William Denison McCrackan.

The rise of the Swiss republic: A history online

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tions. The lion's share fell to Bern, which had been the first
in the field. Zurich and Luzern each acquired small districts
for themselves, and the rest became common Confederate
property, to be administered conjointly by all ; Uri alone refus-
ing to take part, either on moral grounds, or, more probably,
because it shrank from the responsibility of governing a
province so far removed from its own frontiers.



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212 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

It is evident that the system of joint property, of which
this is the first example in Swiss history, was fraught with
unknown dangers, and opened up a series of new problems for
the Confederates. Looking back from our own day upon this
experiment, we can declare that it was ethically wrong, as
being opposed to the natural rights of man, and opposed also
to the democratic traditions of the early Confederates. We
can only regret that the Aargau did not first free itself from
the Austrian dominion, and then, of its own free will, seek
admission within the Confederation upon an equal footing
with the other states. Unfortunately these moral considera-
tions are out of place when treating of the fifteenth century.
We must remember that the humanitarian aspect of these
questions was unknown to the men of that time, being purely
a modem product, so that it would be unfair to judge fifteenth-
century men by nineteenth-century standards of national ethics.



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CHAPTER IV.



THE FIRST CIVIL WAR.



JUST as the Confederation was becoming more compact in
point of territory, and hence more secure from foreign
interference, the latent antagonism which existed between the
cities and the rural districts suddenly led to open hostilities.
The former embodied the principle of urban aristocracy, the
latter, of agrarian democracy. Their estrangement was inten-
sified by commercial jealousy, by the practice of excluding
each other's trade products, upon the strange medieval idea
that imports were injurious. Markets and trade routes were
arbitrarily established or abolished, so that each state felt con-
strained to make conquests in order to gain trade, for commer-
cial restrictions are, in their last analysis, acts of war. Mutual
hatred had been especially accentuated by the conquest of the
Aargau, which so materially increased the power of the cities.
The result was an open feud, and it took the form of bitter
hostility between Zurich and Schwiz. The centre of gravity
of the Confederation had shifted from the country districts to
the cities, and it was an attempt to alter this state of things
which produced the so-called Old Zurich war. While the
remote cause was this rivalry of the two parties, the immediate
occasion of the war was the death of Frederic VII., Count of
Toggenburg. He died childless and intestate, leaving his vast
possessions to be scrambled for by a host of eager claimants.
During his lifetime he had entered into a number of agree-
ments with both Zurich and Schwiz. They had long cast
.longing glances upon his territory, as affording the only means
of expansion which now remained to them. In this struggle



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214 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

for the possession of Toggenburg the long-pent-up hatred of
the two rivals at length found vent. Schwiz seized a part of
the contested estates, and the Burgermeister of Zurich per-
suaded the widow of the late Count, who claimed to be the
legal executrix, to entrust another portion to his city. With
the help of Glarus, Schwiz proceeded to bring more territory
under her sway, and thus called forth expostulations from jeal-
ous Zurich.

As all remonstrances proved futile, Zurich then took a
measure to which she had a legal right in her capacity as an
imperial city. She closed her markets to Schwiz and Glarus,
and instituted a veritable blockade against them. Great want
ensued in the districts which were thus cut ofif from supplies,
but, as is always the result of such restrictive or protective
measures, Zurich herself, felt the blow almost as severely.
Instead of bringing about a solution of the difficulty, the
blockade simply embittered the rivals, and made a violent out-
break of some sort more certain.

Disappointed by this failure, Zurich cast about for some new
weapon to forge against Schwiz and the other Confederates,
who had now declared for Schwiz. She appealed to the
emperor for intervention. Unfortunately the House of Habs-
burg was then upon the throne, and the person to whom
Zurich appealed against the Confederates was Frederic III.,
of Austria* When we consider the part which Habsburg-Aus-
tria had played in the history of the Confederation, we can
understand that the Confederates looked upon this act of
Zurich as a veritable outrage against themselves, as a piece of
treachery without name. The country was filled with horror
at the conduct of the old ally. Both sides found expression
for their feelings in popular songs, in which they derided,
taunted and challenged each other in the rudest fashion.

