William Denison McCrackan.

The rise of the Swiss republic: A history online

. (page 16 of 32)
Online LibraryWilliam Denison McCrackanThe rise of the Swiss republic: A history → online text (page 16 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Appenzell, confident of victory. When they had advanced
not more than the length of a bowshot further, a force of 400
of the enemy suddenly sprang from their hiding-places, rushed
down upon them, hurling stones and other missiles, and forced
them to retreat. The Austrians were hemmed in; behind
them rose the Letzi and in front came the agile mountaineers.
After a short resistance they attempted to escape through an

Digitized by



opening in the Letzi^ but it was so small that only a few of the
fugitives could pass at a time. The press developed into a
panic; the Austrians trampled upon each other, or fell easy
victims to their pursuers. The survivors fled precipitately to

Evidently the invasion upon which the Abbot of St. Gallen
had relied to restore him to power, was an utter failure.

But the result of his supreme effort was not merely negative,
for a spirit had been conjured up before which the whole coun-
try round about was soon to quail. First, the mountaineers of
Appenzell fortified themselves by concluding alliances with
neighboring communities, and then, as though intoxicated with
their recent success, they broke forth from their mountain fast-
nesses to overrun the whole region which lies to the southeast
of the lake of Constance, destroying the castles of the nobility,
and inciting the peasants to rebellion. With irresistible force,
they poured down upon the Thurgau, across the Rhine into the
Vorarlberg and Tyrol, sweeping together all their vanquished
or voluntary adherents into one mighty but unorganized League
of the People, which they called the League above the Lake
{Bund ob dent See), to distinguish it from another league of
cities around the lake of Constance. Nor did they fail to
reward their allies of Schwiz, to whom they presented the
district of the March, while Count Rudolf of Werdenberg
received his ancestral castle, according to agreement, although
he was not able to hold it for long, and died a few years later,
poor and childless.

In the face of this extraordinary uprising, the whole machin-
ery of the feudal system seems to have broken down, showing
itself perfectly powerless to check the aspirations of the people
after freedom. In 1406, Duke Frederic saw himself con-
strained to conclude a two-years' truce with the League above
the Lake, leaving the peasants in full possession of their con-
quests, while the Abbot Kuno, deeply humiliated, actually
agreed to enter into the protection of Appenzell and St
Gallen, his former subjects.

Digitized by



Not that this state of things endured very long. The haste
with which the league had been patched together, the incongru-
ous material of which it was composed, and the extravagances
into which the liberated peasants were betrayed, militated
against its stability. A reaction set in, until, in the winter of
1407, an army of nobles surprised the men of Appenzell as they
lay before Bregenz, under the leadership of a captain from
Schwiz, Conrad Kupferschmied. Strangely enough, this insig-
nificant defeat was the cause of far-reaching results, altogether
disproportionately great. For the men of Appenzell, who had
heretofore been universally victorious, now felt that their
invincibility was broken, and so, discouraged and deserted,
retreated to the mountains, whence they had issued like an all-
devouring avalanche a few years before.

King Ruprecht himself came to Constance to deliver sen-
tence in regard to the whole matter in dispute. He decided
that the League above the Lake should be dissolved, and the
men of Appenzell return once more into their former relation
toward the Abbot. They distinctly refused, however, to com-
ply with these demands, and defiantly held their own against
the head of the empire, biding their time as they had done on
a former occasion.

The answer to Ruprecht's demands came in 141 1, when the
undaunted mountaineers of Appenzell enlarged their alliance
with Schwiz into a wider treaty with the other members of
the Swiss Confederation, Bern alone holding aloof in the pur-
suit of a cautious and independent policy. As before, this
Burg and Lcmdrecht placed Appenzell in a subordinate posi-
tion under the virtual protectorate of the seven states, but it
contained the promise of a closer and more equitable union in
the future. In 141 2, St. Gallen, likewise, followed the example
of her old ally, by concluding a similar Burg and Landrecht
with the seven states, so that hereafter, for weal or for woe,
the interests of the whole region comprised by the modem
cantons of Appenzell and St. Gallen, were bound up in those
of the Swiss Confederation.

