THE SWISS CONFEDERATION IN THE MIDDLE AGES
The Swiss Confederation was the product of that tendency towards cooperation which, with varying success, inspired the medieval communes of all lands. The league formed by the co-operation of several small districts succeeded in preserving local autonomy from the destruction which elsewhere followed the establishment of a central and unified power in the heart of a great nation; while, at the same time, it awakened in the members of the league a new sentiment of solidarity capable of giving birth to a real State. This principle of union in diversity, of cohesion in independence, has become the modern idea of “federalism”; thanks to the common interest which united them, populations of varying origin and different tongues became members of a single nation.
The history of the territory which now composes Switzerland can be traced back to a very ancient civilisation; vestiges of human habitations dating from the Stone Age have been found, and the palafittes prove that there were extensive lacustrine settlements. The Roman conquest assimilated the natives, whether of Celtic or Ligurian origin, on both slopes of the Alps: the Helvetii who, driven southwards by the Germans, crossed the Rhine and reached the plateau and the valleys between the Alps and the Jura, but were stopped by the Rhone, where Geneva, the chief city of the Allobroges, commanded the way across the river; the Rhaeti, who occupied the upper valley of the Rhine and the mountains of the Grisons; and, finally, on the southern slope of the Alps, the Lepontii of the Ticino valley. The subjugation of the Helvetii, which was begun in 58 B.C. by Caesar’s first expedition into Gaul, was accomplished before the Christian era, and Roman civilisation advanced, under the protection of the limes, eastward into Rhaetia, westward as far as the Valais, and even into the heart of the country, in the mountainous region of Lake Lucerne, as also along the routes of the Oberalp and the Furka Pass.
In the third century this country, intersected by fine Roman roads, became a frontier land shielding Italy from the German barbarians; the fortifications on the Rhine prevented invasions, but when they were no longer defended by Roman garrisons, the Germans in their turn occupied the Alpine provinces, and either shared the land with the former Helvetio-Roman proprietors or else colonised districts hitherto sparsely populated.
The Burgundians, the first of whom had arrived from the south, by way of Sapaudia (Savoy), in 452, had by the end of the century advanced to the Valais, to Avenches, and even to the river Reuss and the neighbourhood of Basle. The Alemanni had often crossed the river in their marauding expeditions; early in the sixth century they checked the advance of the Burgundians and drove them back to the Aar; with a steady pressure they pushed up the valleys to the snow-covered Alps; they advanced into Rhaetia and left to the Roman population only a constantly diminishing territory. Finally, in 569, the Lombards made their appearance on the southern slope of the Alps.
This expansion of the Alemanni from the Rhine to the summit of the Alps, on the Swiss plateau, was the work of centuries. But by the end of the sixth century, the territory formerly held by the Helvetii and the Rhaeti had become divided into regions of varying culture, according to the degree in which Roman civilisation had survived or succumbed to the new settlement.
In the Burgundian sphere, the German colonists adopted the language of the Roman provincials and their institutions respected Latin civilisation. Burgundian Switzerland became Romance Switzerland. The Alemanni, more barbarous and still pagans, effaced all traces of the Roman conquest in country districts; in a few urban centres only, the old Christian communities still survived; and even when Alemannic Switzerland had been converted to Christianity, the impress of the recent conquerors remained apparent; it became German Switzerland.
To the east, Chur-Rhaetia, which was in contact with Lombard Italy, preserved her Roman institutions and language; although she was encroached on in the north by the advance of the Alemanni, her ancient traditions were saved from destruction by the protection of her lofty mountains and the convolutions of her high valleys.
The domination of the Merovingian and Carolingian Frankish kings hardly modified the state of affairs caused by the Germanic invasions. Although the name of the Burgundians, or Burgundy, was revived in a new independent kingdom between 888 and 1033, it was no solid and homogeneous State which established itself astride the Jura from Provence to the Rhine. The duchy of Alemannia, which had been destroyed about 748, re-appeared in the tenth century and, under the name of the duchy of Swabia, included the Alemanni on both banks of the Rhine. In 1033 the new Germanic Empire included all the region of the Alps, Transjurane Burgundy, the Valais, Alemannia, Rhaetia, and the Lepontine valleys of Italy; the linguistic frontiers still remained, but the Empire brought fresh bonds to unite regions of diverse civilisation; thus, under the Salic Emperors, the temporary institution of a Rectorate of Burgundy established direct contact between the duchy of Swabia and the kingdom of Burgundy.
It was on the frontiers of Alemannia and Burgundy, where the two languages met, that the first consolidation of seignories and feudal powers was attempted by the house of Zähringen in the twelfth century. Having inherited large estates between the Rhine and the Lake of Geneva, the Zähringen endeavoured to transform their rectorate into a permanent power; westward they encountered the growing influence of the Counts of Savoy, and, to counteract the hostility of secular and ecclesiastical lords, they founded towns, Fribourg and Berne. But in 1218 their line died out, the rectorate of Burgundy reverted to the Empire, and no new power again intervened between the Emperor and the cities or dynasts who were his immediate subjects.
The house of Habsburg. The Forest Cantons
The progress of feudalism occasioned an ever more marked subdivision of authority as well as the gradual disappearance of the class of freemen. The Kiburgs, heirs to the Zähringen, engaged in struggles with the urban communities of Berne and Morat, as well as with Peter II of Savoy. The Savoyard power penetrated as far as Alemannia; it was, however, checked at the Aar, and did not succeed in emulating the example of the Zähringen between the Alps and the Rhine. That achievement was reserved for the Habsburgs, heirs to the Lenzburgs, counts of Zurichgau and landgraves in Thurgau; in the days of Count Rudolf III, they seized the land of the Kiburgs and contested with Savoy the possession of the territories and ecclesiastical advocacies on the left bank of the Aar.
After the death of Peter II of Savoy in 1268, Rudolf of Habsburg obtained Fribourg, and forced Berne to perform its duties to the Empire. In 1278 he secured for his sons wide lands to the east: Austria, Styria, and, temporarily, Carinthia and Carniola. In central and north-eastern Switzerland from the Uchtland to Thurgau, from the Rhine to the shores of Lake Lucerne and as far as Urseren, he took possession of fiefs and advocacies, rights and jurisdictions, on a thousand different pretexts; when he was elected king in 1273, he established throughout his domains a uniform administration and a burdensome system of taxation. When he died at Spires on 15 July 1291, everything seemed to point to the definite consolidation of the feudal rights of the Habsburgs into a strong territorial power on the northern slope of the Alps, reaching beyond the Jura in the west, and beyond the Sarine on the borders of the Savoyard lands to the south-east.
Resistance to the establishment of this monarchical and centralised State did not originate among the rich burgesses or urban centres of Zurich, Basle, or St Gall. It was peasant communities who first united in defence of the local liberties threatened by the Habsburgs. Here, as elsewhere in the Empire in the thirteenth century, the class of small free land-holders had become much impoverished and had dwindled in number; it had nevertheless survived in various proportions on the soil of the Waldstaetten, or Forest Cantons washed by the Lake of Lucerne. The freemen subject to the count’s jurisdiction followed him to war; they assembled, as in the centena or hundred-court, to exercise petty justice. Beside them were other classes of the population, of various conditions: nobles, “ministeriales” (ennobled by their office) who were often recruited from the ranks of the serfs, the tenants on monastic domains whose personal rights lessened their original serfdom, and men who were protected by some ecclesiastical or secular lord.
The three Forest Cantons differed not only in their geographical position, but also in the distribution of social conditions and feudal tenures.
Uri consisted of the valley of the Reuss, from the end of Lake Lucerne to the foot of the St Gothard. The upper valley of Urseren formed no part of it, but belonged to the Rhaetian abbey of Disentis. Even in the days of the Romans, Urseren was in communication with Valais by the Furka Pass, and with Chur-Rhaetia by the Oberalp; the road to Ticino was open; but throughout long centuries Urseren and Uri were sundered by the impenetrable gorges of Schollenen; the road to the St Gothard was not open in this direction until a bridge had been constructed along the face of the rock, and this was not done until a comparatively late period, although, according to recent researches, it took place before 1140. The district of Uri, which led to the St Gothard, thus became a place of much resort, and a strategic point on one of the best roads between Italy and Germany; and the Emperors attached great importance to its possession. In 835 the valley belonged to the abbey of Fraumunster in Zurich; the Counts of Rapperswil, the barons of Attinghausen, and the monastery of Wettingen participated in the seignorial rights; but the freemen formed an economic association, the “Markgenossenschaft”, for the exploitation of the common pastures, or “Allmende”; and their neighbours, the men of Fraumunster, had almost attained personal liberty.
The policy of the Emperors, even in the thirteenth century, displayed a tendency to conciliate Uri; on 26 May 1231 King Henry of Germany, who was administering the country beyond the Alps in the absence of his father Frederick II, emancipated the people of Uri from the authority of the Count of Habsburg; he promised that they should never be alienated from the Empire, and took them under his protection. The whole valley was thus constituted imperial territory. The “Markgenossenschaft.” corresponded to a single legal and administrative division, and prepared the way for the political transformation of the country. The ammann, or “free judge”, became the landamann, the leader of the community, whose members met in a landsgemeinde.
Originally the district of Schwyz only extended from the foot of the Mythen, or Rigi, to the valley of the Muota. The Habsburgs as heirs of the Lenzburgs exercised the higher justice; the monasteries of Einsiedeln, Cappel, Muri, Schännis, and Engelberg, shared the land with them; but the characteristic feature of Schwyz was the preponderance of freemen, who formed two-thirds of the population, and the association of freemen and serfs in a single “Markgenossenschaft.” The natives of Schwyz were hemmed in by their lofty mountains; in the twelfth century they cleared the northern slopes of the Mythen and thus came into violent conflict with the abbey of Einsiedeln. In the thirteenth century, the abolition of serfdom by the Habsburgs encouraged the fusion of social classes; and the agricultural association betrayed an increasing tendency towards the formation of an established political assembly.
