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The rise of the Swiss republic: A history online

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West of what is now Switzerland joined hands against a
common enemy.

Not that the struggle against the coalition was qnded, how-
ever, for a desultory warfare was maintained until 1342, when
peace was definitely established with the Dukes of Austria.

Finally, in 1353, came the admission of Bern into the Swiss
Confederation. A perpetual league was concluded with Uri,
Schwiz, and Unterwalden; Zurich and Luzern alone, of the
other States, taking any part in the contract.

The document setting forth the agreements made on this
occasion was copied in part from the league concluded between
the Forest States and Zurich. Minute regulations were estab-

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BERN. 161

lished to govern the issuing of a warning call, in case of dan-
ger. There was also a provision, resembling the one in the
Zurich league, which virtually pledged the Forest States to
guarantee the inviolability of Bernese territory, although Bern
itself made no corresponding promise to them. It was only
another case of short-sighted injustice on the part of the early
Confederates, due, in a great measure, to Bern's superior diplo-
macy and prestige.

As for the rest, the general tenor of this document indicated
the city's desire not to bind itself too closely to the policy of
the allies, but rather to allow a wide margin for plans of its
own. Zurich and Luzem were not admitted directly into this
league, but it was agreed that in case the Forest States were
called upon to help Zurich or Luzem, they might also issue a
summons to Bern.

For the present, Bern's entrance into the Confederation did
not lead to ^ great results. The city took care not to become
embroiled in the intermittent struggle which Zurich and the
Forest States were waging against Austria, and at times even
against the emperor himself; a struggle which had not yet
come to an end, but was destined to be crowned by a triumph
of such brilliancy as to startle the medieval world.

Bern thus closed the list of the Eight States which com-
posed the early Confederation. One hundred and twenty-
eight years were to elapse before another member was

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WAR begets war, and victory provokes retaliation.
Duke Albrecht was not satisfied with the manner
in which certain articles of the treaty of Brandenburg were
carried out, and, therefore, lodged complaints with the reign-
ing King, Charles IV., desiring him to interfere in his
behalf. As a result the latter twice appeared in person at
Zurich, in 1353 and 1354, in order to bring about an under-
standing between Austria and the Confederation. His
efforts were all in vain. The citizens of Zurich and the
delegates of the Forest States there assembled, received him
with all the honors due to the sovereign of the empire, but
the negotiations failed to produce satisfactory results. The
demands urged by Albrecht's councillors,, proved altogether
unreasonable, and, if accepted, would have rendered null and
void all the charters and leagues upon which the Confeder-
ation was based. Seeing that peaceful means were of no
avail, Charles IV. and Albrecht prepared to lay seige to Zurich.
It was a critical moment in the history of the Confeder-
ates, for they had arrayed against them, not only the forces
of their traditional enemy, but also those of the head of the
empire. Their fate trembled in the balance, when the men
of Zurich suddenly extricated themselves from this predica-
ment by a clever strategem, doubtless suggested by their
crafty Biirgermeister Brun. The Chronicler, Mulner, has
described it in the following words: "As now they lay
before our city, Zurich, with all power and great might, we
planted high the imperial banner, and told the emperor that,


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after all, we belonged to none but the Holy Empire, against
which we would never act."^ With this stroke the besieg-
ing army was dissolved, as if by magic. Charles could not
well fight against his own banner, after this open submis-
sion, and was, moreover, delighted at any excuse for abandon-
ing his thankless task. Albrecht, on the other hand, was
not strong enough to gain a decisive battle single-handed,
and was obliged, for the third time, to retire without having
been able to punish Zurich. In 1355, conditions of peace
were signed at Regensburg, which did not vary essentially
from those negotiated by the Margrave of Brandenburg,
three years before. In fact, Zurich actually entered into a
separate alliance with Austria shortly after, and Biirgermeis-
ter Brun took the extraordinary step of becoming Privy
Councillor to Duke Albrecht, in return for a handsome
annual pension.