Digitized by




NONE of the cantons which are now included in French-
speaking Switzerland, took any part whatever in build-
ing up the Swiss Confederation. Throughout the whole
period, during which the Forest States were struggling for
emancipation from Habsburg- Austria, they lay in apathetic
subjection to a multitude of spiritual and temporal masters.
The only exception to this general indifference was found
amongst the people of the Valais (German Wallis), the various
forms of the name being derived from the Latin vallis^ a

Says the Abbi Grimaud, whose researches have cast so
much light upon the early history of that district: "Between
the two highest mountain ranges of Europe, there lies a long
valley, watered by the upper Rhone "^ . . This is the
simple description of a region which, from a physical stand-
point, is one of the most remarkable in the world; where within
a small compass are enclosed a multitude of startling contrasts.
The mountain ranges here mentioned are on the right hand^
the monster chain of the Bernese Alps, and on the left that of
Monte Rosa. One end of the valley is blocked by a glacier,
the other by a sunny lake. Between these two extremes
are to be found all the gradations in fertility of which nature is
capable. There are spots upon which the full springtide of
Italy seems to have been shed, almost tropical in exuberance :
others which the boisterous Rhone has converted into gravelly

1 Document relatifs \ lliistoire da Vallais.


Digitized by



descfts; ^thext are mountain slopes, festooned with vines or
covered with exquisite verdure, -while <i|>pftfiite rise vast expan-
ses of naked rock, as devoid of vegetation as though smitten
with a curse. In a few hours the traveler, passing up the val-
ley, may experience all the sensations from burning heat to
arctic cold.

A further contrast lies in the race and language of the peo-
ple ; the upper part, from the Rhone glacier down to Sierre,
being inhabited by men of Alamannian stock and speaking
German ; while in the lower part the population is of mixed
Celtic and Burgundian origin, speaking numerous Roman
dialects, though French is now gradually superseding the older

The same variety which is observable in nature and popula-
tion to-day, existed also from an early date in the political
affairs of the district.

After passing under the dominion of the Romans, of the
two Burgundian Kingdoms, and of the rectorship of Zaeringen,
the Valais, in the thirteenth century, became the scene of a
struggle for supremacy between four powers or elements.
First and foremost the Bishops of Sion, whose diocese cov-
ered the whole of the modern canton. The origin of the
bishopric is not quite clear; it is known that, in 381, a certain
bishop, Theodore or Theodul, who was the first ecclesiastical
of that rank on Swiss soil, had his seat at Octodurum (Marti-
gny), and that, in 585, a successor of his, Heliodore, had
transferred it to Sedunum (Sion). In the course of the early
middle ages, the episcopal possessions were curtailed by the
encroachments of a second power, the house of Savoy. A
series of conflicts ensued from this cause, until it was finally
agreed, in 1384, to fix the boundary between the two at the
stream of La Morge dc Conthey, just below Sion. A third
factor in the political problem was represented by the feudal
nobility, a multitude of petty, quarrelsome lords, whose ruined
castles may still be seen perched upon every available rock.
Some were vassals of the bishop, others of the house of Savoy,

Digitized by



and others again dependent upon both. Amongst the princi-
pal families were the lords of La Tour, of Rarogne, and Saxon.

But what became of the people and of popular liberty in the
midst of these rival factions ? Was there no . democratic ele-
ment to counteract aristocratic rule? Fortunately a fourth
power guarded their interests. It was the institution of the
commune, known amongst the German-speaking population as
the Zehnte^ which is mentioned for the first time in documents
of the thirteenth century, but bears evidences of much greater
antiquity. The citizens of Sion seem to have been the first
to organize themselves into a community of this sort, and then
the country districts followed their example. At first the
communes confined their attention to the management of
strictly local affairs, possessing so-called Plaits or popular
assemblies, not unlike the Landsgemeinden of German Switzer-
land ; but later, from the middle of the fourteenth century on,
the people begfan to take part in the general government of
the whole country under the auspices of the bishop, who sum-
moned their representatives from time to time to a Conseil
General de la terre du Valais,

