William Denison McCrackan.

The rise of the Swiss republic: A history online

. (page 5 of 32)
Online LibraryWilliam Denison McCrackanThe rise of the Swiss republic: A history → online text (page 5 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


their dictation. Alamannia was definitely incorporated into
the great empire.



Digitized by



Google



CHAPTER VI.



THE HOUSE OF ZAERINGEN.



WITH the extraordinary development of the feudal sys-
tem and the growing impotence of the imperial author-
ity, which followed the downfall of the Carolingian family, a
great number of noblemen rose to practical independence
upon what was later to become Swiss soil. Although the
whole country remained under the supreme rule of the German
kings and emperors, still their rule was seldom, if ever, felt by
those who chose to disregard it. During the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries four great families in succession exerted a
predominating influence, Zaeringen, Kiburg, Savoy and Habs-
burg. Each in turn held the balance of power, each attempted
to establish an enduring dominion in Switzerland, and all
failed utterly to accomplish their object. Zaeringen and Kiburg
became extinct, while Savoy and Habsburg were forced to
evacuate the ground. Of the two latter houses, the first now
sits on the throne of a united and progressive Italy, the second
reigns over the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary, and the
scene of their first successes is the free state of the Swiss
Confederation.

It was during that all-embracing struggle between Henry IV.
and Pope Gregory VII. (Hildebrand), which broke over Europe
in 1077, that the bouse of 2^eringen first gave unmistakable
signs of its power. No one could remain neutral in the gen-
eral war kindled by this quarrel about the right of investiture.
The strife penetrated into the remotest valleys of the Alps,
where it arrayed the partisans of the King and the Pope
against each other, and caused them to fight with as much

55



Digitized by



Google



66 THE RISK OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

spirit as did the men in the lowlands, who were nearer the
great seats of conflict. When the excitement had temporarily
subsided at the death of Rudolf of Rheinfelden, the papal anti-
king, and the masses, which had been involved, were once
more able to readjust themselves, it was found that the house
of Zaeringen had materially strengthened its position in Ala-
mannia and Burgundy.

During the minority of Henry IV., his mother Agnes had
granted the Duchy of Alaraannia to her favorite, Rudolf of
Rheinfelden. But when later this Rudolf became the leader
of the party of the Pope, Henry appointed Frederic of Hohen-
staufen in his place. After the extinction of the family of
Rheinfelden in 1090, Berchtold H., Duke of Zaeringen, laid
claim to Alamannia. A compromise was finally reached in
1097 by which the family of Hohenstaufen retained the title
and Duchy, with the exception of the town and estates of
Zurich, which fell to Zaeringen. For the future, however,
the rule of Hohenstaufen on the south of the Rhine was purely
nominal, the Dukes of Zaeringen more and more absorbed the
rights and privileges of what is now German Switzerland. In
1 127 the office of Governor, or Rector, over Burgundy was
awarded to them by King Lothar. The Dukes of Zaeringen
thereby acquired the balance of power in the territory extend-
ing from the Rhine to the Lake of Geneva, and virtually
became the masters of what is to-day the Swiss Confederation.
The efforts which they made to maintain themselves, with all
the results this entailed, constitute the history of Switzerland
for the century during which they flourished.

From modest beginnings, as simple freemen living at Villin-
gen near Freiburg in Baden, the family had succeeded in add-
ing one estate to another, until two brilliant marriages had
brought them into the forefront of the nobility. The ancestral
castle of Zaeringen, now in ruins, may still be seen at the
village of that name not far from Freiburg. Once in posses-
sion of the balance of power in Southern Alamannia and
Burgundy the Dukes found themselves confronted by the



Digitized by



Google



THE HOUSE OF ZAERINGEN. 57

-difficult problem of preserving their position from the attacks
of jealous rivals. They inaugurated a system of defence which
was destined to exert a far-reaching influence upon the future
of the country. Selecting a number of villages situated in
positions of strategic importance, they fortified them with
walls and converted them into cities with chartered privileges.
An ancestor, Berchtold II., had founded Freiburg in Baden,
after the model of Cologne, and his descendant Berchtold IV.,
now in ii 76, or 1 178, enlarged a small settlement on the banks
of the Sarine into the city of Fribourg. Either he or his son,
Berchtold V., also fortified such towns as Burgdorf, Morat and
Thun. The culmination of this process of building cities was
reached in the founding of Bern by Berchtold V. in 1191.
He was induced to take this step in order to complete his line
of defence Fribourg-Burgdorf, by placing a garrisoned strong-
hold about midway between the two. He had just put down a
rising of Burgundian nobles near Avenches or Payerne, and
had gained a decisive victory in the valley of Grindelwald,
when he erected his new fortress upon a high sandstone penin-
sula formed by the winding river Aar.