If Brun had continued to direct Zurich's policy much longer,
it is difficult to understand how the young Confederation could
have held together at all, one party filled with traditional dis-
trust of Austria, and the other tending apparently to become
steadily more submissive to the dictates of that power. But
another era dawned, when the two men, who had contributed
so largely to this anomalous state of affairs, followed each
other, in quick succession, into the grave. Duke Albrecht suc-
cumbed in 1358, a man who, as Miilner says with charming
impartiality, "had done much harm to us and our Confeder-
ates. He was lame, so that he had to be carried ; nor could
he ride except upon a horse-litter, and yet was an earnest,
brave and undaunted man and master."^ Brun only survived
him two years, to trouble the internal peace of the Confeder-
ation by his absolute and abject submission to Austria.

Swiss historians have had a good deal to say about the pri-
vate character and public life of this first Burgermeister —
some praising him for his clear insight into the peculiar needs

> Oechsli, W. Quellenbuch, p. 99.
*Dandliker, K. Geschichte. p. 482.

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of his native city, and others calling him nothing short of a
traitor to the cause of the Confederation. It is now generally
conceded that he does not quite deserve so ugly a name. In
the light of subsequent events, his conduct certainly appears
disloyal to the interests of the Confederates, but, considering
the dangers which beset Zurich in his day, and the purely local
conception of patriotism which was characteristic of the mid-
dle ages, his ofiFence seems less inexcusable than one might sup-
pose. Brun was, undoubtedly, a diplomatist of talent, a born
executive officer, but he was not what the world calls great.
He lacked the perception of broad principles. He did not
realize the position to which the Confederation would be called,
or else he would have thrown the whole of his energy into the
effort to develop it, instead of wasting his life in intrigue with

It seemed, at last, that the Confederates could start afresh
with a distinct national policy. Charles IV., having quarreled
with Duke Rudolf IV., Albrecht's successor, confirmed all the
charters and leagues of the various States. In 1364, the men
of Schwiz reconquered Zug from Austria, and in 1368, that
power was forced to agree to the conditions imposed upon it
by the peace of Thorberg.

If anything could demonstrate the reawakening of the Con-
federates to a full appreciation of their common interests, it
was the so-called Priest's Charter ( Pfaffenbrief)^ an instrument
to which they all subscribed, except Bern and Glarus. Its
special provisions will be dealt with in another chapter ; suffice
it here to relate the incident from which it arose.

It appears that the Schultheiss of Luzern, Peter von Gun-
doldingen, was returning, in the autumn of 1370 with several
companions, from the annual fair in Zurich, when he was
seized by order of Bruno Brun, a son of the late Biirger-
meister, with whom he was involved in a lawsuit. Bruno
Brun was, at that time. Provost of the Grossmiinster and a
zealous partisan of Austria, like his father. Although the
affair was evidently a case of private revenge, it, nevertheless.

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created a great sensation throughout the land, on account of
the prominent personages who figured in it. Public opinion
branded it as an ofiFence against the sovereignty of Luzern ; as
a violation of the holy peace of markets, without which com-
merce would become an impossibility; and as the result of
Austrian influence. In face of this popular storm, Bruno Brun
attempted to escape punishment by appealing to an ecclesias-
tical court, but thereby merely precipitated a revolutionary
movement in Zurich, which led to a democratic amendment in
the city constitution, known as the Zweitene Geschworene
Brief (Second Sworn Brief), and eventually to an agreement
amongst the Confederates, which they called the Priest's
Charter, from the peculiar cause of its origin.

In 1375, an unforeseen disaster spread terror and misery
over certain districts of the Confederation. A noted free
lance, Enguerrand (Ingram) de Coucy, called upon the Duke
of Austria to pay him a sum of money which was due to his
mother, Catherine of Austria, daughter of that Duke Leopold
I., who had been defeated at Morgarten. His demands not
being complied with, he determined to seize certain towns in
the Aargau, which had originally been named as security for
the payment of the sum in question. For this purpose he
gathered about him a vast army, estimated at between 40,000
and 50,000, consisting principally of mercenaries, who had been
thrown out of employment by the cessation of hostilities be-
tween England and France. Amongst them, also, a sprinkling
of Welshmen, notably the redoubtable warrior, levan ap Ey-
nion, who had been fighting against the English. The peasants
styled the invaders Englishmen, or gave them the nickname of
Gugler, on account of the cowls (Kugelhilte) many of them wore.

