William Denison McCrackan.

The rise of the Swiss republic: A history online

. (page 19 of 32)
Online LibraryWilliam Denison McCrackanThe rise of the Swiss republic: A history → online text (page 19 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


to take part in this reorganization or to pay the imperial taxes
demanded of them. Instead of this, they allied themselves
still more closely with the King of France, who rewarded them
with money, in pay and pensions. When Maximilian threat-
ened to invade the Confederation if his demands were not com-
plied with, the Biirgermeister of Zurich, who had been sent to
carry on the negotiations, is said to have replied : " Gracious
lord, I should not advise you to do this ; we have so ignorant
and rustic a populace, that they would not spare, I fear, even
the imperial crown."

While this slumbering antagonism contributed not a little to
the war which followed, actual hostilities were precipitated by
quite .another cause. The leagues of Graubiinden, which we
have seen allying themselves with the Confederates, were just
at this time suflFering severely at the hands of their Austrian
neighbors in the Tyrol, and, in their need, called upon the
Swiss to help them. With this a desultory, devastating war
began, which was sometimes sharpest upon the Northern front-
ier, sometimes upon the Eastern. The first encounter between
the Swiss and the Swabian League, which had been formed in
the South of Germany under the patronage of the Emperor,



Digitized by



Google



238 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

was at Bniderholz, near Basel. Here, as in all the subsequent
battles of this war, the Swiss defeated an enemy much superior
to them in point of numbers, but undisciplined and not anima-
ted by a definite purpose. An unusually bloody encounter
took place soon after, at Frastenz, in the Tyrol, and Maximilian
himself sent an imperial army to reinforce the Austrians sta-
tioned there, but without success, for another battle was
fought near the gorge of the Calven in the Miinsterthal which
resulted in a perfect slaughter of the Austrians.

The decisive battle of this war was fought at Domach near
Basel, where the Swabian army was surprised by the Swiss
and cut to pieces.

In 1499, the Peace of Basel put an end to this war. The
Confederates had proved themselves stronger than the forces
of the German Empire. From now on, although they were
not expressly declared independent, they practically formed
a separate organization. It was not until about one hundred
and fifty years later, at the Treaty of Westphalia, in 1648, that
their independence received the formal acknowledgement of
the powers.

In 1501, as one of the results of the Swabian war, the towns
of SchafiThausen and Basel, old and trusted allies on many
occasions, were definitely received into the Confederation
as the eleventh and twelfth members.



Digitized by



Google



CHAPTER VIII.

SWITZERLAND AND THE BALANCE OF POWER IN EUROPE.

AT this moment the r61e which the Confederation assumed
in European politics became almost dramatic in inten-
sity and brilliancy. The rude mountaineers actually held the
balance of power during the period which succeeded the Swa-
bian war and preceded the Reformation. With justice, there-
fore do Swiss writers describe this era of their history as
the most glorious in diplomacy and war, but the most demora-
lizing, ethically and morally.

Their ambassadors were f^ted and flattered at all the foreign
courts. The chief towns of the States were haunted by emis-
saries, intriguing to secure fresh levies of troops. The time
came when the richest prince would invariably secure the ser-
vices of these mercenaries, the most desirable soldiers in
Europe. **Pas ef argent^ pas de SuisseSy* was the saying
which then arose, and has ever since been made a cause of
reproach to the Confederation, although an explanation of the
origin of this sentence has been given, which, if correct, makes
it redound to the honor, rather than to the shame, of the mer-
cenaries. It appears that, while in the service of France,
some Swiss troops were unable to obtain their pay, and they
therefore declared their intention of returning home. They
were urged, however, to live by brigandage, like other bands of
mercenaries out of employment, until they could be
re-engaged ; and when they refused to do this, a French gen-
eral is said to have exclaimed, **Pas cf argent, pas de Suisses,'
in impatience at their scruples. Even if this explanation is
far-fetched and improbable, there is a good deal to be said in



Digitized by



Google



240 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

excuse of the Swiss ; the barrenness of their mountains, the
hard struggle for existence in the face of the contending ele-
ments, and their training in the use of arms, must all be taken
as extenuating circumstances. Perhaps the best answer
which has ever been given to this reproach was that made by
a Swiss to a Frenchman. "We fight for honor, you for
money," said the Frenchman. "Yes," replied the Swiss, "we
both fight for what we have not got."