In 1442, Zurich concluded a league with the Emperor, in
which the city promised, in return for his help, to support his
pretentions over the Aargau. At the same time, Frederic
refused to confirm the charters of the other Confederates, as



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THE FIRST CIVIL WAR. 215

was customary upon the accession of every new sovereign,
but came to Zurich in person to testify his friendship. The
Habsburg symbol, the peacock feather, was substituted in the
streets of Zurich for the white cross, which had generally
become the sign of the Confederation.

In 1443, the Confederates declared war against the mon-
strous combination of Austria-Zurich. At first there were short
skirmishes in which the Confederates were victorious. An
important battle was finally fought before the gates of the
city, at a chapel of St. Jacob, near the little stream of the Sihl.
The Confederates advanced upon Zurich from the direction
of Zug, and as they came out upon the height above the town,
they suddenly beheld the whole district spread out below them
like a map. It was determined to cut off by a flank move-
ment the hostile army which had ventured far out beyond the
walls into a great field. The plan succeeded admirably.
Caught in a trap, the townsmen and their Austrian allies
fought desperately, but were hopelessly defeated and thrown
back upon Zurich. A last stand was made at the bridge
over the Sihl, where Rudolf Stiissi, the Burgermeister, per-
ished in a vain attempt to stem the tide of the advancing Con-
federates. This victory was followed by a short truce, known
as the Bad Peace (Fauler Friede)^ because it was not kept by
either party. The Confederates upon one occasion stormed a
stronghold in Zurich territory, the Greifensee, and put the
whole garrison to the sword in the most treacherous and inhu-
man manner. Finally a regular siege was laid to Zurich itself,
the Confederates being determined to bring this wearisome and,
heretofore indecisive, war to a close. The city was strongly
fortified and ably defended, so that no definite result was
obtained, but the Austrian party bethought them of a means
by which the Confederate force might be diverted elsewhere,
and perhaps the whole Confederation eventually brought into
subjection to Austria. Frederic III., applied to Charles VII.,
of France, for the loan of 5000 mercenaries. A truce of eight-
een months had just been declared between France and Eng-



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216 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

land. It was in the year 1444, and the latter was delighted to
find an opportunity of getting rid of the military vagabonds,
who, in time of peace, were a veritable plague in the land.
Instead of the number demanded, he sent 30,000 Armagnacs,
so-called after their original leader, Bernard, Count of Armag-
nac, placing them under the command of his son, the Dau-
phin, who was later Louis XI.

The main force of the Confederates lay before the castle of
Famsburg, near Basel, besieging Thomas of Falkenstein,
one of the Austrian leaders, when rumors of an approach-
ing host came to their ears. The Armagnacs, called by the
people Ecorcheurs (German Schinder), i. e. robbers, passed
through the Franche comt6, by Mont^bliard to Basel, sack-
ing and burning the peaceful country homes which lay in
their path. At Famsburg, the Confederates held a council, the
result of which was that a small force, about 1300 in all, was
despatched to reconnoitre, but with particular mstructions not
to be enticed into a pitched battle. A Church Council was
just then in session at Basel. In fact, the most reliable infor-
mation which has been handed down concerning the resulting
events is derived almost exclusively from prelates and noble-
men who were there in attendance. As the little force was
advancing upon Basel, they met two Canons of Neuchatel who
warned them of the strength of the enemy, but in vain, for one
of the leaders answered, "Then we commend our souls to God
and our bodies to the Armagnacs."^

At the village of Pratteln, they came upon the out-posts of
the enemy who retreated before them to Muttenz where
another skirmish took place, with the result that the Armag-
nacs, though much superior in numbers, were thrown back
across the little stream of the Birs. At the water's edge the
Confederates stopped to consider what they should do. Finally
yielding. to some hot heads in their midst, unmindful of the
instructions they had received, and in sight of the whole host
of Armagnacs drawn up in battle-array, they crossed the Birs

^ Oechsli, W. Quellenbuch. p. 143.



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THE FIRST CIVIL WAR. 217

and threw themselves, with lion-like but foolhardy bravery, upon
the astounded horsemen. They fought against these terrible
odds from early morning until noon, when they were constrained
to take refuge in the chapel of St. Jacob and the walled garden
which surrounded it. Here they maintained themselves for
hours, repulsing charge after charge of the infuriated enemy,
until hardly a man was left to carry on the battle. The Armag-
nacs on several occasions tried to stop the fight, struck dumb
by this display of courage, but the Austrian leaders who were
present amongst them, urged them on to the extermination of
the hated foe. It is reported that only 200 Confederates sur-
vived the battle, and that even they were all wounded.

Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, later famous as Pope Pius II.,
attended the Council of Basel. He describes some of the
feats of valor performed by the vanquished, in a letter to a
friend. "The Swiss," he says, "tore the bloody arrows from
their bodies, and threw themselves upon the enemy even after
their hands had been cut ofiF, not breathing their last until
they had themselves killed their murderers." ^ A French
nobleman, Matthiew de Coucy, was assured by veteran soldiers
who were present, "that they, in their day, had neither seen
nor found men so valiant in defence nor so outrageously fear-
less in sacrificing their lives.'* ^ As Jean Chartier, the French
historian, naively remarks, "Thereupon the Dauphin, seeing
that it was a strange and amazing country, . . . returned
to Nancy." ^ In truth, he hurriedly made peace with the Swiss,
and left them masters of the situation.

With justice has this terrific battle been called the Ther-
moJ)yilae of Switzerland, for there was the same disparity in
numbers, the same heroism in defence, and the same virtual
victory in defeat.

In 1450, Henry of Bubenberg, the Schultheiss of Bern, was
chosen final arbitrator of the war and its results. He

^OechsIi^W. Quellenbuch. p. 146.
^Ibid. p. 148.
»n)id. p. 148.



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218 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

delivered his judgment at Einsiedein, whither all the Confed*
erates had been summoned to send delegates, in compliance
with the Zurich league of 135 1. He declared the alliance
between Zurich and Austria to be null and void, and once
more brought into force the perpetual league which bound
Zurich to the Confederation. On the other hand, Zurich was
to regain the territory she had lost during the war, Schwii
retaining only a few unimportant accessions won from the
Toggenburg possessions.

In reality, a great principle had been at stake in this war»
although disguised by numerous complications. It was the
question of Federalism versus States-rights, of centralization
against localism, a struggle which really never ceases in any
federated state. The national idea, though imperfect and
crudely apprehended, had come off victorious against the sepa-
ratist ambitions of Zurich; and the evil machinations of the
arch-enemy, Austria, bad once more come to naught



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CHAPTER V.

THE WAR WITH CHARLES, THE BOLD, OF BURGUNDY.

THE Confederates emerged from the experience of the Old
Zurich war more united at home and more formidable
abroad. It was a time of new departure in their national life ;
for they had now embarked upon the sea of international poli-
tics, a distinct power, a new force in Europe, no longer negli-
geable. The battle of St. Jacob an der Birs was reported far
and wide, calling attention to their extraordinary military
prowess.

Mr. John Foster Kirk, in his "History of Charles, the Bold,
Duke of Burgundy," thus aptly describes the Swiss Confedera-
tion of the middle of the 15th century: "It constituted, not
indeed a nation, but a unique and terrible power, exultant in
its indomitable strength, and defiant of the storms that were
sweeping around it, convulsing and dislocating all the adjoin-
ing lands."^ Strong and weak were irresistibly attracted, the
former to secure the military co-operation of the Confederates,
the latter to seek their protection. Hence it happened that
the next few years witnessed a number of new alliances or the
confirmation of old ones.

In 1450, Glarus was finally admitted on an equal footing
with the other states. In 145 1, St. Gallen, the Abbey, drew
nearer; in 1452, the community of Appenzell followed suit,
and in 1454, St. Gallen, the Town. About this time, even the
German imperial cities of Schaflfhausen and Mulhausen sought
the friendship of the Confederates. In 1452, a treaty was
concluded with France, to be renewed in 1463. The relations

1 Kirk, J. F. History of Charles,the Bold, vol II., p. 282.

219



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220 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

with the powerful duchies of Milan on the South and Bur-
gundy on the West were satisfactorily regulated.

How was it, then, that a few years later the Swiss found
themselves contending in a struggle for life and death against
this last power ; departing apparently so far from the national
aspirations they had marked out for themselves, as to engage
in a policy of foreign adventure, and to be caught in the
meshes of general European diplomacy ?

