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The rise of the Swiss republic: A history online

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annual shower of pensions from abroad as upon the harvests
from their fields, and when they found the movement of
the Reformation opposing this system, self-interest dictated

Indeed, both parties were eager for the strife. First Bern
and Ziirich joined hands in a separate alliance, and then the
five Catholic states of Uri, Schwiz, Unterwalden, Luzern, and
Zug united in a separate league, and entered into a compact
with Austria.

Zwingli desired war, mainly for two reasons. He saw that
the Catholics were unprepared, and thought the present a
favorable opportunity to win over the whole of Switzerland by
a bold stroke ; secondly, he imagined, erroneously, as the future
proved, that the populations of the five states were secretly in

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sympathy with his views, and were only kept in submission by
the severity of the local authorities.

The antagonism created by religious differences had free
play in the common subject lands of the Aargau and Thurgau.
Which of the two parties should control these districts, and
thus obtain the balance of power? That was the question
which finally precipitated an armed conflict. Mutual outrages
and indignities first made all attempts to arrive at a reasonable
understanding fruitless, and then Zurich launched forth a dec-
laration of war. Accompanied by Zwingli, the troops of this
city disposed themselves in such a manner as to overpower
the enemy at their first move. The Zurich army was imbued
with the Reformer's principles ; neither oaths were heard nor
games of chance played in the camp. The same rigid disci-
pline prevailed as amongst the Puritan followers of Cromwell.

When both armies were already standing facing each other,
an encounter was averted, at the last moment, by the interven-
tion of Aebli, the Landammann of Glarus, and an armistice
was established. Zwingli did not disguise his disappointment,
for he insisted that an opportunity had been lost which would
never return; the Catholic States would perfect their arma-
ments and would return to the charge.

A peace was declared at Kappel, which guaranteed religious
liberty, according to the conception of that term in the i6th
century ; i. e., the various States could determine for themselves
what religious form should obtain within their jurisdiction, and
in the common subject lands every parish could choose for
itself. There was no question of individual liberty, for every
man became Catholic or Protestant, according to the dictation
of the majority in the State or parish which he inhabited,
unless he chose to sacrifice house and home, and emigrate
to some district where his particular faith was practised.

After the conclusion of this peace, Zwingli sought to extend
the scope of his operations outside the narrow limit of Switzer-
land, to enter the arena of international politics. He conceived
the idea of bringing Swabia and Elsass, even Italy, within the

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sphere of bis influence^ and of then effecting a connection with
the German Protestants, under Luther. He went so far as to
propose an alliance with Francis I. of France, in contradiction
to all the political principles which he bad preached for so
many years to his fellow-countrymen^ when he had urged them
to shake off foreign alliances* and to put an end to foreign
enterprises. It must be said, however, that not one of these
ambitious schemes succeeded. Every effort to force the move-
ment, of which he was the leader, into foreign fields, failed sig-
nally, and even his interview with Luther, from which he
expected so much, instead of resulting in a cordial plan for
co-operation, only produced an open feud between the two
Reformers. In truth, there were radical differences between
the teachings of the two men, especially as regards the doc-
trine of the communion. In this, and in other respects, Luther
was more conservative than Zwingli, who sought to revolution-
ize the whole existence of man, sweeping out of his daily life
everything which was not founded upon the Bible. At first,
there had been only an exchange of views by letter, but, in
1529, the Landgrave Philip, of Hessen, invited the two leaders
to a conference in his castle, at Marburg. At the outset of
this memorable meeting, Luther demanded the complete sub-
mission of the Swiss Protestants to his own movement. This
attitude was not likely to facilitate an understanding with a
man of Zwingli's independent temperament, but when the two
Reformers broached the cardinal point, the doctrine of the
Communion, and were unable to ag^ee upon a common inter-
pretation, the interview degenerated into a vulgar quarrel ; the
learned doctors lost their tempers, Luther calling Zwingli a
heretic, and Zwingli taunting Luther with inability to answer
his arguments. A few meaningless articles were drawn up,
probably to hide the complete failure of the negotiations, but
the two men parted in anger. ** You have another spirit from
us," said Luther, and when Zwindi offered him his hand in
parting, he refused to take it. ^

^ Oechsli, W. Quellenbuch, p. 330.