The derivation of the name of Bern has given rise to con-
siderable speculation. The Bernese chronicler, Justinger,
writing in 1420, gives the following explanation, so characteris-
tic of his age : " And since much game ran in that oak forest
[on the site of the future city], Berchtold told his councillors
that he would name the city after the first beast caught in the
forest. Now the first to be caught was a bear, therefore the
city was called Bern."* It is certainly curious, if nothing more,
that this animal is represented on the city coat-of-arms as soon
after the year of founding as 1224. Dierauer, in his "Ges-
chichte der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft,*' mentions a
family "de Bemo" from Rottweil in modern Wurttemberg,
who were supposed to have been in the service of the Duke of
Zaeringen.^ But the most reasonable explanation of the name,

iDandliker, Geschichte der Schwelz. Vol. 1, p. 633.
«Vol. I, p. 61.



Digitized by



Google



58 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

and one which is now generally accepted, is that Bern is sim-
ply the German form of the Italian Verona. The Margraviate
of Verona was at one time in the possession of the family of
Zaeringen, and the founder may have had this fact in mind
when he named his new city. An example of exactly the
same change from Verona to Bern is furnished by the name of
Theodoric the Great, King of the Ostrogoths, who, because he
sometimes resided at Verona, is known in the German hero
romances as Dietrich von Bern.

In 12 18 Berchtold V. died childless, presumably at his ances-
tral castle of Zaeringen, leaving his possessions to be divided
amongst a crowd of eager relatives.

The Swiss people have reason to remember the house of
2^eringen with gratitude for having laid the foundations of so
many of their important cities. Nor must it be forgotten that
the extinction of the house of 2^eringen came most oppor-
tunely, for it is entirely within the range of possibility, that,
otherwise, the state they had erected, might have become a
principality, or even a monarchy, as enduring as any of those
which surround Switzerland to-day.



Digitized by



Google



CHAPTER VII.



THE HOUSE OF SAVOV.



THE mantle of Zaeringen seemed for a time to have fallen
upon the Counts of Kiburg, a family of somewhat uncer-
tain origin which had risen to great power in and about the
Thurgau. One of their castles may still be seen near Winter-
thur, the old Kiburg, as it is called, now a pleasant, restored
chateau, and another is the splendid castle which towers over
the little town of Thun. They inherited all. the possessions
of Berchtold V. of Zaeringen, except those which he had held
in fief from the empire. Under a certain Count Hartmann,
the Elder, and his nephew Hartmann, the Younger, Kiburg
reached the apex of its prosperity; but these two men both
died without issue in 1263-64, and left Savoy and Habs-
burg to quarrel over their vast estates.

At this time Count Peter of Savoy, sumamed Charlemagne
the Little, had conquered for himself the undisputed control of
what is to-day French Switzerland. He was nearing the close
of a career marked by extraordinary success, and his personal-
ity deserves in a measure to stand as one typical of the chiv-
alry of his time.

Peter's father, Thomas of Savoy, had sprung from the
obscure family of Maurienne, but had taken the first steps
toward obtaining a foothold on the northern shore of the Lake
of Geneva. Peter continued these efforts by contracting an
advantageous marriage with the heiress of Faucigny, then by
erecting strongholds at points of strategic importance, and
finally by embarking in open warfare against the multitude of
more or less independent lordlings, who ruled over the country.

50



Digitized by



Google



60 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

His niece, Eleonora, became the wife of Henry HI., King of
England, so that he also became intimately associated with that
country. It is related that on the occasion of his first visit to
London, he was received amid festivities at Westminster
Abbey, and created Duke of Richmond with the revenues of
many castles and manors. His brother Boniface was actually
appointed archbishop of Canterbury and primate of all Eng-
land. Peter became a sort of general personal advisor to the
King during his visit of about a year and a half.