In fact, fighting for pay was considered a perfectly legitimate
and honorable means of gaining a living. The only trouble
was that, in the confusion of promises to various sovereigns,
Swiss troops were sometimes found in opposing armies, and
although they are not known to have actually fought against
each other, the mere fact that they could thus support antag-
onistic policies at the same time shook the respect in which
they had heretofore been held, and brought bitter reproach upon
their native land.

The authority of the central government of the Confeder-
ation, as distinguished from that of the several states, was
found too weak and impotent to grapple with this evil of the
mercenary system. In vain did consecutive Diets forbid
young men to hire themselves out for foreign service, in vain
were the disastrous consequences of this conduct explained
and insisted upon — the whole country was given up to war
and intrigue.

' The power of the Confederation was exerted mainly upon
a£Fairs in Italy, which had become a prize of contention in Euro-
pean politics. At the end of the fifteenth and the beginning
of the sixteenth century, Italy was in a state of political demor-
alization and disintegration. Although it was pre-eminently the
home of art, and the centre of great commercial activity and
wealth, it was nevertheless a prey to internal dissensions, and
was powerless against the attacks of foreign invaders. It was
mainly in Milan that the influence of the Swiss made itself
felt, where a conflict arose between Charles VIII., King of



Digitized by



Google



SWITZERLAND'S POWER IN EUROPE. 241

France, who laid claims to that city, and the Dukes of the fam-
ily of Sforza. By throwing their influence now on one side
now on the other, the Swiss could decide the issues of this
long-drawn contest. At first they were allied with France,
which had overrun the whole of Italy, but when the Pope con-
cluded the so-called Holy League, with the object of driving the
French out of Italy, they were induced to change sides, and
found themselves arrayed against their former ally. It must
be said that the unsophisticated Swiss knew nothing about the
Pope's true plans, of his ambitious design of becoming a great
political master, but merely supposed that his spiritual suprem-
acy was threatened. They were, therefore, easily persuaded
to send troops by the Pope's emissary, Matthaus Schinner, an
ecclesiastic of the Upper Valais, later created first Swiss Car-
dinal for these services.

They repeatedly invaded Northern Italy on their own
account, always conquering and plundering. On one occasion
they penetrated to Pavia, in their midst being Ulrich Zwingli,
the later Reformer, but at that time army chaplain, and a
staunch partisan of the Papal pretensions. They reinstated
Max Sforza in Milan and drove the French from his territories.
In 1 5 13, however, the French returned, reconquered Milan,
and were apparently once more masters of the situation.
When the news of this exploit reached the Confederates, a
large army was collected to march to the relief of Milan. At
Novara a decisive battle was fought, which forced the French
again to evacuate the country ; the Swiss had once more proved
themselves too strong for the King of France.

This apparently interminable fight for Milan was finally
decided in favor of the French by a tremendous battle near
Marignano, or modem Melegnano. Francis I., ambitious and
enterprising, determined to retrieve the disasters of his prede-
cessors in that field, and to attack Milan with an overwhelming
force. For this purpose he collected an army of 60,000 men,
magnificently equipped, and supplied with the best artillery of
the day. In the course of a few days he had taken every-



Digitized by



Google



242 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

tbing up to within a short distance of Milan. The Swiss,
in the meantime, were undecided whether to check the
advancing tide or to withdraw from a contest in which they
had only an indirect interest; but Cardinal Schinner, who
was filled with a bitter hatred against the French, succeeded
by a trick in forcing the Swiss to fight. About 24,000 Con-
federates opposed the advance of the French army at Marig-
nano, where a terrible struggle took place, which deserves to
rank amongst the bloodiest encounters in history. The first
day of the fight remained indecisive; both sides maintained
their positions, fighting by the light of the moon until mid-
night, but next morning, when the battle was renewed at dusk,
the superior numbers and the eflfective artillery of the French
began to tell heavily upon the Swiss. Still they fought on,
holding their own by prodigies of valor. Unfortunately, at the
critical moment, when the two armies were so thoroughly
exhausted that the slightest advantage given to one or the
other was decisive, the French received reinforcements from
Venice, and forced their brave opponents to yield the ground.
In perfect order, defending themselves to the last with hero-
ism, the Swiss executed a retreat which has never been sur-
passed in the history of military tactics for bravery and order.