At Unterwalden (Inter Silvas) the freemen had originally a single tribunal, one centre of jurisdiction for the whole district, but they were in a minority of perhaps a third of the population; local interests predominated, and the two valleys Ob and Unter dem Kernwald (Obwald with Sarnen, Nidwald with Stanz) no longer maintained their former cohesion. The feudal rights and landed properties were in the hands of petty local nobles, and especially in those of the monasteries of Engelberg, Muri, Murbach, Lucerne, and Beromünster; the freemen were subject to the courts of the Habsburgs, who were moreover the advocates of the various monasteries, except Engelberg. In Unterwalden there are no traces of a “Markgenossenschaft.”
In 1231 the opening of the road across the St Gothard had brought about the recognition of Uri as territory under the direct control of the Empire. The Hohenstaufen strove everywhere to command the passes across the Alps; when the Emperor Frederick II was excommunicated in 1239 he was unable to control as he wished the Guelf bishoprics of Chur and the Valais; the St Gothard remained his only way to Italy; he retained Leventina for the Empire and converted Urseren into an imperial vogtland; in 1231 he became master of Uri. Schwyz and Unterwalden mark farther stages on the same road. Thus the three Forest Cantons assumed a place in the foreground of imperial policy; and the struggle with the Papacy conferred on them an equally great strategic importance. Meanwhile the road across the St Gothard brought them into contact with the outer world by the continual succession of merchants and knights, convoys and soldiers, who passed to and fro.
This outer world was agitated by the new ideas resulting from the revolution of the communes; to the north in France, in Flanders, and on the Rhine, and to the south in Italy, the towns were fighting for the maintenance of their privileges. On the southern slope of the Alps communal emancipation had reached the country districts; the “communes'” in the valleys and villages of the Ticino were resisting feudal rights; they were shaking off serfdom, they administered freely the “Allmende” and seized on the lower jurisdiction. There, as among the Forest Cantons, the original organisation was that of the “Markgenossenschaft”; in the thirteenth century it became a political autonomy and gave birth to a peasant commune. This gradual emancipation, legal and economic, of the Milanese valleys of the Ticino, their struggles against feudalism with the help of men from the ‘northern side of the Alps—all this contest, alike local and heroic, was not without influence on the thoughts and actions of the men of the Forest Cantons.
Finally, the sense of political union between the three valleys received great encouragement from the very formula which first expressed it—the legal act of an oath. The coalition so common in the Middle Ages in Italy, in France, and in Flanders, under the form of the conspiratio, or coniuratio, united, at first personally, by a common act, the inhabitants of the Forest Cantons; then, under the stress of the conflict, this oath became an alliance of communes, and, later, a real Confederation, the “Eidgenossenschaft.”
At first the Forest Cantons relied on the Empire to support them in their resistance to the claims of the Habsburgs. Rudolf of Habsburg, nicknamed the Silent, had sided with the Holy See, whereupon the natives of Schwyz addressed their petitions to the Emperor Frederick II; on 20 December 1240 they obtained from him in his camp outside Faenza a charter guaranteeing their position as freemen directly subject to the Empire. From documents we surmise that in the years 1239 and 1240 there was armed resistance by Schwyz and Unterwalden to the agents of the Habsburgs; the Ghibelline League spread to the Romance districts, Estavayer and Fribourg, and to Berne and Morat. In the Forest Cantons the pact of 1291 refers to an antiqua confederatio, which was an alliance of a personal character under the form of an oath; for the maintenance of public peace the men of Schwyz, Unterwalden, and Uri undertook to supply each other with mutual help, and also jointly admitted the elements of a common local law. This alliance, of which the probable date is 12401 or thereabouts, also included Lucerne.
Struggle with the Habsburgs
In 1252 the Habsburgs were again masters of Schwyz and Unterwalden; Rudolf the Silent was reconciled with the Emperor, and Lucerne had already submitted in 1244. In 1249 Como was gained by the papal party, and, when Frederick II died in 1250, the St Gothard was lost to the Empire. The accession of Rudolf of Habsburg, of the elder branch, to the imperial throne on 24 October 1273 reversed the situation; the immediate dependency of Uri on the Empire was not contested, but in 1274 the court at Nuremberg revoked the charter enfranchising Schwyz. In 1283 Rudolf, having acquired the possessions of the Kiburgs and Laufenburgs and the city of Lucerne, bestowed on his sons the imperial advocacy of Urseren. Thus Schwyz and Uri could no longer oppose the advocacy of the Empire to the rights of the count. Under Rudolf they indeed enjoyed a position similar to that which they had acquired by immediate dependence on the Empire, and the fiscal policy of the Habsburgs encouraged the union of their subjects of every category; but the incorporation of the three valleys into a solid State, though still under the Austrian government and administration, was inevitably in process of development, in spite of the military assistance lent by the men of Schwyz to Rudolf at the siege of Besançon in 1289, in return for which he guaranteed to them anew that they should remain independent of any outside tribunal.
It is therefore not surprising that when Rudolf died at Spires on 15 July 1291 a movement of resistance began among the inhabitants of the Forest Cantons. Possibly the conspirators planned their action against the house of Habsburg in secret conferences which took place on the shores of the Lake of Lucerne, especially in the meadow of Grütli; in any case, the decisive step was taken at the beginning of August: Uri, Schwyz, and Nidwald revived the former Confederation in a new alliance.
The federal pact of 1291 is the historical foundation of the Confederation. It constituted an alliance for the maintenance of public peace solemnly consecrated by the oath of the contracting parties; although it had originally been purely personal, in 1291 this oath tended to include the whole of the three cantons, just as the agricultural and legal associations were approximating to real political organisms. The three cantons guaranteed mutual help and succour against any aggressor from without or any fomenter of trouble from within; difficulties which might arise between the contracting parties were to be settled by arbitration; seignorial courts of justice were recognised, but no judge was to be accepted who had bought his office with gold, or who was not a native of the valley; and detailed regulations provided for the apprehension and punishment of any criminals amongst the Confederates, and for the execution of sentences. The prohibition of outside judges seems to have been aimed at the appointment of Austrian officials; furthermore, resistance to Austria is proved by the conclusion on 16 October 1291 of an offensive and defensive alliance which for three years bound Uri and Schwyz to Zurich. Zurich, an imperial town, combined with Constance, Lucerne, and the Swabian and Burgundian princes in the movement which opposed the claims of Albert of Habsburg, Rudolf’s son, over the territory between the Alps and the Jura; while the Forest Cantons supported the revolt of the men of Leventina against Milan, and thus sought to regain free passage across the Alps.
In 1292 Albert defeated the coalition, but vainly laid siege to Zurich; and Lucerne, having fallen into Austrian hands, closed her markets to the Forest Cantons. But the three valleys were not discouraged: the liberty of Schwyz was re-affirmed by the Landrecht of 1294, while about the same time Obwald and Nidwald amalgamated, thus restoring their former community of origin. In 1297 the new German King, Adolf of Nassau, renewed to Uri and Schwyz the exemption granted to Schwyz by Frederick II; but when he died at Göllheim on 2 July 1298, the Empire passed to his rival, Albert of Austria, son of Rudolf of Habsburg.
During the reign of Albert of Austria, Rudolf’s strict methods of government were revived in the Forest Cantons, which were restored to order in 1299; the imperial privileges were not confirmed, but there is no proof that the Austrian bailiffs were as tyrannical as has been depicted in legend. Albert endeavoured to encourage traffic by the St Gothard and levied heavy taxes on the country. But matters were abruptly altered when he was murdered by his nephew, John of Swabia, on 1 May 1308. The new Emperor, Henry VII of Luxemburg, had no objection to the renewal of the immediate dependency of Uri on the Empire (3 June 1309), as also of the charters of Frederick II and Adolf of Nassau in favour of Schwyz; he went even farther, confirming Unterwalden in liberties which had never yet rested on any written charter. The three cantons were freed from all external jurisdiction except the imperial courts of law, and were converted into an independent bailiwick; the office of imperial advocate of the bailiwick was entrusted to Count Werner of Homberg, and was shortly extended to Leventina. The St Gothard still remained the centre of this administrative and political district. But the Austrian Dukes did not acknowledge their defeat; and in 1311 they obtained the promise of an impartial enquiry into their claims.
The interregnum which followed Henry VII’s death in 1313 was skilfully employed by the Forest Cantons. The violent measures to which they resorted can hardly be justified as a mere defence of their rights: on the night of 6 January 1314 the men of Schwyz pillaged the monastery of Einsiedeln, with which they had an old quarrel about Alpine pastures; elsewhere, the Confederates constructed entrenchments of stone and earth, called letzi, at vulnerable points on their frontiers; and they supported Lewis of Bavaria in his struggle for the imperial crown with Frederick the Handsome, Duke of Austria and son of Albert. Ere long Austria subjugated all the region round Zurich, Berne, Glarus, the Bernese Oberland, and Lucerne, which closed its markets to the Forest Cantons. Frederick’s brother, Duke Leopold of Austria, considered this a favourable opportunity for conquering these rebellious peasants; having assembled a mighty army of knights and footmen at Zug, he attempted the invasion of the country by the pass of Morgarten, beside the Lake of Egeri, while Count Otto of Strassberg invaded Obwald by the Brünig Pass, and the men of Lucerne landed in Nidwald. On 15 November 1315 the brilliant Austrian column was held up in the narrow pass of Morgarten, on the frontier of Schwyz; attacked on flank and front by the men of Schwyz and Uri, the Austrian knights were put to flight, the footmen driven back or cast into the lake. Duke Leopold hastily fled, leaving on the field of battle between 1500 and 2000 men, the flower of his nobility; the very tidings of his defeat caused the Count of Strassberg to retire, and delivered Unterwalden from all fear of invasion.