In truth, the causes of the great duel between Charles, the
Bold, of Burgundy and the Swiss Confederates have proved
more or less of a bone of contention amongst historical schol-
ars. Two points, however, in the controversy may be accepted
as well established. The Swiss themselves were the aggres-
sors, contrary to common opinion, and they were also undoubt-
edly entrapped into the war by designing neighbors. Charles
himself never set foot on what was then Swiss soil, while the
Swiss went to meet him in full reliance of help from allies who
never came. They entered into the contest as auxiliaries, only
to find themselves principals. They were tricked into an atti-
tude of hostility to Charles, and the brunt of war shifted upon
their shoulders, so that, in the end, it would seem as though the
combatants themselves had least to do with producing the war,
and were the least culpable of its bloodshed.

Indeed, this seemingly unlikely encounter was brought about
by a set of strangely complicated circumstances.

There was first the desire of Charles, the Bold, Duke of
Burgundy, to found a great middle-state between Germany and
France, and to revive the glories of the ancient kingdom of
Burgundy. The late Mr. Freeman, in his essay on " Charles
the Bold,'' has pointed out this peculiar aspect of the question.
"From the ninth century to the nineteenth," he writes, "the
politics of Europe have largely gathered round the rivalry
between the Eastern and the Western kingdoms — in modem
language, between Germany and France. From the ninth to
the nineteenth, a succession of efforts have been made to
establish, in one shape or another, a middle-state between the



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THE WAR WITH CHARLES THE BOLD. 221

two" . . . "That object was never more distinctly aimed
at, and it never seemed nearer to its accomplishment, than
when Charles, the Bold, actually reigned from the Zuyder Zee
to the lake of Neuchatel, and was not without hopes of extend-
ing his frontier to the Gulf of Lyons. "^

Then there was the anxiety of Louis XL, king of France, to
prevent this extension of power, which could only be brought
about at his expense. All the resources of his singularly
shrewd character were enlisted in order to keep Charles in a
state of vassalage. Indeed, one cannot appreciate the full
import of the impending contest without constantly bearing in
mind, that it was but one phase of the more general con-
flict which was being waged everywhere in Europe between
sovereigns and their vassals, between the principles of central-
ization and decentralization in things political. In point of
fact, the antagonism between Louis and Charles was of the
same kind as that which had manifested itself in a somewhat
different manner between the central authority of the Confed-
eration and the separate states in the Old Zurich war.

The Swiss were brought into touch with this diplomatic
game through their relations with King Louis XI., on the one
hand, and with Duke Sigmund, of Austria, and Duke Charles,
of Burgundy, on the other. Since 1463, they were bound to
France by close and friendly ties. The king showered gold
upon their public men, a French party was formed within the
Confederation itself, led by Nicolas von Diessbach, of Bern,
and Jost von Silenen, of Aargau. It is too much to say, how-
ever, of the Burgundian war, as Mr. Kirk does in his work men-
tioned above, "that it was undertaken at the instigation of
France, for the interest of France, and in the pay of France.*'^
Certain peculiar complications with Duke Sigmund, of Austria,
also threw the Swiss unwittingly into a hostile attitude toward
Burgundy.

As yet nothing had intervened to put a stop to the heredi-

1 Freeman, E. A. Historical Essays. Vol. I. p. 336.

« Kirk, J. F, History of Charies, the Bold. Vol. Ill p. 9.



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222 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

tary enmity between Austria and the Confederation. Follow-
ing an admonition of Pope Pius II., the Swiss, in 1460, had
invaded the Thurgau, the last of the Austrian possessions
south of the Rhine. Like the Aargau, this new territory was
administered hereafter conjointly by seven states as a com-
mon bailiwick. In 1468, they had followed up their success by
further encroachments upon Austrian dominions. Their
allies, the cities of Schaffhausen and Mulhausen, complained
of being hard pressed by various Austrian partisans, and called
for help. This was the excuse for an extended expedition into
the Black Forest and Elsass, where no one ventured to offer
serious opposition. On their way back, the Swiss laid siege
to the stronghold of Waldshut. But they would not stir until
they had brought Duke Sigmund to agree to certain specified
terms, which are worth nothing, with great care, because they
acted as the point of departure for the whole train of events
which led to the war of Burgundy. The otherwise inexplica-
ble attitude of the Swiss Confederation will seem less faulty
and less irrational.