The various conflicts for supremacy finally resolved them-
selves into a well-defined struggle between the bishop and the
communes on the one hand, and the house of Savoy with petty
nobles on the other. In 1354, King Charles IV. confirmed
the traditional liberties of the communes of the upper Valais.
In 1375, a popular outbreak occurred, directed against the lesser
nobility. Bishop Guichard Tavelli was one day at his castle
de la Soie, above Sion, when he was attacked by order of his
enemy, lord Antoine de la Tour, and hurled down from a win-
dow upon the rocks below. The people, infuriated by this
dastardly act, proclaimed a war of revenge, defeated an army
of nobles, exiled the family of la Tour, and finally, in 1388, in
the same year as the battle of Nafels, inflicted an overwhelm-
ing defeat upon Count Amadeus VII., of Savoy, and his allies
at Visp. Although the communes did not reap the full bene-
fit of their victory in the peace which followed, still they

Digitized by



placed themselves in a position to make good their losses a
little later, by entering itito an alliance with certain members
of the Swiss Confederation ; for, in 1403, (be Bishop of Sion
and the people of the Valais entered into the perpetual citizen-
ship {Burg and Landrecht) of Uri, Unterwalden, and Luzern.

Trouble broke out again, after a few years of deceptive
peace. It appears that the lords of Rarogne, having been
instrumental in driving out their rivals of la Tour, and finding
themselves, as a result, masters of the situation, abused their
power and influence to such an extent, that the people of the
Valais were constrained once more to take up arms in self-
defence. On this occasion, the patriots brought into play an
old custom, which consisted in carrying from village to village
a wooden club as a symbol of revolt. This Mazze^ as it was
called from the Italian mazza^ a club, had carved upon it a
human face in agony, to express violated justice, and was
deposited before the residence of the lord of Rarogne. The
latter had become a citizen of Bern, in order to avail himself
of the protection this step would afford him, but the com-
munes had been admitted to the citizenship of Uri, Unter-
walden, and Luzern by a new alliance, in 14 16. Here was a
predicament for the Swiss Confederation to be placed in. If
both parties carried out their engagements to their allies, civil
war would be the result. As a matter of fact, the Bernese
collected an army and invaded the Valais, but one of their
detachments, which had crossed the Grimsel, was so com-
pletely repulsed at the village of St. Ulrichen, in 1419, that
further attempts were abandoned. Through the intervention
of the other Swiss Confederates, peace was established, the
men of Valais paid a heavy indemnity to the lord of Rarogne,
and the latter, seizing a propitious moment to sell his estates,
left the country altogether.

Hereafter the growth of the Valais into an independent
commonwealth was practically assured. The attainment of
complete self-government, the triumph of democracy, could no
longer be prevented by the aristocratic factions, and the mis-

Digitized by



sion of the Valais, to act as a southern bulwark to the Swiss
Confederation, was made manifest. It was not until almost
four hundred years»later that this relationship was established
on a still firmer basis, when the Valais became, in reality, a
member of the Confederation.

But, like Appenzell, St. Gallen, and the Valais, ancient
Raetia in the fourteenth century began to feel this same spirit
of popular liberty which had gone abroad. A transformation
was slowly preparing itself in that highland regfion, which, cut
into many valleys by intersecting ranges, seemed predestined
to local self-government or to the rule of independent lordlings.

The history of Graubiinden is a reproduction in miniature of
that of the Swiss Confederation as a whole. After passing
through the vicissitudes of the Teutonic invasion, Raetia
emerged into the feudal system, and took on that appearance
of a mass of administrative fragments which characterized the
other parts of Switzerland. There were the same ecclesiasti-
cal and secular rulers, the same groups of isolated freemen,
and there resulted the same conflict of interests, and the
same final victory of the people over their masters.

At the end of the 14th and beginning of the 1 5th centu-
ries, three well-defined centres of government made their
appearance ; three separate leagues, which were known by the
somewhat extraordinary titles of ''The League of the House of
God", "The Upper" or "Grey League", and "The League
of the Ten Jurisdictions ".