Enguerrand de Coucy entered the Aargau by way of Basel,
crossed the Jura, and then allowed his troops to rove about far
and wide over the plains, plundering and devastating with
remorseless ardor. For a moment the whole country seemed
at their mercy, especially as the Austrian officials offered no
resistance. Then the people rose in self-defence. There was

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a bloody engagement at Buttisholz, where, to this day^ a hillock
still goes by the name of Englander Htigel, and finally the
Bernese surprised a large detachment of the enemy at the
monastery of Fraubrunnen, in a night attack. The survivors
were forced to retire from the country after this defeat, and
the war was over.

As for the rest, the invasion of the Gugler, although it
created a great sensation at the time, was not productive of
lasting results. A disturbance in another quarter soon de-
manded the attention of the Confederates.

The process of decay which had overtaken the once power-
ful family of Kiburg has already been noticed in a previous
chapter. In 1382, however, Count Rudolf, a grandson of
Eberhard, the fratricide, made a last and desperate attempt
to retrieve the fortunes of his house by an attack upon Solo-
thurn, with which city he had been involved in a long-drawn
lawsuit. He conceived the idea of settling this dispute with
the sword, in true knight-errant fashion ; then, if successful in
his undertakings, of extending his conquests over Bern and
neighboring cities. Fortunately, the plan was betrayed and
Solothurn was saved, but so general was the indignation
aroused by the mere possibility of this dastardly act, that Sol-
othurn, Bern, and contingents from the Forest States laid siege
to Burgdorf and Olten, the principal towns in the Kiburg pos-
sessions. It is true they were not immediately successful in
punishing the Count, for Austria came to his aid, contrary to
express agreement, but later, at a conference held in Bern,
Rudolf of Kiburg agreed to sell Burgdorf and Thun to the
Bernese, thus accelerating the downfall of his house, which now
sank into insignificance, and became extinct in 14 15.

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THAT growth of unity, of a national policy amongst the
Confederates, which had reasserted itself after Brun's
death, now became continually more apparent, and, as before,
took the shape of hostility toward Austria. A long list of
grievances had nourished this hatred in the past; a harrow-
ing warfare had been waged sullenly for years, without
leading to a decisive result. It was evident that a conflict
between the Confederation and the ducal house could no
longer be averted; that two expanding forces, trying to
occupy the same territory, must eventually come into open

Duke Leopold IIL, nephew of the Leopold who was
defeated at Morgarten, ruled over the western possessions of
the Habsburg family, including those situated in what is
now Swiss territory. In his efforts to extend and consoli-
date his authority in southern Germany, he had encountered
the determined opposition of a coalition known as the
League of the Swabian Cities. Seeing this, the Confeder-
ates hastened to ally themselves with the new league, in
the hope of sweeping their hereditary enemy out of the
country altogether. Had this alliance been of a firm and
durable kind, the desired result might have been obtained;
but it was weak and vacillating, unable, as subsequent events
proved, to stand the test of actual warfare.

The signal for hostilities to begin came from an unex-
pected quarter — from that of Luzern. This city had been

^Appeared in part in "The Atlantic Monthly," April, 1891, under the title of
"Arnold Winkelried at Sempach."


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for some time in a false position, for, while nominally under
Austrian dominion, it was practically self-governing, and,
moreover, bound to Austria's implacable enemy by a perpet-
ual league. There was a continual struggle between the
two tendencies of allegiance to the ducal authorities and to
the Confederation, going on within its walls. In 1385, dem-
ocratic strivings began to manifest themselves in an unmis-
takable manner. The citizens set about demolishing the
Austrian strongholds in their vicinity, liberating the peasantry
from the control of the enemy's officials, and admitting them
as fellow citizens to the enjoyment of their own charter.
Thus the seat of the Austrian bailiff at Rothenburg was
destroyed, the men of Entlebuch, a neighboring valley, were
drawn into friendly relations, and the little city of Sempach
received the rights of co-citizenship with Luzern.