This overwhelming victory of the Forest Cantons proved the superiority of the Swiss infantry armed with halberds over the heavy feudal cavalry; but its immediate result was the confirmation of the alliance between the three cantons. On 9 December 1315 the new pact of Brunnen accentuated the transformation of a sworn union between private individuals into a union of States, as also its federal character; it was aimed at Austria, as it provided for a refusal of obedience to any lord who might attack anyone of the three contracting parties, and it also prohibited any foreign alliance without the permission of the confederates.
The fact that King Lewis of Bavaria in 1316 transferred to the Empire the rights and subjects of Austria in the Forest Cantons, and confirmed the liberties of Uri and Unterwalden on the same footing as those of Schwyz, accentuates the legal emancipation of the three valleys after the victory. And when, on 1 March 1317, a native of Uri was appointed imperial bailiff of Leventina and Urseren, King Lewis rendered Uri secure in the possession of the St Gothard; the pass was open, and the blockade which threatened the victors of Morgarten became impossible. Duke Leopold, prevented from organising a punitive expedition by reasons resulting from the policy pursued elsewhere by the house of Austria, was obliged to conclude a truce with the Forest Cantons on 19 July 1318: the frontiers were thrown open to trade; the Austrian Dukes recovered only the feudal rights which they had enjoyed in the days of the Emperor Henry; in fact the Confederates now formed independent circumscriptions within the Empire.
New adherents: Lucerne, Glarus, Zug, Berne
The alliance of the Forest Cantons soon distinguished itself from the other coalitions of the German Empire by its capacity for gaining new adherents. After the death of Frederick the Handsome in 1330, Lewis of Bavaria became reconciled with the Habsburgs, and prepared to restore their comital rights in the three valleys and to annul the privileges granted to their detriment. The Forest Cantons realised their danger; they therefore sought new allies. Their natural market, easily accessible by the lake, was the town of Lucerne, which also desired to protect itself from Austrian despotism. The town, which had been ceded to King Rudolf of Habsburg by the abbey of Murbach, formed a sworn community, constantly in conflict with the Austrian bailiff at Rotenburg. On 7 November 1332 the burgomaster, the council, and the burgesses of Lucerne concluded a perpetual alliance with the peasants of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden; the rights of the overlord were reserved, but the contracting parties promised mutual assistance in case of danger and resort to arbitration in the settlement of differences, and prohibited the formation of alliances without each other’s knowledge. This first treaty involved the men of Lucerne in hostilities which did not always result in their favour; an arbitrator’s award on 18 June 1336 annulled the alliances concluded by the burgesses, but could not definitely put an end to the union of 1332. Tradition has preserved the memory of an Austrian plot which was discovered and suppressed in 1343; this at least proves the victorious progress of the federal policy.
During the course of the thirteenth century the town of Zurich had reached a high pitch of development and prosperity. As the metropolis of the silk industry, and a town alike commercial and intellectual, it enjoyed an advanced state of self-government with regard to the imperial advocate, the chapter of canons of Grossmünster, and the nunnery of Fraumünster; but after a temporary alliance with the Forest Cantons in 1291, it had been forced to submit owing to defeat at Winterthur, and to remain faithful to Austria. It was an internal revolution which drove it to join the Confederates.
A knight, Rudolf Brun, having overthrown the old council, on 16 July 1336 promulgated a sworn declaration which, after the model of that of Strasbourg, gave the artisans a share in the government; having been proclaimed burgomaster for life, he sought to obtain support for his policy from the Forest Cantons. On 1 May 1351 Zurich concluded a perpetual alliance with Lucerne, Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden: the town was to remain free to contract other engagements of the same sort, but the new alliance was to have preference over all others; public peace was to be assured throughout a wide region, from the course of the Aar to that of the Thur, from the Rhine to the Alps, so that the trade routes remained free; and the assistance promised mutually by the allies referred not only to defensive but to offensive measures. The devastation of the March by Brun’s troops and the encroachments of the Confederates on the rights of Austria determined Duke Albert to settle accounts with his old adversaries. The first siege of Zurich in 1351 led to the opening of peace negotiations, but the duke having been summoned to Vienna by his wife’s death, the Confederates took the offensive, after having refused to submit to the arbitration of Queen Agnes of Hungary.
The district of Glarus, with the upper valley of the Linth, belonged to the nunnery of Säckingen; about 1264 Rudolf of Habsburg inherited its advocacy, and King Albert united Glarus in a single bailiwick with the districts of Gaster and Wesen. In 1351 the men of Zurich and their allies occupied the valley, whose inhabitants appeared favourable to the Confederates; on 2 February 1352 the men of Glarus repulsed an Austrian army at Nafels, and on 4 June they concluded a perpetual alliance with Zurich and the three Forest Cantons. In this new pact, Glarus was placed in a slightly inferior position, inasmuch as it was bound to assist the Confederates in all their wars, and was not allowed to conclude any alliance without the assent of Zurich and the Forest Cantons; while, on the other hand, the latter were only bound to assist it under certain conditions.
On 27 June 1352, Zurich, Lucerne, and the three Forest Cantons contracted an alliance similar to the pact of Zurich with the council and burgesses of Zug and the people of that bailiwick. On 23 June they had taken the town after a fortnight’s siege. The territory of Zug possessed, for them, great importance, as it established a link between the Forest Cantons and Zurich; Austrian rights were reserved in the alliance, but even so the position of Zug appeared superior to that of Glarus. The large army assembled by Duke Albert of Austria in the same year (1352) was not homogeneous enough to storm Zurich; and, by the mediation of the Margrave Lewis of Brandenburg, peace with Austria was concluded on 14 September 1352. Austria retained numerous advantages: Lucerne promised her obedience; Schwyz and Unterwalden renounced their attempts to hinder the exercise of feudal rights within their territory; Lucerne and Zurich surrendered the Austrian subjects who had been made burgesses without domicile. Zurich became reconciled with the nobles of her district; but while Glarus and Zug were excluded from the alliance of the Confederates, the alliance with Lucerne was recognised.
After the extinction of her founders, the Zähringen, Berne had become a free imperial city, and, during the fourteenth century, had acquired very appreciable autonomous and territorial powers; by means of agreements and conquests, she had established herself at Laupen, Gümmenen, in the Häsli, and in the upper valley of the Aar, which formed an independent rural community contiguous with Unterwalden. The whole basin of the Aar up to the Alps had thus become dependent on Berne, and the local nobility was perturbed at the surprising growth of its power. Resistance was soon offered by Fribourg, Berne’s rival, and involved the nobles of the Swiss plateau, from Gruyeres to Neuchatel, from the Kiburgs to the Bishop of Basle. This coalition collected a formidable army which laid siege to the stronghold of Laupen. But on 21 June 1339 the Bernese troops, reinforced by men from the Forest Cantons, Häsli, and Simmenthal, won an overwhelming victory near Laupen itself. Mistress of her fate, Berne obliged Fribourg again to recognise her alliance and renewed that which had bound Solothurn; in 1342 she came to terms with Austria, but retained her freedom to remain at peace with the enemies of the Habsburgs.
The earliest alliances of Berne with the Forest Cantons date from 1323 and 1341. Fearing the too democratic influence of Unterwalden on her territory of Häsli, after the victory of Laupen the city decided to conclude a pact of eternal alliance with Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden at Lucerne, on 6 March 1353. Its alliance with Austria prevented Berne from treating with Zurich or Lucerne, and from promising military aid to the Forest Cantons against the Habsburgs; a call for help was not to take effect until after the decisions of a Diet to be assembled at Kienholz near the Lake of Brienz; but the Confederates were bound to answer this appeal against any who might injure or attack, not only the Bernese themselves, but also their subjects or vassals.
The future of Zurich was not so quickly decided. In 1354, to escape the assault of an army which included contingents from the Emperor Charles IV as well as those of the Habsburgs, the town hoisted the imperial standard, intending thus to shew its direct dependence on the Empire. The peace of Ratisbon in 1355 gave, as a whole, satisfaction to Austrian demands. Zurich had to relinquish its conquests; the federal alliances were only maintained when they did not interfere with the fulfilment of the engagements made by the city. The death of the burgomaster, Rudolf Brun, in 1360, at the moment when he had succumbed to Austrian influence, brought about a change of attitude on the part of Zurich which coincided with a state of tension between the Empire and the house of Austria; on 31 March 1361 the Emperor Charles IV confirmed to Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden all their new privileges, especially those which concerned the lake. In 1365, 1367, and 1368, the town refused to take the oath of fidelity to Austria which had been agreed on in the renewed peace of Ratisbon. Then in 1364 or 1365 Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden conquered the town and suburbs of Zug; they governed this little district while agreeing to pay Austria her dues; and in 1368 a general war was only averted by the truce of the knight Peter of Torberg on 7 March, by which Austria relinquished Zug to the Confederates.
These incessant struggles had tested the pacts of alliance between the Confederates; their union emerged therefrom strengthened. In itself this unequal league of country districts and towns did not differ essentially from the associations which had elsewhere been called into being by the insecurity of the Empire; each member of the league retained its liberty of action, and the Austrian party possessed powerful adherents, especially in Zurich. But the three Forest Cantons, since they were the only participants in the Confederation who were allied to all its members, represented a principle of unity, a power of co-ordination which may vainly be sought for among other organisms of the same kind; Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden were resolute adversaries of Austria, they possessed a formidable warlike force, and, from the middle of the fourteenth century, the name of Schwyz began to be applied to the whole Confederation.
The Swiss Confederation: the Priests’ Charter
In 1370 a concordat of great importance united the six cantons, with the exception of Berne; this was the Pfaffenbrief, or Priests’ Charter, which was drawn up on 7 October 1370 as a result of the violent measures taken by the clergy in opposition to the advocate of Lucerne. The Pfaffenbrief may be regarded as establishing a common public law among the members of what it definitely styles “our Confederation”: it imposed various punishments on priests who dared to cite the Confederates before foreign courts of law; above all, it obliged anyone inhabiting the territory of the Confederates to work for the advantage of the allies, even though he remained an Austrian subject. Moreover the Confederates undertook to protect all the roads from the “stibende Brug” of the St Gothard as far as Zurich.