Duke Sigmund promised to pay the sum of 10,000 florins
within one year, and if he could not fulfil his engagement, to
cede Waldshut and the Black Forest to the Confederates.
Being unable to raise this sum within the time agreed upon,
he tried to borrow from Louis XL, but, receiving a negative
answer, turned to Charles, the Bold. In 1469, a treaty was
concluded between the two Dukes, at St. Omer; Sigmund
mortgaged the Black Forest, Waldshut, and Elsass to Charles,
for 50,000 florins. The latter was to satisfy the demands of
the Swiss, and, if possible, to bring about a reconciliation
between them and Sigmund; but, if the Swiss attacked
Sigmund, Charles was to give him his support.

Austria's offers of reconciliation proving too heavily encum-
bered with inadmissable conditions, the Confederates came to
look upon Charles as a possible enemy in any hostilities which
might result. Then came the further fact that his governor in
Elsass, Knight Peter von Hagenbach, drew upon himself the



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THE WAR WITH CHARLES THE BOLD. 223

hatred of the native population by his tyrannous conduct.
The Swiss protested to Charles against von Hagenbach's treat-
ment of Miilhausen, their ally, but without success.

It was at this moment, when an estrangement between
Charles and the Swiss had begun to manifest itself, that
Louis XL, of France, determined to extract some advantage
for himself. He sought to isolate Charles by reconciling
Sigmund to the Swiss, a task which a less wily diplomat
might certainly have considered altogether impossible, but
which was, in point of fact, accomplished with consummate
tact, and fox-like cunning. The treaty of St. Omer had not
proved satisfactory to Sigmund; he found Charles estab-
lishing himself firmly in Elsass, and his lost provinces
seemed further than ever from his grasp, as the time slipped
by, and he was still unable to comply with the conditions
of payment. In his predicament, Sigmund turned for help
to Louis XL, with the result that an altogether new group-
ing of forces was effected; for the French King persuaded
Austria and the Confederation to approach one another,
and to draw up the preliminaries of a Perpetual Peace
(Ewige Richtung\ which was to be formally adopted, two
years later, in 1476.

All honor to the monarch for thus bringing to a close
this seemingly interminable struggle! It had been waged
intermittently for about two hundred years, so that it had
become part and parcel of the national policies of the two
sides.

To have reconciled enemies, heretofore, with reason, con-
sidered hopelessly estranged, was no mean performance —
but behind this apparently disinterested service there lay a
far-reaching plan which aimed not at the welfare of the
Confederates but at the aggrandizement of France. It will
always remain a much-vexed question just how far Louis XL
was responsible for the events which succeeded this pact of
friendship, whether he directed them, or was himself swept
away by the force of circumstances. Certain it is that



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224 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

while he worked for certain ends, a series of events was
furthering his plans in the most remarkable way. Through
the influence of Nicholas von Diessbach and Jost von
Silenen he won the close alliance of the Swiss. An agree-
ment was made that, should they become involved in war,
notably with Burgundy, they might count upon his help;
and, as an expression of his friendship, he was to give the
Eight States, with their allies, Fribourg and Solothurn, an
annuity of 2000 francs each, besides 20,000 francs to be
distributed equally amongst them. In return for this they
pledged themselves to supply the French King with mer-
cenary troops whenever he should require them.

In the meantime, Peter von Hagenbach's rule in Elsass had
culminated in a popular revolt. He was condemned to death
in a trial at which the Swiss participated, and finally executed.

In 1474, a declaration of war was sent to Duke Charles of
Burgundy by Bern, in the name of the whole Confederation.
The magistrates and people of the communities, constituting
the "Great Confederacy of Upper Germany," as the Swiss
Confederation was officially styled, proclaimed themselves
enemies of the Burgundian prince. Soon after, an expedition,
composed of Swiss and Austrians with contingents from
Elsass, invaded Burgundy, during Charles' absence in Ger-
many, and laid seige to the stronghold of Hericourt. Louis
XL, watched their movements with pleasure, and was full of
compliments for the Swiss when they defeated the Burgund-
ians and took Hericourt after a stubborn fight. As Charles



Online LibraryWilliam Denison McCrackanThe rise of the Swiss republic: A history → online text (page 17 of 32)