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Discouraged by this failure, Zwingli went home, to pursue
his daily avocations at the minster in Zurich.

But, in the meantime, the strife between the Catholic and
Protestant States of the Swiss Confederation had not been set-
tled by the Peace of Kappel, for both sides soon discovered dif-
ferent interpretations of contested articles. The spirit of
confessional hatred was not slow in finding occasion to pit the
two parties against each other. The signal for the outbreak
was a trifling event, which had, in reality, nothing to do with
religious matters at all. A certain Italian adventurer, calling
himself Giovanni Giacomo Medici, was making incursions into
Graubiinden, from his stronghold at Musso, on the lake of Como,
where a few remains still attest the former presence of a cas-
tle. The harassed men of Graubiinden applied to the Confed-
erates for help, but the Catholic States, for some reason, did
not respond to this appeal, and Ziirich alone was left to send
the desired help. From this circumstance, the suspicion got
abroad in Ziirich, that the conduct of the Italian soldier was
the result of a preconcerted plan with the Catholic States, and
was to. form the prelude to a general systematic attack upon
the Protestant States. This suspicion was perfectly unfounded,
but was sufficient, in the heated condition of the public mind,
to lead to disastrous results. Ziirich instituted a blockade of
provisions against the Forest Cantons, much to Zwingli's dis-
pleasure, be it said, and in other ways drove the Five States to

There enter into the lives of many great men moments of
excessive melancholy, of unaccountable depression, when they
give voice to dire forebodings and prophecies, and bewail the
apparent failure of their life's work. It would seem that
Zwingli was now assailed by dark thoughts of this kind.
From the pulpit, he uttered words of warning to the men of
Ziirich for their lenient conduct toward the Five Catholic
States ; he predicted that the Protestant cause would sustain a
terrible defeat, unless they pursued a different policy; in an
access of despair he foretold his own death and that of many

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of his friends ; and finally offered to resign his position, and
retire from public life.

In point of fact, he need not have estimated his work so low,^
for the results he had obtained were in every way marvellous.
In a few years he had transformed Zurich from a gay, rollick-
ing city, dependent upon foreign pensions and the good will of
the Pope, into a sober, industrious place, free from the bribes
of mercenary captains. And this he bad accomplished by
appealing to the hearts of the people, rather than to the fana-
ticism which so largely prevailed in his time. His character
had none of the austere, prim, and long-faced piety which dis-
tinguished some of the other Reformers and their followers.
To the last, he remained a genial favorite of the people. In
the early part of his career, he had married a widow, Anna
Reinhard, who bore him four children, and this fact, coupled
with many homely accomplishments, not to speak of some
very pronounced but very human failings, served to increase
his popularity with all his fellow citizens.

The cruel and unjust blockade of provisions, instituted by
Zurich against the Five Catholic States, was the prelude to
another armed conflict. This time again, it was in the region
of Kappel that the two armies met, but the issue of the com-
bat was reversed, for, after several hours' fighting, a Captain of
Uri succeeded in executing a flank movement upon the Zurich
army, which decided the battle in favor of the Five States.
Zwingli had, as usual, accompanied the troops, in his capacity
of Chaplain, in spite of the remonstrances of the city author-
ities, who not only feared for his life, but also dreaded the
exasperating effect which his presence upon the battle-field
would exert upon the enemy. In the last mdl6e he was
struck down, while tending the wounded. When the strife
was over, he was found by some stragglers, who, seeing that
he was still breathing, but not recognizing him, asked if he
desired to confess to a priest. He shook his head, and then a
soldier pierced him with his sword. Another account says,
that when his body was recognized, it was torn to pieces by a

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furious multitude, and the remains delivered to the flames, as
that of an arch-heretic and traitor.

Considering the decisiveness of this victory, the Catholic
States gave proof of great moderation in drawing up the con-
ditions of peace which closed the hostilities. The new state
of affairs did not differ from that which had preceded the
battle, except in a few particulars which flowed naturally from
the defeat of the Protestants.