Nor did the other Confederates remain quiet in the face of
such enterprise. Zug attacked the castle of St, Andreas near
Cham, Zurich marched against Rapperswil, and Schwiz took

When war seemed inevitable, they sent the customary sum-
mons to the Swabian cities, but the latter attempted to with-
draw from the pledge to send help, and, in the end, left their
allies to bear the brunt of the storm alone.

In June, 1386, Leopold organized the expedition with which
he hoped to deal the Confederation a death-blow. Many
well-known noblemen flocked to his standard, attracted by his
knightly character and by the hope of inflicting a lasting
punishment upon the insolent peasants. There were the mar-
graves of Baden and Hochberg, and the counts of Hohen-Zol-
lern, Nassau, and Habsburg-Laufifenburg ; from Italy came the
Marquis of Este with two hundred Milanese lances, and his
brother-in-law, Duke Conrad of Theck. Leopold had also
hired the services of several noted mercenary captains: the
Duke of Lorraine; the Dutch Count of Salm; Lord Jean
de Raye, who later became Marshal of France; Lord Jean de
Vergy, Senechal and Marshal of Burgundy; and the same

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Enguerrand de Coucy, who had fought in the French and
English wars, and had shortly before invaded Switzerland at
the head of plundering troops. It was Leopold's plan to pen-
etrate at once to Luzem, the geographical centre of the
Confederation, while diverting the enemy's attention by a
reconnaissance upon Zurich ; and, had his force been compact
and available for immediate invasion, the issue of the war might
have been very different. But a great part of his army did
not reach the scene of action at all, so that only a compara-
tively small column made the disastrous march upon Luzem.
From the little town of Brugg, near the ancestral castle of
Habsburg, Leopold advanced by way of Zofingen and Willisau
to Sursee, foolishly wasting more than a week of valuable time
in stopping at Willisau to punish a refractory chatelaine for her
allegiance to Bern. On the 9th of July, the main force finally
rode along the northern shore of the Lake of Sempach, in
order to reach Luzern by way of Rothenburg.

The battle-ground of Sempach, like that of Morgarten, is
not situated amongst the high Alps, but in ' the undulating
lowlands which lead up to them. A ten-mile ride in the train
from Luzern and a short walk from the rustic station will take
you to the gates of the miniature walled town of Sempach, a
quaint survival of the middle ages, practically untouched by
the march of time. Take the road which climbs the hill in a
north-easterly direction toward Hildisrieden. In something
like half an hour you will reach an uneven plateau, where a
road joins your own from the west. This is the battle-gfround
of Sempach. A chapel stands by the wayside to mark the spot
where Duke Leopold met his death ; in the open field a rude
pyramid of granite, surrounded by pine saplings, bears this
legend : " Hier Hat Winkelried den Seinen Eine Gasse Gem-
acht, 1386." To the south, across the sloping field, broken
by little brooks into rough divisions, lies a tract of forest,
known as the Meierholz, where the Confederates lay in hiding
on that eventful day, waiting for the arrival of the Austrians
from Sursee.

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As soon as war had been declared, the various states of the
Confederation had taken steps to put their frontiers into a
defensive condition, Bern alone remaining inactive and pre-
serving an expectant attitude. About fifteen hundred troops
marched to Zurich to defend that city, because it was generally
believed that Leopold would select it for his principal attack ;
but at the last moment news came that the Austrians were
advancing upon Luzern, and the troops hastened to take up a
position from which they could surprise Leopold on the march.
Thus it happened that when the Austrians reached the uneven
plateau, which has been described above, the battle came upon
them as a complete surprise, and in a locality ill-suited for the
evolutions of their cavalry. The majority of the knights dis-
mounted, sent their horses and squires to one side, and sta-
tioned themselves in long and deep lines, clad in heavy armor,
and holding before them the lances they were accustomed
to wield on horseback. The rest, amongst whom rode Leo-
pold himself, remained behind to act as a reserve with the
contingents sent by Austria's partisans. According to the
most reliable accounts, some adventurous young noblemen,
eager to win their spurs that day, straightway rushed upon
the Confederates, who were drawn up in a wedge-shaped col-
umn peculiar to them, and were armed with their famous hal-
berds and a variety of short weapons.