On his return to Savoy, he began to subjugate the Valais,
and then turned his attention more particularly to the land of
Vaud ; in fact, it is in connection with the conquest of this lat-
ter region that his name is especially known in history. In the
course of some twenty years Peter gradually absorbed one
feudal estate after the other, until he was master of the lands
lying in the Lower Rhone valley, and in Vaud almost as far
north as the river Aar. The intervals of active conquest were
spent at the Court of England. Picturesque details of his
career are furnished by that highly imaginative, but not always
reliable, work the "Chronicle of Savoy." His address was
so persuasive that he was often asked to act as mediator
between England and France, and doubtless his services were
well rewarded, for we find him building a palace on ground
given him by Henry III. It stood on the Strand near the mod-
ern Waterloo Bridge. Fndeed, wherever the name Savoy
occurs in London, it is in memory of this Count Peter, Queen
Eleonora's uncle.

After Henry's defeat at Lewes, Peter made a great effort to
come to the aid of his kinsman. He equipped a fleet in
Flanders, and raised an army in the Alps ; but the fleet was
scattered by adverse winds, like many another which has been
sent against England, and his army was needed elsewhere, for
Peter suddenly received alarming news from the land of Vaud.
During his absence Count Rudolf of Habsburg, in his charac-
ter of heir to the extinct house of Kiburg, had advanced into
the country in order to receive the homage of bis subjects, and.



Digitized by



Google



THE HOUSE OF SAVOY. 61

if possible, to add to his possessions. There was a battle at
Chillon, one of Savoy's principal strongholds, which resulted
in favor of Peter. It appears that Rudolf's forces lay
encamped before Chillon under the leadership of a Duke of
Cophingen. Peter, coming down the Valais, left his army at
Villeneuve, penetrated with two others by might into the
castle, mounted the tower, saw the enemy lying about in dis-
order, and returned by boat to Villeneuve. Says the chronicle
of Savoy: "He went back in good spirits. When they saw
him so gay — 'What news.^' they asked. 'Good news,' he
answered, 'for if God be with us and you behave like men,
the enemy is ours.' At which they all cried with one accord
'Sir, you have but to command.' They armed themselves,
then fully equipped and in good order, mounted their steeds,
rounded the pass of Chillon without blowing of trumpets, and
fell upon the tents and quarters of the Duke of Cophingen.
They had good luck, for they found him and his men unarmed,
half awake and half asleep." There followed a treaty which
served to determine the respective spheres of action of these
two ambitious noblemen. A few months later in 1 268 Count
Peter died on his way home from a trip to Italy.

His brother Philip succeeded to the title, a man who did not
possess the requisite enterprise to carry on the schemes of the
indefatigable conqueror of the land of Vaud. The house of
Savoy lost prestige and power throughout the territory which
is now French Switzerland. The property in England was
left to Queen Eleonora, except the palace in London, which,
strangely enough, went as an endowment for the hospice on
the Great St Bernard, already at that date doing its benefi-
cent work.



Digitized by



Google



CHAPTER VIII.

THE HOUSE OF HABSBURG.

NOT far from Brugg in the present Canton of Aargau,
upon a hill which goes by the name of the Wiilpelsberg,
stands a massive tower with an adjoining dwelling. This par-
tial ruin is the ancestral castle of the house of Habsburg, now
rented to a farmer by the Cantonal authorities. Near by, on
the tongue of land made by the confluence of the rivers Aar
and Reuss, archeologists haye discovered traces of an older
seat, the Altenburg, but in the eleventh century the family
appear to have moved to the castle on the hill. A pretty
legend was devised in after years to explain the name of Habs-
burg. It relates that a certain ancestor, while hunting in
these parts, lost his hawk (Habicht)^ and at last found it on
the Wiilpelsberg. He was struck with the beauty of the^view,
built a castle, and called it Habichtshyirg or Habsburg.

The most valuable documentary information is derived from
the archives of the Abbey of Muri, which was founded by the
family in 1027. Besides extensive possessions in the Aargau
itself, Habsburg seems to have early acquired additional ones
in Elsass and the Breisgau. The first direct ancestor of the
great Rudolf, of whom we have definite knowledge, was a
Count Wernher II. living in the year 1135. He was followed
by a Count Adelbert, who placed the family in the forefront
of the younger nobility by a fortunate marriage, and also inher-
ited a share of the possessions which the house of Lenzburg
had left upon becoming extinct. The significance of this last
acquisition becomes evident when we find that the estates in
question were situated mainly in the present Cantons of