The consternation and panic, which had broken out in
Zurich upon the announcement of Zwingli's death, were soon
allayed by the appointment as his successor of a man sing-
ularly well suited to fill this difficult post. Heinrich Bull-
inger was a man of tact, of firm moderation, not easily led into
hazardous enterprises, and not at all given to political plans.

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AS I have already said in the chapter on the Valais, none of
the Cantons which are now included in French-speak-
ing Switzerland, took any part whatever in founding the Swiss
Confederation. They did not contract alliances with the Ger-
man-speaking States, until the latter had already established
their independence and become a power in Europe. Even
Fribourg, though the first of the French-speaking States to be
admitted within the federal circle, did not become a full-
fledged member until after the Burgundian war had given the
Confederation a world-wide reputation ; while Vaud, the Valais,
Neuchatel, and Geneva were not placed upon an equal footing
with the other States until the beginning of this century.

Properly speaking, the religious transformation, of which
Geneva was the scene during the sixteenth century, cannot
be called a Swiss movement ; it was more truly an expression
of French Protestantism, since Calvin himself and his chief
collaborators were Frenchmen. At best, it was an independent
agitation, if we lake into consideration that Geneva was a free
Republic at the time. It is only because this Republic has
since become part and parcel of the Swiss Confederation, and
because the triumph of Protestantism in Geneva was virtually
assured by the intervention of Bern, a Swiss State, that we are
constrained to devote a chapter to the fortunes of the Refor-
mation in that city.

Geneva, the charming place, which ranks first in point of
wealth and culture amongst the cities of Switzerland, lies at
the Southern extremity of Lake Leman, in a position similar


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to Zurich and Luzern with reference to their lakes. Julius
Caesar speaks of it, in his day, as a frontier-town of the Celtic
tribe of the AUobroges, and describes how he used it as a
strategic point of great value in his conflict with the Helvetil
Like many another stronghold, it passed through the vicissi-
tudes of the Roman occupation, the invasion of the barbarians,
and the Prankish supremacy with varying fortunes, to emerge,
in the early middle ages, as the seat of a bishopric. There was
first the ruling Bishops, secondly the Counts of Geneva, later
superseded by the Counts of Savoy, and thirdly a community
of citizens, all disputing with each other for the control of
affairs. In fact, the struggle for supremacy between these
three elements and the eventual victory of the citizens, con-
stitutes the history of Geneva, prior to the advent of the Refor-
mation. From all accounts, the medieval city must have
resembled modern Geneva in more than one particular. It
was then, as now, a commercial centre, admirably situated on
the confines of Italy, France, and Germany, with a cosmopoli-
tan population of varied and interesting qualities. The Gene-
vese type has always, from this circumstance, been marked by
great breadth of charkcter, being, in fact, a happy combination
of French vivacity with German solidity and Italian artistic

An alliance with Fribourg, based upon common commercial
interests, seems to have been Geneva's first connection with
the Swiss Confederation, but, by degrees, this bond was
strengthened, for the party of the people, as distinguished
from that of the Bishop and the Count, began to look upon a
closer alliance with their democratic neighbors as the surest
road toward independence. A group of citizens, nicknamed
"The Children of Geneva," was formed, under the leadership
of their patriots : Philibert Berthelier, Bezanson Hugues, and
Francois Bonivard. It was their purpose to emancipate the
city from the rule of the Bishop and the house of Savoy, and
to cultivate friendly relations with the Confederates. These
three leaders, although so intimately united in their patriotic

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task, were as di£ferent as possible in temperament and attain-
ments. Berthelier seems to have been a jovial, popular favor-
ite, vof somewhat questionable habits, perhaps, but devoted
heart and soul to the popular cause; Hugues, on the other
hand, was a sober man of business, moderate but firm in his
demands ; while Bonivard, whose captivity in the dungeon of
Chillon has been unintentionally immortalized by the verse of
Byron, belonged to quite another class in society. He was
Prior of thfe monastery of St. Victor, intellectual by education,
passionate and ambitious by temperament. On the whole, his
motive in joining the people's party was not so pure as that of
his two colleagues, for we know that he was filled with a bitter
personal grudge against the House of Savoy, for having
deprived him of certain possessions*

