Ern, contracted into Luzern, meaning
Ledger's farm.

Luzern, being the property of the Abbey of Murbach, was
an example of a city under ecclesiastical rule. As such it
possessed the Reichsunmittelbarkeit. The Abbot governed in
the name of the empire and by means of his representative,
a Mayor or Ammann, who collected tithes and tried minor
offences, while the more important ones were in charge of the
Steward of Murbach, an office held since 1239, conjointly with
that of the Count of Aargau, by the elder branch of the house
of Habsburg. The Steward administered justice through
an Underbailiff, resident at Rothenburg, and was probably
also represented in the city by a magistrate, known as the

It was the aim of every city, whether subject to secular or
ecclesiastical rulers, to attain complete self-government. In
this all were not successful, nor was there any uniformity in
the manner of procedure, but there were certain steps which
all alike were obliged to take. One was to obtain a charter,
a Handfeste or Brief, Sometimes this privilege had been
granted when the city was founded; in that case the task
of liberation became all the easier. Another step was to con-
stitute a council {Rath), and to elect a presiding officer, called
Biirgermeister or Schultheiss. From this point of vantage the
citizens could then wrest farther rights from their rulers until
they became entirely self-governing.

In general, Swiss cities advanced much further in the path

Digitized by



of independence than the majority of cities in other parts of
the German Empire. They grew to be veritable republics.
Their sovereignty, when once attained, not only gave them
perfect freedom in all municipal matters, but also clothed
them with powers which are generally reserved for national
governments. In their markets they had their own commer-
cial regulations, used their own weights and measures, coined
their own money, contracted alliances, declared war, or
remained neutral as they chose, and finally possessed their own
seals, as expressions of undisputed sovereignty. It is obvious,
however, that at any given time there would be the greatest
diversity amongst the cities, according to the stage which they
had reached on the road to self-government, and that the
value of a particular city in the general struggle of the people
against the nobles would depend very much upon the degree
of independence it could command.

At the time of Luzern's entry into the Confederation, the
citizens had already acquired certain important rights and priv-
ileges. During the struggle between the empire and the
papacy, about 1245, ^^^V ^^^ joined issue with Schwiz and
Obwalden against the house of Habsburg. In 1252 they
obtained a charter, the so-called "Sworn Brief", thus making
their first decisive advance on the road toward self-govern-
ment. Little by little the process of emancipation unfolded
itself. When, in 1273, Rudolf of Habsburg ascended the
throne, he gave his royal sanction to the privileges Luzera
already possessed, and added others of importance.

Suddenly, however, the prospect which had appeared so
bright, became clouded over, for in 129 1, a few months before
his death, Rudolf bought for his sons all the possessions of the
Abbey of Murbach lying on this side of the Rhine, including
also Luzern and adjacent estates. For this he paid the finan-
cially embarrassed Abbot Berchtold the sum of 2000 marks in
silver, and gave up to him a few villages in Elsass. Some of
the older Swiss historians have maintained that the Abbot had
given the citizens a promise never to alienate them from him-

Digitized by



self. It is very difficult, at this distance of time, to ascertain
the truth in regard to this, but, as there is a complete lack of
contemporary evidence, modem historians have been inclined
to doubt the existence of any such promise. Be that as it
may, the change in Luzem's condition caused by this pur-
chase was decidedly for the worse, since the city thereby lost
the rights of immunity, and virtually became the personal
property of the Dukes of Austria. All advance in the direc-
tion of self-government was stopped for a time. In 13 15, the
citizens were obliged by their Austrian masters to take part
against the Three Forest States at the battle of Morgarten,
although it is not known that they had any fighting to do on
that occasion. But the unexpected success of the peasants
against the Austrian knights, revived the drooping courage of
the burghers and animated them with new hopes. A party
was formed within the city whose ultimate object was union
with the Three States, and whose immediate efforts were
directed toward acquiring the right of electing the whole of
the Council and its presiding officer, the Schultheiss. Their
reforms were but half attained when the perpetual league of
1332 was concluded with Uri, Schwiz and Unterwalden.

In view of this bold stroke of Luzem, it is not surprising
that the Dukes of Austria should have made every effort to
punish the rebellious burghers. A desultory warfare ensued,
made intermittent by the struggle which Duke Albrecht was
waging with Adolf of Nassau for the crown. In the end the
citizens were brought into subjection, but their alliance with
Uri, Schwiz, and Unterwalden remained intact, as far as can
be ascertained from the meagre tidings of the conflict which
have reached us.

Another danger menaced Luzem in 1343, this time from
within. It appears that a party was organized in opposition
to what we may call the patriotic one, with the purpose of
destroying the league and bringing the city once more under
Austria's sway. Little is known of this movement from docu-
mentary evidence. The chronicler, Etterlin, in his "Kronika

Digitized by



von der loblichen Eidgnoschaft/' relates the following story,
showing how the designs of the conspirators were frustrated
by the patriotism of a boy who overheard their deliberations.
Whatever may be the untrustworthiness of this incident from
a strictly historical standpoint, it is not devoid of a picturesque

The conspirators were holding a conclave in a vault under
the Tailor's Guild house, when a boy happened to pass that
way. "Hearing the sound of muttering," writes Etterlin,
<'and the clashing of arms, he was afraid and thought the
place haunted, and turned to flee ; but some men gave chase,
and held him fast. They threatened his life, that he should
tell no man what he had seen. He promised and went with
them. And thus he heard their deliberations. And when no
one more gave heed unto him, he quietly crept from thence,
went up the steps by the house of the tailors into the street, and
looked about if he might see a light. This he saw in the Guild
room of the butchers, where the men were wont to sit up later
than in other rooms. He went in and saw many men drinking
and playing. Here he sat him down behind the stove, and
began to say: 'Oh! stove, stove!* But no one gave heed
unto him. Then cried he again : ' Oh I stove, stove I May I
speak ? * The men now became aware of his presence, mocked
him, and thought him mad, and asked him who he was, and
what he wanted. ' Oh ! nothing, nothing,' was his answer.
Then began he a third time and said : ' Oh ! stove, stove I I must
make my complaint to thee, since I may speak to no man —
to-night there are men gathered under the great vault at the
comer, who are going to commit murder.' As soon as the
men heard that, they ran out in haste, gave the alarm, made
prisoners of the conspirators, and forced them to swear
fealty." ^

The above episode in the history of Luzern is known as the
Night of the Massacre {Mordnacht), Recent Swiss historians
are inclined to regard it as legendary, on account of its close

1 Dandliker, K. Geschichte. p. 423.

Digitized by



resemblance to a whole collection of German legends. Be that
as it may, there can be no doubt that Luzern at the time under
consideration passed through an internal crisis of some sort
which resulted in the triumph of the patriotic party.

The league of the Four Forest States had now resisted suc-
cessfully the assaults of the enemy from without and within.
Its maintenance was, therefore, more than ever assured. With

Online LibraryWilliam Denison McCrackanThe rise of the Swiss republic: A history → online text (page 10 of 32)