Digitized by



Google



THE HOUSE OF HABSBUEG. 63

Luzern, Schwiz and Unterwalden, where the revolt originated
which was destined to pave the way for the founding of the
Swiss Confederation. Before Adelbert died he was also cre-
ated Count of the Zurichgau by Frederic Barbarossa. His suc-
cessor was Rudolf, sumamed the Old, who dying in 1232, left
two sons to divide the inheritance between them, Albrecht, the
Wise, and Rudolf, surnamed the Taciturn. These sons gave
rise to two lines ; Albrecht to that known later as Habsburg-
Austria, and Rudolf to Habsburg-Laufenburg. Elsass alone,
with perhaps the Zurichgau, were administered conjointly by
the two. When Albrecht died in the Crusades, in 1239 or
1240, his share came by degrees into the hands of his eldest
son. Count Rudolf III., better known in history as Rudolf I.,
king and emperor of Germany.

Rudolf made his first impression on public affairs during the
renewal of hostilities between the empire and the papal chair,
which burst forth in 1239 under Frederic II. He followed
the traditions of his father in remaining a loyal adherent of
the Hohenstauffen family. It was only when Frederic had
died thiat Rudolf reconciled himself to the church.

But, in the meantime, the emperor's death was succeeded
by an interregnum of twenty-three years, from 1250-1273, the
famous epoch of demoralization, commonly known as that of
Faustrecht^ or Club law, which saw the robber-knights flourish
as never before. Every man's hand was against his neighbor.
Every noble, from the prince to the lordling, was striving to
widen his influence by any means at his disposal. It was also
the time for the weak to unite in leagues and build walls,
in order to defend themselves against arbitrary aggression.
Hence this period of confusion, which was so favorable to the
power of ambitious noblemen, was equally conducive to the
formation of peasant and burgher leagues. For, with all its
outward splendor the age of knighthood was but a sorry one
for the great mass of population in Europe. We,, who are
more familiar in literature with the brighter aspects of Chiv-
alry, can with difficulty form a just conception of the actual



Digitized by



Google



64 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

condition of the serfs or even the so-called freemen. Life cer-
tainly was not a mere succession of public shows and manly
encounters, tinged throughout with a beautiful, though impos-
sibky devotion to the ideals of knighthood and love. The sor-
did cares, the innumerable injustices, which, taken separately,
seem trivial, but in the aggregate are mountain high ; the base
wrongs, daily perpetrated in the name of custom, and the
unholy denial of man's most ordinary rights — these details of
every-day life in the Age of Chivalry are not recorded, or have
been subordinated to the picturesque and the romantic. It
would be more accurate to say that vast multitudes were lying
in a wretchedness akin to despair; that the feudal state no
longer had any respect for the old-fashioned word freeman,
but knew only princes and slaves.

Thrown upon their own resources during the perils of the
interregnum, the people founded a number of leagues through-
out the empire. They were not apparently actuated by the
dream of creating free states, but by the instinct bf self-preser-
vation, and in the retrospect this season of unrest, terrible as
it was in many respects, is seen to have given them a veritable
schooling in the art of self-government. It was during this
period, for instance, that the secluded peasant communities of
Uri, Schwiz and Unterwalden, deprived of the support from
the imperial crown, to which they were entitled, learnt the
lesson of organization, of mutual help, and in a word of union.
They were receiving an inestimable political education from
the very perils which surrounded them, as we shall see in
detail later on.

Nor was Rudolf of Habsburg slow in taking advantage of the
unsettled state of affairs to enrich himself at the expense of
his neighbors. He had inherited almost the whole of the vast
possessions left by the extinct house of Kiburg, which added
to bis own estates, gave him practical control of what is now
German Switzerland. He took special pains to be on good
terms with the rising free cities, like Zurich, in order to make
sure of their help in time of trouble. At the same time be



Digitized by



Google



THE HOUSE OF HABSBURG. 65

was indefatigable in enterprises destined to enlarge his private
possessions. He was, in fact, engaged in besieging the city of
Basel, having become involved in a quarrel with the bishop of
that place, when suddenly the extraordinary news was commu-
nicated to him that he had been elected King of Germany
by an assembly convened at Frankfurt. Hastily concluding
peace with Basel, he hastened to assume the duties of his high
office.

It does not fall within the province of this history to
treat of the new king's actions as they affected Germany at
large, but he displayed a certain general tendency during his
reign which deserves to be especially noticed on account of
the results which it entailed upon the history of the Swiss
Confederation.