The Republican faction in Geneva succeeded in inducing
the city to conclude a temporary alliance with Fribourg and
Bern, in 15 19, and another, for twenty-five years, in 1526; but
not without the continual opposition of the House of Savoy,
from whose midst the Bishop, as well as the Counts, were
drawn. From the circumstance of their close union with the
Swiss Confederates, the popular party began to be known as
EidguenotSf which is the French vulgarized form of the Ger-
man EidgenosseUy or Confederates. Some scholars have even
supposed that the name Huguenots, to denote French Protes-
tants at large, was derived from this party designation in
Geneva. Be that as it may, the cause of independence and
that of Protestantism, which, after the advent of the Reforma-
tion was allied with it, would never have triumphed in that city
had not the Swiss State of Bern offered armed intervention.

At first, the House of Savoy had seemed likely to crush all
the aspirations of the "Children of Geneva." Bertheiler was
arrested, and, scorning to retract what he had said or to
acknowledge the sovereignty of Savoy, was decapitated ; Boni-
vard,^ while travelling through the forest of Jorat, on his way

* McCrackan, W. D. Fran9oi8 Bonivard, Prisoner of Chillon — New England
Magazine, July, 1892.

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from Moudon to Lausanne, was caught and imprisoned in the
castle of Chillon; and, in 1532, Hugues, the last of the three
patriots, died, without having seen the full realizations of Jiis
hopes. But these men had prepared the ground ; the religious
agitation which came with the Reformation accomplished the

In the same year in which Hugues died, there came to
Geneva upon his missionary rounds, a man named William
Farel, who had previously traversed other parts of French
Switzerland, preaching under the protection of the Bernese
authorities. This man, one of the strangest personages which
the Reformation produced, was born in the south of France,
but had been obliged to flee from his country, on account of
his outspoken advocacy of Protestant doctrines. After long
wanderings, he placed his services at the disposal of Bern.
That city, having just accepted the new doctrines, was anxious
to do some proselyting in French Switzerland, in order, at the
same time, to extend her politics^l influences. No insults or per-
sonal outrages, no imprisonments or bodily chastisements
were able to moderate the fanatical zeal of Farel, or to
dampen the fire of his Southern nature. By sheer persistence
he won over the greater part of French Switzerland, and then
transferred the scene of his operations to Geneva, the Episco-
pal city. He was almost immediately expelled, in the midst of
a popular tumult, but, undaunted by this hostile reception, and,
in fact, rather stimulated by the dangers which he was obliged
to face, and which were his very breath of life, he returned
soon after, with several followers, under the special protection
of Bern. This time he was more successful. In 1535, he
induced the people to rise in revolt against the rule of the
Bishop and the House of Savoy, to storm the churches, and
introduce Protestantism.

But, having accomplished this, the people still found them-
selves confronted by the danger of regular, systematic efforts
on the part of Savoy to reconquer the city. This was the
state of affairs when, in 1536, a Bernese army of io,ocx> men.

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under the command of Hans Franz Nageli came to their res-
cue, established the independence of Geneva upon a firm basis,
and concluded a new alliance. On its way, this army had
traversed the whole country of Vaud without encountering
any opposition worthy of the name, and its entry into Geneva
was a veritable triumph. Returning, the Bernese troops
liberated the unfortunate Bonivard from the dungeon of Chil-
Ion, where he had suffered six long years of captivity, so that
he could return to his city in the midst of popular rejoicings,
and live the remaining thirty-f our years of his life in public ser-
vice. The ancient bishopric of Lausanne was also dissolved,
and the whole of Vaud became Bernese territory, a subject
land of the state of Bern.

The transformation of Geneva was now practically over.
By the Bernese invasion, Catholicism with Episcopal rule had
been definitely abolished. A new city, Protestant in point of
religion, and politically free, had taken the place of the old.
Still there remained a great deal to be done in bringing order
into the council of the city, in adapting her needs to new sur-
roundings, and, above all, in specifying and defining the arti-
cles of her religious creed. After a period of general radical
changes, the city was sorely in need of a constructive era.