The battle of Marig^ano put an end to the international rdle
which the Swiss Confederation had been playing since the
Swabian War, for, although still much sought after and feared
for their military power, the Swiss no longer were able to
decide European issues by the weight of their influence.

Amongst the many results of the Italian campaign we may
cite as the most important the definite admittance of Appen-
zell into the Confederation as the thirteenth State.



Digitized by



Google



CHAPTER IX.

THE THIRTEEN SWISS STATES AND THE THIRTEEN AMERICAN

COLONIES.

IN what respects did the Confederation of Thirteen States
differ from that of the Eight old States ?

There are a number of striking changes to note, both in the
foreign relations and in the internal constitution of this
enlarged Confederation. There are evidences, not only of
great territorial expansion, but also of entirely new departures
in the principles and practices of government

After the Swabian war, the Confederation had become, to all
intents and purposes, independent of the German Empire, lead-
ing a life apart from the parent stem, and developing foreigfn
policies of its own. In fact, as timd went on, the Swiss found
themselves drawn closer and closer into an alliance with the
natural enemy of the Empire, with France, the strongly centra-
lized and wealthy state, which supplied them with unlimited
pay and pensions in return for inilitary services. The fifteenth
century also saw the accomplishment of an undertaking which
the men of the fourteenth would have scouted as impossible
and visionary, a perpetual peace was established, clearly drawn
up and signed, between the Confederates and their hereditary
enemy, the Dukes of Austria,

The incorporation of five new States, as well as the addition
of a number of allies and of conquered or subject districts, gave
the Confederation of Thirteen States an unbroken frontier and
made of it a compact, geographical whole. Besides these thir-
teen States, which were the real privileged members, there were
a number of allies, or Zugewandte Orte^ bound sometimes to

243



Digitized by



Google



244 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

one, sometimes to more of the thirteen States. Amongst these
were the Abbot and Town of St. Gallen, the Prince-Bishop of
Basel, the Count of Neychatel, the towns of Bienne, Miilhausen
in Elsass, Rotweil in Swabia, and the two republics of the Val-
ais and Graubiinden. We might' add the little miniature
republic of Gersau on the lake of Luzem, which was really
never incorporated into any of the States until the beginning
of this century, when it became part of the Canton of Schwiz.

The subject lands, or Uniertanenlande^yitx^ the Aargau and
Thurgau, administered in common, the former by eight States,
the latter by ten, the Rheinthal, Sargans, Gaster, and Utznach,
Morat, Grandson, Orbe, and Echallens, Bellinzona, Lugjano,
Locarno, Mendrisio, and the Val Maggia — all these districts
were governed by various combinations from amongst the Thir-
teen States. The confusion resulting from rivalries and jeal-
ousies in administering the affairs of these common possessions
was one of the worst features in the organization of the Thir-
teen States, and was the cause of endless corruption in ages to
come.

It will be seen from the above enumeration of names, that
of the twenty-two Cantons, now forming the Swiss Confedera-
tion, at that time only thirteen were full-fledged members,
four were still allies, three were in the inferior position of sub-
ject or conquered lands, and two, Vaud and Geneva, had not
yet entered into direct relations with the Confederation at all.

From a constitutional standpoint, the Confederation of Thir-
teen States had not advanced much beyond that of the Eight.
The want of a central, controlling force was as glaring as ever,
and the whole still presented the appearance of a group of
states, united rather by the force of circumstances than by
premeditation. The Covenant of Stans undoubtedly tended
toward centralization, and continued the work of founding a
body of Federal Law, begun by the Priest's Charter and by
the Covenant of Sempach, but in any case, the advance was
very small, and in the Covenant of Stans was marred by the
autocratic provisions which forbade public meetings.