The truce of Torberg remained precarious. In 1375, however, Duke Leopold III of Austria was himself obliged to seek assistance from the Confederates in repelling the incursions of French and English freebooters known by the name of Gugler, whom Enguerrand de Coucy had launched against the Austrian states in support of his claims to the inheritance of his grandfather, Duke Leopold I of Austria. Only Berne and Zurich consented on 13 October to the conclusion of a defensive alliance with Leopold. De Coucy’s bands having advanced as far as Lower Aargau, the men of that district took up arms and expelled the pillagers by a series of victorious engagements at Büttisholz, at Ins, and, finally, during the night of 26 December, at Fraubrünnen, where the Bernese behaved gallantly. In the spring of 1376 Enguerrand de Coucy retreated by way of the Jura, but the duke’s inaction before this danger and the systematic devastation of Aargau caused profound resentment against the Habsburgs throughout the countryside; nevertheless, on 28 March 1376, the truce of Torberg was prolonged until 23 April 1387.
It was about this time that the decline of the house of Kiburg caused an increase in the power of Berne. On the night of 10 November 1382, to rid himself of his numerous law-suits, Count Rudolf of Kiburg attempted a surprise attack on Solothurn; the Bernese, who were Solothurn’s allies, called for help from the Forest Cantons under the terms of the treaty of 6 March 1353; thanks to their intervention, the Kiburgs were forced to surrender Burgdorf and Thun to Berne. Their house became extinct in 1417; but this final conflict damaged the cause of Austria, inasmuch as it strengthened the union between Berne and the Forest Cantons.
The Habsburgs had not been able to intervene in the quarrel between Berne and the Kiburgs; but the ambition of the young Duke Leopold III soon led to a new war. When, in 1379, Albert III received as his share Austria proper, Leopold inherited Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola, as far as the Italian frontier, from his brother Rudolf IV; he very soon also asserted his authority over Rhaetia, and even beyond, by the acquisition of the county of Feldkirch, the domains of Nidau, Buren, and Little Basle, and the advocateship of Upper and Lower Swabia. The first resistance came from a union of Swabian and Rhenish towns, which was joined on 21 February 1385 at Constance by Berne, Zurich, Zug, and Solothurn. But the final rupture was caused by the action of Lucerne, which continued to admit numerous burgesses who were Austrian subjects. On 28 December the men of Lucerne seized the Austrian stronghold of Rotenburg; then, in the spring of 1386, with the help of the Forest Cantons, they destroyed the castle of Peter of Torberg at Wolhusen, and freed the whole of Entlebuch up to Escholzmatt from the Austrian domination. The Confederates did not follow the Swabian towns in concluding a truce with Austria on 17 July 1386; they seceded from the Swabian league, trusting to their own powers to defend the interests of their cause.
Berne was exhausted by the war with the Kiburgs, and did not seem anxious to fulfil the obligations undertaken in the alliance of 1353. But the men of Zurich, Glarus, and Schwyz deliberately started the campaign. The duke assembled a formidable army of mercenaries and knights at Brugg in Aargau; at the end of June i386 he took and burnt Willisau, and on 9 July his army, under the command of John of Ochsenstein, advanced on Sempach, a little town recently allied with Lucerne. At Meierholz, north-eastward from Sempach, it encountered the fifteen hundred men assembled under the banners of Lucerne. Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden; some of the knights having dismounted, the Confederates succeeded, after many efforts, in battering their way through the lances by the blows of their halberds, thus spreading panic throughout the Austrian army; the duke was slain during a charge, and the dismounted knights were cut to pieces by the peasants. In the north, the men of Zurich and Glarus took the offensive, seized Wesen, and on 11 August the Bernese declared war on Fribourg. The imperial towns of Germany succeeded in restoring peace, which was concluded on 12 October, and renewed till 2 February 1388, with the adhesion of Berne and Solothurn.
Hostilities nevertheless continued in the district of Glarus, which had recently revived the old alliance, and was freeing itself from its feudal overlord, the monastery of Säckingen. After surprising Wesen, the army of Duke Albert III, Duke Leopold’s brother, on 9 April 1388 stormed the entrenchments barricading the valley. The mountaineers, reinforced by a contingent from Schwyz, stood firm on the heights to the southwest of Nafels; then, falling on the enemy, they drove them back to the bridge over the Maag, inflicting sanguinary losses. The victory of Nafels was the signal for a fresh campaign by the Confederates, at Rapperswil in Aargau, at Buren, and at Nidau, until by the mediation of the Swabian towns the treaty of Zurich was initiated (1 April 1389), and ratified by Duke Albert under the form of a truce which lasted until 23 April 1396. The Confederates retained the castles and lands they had taken from Austrian nobles, and the federal alliances were maintained.
The Confederates realised the necessity of strengthening their union in view of the dangers which might recur at any moment; therefore on 10 July 1393 all the members of the league, with the addition of Solothurn, concluded the Covenant of Sempach. The Sempacherbrief settled the military measures which were to be shared by the Confederates: it established a strict discipline of the contingents, apportioned the booty, and suppressed pillage; no military action was to be taken save in defence of a just cause.
Even though all the Confederates had agreed to this new pact, all hostile efforts could not at once be overcome, and the alliance was still precarious. When, between 1393 and 1395, the two Dukes, Albert and Leopold IV, united in a new series of treaties all the bishops, princes, and cities of South Germany, the Austrian party, which was in a majority in the council at Zurich, involved the city in this union, and on 4 July 1393 undertook that for twenty years Zurich should remain neutral in case of a war with the Confederates. Envoys from Lucerne and Schwyz thereupon incited the burgesses to rise against the Austrian faction; Rudolf Schorro, the burgomaster, was forced to leave the city; and a third sworn declaration placed the supreme authority of the State in the hands of the Grand Council, or Council of the Two Hundred, in which the gilds were dominant. This abortive attempt led to a fresh demonstration of union in the renewal of the alliances on 10 August 1393, and the attitude of the Confederates convinced the Austrian Dukes that it would be advisable to make peace with them. On 16 July 1394 a twenty years’ peace was concluded: Glarus was recognised as an autonomous member of the Confederation; Zug was to pay only a modest tribute to her former overlord; Schwyz retained possession of the Upper March and the advocacy of Einsiedeln; Berne retained Unterseen, Nidau, and Buren; Lucerne was freed from its vassalage and secured Entlebuch, Sempach, and the bailiwick of Rotenburg; freedom of trade and arbitration were reestablished; while the Confederates promised no longer to harbour burgesses not domiciled among them, and undertook not to molest the possessions of the house of Austria.
About the same time the league of the Rhine towns was dissolved; the Counts of Wurtemberg checked the development of the league between the towns on Lake Constance; north of the Rhine, the power of the princes triumphed. South of the river, on the contrary, country districts and towns retained their traditional rights, their local governments, and their democratic institutions; having consolidated their union, they were organising their forces to defend the liberties they had acquired in common, respecting only the suzerainty of the Empire.
Peace with Austria having been assured, the Confederates took advantage of their security to consolidate their territory and extend the system of their alliances. By gradual purchase Berne had extended her possessions on the right bank of the Bielersee, in the valleys of the Kander and the Simme, the districts of Signau, Wangen, and Aarwangen. Lucerne, a fortified town, established itself securely in Entlebuch, and also at Weggis and Gersau. Glarus repurchased the feudal rights of the monastery of Sackingen. New bonds of friendship sought to guarantee the maintenance of peace and the security of the trade routes. Alliances and treaties of combourgeoisie united Berne and Solothurn with the Margrave of Hochberg and the city of Basle; and Berne alone with the Counts of Aarberg-Valangin, the Counts of Gruyeres, and the town of Fribourg.
Eastward, Zurich admitted the Count of Toggenburg as one of her burgesses. In Rhaetia, a land of lofty mountains, the league of Caddee (Maison-Dieu) in 1367 brought together the burgesses of Chur and the ecclesiastical subjects of Bregaglia, Oberhalbstein, the Engadine, and Domleschg. On 24 May 1400 the people of Glarus concluded their first alliance with the other Rhaetian league—the “Upper” or “Grey” League—which included the popular communities and nobles of the Upper Rhine valley, and also with the Abbot of Disentis, the barons of Raezuns and Sax, and their people.
On the southern slope of the lofty Bernese Alps, in the Valais, the Bishop of Sion, invested with the rights of count, had been obliged to yield the low country as far as the Morge to the Counts of Savoy. Many feudal landholders were hesitating between the two powers; in the fourteenth century the burgesses of Sion and the rural communes, or “dizains”, elected a general council for the whole of the Valais; on 3 June 1403 Bishop William V de Rarogne and the peasants of the Valais, who had recently rebelled against the La Tour family but had been weakened in 1392 by a burdensome peace imposed by Savoy, concluded a combourgeoisie and perpetual alliance with Uri, Unterwalden, and Lucerne.
About this time there began the transalpine conquests of the Forest Cantons, notably those of Uri, which even before 1331 exercised the advocacy of Urseren. In 1403, as a result of certain incidents at the fair of Varese, a band of men from Uri and Unterwalden descended into the Leventina and forced the subjects of the Duke of Milan to swear obedience; the inhabitants of the Leventina entrusted themselves to the protection of the two cantons, who established a joint administration on the other side of the St Gothard. On 12 June 1410 the natives of Urseren were admitted as burgesses of Uri.
To the north-east, the city of St Gall had, by the middle of the fourteenth century, attained great material prosperity based on the textile industry and the cloth trade. It had been granted the rank of an imperial town, and the Council gradually emancipated itself from the tutelage of the abbey, which was falling into decadence; the trade-gilds were becoming political associations and shared in the government.