Rudolf of Habsburg surveyed the scene of his future activ-
ity with singular clearsightedness, took account of what he
could do to unite the distracted empire, and, what is more»
comprehended the limitations which had been set to his power.
He knew well that the new kingdom, created by his election,
was not the empire of Charlemagne ; that he was king, not by
the Grace of God, but by the good will of the electing princes ;
and that the time might come when he, or his descendants,
would be obliged to yield the throne to another family. He
did not, therefore, stop the efforts which he was making to
build up a private fortune and to establish a great principality,
but in his new position rather redoubled his exertions.

All the conditions seemed favorable for the creation of a
great Habsburg power in the Swiss Alps. How came it that
Rudolf and his descendants, having once acquired so firm a
foothold, and having, moreover, obtained the vantage ground of
the Grerman throne itself, were worsted by the rude peasants
of the mountains ?

The answer to this question brings us to the threshold of
the real history of Switzerland.

That which has gone before — the Helvetian era, the
Roman occupation, the Alamannian and Burgundian settle-



Digitized by



Google



66 THE RISE OF THE SWISS EEPUBLIC,

ments, the supremacy of the Franks, the incorporation of the
whole into the German Empire, and the rise of independent
nobles — all this is but the prologue to the great drama which
now unfolds itself.



Digitized by



Google



BOOK II.

THE CONFEDERATION OF EIGHT STATES.



Digitized by



Google



Digitized by VjOOQIC



CHAPTER I.

THE ORIGIN OF THE SWISS CONFEDERATION.

THERE is no period in all history so generally misunder-
stood as that which marks the origin of the Swiss Con-
federation ; partly on account of the scarcity of authentic, con-
temporary documents, but principally on account of the false
versions which unscrupulous chi:oniclers have handed down to
us. In fact, so great is this want of records, and so confusing
are the traditions, that the dawn of Swiss history is probably
doomed to remain shrouded in a certain amount of obscurity.

The comprehensive view which is obtained from the various
peaks of the Rigi affords the best possible introduction to the
study of this difficult period. Almost every spot celebrated
in the annals of the early Confederation, or hallowed by its
traditions, is visible from that height ; and when not actually
visible, can be readily located with the help of a map.

There, on the banks of the Lake of Luzem, the national life
of the Swiss people had its origin. They have reason to feel
proud of sufch a birthplace, for this sheet of water, blue and
green by turns, like all the Swiss lakes, lies on the northern
side of the great Alps, imbedded like a fair jewel in the setting
of the lesser heights. Three principal valleys empty their tor-
rents into its winding arms, and velvet slopes stretch from the
water up the mountain-sides, to where the firs stand sentinel
over summer pastures. In the background the distant snow
lends the whole a tone of magnificent tranquility.

Amid such surroundings the commonwealths of Uri, Schwiz
and Unterwalden grew from infancy to maturity by the slow
process which characterized the rise of all free communities in



Digitized by



Google



70 THE RISE OF THE SWISS REPUBLIC.

the Middle Ages. They had not existed from time immemo-
rial, nor had they suddenly sprung into existence. They fol-
lowed the general law of nature, which is growth. Nor did
they at first occupy exceptional positions within the German
empire, for the same conditions are found to have existed
elsewhere. In a word, they acquired the first degree of lib-
erty, the privilege of immediate dependence upon the empire
{ReicJtsunmittelbarkeit)^ by the same steps as some of their
neighbors, and their final, collective independence was not
very different from that of "the leagues of the Hanseatic, Lom-
bard, Rhine, and Swabian cities,' except that it was more
enduring.

In time Uri, Schwiz and Unterwalden assumed many of the
features of ideal democracies. Supremely simple, pastoral and
secluded in their Alpine fastnesses, they seem in the retrospect
to have been veritable idylls, more perfect than poet or philos-
opher ever imagined. And, if a closer acquaintance with the
history serves to dispel many illusions, enough remains to
attract our attention and arouse our enthusiasm.

It is doubtful, however, whether such states are possible
under present industrial conditions in populous districts. In
certain highlying and sequestered regions of Switzerland, espe-
cially near the Lake of Luzem the conditions have for ages
been particularly favorable. There the existence of man is
one of ceaseless toil, his wants are few and his pleasures



Online LibraryWilliam Denison McCrackanThe rise of the Swiss republic: A history → online text (page 5 of 32)