Digitized by



Google



THE THIRTEEN SWISS STATES. 245

The Diets, however, or Tagsatzungen^ to which delegates
were sent from the several States, began to assume certain
regular features, although it was not till later that they
received fixed times and places of meeting. Unfortunately,
the laws and resolutions of these Diets usually remained inop-
erative from the very impotence of the assemblies. There
was no executive authority to enforce the regulations. In
the first place, the delegates had not a free hand to vote as
seemed best to them; they acted entirely according to the
instructions which they took with them from the hpme author-
ities. If no decision was reached, the delegates were obliged
to return for new instructions. But suppose the delegates
re-assembled for reconsideration, it did not suffice that a majority
of them consented to the proposed piece of legislation ; every
bill to become a law must receive the unanimous vote of the
delegates. One obdurate State could defeat the wishes of
the whole Confederation. And when the law was once passed
there was no executive power to enforce it ; the individual
States were at liberty to choose whether or not they would
obey the injunctions of the Diets. As a result, certain States
might vote in favor of good resolutions for form's sake and at
the same time never comply with them practically. This mode
of procedure was especially resorted to in all matters connected
with the mercenary system and the foreign pensions. Success-
ive Diets voted to suppress these evils, which were felt to be
eating away the virtue of the country, but the individual states
did not enforce the provisions made to counteract the spread-
ing corruption.

Amongst the new departures inaugurated at this time were,
first, the common bailiwicks, such as the Aargau and Thurgau,
and then a singular provision inserted into the leagues con-
' eluded with Basel, Schaffhausen, and Appenzell. This stipu-
lated that the new members should give aid against a foreign
foe, but in case the Confederates quarrelled amongst them-
selves, they were to make every attempt to reconcile the
adversaries. If these efforts did not succeed they were to



Digitized by



Google



246 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

remain neutral or, in the words of the text, to ''sit still" while
the Confederates fought out their quarrel.

Whatever the inherent weaknesses of this loose Confedera-
tion of the Thirteen States, it must have contained elements of
strength for it lasted no less than two hundred and eighty-
five years as then constituted.

But what are the points of resemblance which can be
traced between those Thirteen Swiss States and the Thirteen
American Colonies before their growth into an independent
nation }

In both countries the states were practically self-governing,
owing only nominal allegiance to a distant supreme ruler. In
both countries there was the same absence of a central control-
ling organization, although the national spirit was vigorous
and assertive. The American colonies, however, were fortu-
nate in not possessing subject lands to debauch their gov-
ernments. It is true that the Western territory for awhile
proved a dangerous bone of contention amongst them, but the
wisdom shown by Congress in carving new states out of that
territory soon removed all cause for jealousy. Indeed, the
process of absorbing the Western lands into the Union has
been admirable in its simplicity and success. Switzerland
had no vast area of virgin soil to assimilate ; its growth was
strictly circumscribed to the few states it could attract within
its orbit or to those it could conquer outright. The American
colonies naturally expanded westward, away from the narrow
strip of sea-coast, but the Swiss states had no such store-house
of well-nigh unlimited resoures to draw upon. As Mr. J. F.
Kirk has said of the Swiss Confederation in the middle of
the fifteenth century : '' It had now entered upon a course of
retaliation and of foreign enterprise. Its former assailants,
stripped of their possessions in Helvetia [sic] and unable to
arrest the flood which their own temerity had set in motion,
were treated with a retributive and scornful insolence, saw
their provinces exposed to perpetual incursions, and their
towns, if not in open mutiny, inviting the friendship of the



Digitized by



Google



THE THIRTEEN SWISS STATES. 247

invaders, and seeking admission into the league."^ That was
the method by which the Swiss Confederation enlarged its area.

The first irregular Diets of the Confederation were not
unlike the occasional Congresses convened by the Colonies —
deliberative bodies without constitutional attributes, and with-
out the necessary powers to enforce their decrees.

It is interesting, also, to notice the difference in the growth
of the two groups of states from mere aggregations into firm
organisms, to measure the intervals between epoch-making
charters in their evolutionary progress. It took the Swiss
Confederation no less than five hundred and twenty-four years
to grow from a primitive league into a state with even a sem-
blance of central authority, from the Perpetual Pact in 1291,
to the Federal Pact of 1815. The short-lived constitution of
the Helvetic Republic, in 1798, and the Act of Meditation, in
1803, cannot be reckoned as part of a natural development,
since they were imposed upon Switzerland by a foreign power.
On the other hand, it took the United States only one hun-
dred and thirty-eight years to traverse this same period in its
history, from the first ephemeral Articles of Agreement, con-
cluded by four of the Colonies in 1643, ^^ ^^^ adoption, of the
Articles of Confederation, in 1781. The next step, from a
loose-jointed state #into a compact federal body, was accom-
plished much more rapidly in both countries. In Switzerland
after thirty-three years of dissatisfaction, and in the United
States after only eight years of experimenting.