Not far from St Gall, the district of Appenzell, which derived its name from its largest commune, consisted of legal and political communities of a markedly democratic character, which in 1345 were placed under the imperial advocacy of the Abbot of St Gall. On 17 January 1401 the conflict with their advocate and overlord induced eight communities of Appenzell to enter into an alliance of seven years with the burgesses of St Gall. The mountaineers destroyed the abbatial fortress of the Clanx, then, abandoned by St Gall, they had recourse to the Forest Cantons; Schwyz admitted them to her citizenship early in 1403, and sent them a landamann. Relying on this support, the men of Appenzell, on 15 May 1403, repelled contingents from the towns of the Empire who opposed them at the defile of the Speicher. In 1405, with the help of the Count of Werdenberg-Heiligenberg, they defeated the troops of Duke Frederick IV of Austria, who had espoused the cause of the Abbot of St Gall; after victories near St Gall and at the Stoss, they instituted a campaign of singular violence against the feudal lords. The League of “Above the Lake” was joined by the burgesses of St Gall, Feldkirch, and Bludenz, and the peasants of Rheinthal, Walgau, and modern Lichtenstein; the expeditions of the mountaineers advanced as far as Thurgau, and beyond the Arlberg; Duke Frederick of Austria was obliged to come to terms with the League, and the Abbot of St Gall placed himself under its protection.
The dissolution of this ephemeral coalition was brought about by the failure of the siege of Bregenz and the resistance of Constance with the help of the Knights of the Cross. When King Rupert condemned them to return to the suzerainty of the Abbot of St Gall, the men of Appenzell, on 24 November 1411, obtained the combourgeosie of the seven cantons of Zurich, Lucerne, Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Zug, and Glarus. This first alliance did not ensure them complete equality of treatment; expeditions in their aid were carried out at their expense, and the consent of the cantons had to be obtained for the execution of any military operation. On 7 December 1412 the city of St Gall in its turn concluded a treaty of combourgeosie for ten years with the seven easterly cantons, but without securing the armed support of the Confederates.
Expansion of the Confederation. Appenzell, St Gall, Aargau
On the other side of the Alps the increasing strength of the Confederates continued to carry all before it. In 1407 Uri and Unterwalden obtained from the barons of Sax-Misox free admission to the fortresses of Bellinzona and exemption from customs for their goods; in 1410 a quarrel about Alpine pastures caused the occupation of the valley of Ossola, between the Ticino and Valais; but in 1414 Count Amadeus VIII of Savoy succeeded in wresting their latest conquest from the Confederates. It was King Sigismund who deterred the men of Uri from their intention of avenging this reverse; he had summoned to Constance for Christmas 1414 a great Council intended to restore peace to the Church and to end the Schism. At this time the Confederates were on more peaceful terms with Austria; but on 20 March 1415 Pope John XXIII abruptly retired from the Council and went to Schaffhausen to join Duke Frederick of Austria, who had espoused his cause. Sigismund promptly put the duke under the ban of the Empire on 30 March, and handed over his states to his vassals and enemies. In the course of a few weeks the duke lost his possessions from Alsace to the boundaries of Tyrol. Sigismund declared to the Swiss that they ought to obey the Emperor, in spite of the peace which bound them to Austria; he abolished the seignorial rights still possessed by the Habsburgs in the cantons, and confirmed the latter in their privileges.
Thus relieved from their just scruples, in April 1415 the Confederates proceeded to conquer Aargau, a district of pastures, full of castles and large market-towns. The Bernese, reinforced by men from Biel and Solothurn, advanced from the west; from the south and east came the men of Lucerne and Zurich, and strongholds and little towns quickly fell into their hands. Then the united Confederates laid siege to Baden; the Austrian bailiff resisted in the castle of Stein for a week after the surrender of the town; on 20 May the fortress was burnt. Meanwhile Frederick of Austria had made his peace with Sigismund, and the king summoned the Confederates to cease their operations and to restore Aargau. But they insisted on the assurances they had received, and, in spite of the slender justice of their claims, Sigismund had to accede to their wishes; he mortgaged some of the conquered territory to Berne, and yielded the rest to the men of Zurich in return for an indemnity. The final division did not take place until ten years later: Zurich retained the Freiamt to the east of the Reuss as her share; Lucerne obtained Sursee, Munster, and St Urban. The county of Baden and the rest of the Freiamt became a bailiwick under the joint jurisdiction of all the Confederates. Berne, however, had no share in the Freiamt, and Uri kept aloof from the conquered territory and insisted that it should be surrendered to the king. Thus the country which separated Zurich from Berne was now in the hands of the Confederates; instead of admitting the inhabitants of Aargau to their combourgeoisie, they treated them as subjects and governed them by means of bailiffs. And while the conquest of Aargau averted the Austrian danger from the cantons, it likewise accentuated their emancipation from the Empire itself; thanks to the privileges so lavishly bestowed by Sigismund, the cantons shewed an increasing tendency to become a State, the Landleute und Städte in der Schweiz.
So far Berne had been only indirectly allied with Lucerne and Zurich; this peculiar position ended when, on 1 March 1421 and 22 January 1423, all details of the military support and economic relations between Berne and each of the other two cities were fully settled by treaties of agreement and friendship. In consequence of this, Berne and Zurich assumed particular importance in federal policy. This was very soon proved by the Italian expeditions, which in September 1416 were resumed by way of the Upper Valais. Ossola, Vai Verzasca, and Vai Maggia were quickly occupied and administered jointly by the Confederates, with the exception of Scliwyz and Berne. On 1 September 1419 Uri and Obwald purchased the town and feudal domain of Bellinzona from the lords of Sax, in order to have free scope in Leventina. On 4 April 1422 Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan, retaliated by abruptly seizing the place. Uri and Obwald did not succeed in obtaining the unconditional support of their allies, and the Duke of Milan recaptured all the valley of the Ticino as far as the St Gothard. In view of the danger, most of the cantons determined to take the field; the first contingent, consisting of men from Unterwalden, Uri, Lucerne, and Zug, reached Bellinzona, but on 30 June 1422 they were overcome by the Milanese troops at Arbedo. Vai d’Ossola was lost, and the Milanese obtained a firm hold in Leventina and the valleys of Maggia and Verzasca. The defeat was caused by a lack of co-operation between the Confederates, and by the fact that the pact of alliance with Zurich limited its assistance within a definite zone. After various attempts at reprisal, the struggle was ended, in July 1426, by the two treaties of Bellinzona, which did not safeguard any ancient privileges, except that for ten years there were to be no tolls on the roads to Milan and Varese.
Conflict between Schwyz and Zurich
The difficulties experienced by the Confederates in their association appeared even more clearly in the opposition between Schwyz and Zurich. During the fifteenth century Zurich acquired from various nobles vast feudal domains, which gave it a very important territorial position. Schwyz, which was a rural community, pursued a forward, and a much more democratic policy. In 1408 Zurich formed a separate alliance with Glarus on the basis of perfect equality of rights, with the intention of arresting the influence of Schwyz; soon the two tendencies clashed in a grave difference caused by the inheritance of the last Count of Toggenburg, who died in 1436. Relying on promises made by the count, the men of Schwyz occupied a large part of his territory, formed combourgeoisies with his subjects, and barred the road to Zurich, which was intent on rounding off its bailiwicks near the Upper Lake. A conference of the cantons, on 9 March 1437, decided the matter in favour of Schwyz, which retained the Upper March, and—jointly with Glarus—obtained on mortgage Uznach, Windegg, Gaster, Amden, Wesen, Walenstadt, and the bailiwick of Schannis. Zurich, which had to remain satisfied with a combourgeoisie with Sargans, closed its markets to Schwyz and Glarus, and, abandoning legal methods, rejected all arbitration. Ital Reding, landamann of Schwyz, replied to this obstinacy by joining with Glarus in the occupation of Sargans and Lachen; on 2 November 1440 he declared war on Zurich; contingents from Uri and Unterwalden arrived at the Etzel and supported Schwyz, so that Rudolf Stüssi, burgomaster of Zurich, was obliged to withdraw his army to the town. Thus humiliated, Zurich had no alternative but to submit to the decisions of the Diet.
After the death of Sigismund of Luxemburg, the imperial crown reverted in 1438 to the house of Austria. The Confederates had good reason to fear that the imperial power might further the dynastic interests of their old adversaries. And indeed, King Frederick III, who wished to recover the hereditary lands of his family in Switzerland, made skilful use of the resentment felt by Zurich against her Confederates; on 17 June 1442 the city yielded the county of Kiburg to Frederick, in his capacity as Austrian prince, and also recognised his right to recover Aargau. In return, the king undertook to reconquer Toggenburg and Uznach for Zurich, which, in alliance with Austria while still retaining its alliances with the Confederates, was to become the leader of a new Confederation extending from the Black Forest to Tyrol. The king’s attitude was rewarded by an oath of fidelity from the inhabitants of the city, which led to a rupture with the Confederates, with whom Solothurn was associated. On 20 May 1443 Schwyz and Glarus declared war against Zurich and Austria, and the other cantons joined in this decision.
From the start of operations, contingents from the Forest Cantons and Glarus laid waste the territory round Zurich and threatened the town; on 22 July 1443, at St Jakob on the Sihl, the forces of Zurich were put to flight and the burgomaster Stüssi killed. Rapperswil was successful in defending itself; then, as a result of mediation by Constance and by a great Diet summoned at Baden, Zurich agreed to abandon all alliance with Austria and to submit to arbitration. But the Austrian faction caused the rejection of all conciliatory proposals, and executed those members of the Council who were likely to agree to them; the cantons resumed the campaign, with the assistance of Solothurn and Appenzell; the stronghold of Greifensee was carried on 27 May 1444, the garrison being put to the sword, and on 21 June the city of Zurich was besieged by an army of 20,000 Confederates.