In 1367, the chapter of the cathedral at Chur with the sub-
jects of the Bishop in the Valleys of Bergell, Oberhalbstein,
the Engadin and Domleschg, and the burghers of Chur itself,
concluded an alliance against the Bishop of Chur, the most
powerful ruler of the whole country, because he threatened to
compromise their interest, in an alliance which he had made
with the Duke of Austria. This is the foundation of the so-
called "League of the House of God ", and here, also, as else-
where in Switzerland, Austria was instrumental in forcing the
people to build up free states. While this league was formed

Digitized by VjOOQIC


almost entirely by subjects, i. e. by ecclesiastical serfs, the Up-
per, or Grey League, was the result of the combined action of
serfs, freemen, and nobles. In 1395, the Abbot of Dissentis,
the Lords of Raziins and of Sax, with their subjects, and the
communities between the source of the Rhine and the forest
of Flims, solemnly agreed to protect one another and to settle
all disputes by means of a board of arbitration of three men.
It was a union of elements which elsewhere could not live at
peace with each other, and was evidently the result of a mutual
agreement to put a stop to the enclless and useless quarrels
which had devastated the upper Rhine Valley. The League
of the Ten Jurisdictions arose from the fact that certain com-
munities, at the extinction of the house of Toggenburg, of
which they formed a feudal dependence, suddenly found them-
selves without an overlord, and consequently determined to
govern themselves. In 1436, their representatives united in a
league which was purely democratic, inasmuch as no ecclesi-
astical or secular nobles at all were to be found amongst
the contracting parties — a league, therefore, which more
nearly resembled that of the Forest States than the others in

The first connection with any member of the Swiss Confed-
eration occurred in 1400, when the Grey League entered into
a perpetual pact with the community of Glarus. Moreover the
three Raetian leagues eventually found it to their mutual advan-
tage to draw closer to one another in order to form a federal
state, somewhat after the pattern of the Swiss Confederation
of Eight States. Although the exact date of this final union is
not known with precision, it probably antedated 1450, and the
meeting-place was Vazerol.

Digitized by




IT may almost be called an historical law that northern races,
especially those inhabiting mountainous and barren
regions, continually tend to encroach upon their southern
neighbors on more productive soil. Anyone who has stood on
some point of the great range which separates Switzerland
from Italy, and, on a clear day, has seen the vineyards, the
olive trees, and the rich plains of Lombardy spread out before
him, can imagine the longing of the men of the rugged Forest
States to possess that land of promise, or at least the slopes
which led toward it.

Uri was the first to make any effort toward the accomplish-
ment of this end. The possession of the St. Gothard pass
was, in reality, a commercial necessity. An agreement was
therefore made with the inhabitants of the valley of Urseren,
which secured the freedom of that pass. The territory now
comprised by the Canton of Ticino, the Val Leventina (Ger-
man, Livinen), belonged to the Dukes of Milan. In 1331,
the three Forest States and Zurich found it necessary to pun-
ish the inhabitants of that district for interfering with the
free use of the St. Gothard as a trade route. In 1403, how-
ever, Uri and Obwalden, incensed because some of their cattle-
dealers had been unjustly treated by the authorities of Varese,
invaded the Val Leventina, and, taking advantage of the fact
that the ruling Duke of Milan was temporarily involved in dif-
ficulties at home, forced the inhabitants to swear fealty to
them. Uri and Obwalden simply substituted their own rule
for that of the Duke of Milan, collected taxes, and sent gov-


Digitized by



ernors to keep the people in submission. It was the first
example in Swiss history of a conquered province being openly
annexed. There was no pretence of a league, of mutual
advantages, or of equal rights. The people of the Val Leven-
tina merely exchanged one master for another, between whom
there was, in point of fact, little to choose.

Successive Dukes of Milan attempted to recapture Bellin-
zona, the military key of the valley, but with varying success.
The Confederates were once defeated with great loss at the
village of Arbedo, in 1422, and, in 1426, the whole of their
possessions south of the St. Gothard returned into the power
of the Milanese. Finally, in 1440, an army from Uri settled
the question of ownership by bringing the valley once more
into subjection. Hereafter the Val Leventina continued to be
connected with the Swiss Confederation for some three and a
half centuries, until, in modern times, it was admitted on an
equal footing with the other Cantons.

The conquest of the valley of Domo d'Ossola (German
Eschenthal)^ which was carried on almost simultaneously with
that of Leventina, was not of vital importance in the building
up of the Confederation, as the territory was eventually lost.