There can be no question that the first part of the battle
proved most unfavorable to the Confederates. It appears that
their short weapons were useless against the long spears which
confronted them, for they could not reach the Austrians to
strike them, and could, at best, only shatter the wooden shafts.
In vain they rushed against the bristling array, in vain they
attempted to break through that solid phalanx; the foremost
were invariably pierced through before they could make use of
their short weapons. By degrees the Austrians were pressing
the Confederates off the field, and victory seemed assured to
the noblemen against the peasants.

Suddenly, however, the tide of battle turned; defeat was

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changed to triumph as though by a miracle. How this came
«bout is a problem which has exercised the minds of many his-
torians, for it is at this point that certain versions introduce
the much-coift^tod ^isode of Arnold Winkelried, while others
ascribe the cause of this good fortune to a change of tactics
adopted by the Confederates, or to the hot July sun, acting
upon the heavy armor in which the Austrians were OKwed.
Probably these circumstances a£Fected the issue of the battle
to a certain extent ; but there seems to be room for the heroic
deed of Winkelried as well. In the words of the anonymous
chronicler who is the first to mention the subject: "To this
[victory] a trusty man amongst the Confederates helped us.
When he saw that things were going so badly, and that the
lords with their lances and spears always thrust down the
foremost before they could be touched by the halberds, then
did that honest man and true rush forward and seize as many
spears as he could and press them down, so that the Confed-
erates smote off all the spears with their halberds, and so
reached the enemy." ^

As soon as the Confederates had succeeded in breaking
through the enemy's line and were at close quarters, whatever
the manner in which this was accomplished, their short weap-
ons at once became superiof to the enemy's long spears, and
their light equipment gave them a great advantage over the
knights, whose movements were hampered by heavy armor.
The Austrian knights, encased in plates of iron and steel, half
suffocated under heavy helmets, heated by the broiling sun,
their legs covered with greaves, could not long withstand the
light-footed peasants. Austria's standard was seen to sway to
and fro, threatening to fall, and the cry went up, " Austria to
the rescue 1 " Then Leopold, who had been watching the fray
from his post amongst the reserves, sprang forward, unmindful
of his followers' prayers, plunged into the thick of the fight to
save the honor of his hoyse, and, after a brave struggle, fell
himself beneath the strokes of the victorious Confederates.

lOechsli, W. Quellenbuch. p. 105.

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Then ensued a moment of indescribable confusion, for the
mounted knights, seeing their leader's fate, fled precipitately,
while the dismounted ones called aloud for their squires and
horses. But alas I they, too, had fled ; and thus abandoned by
their friends, weak with exhaustion, and imprisoned in their
armor, these warriors perished an easy prey to the relentless

When all was over, the Confederates, as was their wont, fell
upon their knees to sing a Kyrie^ and to thank God for the
victory. Then they remained three days upon the battlefield,
to gather up the spoils, to bury their dead, and to be ready to
meet the enemy should they return.

Besides Leopold the Austrians mourned the loss of a host
of nobles, whose names are carefully recorded in various annals,
in all more than six hundred of the best blood of Swabia and
the lands subject to the Habsburg family. The victors also
lost some of their best leaders, notably Conrad der Frauen, the
Landammann of Uri, and Peter von Gundoldingen, late Avoyer
(Schultheiss) of Luzern. Great booty in costly weapons, gar-
ments, and jewels fell into their hands, of which they could
hardly understand the uses or appreciate the value. The
museum of Luzern still contains a few authenticated trophies
captured in the battle, but most of the spoils were scattered
about, and are of course extremely difficult to identify at this
late date.

It is interesting to know that, when Leopold's body was trans-
ported to Austria from the monastery church of Konigsfelden,
near Brugg, where he had been temporarily laid to rest after
the battle, an eye-witness pf the ceremony reported that his
head was covered with long reddish-gold hair, and that no
wound whatever was visible on his head.

In forming an estimate of the duke's character, we must not
allow ourselves to be influenced by the humiliating defeat
which he sustained at Sempach. He seems to have been
every inch a knight ; not by any means free from the failings
peculiar to his class and his age, but a man possessed of

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Online LibraryWilliam Denison McCrackanThe rise of the Swiss republic: A history → online text (page 13 of 32)