In these circumstances Frederick III appealed to a new ally, the King of France. Charles VII was only too pleased to dispatch to the Rhine the troops whose task in France had been ended by the truce with England, and who bore the significant names of Écorcheurs or Armagnacs; while he cherished the hope of profiting by the weakness of Germany to seize Basle, a rich commercial city which excited the envy of the nobles possessing land in her vicinity. The Dauphin of France, Louis, himself took command in Champagne of 40,000 men, horse and foot, armed with cannon and provided with siege-material. At this time 15,000 men from Berne and Solothurn were investing the fortress of Farnsburg. The nobles of southern Alsace, the Sundgau, facilitated the advance of the French army, whose vanguard on 23 August penetrated beyond Basle to Pratteln and Arlesheim; on the opposite bank of the Rhine the Austrian troops advanced to Sackingen. When the arrival of the Armagnacs was announced, the Swiss reinforcements on the way to Farnsburg marched straight on the enemy; 1300 men from the seven cantons, Solothurn, and Neuchatel, and two hundred armed peasants from Liestal reached Pratteln on 26 August, and put the French cavalry to flight; crossing the Birs, they opposed great masses of cavalry under Jean de Bueil near Basle; then, exhausted by the struggle and their retreat cut off, they entrenched themselves in the Leper’s Hospital of St Jakob on the Birs, where they died gloriously, after refusing to surrender.
The fine resistance offered by this little body of Confederate troops made a great impression on contemporaries. The sieges of Farnsburg and Zurich were immediately raised, but garrisons remained in Aargau and outside Rapperswil. The dauphin was unsuccessful in his attempt to occupy Basle, which was protected by its alliance with the Confederates; and on 21 October 1444 the French plenipotentiaries concluded a final peace at Zofingen with the seven cantons, Basle, and Solothurn, which was signed by Louis at Ensisheim on 28 October. By this first peace between the throne of France and the Leagues, the dauphin guaranteed security to the persons and property of the Confederates, the people of Basle, and members of the Council; he undertook not to invade the territory of the Confederates; on both sides, trade was to remain free. Frederick III, thus abandoned by his ally, experienced great difficulty in clearing his territory of the French freebooters; but the war was prolonged in Switzerland with much tenacity.
Peace with France and Austria
At last the wearied belligerents agreed to have the points at issue settled by arbitration at the peace of Constance on 12 June 1446. Subsequently the court of arbitration intervened between the Confederates, and after fresh conferences at Einsiedeln, both parties abandoned their claims to indemnities and agreed to restore Zurich’s conquered possessions; and on 13 July 1450 the chief arbitrator, Henry von Bubenberg, decided that the alliance between Zurich and Austria was inadmissible. As regards Austria, negotiations ended on 24 June 1450, in the conclusion of a formal alliance of three years with the young Duke Sigismund: the former treaties were recognised; Sigismund undertook not to wage war against the Confederates in future, and tacitly abandoned Austria’s claims to Aargau. At Breisach, on 14 May 1449, peace was assured to Basle, by which the autonomy of the city was guaranteed. Finally, Fribourg also was lost to Austria; when that city attacked Savoy in 1447, Berne supported the duke and imposed on her ancient rival the peace of Morat on 16 July 1448. Fribourg was condemned to pay an indemnity of 40,000 florins to the Duke of Savoy, and to cede Grasburg to Berne. After this defeat, which involved a financial and social crisis, the Savoyard party took the upper hand; on 10 June 1452 the assembly of burgesses proclaimed the abolition of Austria’s suzerainty, and accepted Louis of Savoy as their overlord, while retaining the rights and liberties of the city. Thus, by the application of the judicial regulations of confederate law, was ended an extremely dangerous crisis in the history of the Confederation. Zurich was delivered from a policy which tended to separate her from her allies; in 1450, in concert with the three cantons, she renewed her alliance with Glarus, and owing to her influence the people of Glarus became members of the League almost on the same conditions as the other Confederates.
The insecurity of the times and the long wars coincided with a great economic change in the allied districts, which became obvious at the middle of the fifteenth century. Switzerland never produced enough to support her inhabitants; in the very early days martial expeditions became necessary to secure the means of livelihood. In the Forest Cantons industry had not yet assumed any importance. In Appenzell and St Gall, as also in Berne, economic activity was increasing; but at Zurich the silk industry was in jeopardy; trade had been affected by the intestine quarrels, and transit dues brought in more to the public revenue than indigenous trade. The constant disturbances, caused by war, and the shipwreck of fortunes encouraged adventurous expeditions and mercenary service; the pursuit of indemnities and of booty replaced normal labour; by their military renown the Confederates spread terror around them; organised campaigns were undertaken on very slight pretexts; confederate free-lances entered the service of the highest bidder; lack of work favoured this martial trade of mercenary service; and very soon the consequences of this moral and economic transformation became evident in all parts.
The first years of peace were, however, marked by an immense movement of expansion. The Abbot of St Gall sought protection from the Confederates in his difficult position; on 17 August 1451 he concluded a perpetual treaty of combourgeoisie with the four cantons of Zurich, Lucerne, Schwyz, and Glarus. On 15 November 1452 the seven easterly cantons granted a more favourable charter of alliance to Appenzell. On 13 June 1454 Zurich, Berne, Lucerne, Schwyz, Zug, and Glarus recognised the burgesses of St Gall as confederates in perpetuity, and placed them on the same footing as the men of Appenzell. On 1 June 1454 Schaffhausen, which had resumed its immediate dependency on the Empire in 1415, obtained an alliance on terms of complete equality with Zurich, Berne, Lucerne, Schwyz, Zug, and Glarus. In 1459 Stein-am-Rhein followed this example, allying herself with Zurich and Schaffhausen. Finally, on 18 June 1463 the imperial town of Rottweil on the Neckar associated herself with the eight cantons by a provisional alliance of fifteen years. In 1440 the men of Uri again took possession of Leventina. The new dynasty of the Dukes of Milan, the Sforza, left them undisturbed, and granted exemption from the customs at Bellinzona to Berne, Lucerne, Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden; in 1467 the importation of goods as far as the moats of Milan was guaranteed to the seven easterly cantons.
As regarded Austria, all causes of difference had not yet been removed. In 1452 Zurich succeeded in regaining the county of Kiburg by means of a mortgage. In September 1458 an expedition against Constance was undertaken in consequence of a quarrel at a shooting-match; a few thousand Confederates got no farther than Weinfelden, but on their return they seized Rapperswil. Duke Sigismund demanded that the peace of fifty years should be respected, but was obliged to conclude a truce on 9 June 1459.
The war of aggression was presently revived by Pope Pius II (Aeneas Sylvius), who invited the Confederates to intervene in his quarrel with Austria; in the course of a few days Swiss contingents, from which the Bernese were absent, seized Thurgau and Frauenfeld and crossed the Rhine (October 1460); the siege of Winterthur was interrupted by a truce, and, despite the Pope’s displeasure, on 1 June 1461 a fifteen years’ peace was signed at Constance. Thurgau was to be retained by the Confederates, and became a subject district; the advocacy, i.e. the suzerainty, was retained by the duke, and the higher jurisdiction devolved on the city of Constance. This new possession brought the frontier of the Confederate States right up to the Rhine; in 1460 Appenzell had purchased the Rheinthal, and in 1467 Sigismund ceded Winterthur to Zurich in exchange for a sum of money; on the left bank of the Rhine there now only remained in Austrian hands Rheinfelden and Laufenburg with their dependencies.
The peace of Constance did not at once end all antagonism between Austria and the Confederates, especially between the Austrian and Swabian nobles and the towns and communities of the Leagues. In 1467 a Confederate garrison went to protect Schaffhausen from the local nobles. On 17 June 1466 Mühlhausen formed an offensive and defensive alliance with Berne and Solothurn; an act of violence on the part of the burgesses led to the investment of the city by the Austrian bailiff, Turing von Hallwil the Younger, whereupon the Confederates on 25 June 1468 invaded Sundgau in force and drove back the nobles. Berne wished to proceed to an occupation of the Black Forest, but the other Confederates would not consent to this plan, and peace was signed at Waldshut on 27 August 1468. The duke promised the Swiss an indemnity of 10,000 florins, in guarantee whereof he pledged the homage of the people of Waldshut and the Black Forest if the said sum were not paid by 24 June 1469.
To escape from these financial embarrassments, Duke Sigismund now had recourse to the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, son of Philip the Good, who, although a vassal of the King of France and of the Empire, reigned over an autonomous State consisting of Burgundy, Franche Comté, the Netherlands, and Flanders. By the treaty of St Omer on 9 May 1469 Sigismund mortgaged to Charles the territory he had pledged to the Confederates, in addition to the towns of Laufenburg, Rheinfelden, Säckingen, and Breisach, the landgravate of Upper Alsace, and the county of Ferette, in exchange for 50,000 florins and his protection against all enemies, especially against the Confederates. By means of this alliance Sigismund hoped to deprive the Swiss of their pledge. Charles, for his part, was impelled by his ambition and his political designs; he was extending his possessions beyond the Vosges, and preparing the marriage of his daughter Mary to Maximilian, son of the Emperor Frederick. In 1469 the Burgundian administration took possession of the territory on the Upper Rhine; but the harsh measures of the bailiff, Peter von Hagenbach, provoked so much discontent among the towns and nobles that, in October 1473, the towns of Basle, Colmar, Celestat, and Strasbourg formed the association called the “Basse Ligue” in defence of their liberties. This League at once entered into relations with the Confederates, who considered the alliance between Charles and Sigismund as an infraction of a treaty concluded with them by the Duke of Burgundy when he was Count of Charolais; they regarded as provocative the threats aimed at Mühlhausen and the violence done to Swiss merchants.