The same, however, cannot be said of the conquest of the
Aargau, an event which left indelible traces upon the history
and political organization of Switzerland, and deserves to be
described in detail.

In the chapter on the political organization of the League
of Eight States, it was noticed that they did not form a
well-rounded, compact territory, that alien tracts of land,
here and there, entered like wedges into their midst. This
was particularly the case on the northwestern frontier,
where the Austrian district of the Aargau presented a con-
tinual menace. To annex these lands, therefore, became a
sort of cherished ambition amongst the Confederates. The
Aargau also contained the ancestral castle of Habsburg; at
Baden, the principal stronghold of the district, successive
Dukes had collected their troops for the battjes of Morgar-

Digitized by



ten and Sempach and for their attacks upon Zurich; and it
was upon this hostile ground that the native nobility con-
spired on every occasion against the Confederates. Nothing,
it was felt, could so effectually destroy the influence of Austria
in the region south of the Rhine as the loss of the Aargau.

For the present, there seemed to be no opportunity of
initiating so bold an undertaking, and, in 141 2, the Confed-
erates renewed their policy of friendship by signing articles
of peace with Austria, which were to last for fifty years,
until 1463. It must be said to the credit of the Swiss that
the temptation to break this formal engagement came from
the very highest secular and ecclesiastical authority in
Europe, from no less a person than the emperor himself and
from the hierarchy of Christendom, assembled at the church-
council of Constance, from 1414-1418. It will be remem-
bered that one of the objects for which that council was
convened, was to settle the conflicting claims of three
Popes, and that Pope John XXIII., who was on the point
of being deposed, managed to escape from Constance with
the help of Frederic, Duke of Austria. This was the sig-
nal for Sigismund, the emperor, who was also Frederic's bit-
ter enemy, to put the latter under the ban of the empire,
to declare his possessions confiscated, and to call upon his
imperial subjects to rise and seize them in the name of the
Empire. An exhortation to invade the Aargau was
despatched also to the Swiss Confederates, as immediate
dependants upon the Empire. In view of their fifty years
truce with Austria, they did not at once comply with the
royal request. While Austria's possessions in Swabia and
the Tyrol were being fast brought into subjection to Ger-
man conquerors, the Swiss hesitated to break their word,
even to their arch-enemy. It took all the persuasive pow-
ers of Sigismund, coupled with his authoritative command, as
head of the realm, to induce them, one by one, to appear in
the field. He represented to them that their duty to the
empire came before any pledges given to other powers; he

Digitized by



bribed them by declaring null and void all remnants of
power which the house of Habsburg might still possess on
Swiss soil, and by promising that they could keep whatever
they could take by force of arms in the coming conflict.

Thereupon the invasion of the Aargau began. Bern opened
the campaign, then came Luzern and Zurich. Finally the
troops of all the Confederates met before the stronghold of
Baden, which resisted their combined attack for a fortnight.
They were gathering for a last decisive effort against the cita-
del, the so-called Stein^ which is now one of the most pictur-
esque ruins of Switzerland, when an admonition reached them
from Sigismund to suspend their operations. It appears that
Duke Frederic, rendered desperate by his misfortunes, had,
in the meantime, submitted to the King. A reconciliation
between the two rivals had been brought about, and an order
issued to stop hostilities against Austria. But the lust of con-
quest, which the King's appeal to arms had conjured up,
could not be allayed so quickly, nor could the Confederates
resist the temptation of putting an end, once for all, to Aus-
trian dominion in the Aargau. They disobeyed the royal
command; and the messengers who came to Baden, bearing
a second peremptory injunction from the King, had the pleas-
ure of arriving just in time to see the Stein surrender to the
Confederates. Sigismund threatened them all with his royal
wrath, and declared that they had forfeited their right to
retain the Aargau. The upshot of the quarrel was that, in
141 5, a division of the conquered territory took place amongst
the Confederates, but that they were obliged to pay hand-
somely in good round sums of money for their new acquisi-

Online LibraryWilliam Denison McCrackanThe rise of the Swiss republic: A history → online text (page 16 of 32)