Prof. Hart, in his "Introduction to the Study of Federal
Government " says on this point, " It is a remarkable fact that
three of the four strong existing federations have passed
through a transition stage of weak federation, and out of the
experiences of that period have developed a workable system.
This was the case in America, as it was the case in Switzer-
land and Germany."^

1 Kirk, J. F. History of Charles, the Bold. Vol. II., p. 282.
^ Hart, A. B. Introduction to the Study of Federal Government, p. 56.
(Harvard Monographs).



Digitized by



Google



Digitized by VjOOQIC



BOOK IV.

THE PERIOD OF THE REFORMATION.



Digitized by



Google



Digitized by VjOOQIC



CHAPTER I.

THE RISE OF THE REFORMATION IN SWITZERLAND.

SWITZERLAND has always been too uQsig;nificant in point
of territory and population, and too much on sufferance
in the midst of the great European powers, to play what could
be termed a leading part upon the historical stage. It is true
that for a few years, at the end of the fifteenth century, she
held the balance of power, and was able to decide the issues of
European conflicts with the help of her unequalled mercenary
troops ; but after all this temporary advantage was not due so
much to her own strength as to the demoralization of her
neighbors, and in the end proved neither creditable to her
honor nor profitable to her development. It is also true that,
at the present time, Switzerland has entered upon a life of
great usefulness and honor, influencing the world for good both
by the example of a pure and progressive democracy, and by
the international unions of which she is the centre. But if
one were asked by what movement within her own borders
Switzerland has made the most profound and lasting impres-
sion upon human development, and fully vindicated her right
to rank with nations which have shaped the destinies of man,
the answer would undoubtedly be : by the Reformation, as the
work of Ulrich Zwingli at Zurich, and of John Calvin at
Geneva.

The scope of this work does not admit of any examination
into the purely religious aspect of that great movement which
swept through Christendom at the beginning of the sixteenth
century. The writer will not attempt to make any inquiry
into the respective merits of the theological systems involved

251



Digitized by



Google



252 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

in this controversy, enlarging neither upon the corruption
which had invaded the Church, the immorality in the monas-
teries and nunneries, the traffic in absolutions and livings, the
loss of spirituality and the decay of learning amongst the
clergy ; nor, on the other hand, upon the fanaticism of the Prot-
estants, their ruthless destruction of the good along with evil,
their unnatural condemnation of innocent pleasures and their
unnecessary cruelty in the hour of triumph.

I shall confine myself to the political problems, created by
the Reformation in the Swiss Confederation, and to the traces
which it left upon the life of that country.

For it must be remembered that the Reformation was not
only a religious movement, it was a new departure in every
branch of human activity. Before its advent the world had
grown stale, and man's wisdom had become unprofitable. Not
only the dogmas of the theologians, but the very works of the
artists, the experiments of the scientists and the dissertations
of the schoolmen had become puerile and perverted, their
inspirations and aspirations distorted and misdirected, and
their fallacies perpetuated themselves in a vicious sequence
under the dominion of fixed, unalterable rules. Upon such a
state of society there burst, at the end of the fifteenth century, a
new force, whose sign was liberty — liberty of thought, of act-
ion and of spirit. It pervaded every work of man, and inaug-
urated an era of innovation in every department of life; it
sent men to study the secrets of science, and invented the
printing press ; it drove others across the seas in search of
new continents, and discovered America; it set scholars at
work upon the ancient classics distributed over Europe by the
fall of Constantinople, and gave birth to the revival in art and
learning known as the Renaissance. Politics, economics, and
social life felt this rejuvenating breath, which opened fresh



Online LibraryWilliam Denison McCrackanThe rise of the Swiss republic: A history → online text (page 19 of 32)