Louis XI, having emerged victorious over the League of the Public Weal, was delighted to secure Swiss support against his implacable enemy the Duke of Burgundy, who personified the resistance of feudal power to the monarchy. Foreseeing an attack, he concluded a treaty of neutrality with the Confederates in 1470; in 1471 he presented each canton with a sum of 3000 livres, subsequently encouraging them to make peace with Sigismund and to attack Charles the Bold. At first negotiations hung fire, but in 1473 the Emperor took the part of the King of France against the Burgundian. In Switzerland, Nicholas von Diesbach and Jost von Silenen, provost of Beromünster, actively espoused the cause of Louis XI; the Diets of January and February 1474 consented to make peace with Austria subject to the condition that the districts pledged should be redeemed, and negotiations began at Constance. On SO March a project of Perpetual Peace was agreed on: it secured the contracting parties in the possession of their present territories, and provided for the settlement of disputes by arbitration; the Confederates undertook not to conclude fresh combourgeoisies with Austrian subjects; they promised armed assistance to the Duke of Austria, and all old disputes were settled. On 31 March, still at Constance, a defensive alliance for ten years was signed between the Confederates and the Bishops of Strasbourg and Basle, and the four towns of Strasbourg, Colmar, Celestat, and Basle; finally, on 4 April Duke Sigismund joined the Basse Ligue with the aforesaid bishops and cities, and on 6 April he denounced the treaty of St Omer. Louis XI sanctioned the “recess” of Constance, and decided that the duke ought likewise to support the Swiss, and that his heirs should be bound by the treaty as well as himself. The actual confirmation of the agreement between the King of France, Duke Sigismund, and the Eight Cantons was signed at Sens on 11 June 1474.
The tidings of the Perpetual Peace was hailed with joy in Switzerland; with the help of French diplomacy, the prevailing insecurity was to come to an end. The Confederation was recognised as independent by its hereditary enemy, and it was guaranteed in the full possession of its conquests.
The “Perpetual Peace” with Austria, 1474
The treaties of Constance necessarily involved war with Burgundy. The revolt of the Alsatian towns started hostilities; Peter von Hagenbach was seized at Breisach by the enraged burgesses, and was beheaded on 9 May 1474. Sigismund again took possession of Alsace, which was then laid waste by Charles the Bold.
Louis XI saw that this was a favourable opportunity for exerting all his diplomatic efforts to win the Swiss over to his plans; he worked mainly by means of Nicholas von Diesbach, promising his aid and substantial subsidies to the cantons and to Fribourg and Solothurn, in return for a contingent of hired troops. Following Berne’s example, all the cantons on 21 and 26 October accepted the clauses of a treaty signed at Feldkirch; at the same time Sigismund ratified the Perpetual Peace. In a secret declaration of 2 October, Berne had agreed that the king’s help should only be summoned in case of dire necessity; on the other hand, the cantons undertook to supply a fixed number of 6000 mercenaries. The first petition for their aid came from the Emperor Frederick, whom Charles the Bold attacked at Neuss; this was followed by appeals from Duke Sigismund and the members of the Basse Ligue, and the Confederates declared war on the Duke of Burgundy on 25 October.
They won their first success at Hericourt on the Lisaine, where, on 13 November, 8000 Swiss put to flight the relieving army of Henry de Neufchatel, lord of Blamont, and likewise captured the town. In 1475 Nicholas von Diesbach carried on the campaign; at the head of an army of free-lances, he seized Pontarlier, Grandson, Orbe, Jougne, and Échallens. In July 1475 15,000 men from Berne, Fribourg, Solothurn, and Lucerne, together with contingents from the Basse Ligue, captured Isle on the Doubs, and Blamont.
After the death of Nicholas von Diesbach, which occurred at Porrentruy during the siege of Blamont, the Vogt Nicholas von Scharnachtal continued to prosecute Berne’s warlike policy in the same direction. Duchess Yolande of Savoy and her brothers-in-law, John-Louis, Bishop of Geneva, and James, Count of Romont and Baron of Vaud, were bound to the party of the duke by an understanding with Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan; on 14 October 1475 the Bernese declared war on the Count of Romont and summoned aid from Fribourg and Solothurn. In less than three weeks the district of Vaud was conquered, after the surrender of Avenches, Cudrefin, Payerne, Estavayer (the population of which was massacred), Moudon, La Sarraz, and Les Clées. Geneva herself was threatened by the Confederates, reinforced by men from Zurich and the Forest Cantons, and only saved herself by paying a ransom of 26,000 écus de Savoie, on 13 November the men from Upper Valais, supported by troops from Gessenay, repulsed the attack of the Savoyards near Sion and occupied all the country up to Martigny.
Meanwhile a reconciliation had taken place between the Emperor and the Duke of Burgundy, and on 13 September Louis XI concluded a truce with Charles the Bold, abandoning the Swiss to his tender mercy. Charles began by putting out of action the Duke of Lorraine, whose capital, Nancy, he occupied; then, at the head of an army of 20,000 men he laid siege to Grandson, the only place in Vaud still garrisoned by the Swiss; on 28 February 1476 he took the castle and hanged the garrison. In these straits Berne called for the assistance of her allies; on 1 March contingents of Confederates assembled round Neuchatel, over 18,000 men commanded by the Bernese leaders, Nicholas von Scharnachtal and Hans von Hallwil. On 2 March the vanguard came into contact at Vaumarcus with a Burgundian outpost. The whole Burgundian army thereupon left the camp at Grandson and marched to meet the Swiss, who advanced in two successive columns and quickly spread panic throughout the duke’s troops; the whole force fell back in disorder to Grandson, their camp was taken with enormous booty, and only darkness and the lack of cavalry checked the pursuit. The Swiss infantry had overcome the cavalry and artillery of Charles the Bold, and the moral effect of this success was considerable; but the Confederates were not anxious to carry on the war and to maintain Bernese interests; they retired, after placing garrisons in Morat and Fribourg.
Charles the Bold retired to Lausanne to prepare his revenge, and with surprising energy assembled a new army. On 10 June the town of Morat was invested by numerous contingents, amounting to over 23,000 men. Adrian von Bubenberg, who was in command of the Bernese garrison, repulsed all assaults, and patiently waited for reinforcements. Fresh appeals by the Bernese caused the Confederates to assemble their forces, first near Berne, later at Gümmenen and Ormey; with the Confederates were associated 1800 mounted men of the Basse Ligue and the garrison of Fribourg under the command of Hans Waldmann of Zurich. On 22 June 1476 an attack was delivered on the centre of the Burgundian lines; it was at first checked by artillery fire, but later broke all resistance by the effect of its compact masses, and the whole Burgundian army was caught in a trap. The army corps of the Count of Romont to the northeast of Morat made its escape; elsewhere the Swiss slaughtered without mercy; between eight and ten thousand of the duke’s army were left on the field of battle. Charles hastily fled through Morges to Gex; with some hesitation the Confederates pursued him as far as Lausanne, where the intervention of Louis XI arranged a preliminary truce with Savoy on 29 June. The Congress of Fribourg, which sat from 25 July to 16 August, did not achieve the results anticipated by Berne and Louis XI. The Confederates only retained a provisional jurisdiction over Vaud in pledge for an indemnity of 50,000 florins; Berne only the Savoyard seignories of Grandson, Orbe, and Échallens; pending a final decision, the men of Upper Valais were allowed to establish themselves beyond St Maurice.
In the same year Charles the Bold resumed hostilities against René of Lorraine; on 22 October he laid siege to Nancy. The Swiss mercenaries, numbering over 8000, under Hans Waldmann, encouraged the Lorrainers and Alsatians to advance towards Luneville. The Duke of Burgundy was defeated at Jarville by these forces, which were superior to his own; and he was found dead on the battlefield, where, for the last time, he had valiantly and tenaciously opposed adverse fate. Louis XI, delivered from his old enemy, took possession of the duchy, and announced his intention of requiring homage from Franche Comté. Berne wished to occupy this territory, but the other cantons were opposed to any fresh conquest. Finally, they agreed to the proposals of the Emperor, whose son Maximilian had married Mary of Burgundy, daughter of Charles the Bold; a definitive peace was signed at the Congress of Zurich on 24 January 1478. Thereby the Confederates renounced all right to Franche Comté; Maximilian, as lord of the Burgundian lands, undertook to pay an indemnity of 150,000 florins to the contracting parties, the Confederates, the Basse Ligue, Austria, and Lorraine.
The Burgundian wars did not change the territorial or political situation of the Confederation; they secured for the Confederates great consideration and caused their alliance to be much sought after. Berne did not abandon its policy towards Savoy. It obtained from Duchess Yolande the release of Fribourg from the suzerainty of Savoy (23 August and 10 September 1477). The town thus remained directly subject to the Empire. On 14 November 1477 Berne and Fribourg concluded a treaty of combourgeoisie with John-Louis of Savoy, Bishop of Geneva, and with the town of Geneva, but only for the duration of the bishop’s life; in the Valais, the bishop and the dizains, as a result of a truce in 1478, retained the Lower Valais as far as St Maurice and the valleys of Bagnes and Entremont.
As regards France, the treaty, which specifically promised armed assistance, was annulled when the king died on 30 August 1483. The peace of Arras between France and Austria bestowed Franche Comté as dowry on Maximilian’s daughter, who was betrothed to the French dauphin; and the treaty of Senlis, in which the Confederates acted as mediators, on 23 May 1493 secured the return of this province to the house of Habsburg.
In Italy, the Duke of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, the ally of Charles the Bold, having been killed on 26 December 1476, his widow, Duchess Bona, renewed the old capitulations with the Confederates on 10 July 1477. Encouraged by Pope Sixtus IV, and by local conflicts in Leventina, the men of Uri decided to intervene in Italy. In November 1478 they crossed the St Gothard and summoned to their aid an army of 10,000 Confederates, in which Hans Waldmann commanded the men of Zurich and Adrian von Bubenberg those of Berne; an attack on Bellinzona, badly led, failed; and a retreat was undertaken in the very heart of December. But the ducal troops found out their mistake when they attempted to profit by this event; they were abruptly stopped at Giornico by a rearguard of Confederates supported by the inhabitants of the country. The peace agreed on in September 1479 and ratified in March 1480 assured Uri in the possession of Leventina. The lack of union between the Confederates caused the loss of Biasca and the valley of Blenio, which commanded the passage across the Lukmanier Pass.