It was just at this time, that the great organizer of French
Protestantism, John Calvin, arrived one summer's evening in
Geneva, on his way to Germany, expecting to proceed unno-
ticed on his journey after a short halt for rest. But the ever-
watchful Farel heard of his presence, and forthwith repaired to
the house where Calvin lodged, to persuade him to stay in
Geneva, and help him in the work of organization. With
characteristic vehemence, he went so far as to threaten Calvin
with God*s curse if he did not give up his intention of going
. to Germany, and settle in Geneva.

Calvin obeyed what he conceived to be a divine call, but
with the utmost reluctance, for he was, by nature, a retiring
scholar rather than a man of affairs. He had hoped, after
many wanderings, to find a place of refuge in Protestant Ger-

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many, where, sheltered from strife, he might meditate, and
occasionally launch a telling work upon the world. From early
youth he had been distinguished by great sensitiveness, prob-
ably exaggerated by the consciousness of bodily weakness.
His father had destined him for the church ; and when he was
only twelve years of age, had already procured for him a liv-
ing, the income of which was used for his schooling in Paris.
But as he grew up, there seems to have been a change of plan,
for we hear of his studying law at the universities of Orleans
and Bourges. Returning to Paris, he displayed a leaning
tow^d the new Lutheran doctrines. When he was twenty-
three, a lecture of his, read at the Sarbonne by one of his
friends, created such a sensation that he was obliged to flee
from the city to the South of France.

In the course of the next few years, he visited Strassburg
and Basel, in the latter place publishing (1536) his great work,
the " Institutio Religionis ChristiatuB^^ an exposition of his per-
sonal faith, and by far the most important dogmatic work of
sixteenth century Protestantism. After a short visit to Fer-
rara, in Italy, he returned to France, and was on his way to
settle in Germany when, as we have seen, he was detained
in Geneva by the impetuous Farel.

Calvin began to work quietly, under Farel's guidance, until
his superior talents made him the chosen leader of the Gene-
vese Protestants. He drew up a catechism, organized the con-
gregations, and persuaded the secular authorities to introduce
sumptuary laws of great severity. Jovial, pleasure-loving
Geneva was to be reformed into a quiet, church-going com-
munity. But opposition soon manifested itself amongst the
people. A crisis came, in 1538, when Calvin and Farel
refused to celebrate the communion, on the plea that it would
be profaned by the dissensions which were raging in the city.
For this act of insubordination the two Reformers were con-
demned by the municipal council to leave the city within three
days ; Calvin going to Strassburg and Farel to Neuchatel.

One might have supposed that this episode would have put

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a stop to Calvin's and Farel's connection with Geneva, but
three years had not elapsed before their partisans in the city
bad once more gained the upper hand, and had extended an
invitation to them to return to Geneva, and resume the work
which had been so brusquely interrupted. It was with great
reluctance that Calvin allowed himself to be persuaded.
" When I think," he writes to Farel, " how wretched I have
been there, I cannot help shuddering in my whole soul, when-
ever there is a question of my being recalled."^ His sense
of duty, however, prevailed and drove him back to Geneva,
where, once installed into his old place, he displayed the
utmost energy in furthering the plans he had matured
during his absence. A system of Church polity, his "Ordon-
nances Ecclesiastiques,'' was adopted by the magistrates
and people as the supreme law, knowing no mercy for
those who disobeyed, but exercising a pitiless censorship
over every act of the citizens. A system very much like
that of the Catholic inquisition grew up under his patron-
age; secret spies denounced the slightest infraction of the
laws, and even torture was applied to prisoners in order
to extract confessions from them. The multitude of these
cruel persecutions culminated in that of Michael Servetus,
a Spanish physician, who, hunted and outlawed by Prot-
estants and Catholics alike for his denial of the dogma of the
Trinity, was caught in Geneva and burned alive by order of
the Coimcil, and with the sanction of Calvin. After this

Online LibraryWilliam Denison McCrackanThe rise of the Swiss republic: A history → online text (page 21 of 32)