Henceforward the Confederates displayed a tendency to avoid intervention in foreign affairs. It was this prudent reserve which enabled them to reconcile the frequently contradictory clauses of the treaties to which they agreed, and which, in particular, assured their friendship and the recruitment of mercenaries to Duke Sigismund of Austria (13 October 1477), to the King of Hungary, Matthias Corvinus (26 March and 18 October 1479), and to Pope Sixtus IV (18 October 1479).
Conflict of urban and rural cantons
In the midst of these successes, the Confederation passed through an acute crisis. The thirst for gold aroused by the fabulous booty taken from Burgundy had excited violent passions in the populace; the measures adopted by the cantons to combat the system of foreign subsidies were everywhere nugatory; and venality shewed itself to be the predominant vice of the period. Moreover, in spite of the regulations forbidding private expeditions, mercenary service was becoming the national industry. The lawlessness of the mercenary bands was most scandalously exhibited in the expedition called la Folle Vie, which launched two thousand adventurers from Schwyz, Uri, Unterwalden, Zug, Lucerne, and Fribourg on Savoy; Geneva was threatened, and had to pay down the sum of 8000 florins and to hand over hostages in order to secure the withdrawal of these free-lances. The cantons which possessed urban centres, such as Berne, Zurich, and Lucerne, were dismayed at the revolutionary exuberance of the country districts. Against their advice, the five cantons of Uri, Zug, Schwyz, Unterwalden, and Glarus had, on 12 January 1477, concluded a combourgeoisie with the Bishop of Constance; on this occasion the towns determined to act; and at St Urban, on 23 May 1477, they signed an offensive and defensive alliance, which included Zurich, Berne, Lucerne, Fribourg, and Solothurn.
The antagonism thus declared degenerated into a serious conflict, which a diet assembled at Stanz between 22 and 30 November 1481 attempted to avert. The suggested arrangement was that both parties should renounce their private alliances and that Fribourg and Solothurn should he admitted into the pact; but all hopes of conciliation gradually vanished, and on 22 December a rupture seemed imminent, when the parish priest of Stanz, Henry am Grund, repaired to Ranft to take counsel with the hermit of Obwald, Nicholas von Flue, who enjoyed a reputation of miracle-working sanctity among all the Confederates, and who was greatly respected for his judicious advice. The intervention of Nicholas von Flüe secured an immediate reconciliation, and the agreement resulted in a perpetual alliance of the eight cantons with Fribourg and Solothurn, and the compromise which takes its name from Stanz (22 December 1481). The two cities became members of the Confederation; they were bound to send assistance wherever it might be required, and were forbidden to conclude other alliances without the consent of a majority of the eight cantons. On the other hand, the Covenant of Stanz confirmed the Charter of the Priests (1370) and that of Sempach (1393), and strengthened the common alliance for the maintenance of public peace, while providing various measures for the repression of sedition and for the division of booty and of conquered territory. The Federal bond was renewed more firmly than ever by this happy ending of a crisis which had for a time seemed mortal and irremediable.
Within the cantons, equally grave conflicts aroused the violent passions of the period and proved the necessity of a more stable government and administration. At Berne a democratic movement triumphed in 1471 over the Twingherren, the feudal lords and possessors of ancient rights; an agreement henceforward regulated the exercise of justice in opposition to the feudal system.
At Zurich, the burgomaster, Hans Waldmann, autocratically inclined the policy of the government in the direction of reforms imposed by coercion on the nobles, clergy, and peasants. He was violently attacked by his political opponents on account of the ostentatious luxury of his private life and his arbitrary tendencies, and allowed himself to be bribed into an Austrian alliance. On 14 September 1487 Maximilian concluded a closer alliance with seven cantons, among which were Berne and Zurich. Lucerne, Schwyz, and Glarus, who were in favour of a French alliance, were much incensed. Waldmann was accused of treachery and was held responsible for a defeat sustained at Ossola by volunteers from Lucerne; in retaliation the burgomaster, on 20 September 1487, seized and executed his chief accuser, Frischhans Teiling, at Zurich. But the country districts round Zurich rebelled against Waldmann’s edicts against dogs; the insurrection spread to the city; and Waldmann was in his turn imprisoned, sentenced, and executed on 6 April 1489. Peace was restored to Zurich by the mediation of the federal deputies; the fourth charter on 14 January 1498 modified the constitution while retaining certain regulations which had been introduced by Waldmann.
The fall of the powerful burgomaster led to certain consequences in the Confederation. In Lucerne the populace obtained some changes in the law of the State. In the north-east, the men of Appenzell, in conjunction with those of St Gall and Rheinthal, destroyed the preparations made by Abbot Ulrich Rosch for the transference of his monastery to Rorschach; relying on the support of Uri, Zug, and Unterwalden, the townsfolk of St Gall, those of Appenzell, and the subjects of the former ecclesiastical principality united in the alliance of Waldkirch, on 27 October 1479. The cantons which had undertaken to protect the abbot—Zurich, Lucerne, Schwyz, and Glarus—were obliged to intervene; the town of St Gall surrendered on 15 February 1480; the alliance of Waldkirch was dissolved, and the abbot regained his authority over his subjects and lands. Nevertheless, he abandoned his intention of transferring the abbey to Rorschach, and in fact recognised the protection and intervention of the Confederates in his affairs.
After the Burgundian wars, the Confederates had achieved an almost complete emancipation from the German Empire, which no longer retained either their respect or their confidence. In 1487 and 1488 Frederick III combined the states, princes, knights, and urban communities of Swabia in a league to preserve public peace, which was designed not only to strengthen imperial power, but also to support the house of Habsburg against that of Wittelsbach. The Diet of the cantons refused to join the league; in 1491 eight cantons concluded a treaty of neutrality with the Dukes of Bavaria; in 1495 a majority of the cantons accepted a renewal of alliance with Charles VIII, King of France. .
Maximilian I, who succeeded his father Frederick III in 1493, attempted a widespread reform of the Empire based on the power of the house of Austria; at Worms, in 1495, he instituted an Imperial Chamber and a general system of taxation. The Confederates refused to carry out the decisions of Worms, and did not send delegates to the imperial assemblies. When the three leagues of the Grisons were threatened by Austria, they approached the Confederation; on 21 June 1497 the seven easterly cantons signed a treaty with the Grey League, and on 13 December 1498 with the League of the Maison-Dieu and the town of Chur. At the beginning of 1499 contingents from Uri and other federal cantons supplied help to the Grisons, who had been attacked by the Tyrolese with the encouragement of the Swabian league; on 11-12 February 1499 the Grisons and the Swiss took the offensive against Vaduz and Walgau, and the League of the Ten Jurisdictions in the Grisons made common cause with the other two.
War thereupon broke out with terrible violence from Rhaetia to Sundgau; for the Swiss it was the war of the Swabians, for the Swabians the war of the Swiss. After the first campaign in Hegau, all the cantons and allied districts gradually engaged in the struggle, except Basle and Rottweil. Louis XII, King of France, promised help or monetary support to the Confederates, and the German armies were successively defeated, in March at Bruderholz near Basle, in April at Schwaderloo near Constance and at Frastenz in Walgau. Maximilian then formally placed all the Confederates under the ban of the Empire; on 22 May his attack on Rhaetia failed at Calven, but the Austrian troops laid waste the Engadine. In western Switzerland, Count Henry of Fürstenberg laid siege to the fortress of Domeck on the Birs, which commanded the territory of Solothurn; contingents from Berne, Zurich, and Solothurn assembled at Liestal, and, with the help of reinforcements from Zug and Lucerne, surprised the German army, and on 22 July inflicted on it a sanguinary defeat. Maximilian prepared to embark on fresh attempts, but the Empire and the League were at the end of their resources; Lodovico il Moro of Milan took the first steps towards mediation, and difficult negotiations terminated in the peace of Basle on 22 September 1499. Galeazzo Visconti played the part of intermediary between Maximilian and the Swiss, and the treaty rendered the latter entirely independent of the imperial courts of law; on other matters, the preliminaries arranged on 25 August formed the basis of the agreement; the alliance between the Rhaetian Leagues and the Confederation was recognised, and means of arbitration were provided to ensure the settlement of difficulties between the Swabian League and the Confederation; on both sides conquests, law-suits, and indemnities were relinquished. The treaty did not formally declare the separation of the Confederates from the Empire, or their reconciliation with the Emperor, but the latter virtually renounced his rights of suzerainty, and the Swiss thenceforward remained independent of the imperial power.
Another result of the Swabian war was the admission of Basle and Schaffhausen into the Confederation. Basle had been a free city since 1386 and had become enriched by her trade and industry; although allied with Berne and Solothurn since 1400, she had remained neutral during the Swabian war. On being attacked by the Austrian nobles of her vicinity, she returned a favourable reply to the advances of the Confederates, and a formal alliance was signed at Basle on 13 July 1501. Its clauses forbade the city to declare war or conclude an alliance without the preliminary consent of the Confederates; but at the same time she was appointed to act as arbitrator in case of disagreement among the Confederates. At Schaffhausen the treaty of 1 June 1454, which had rendered the city an allied district, was converted into a perpetual alliance on 10 August 1501; like Basle, Schaffhausen was to exercise mediation in cases of dispute between members of the League. Ill spite of a revival of distrust between the Forest Cantons and Fribourg, Solothurn, and Schaffhausen, these three new cantons were placed on the same footing as the others in 1502. Finally, on 17 December 1513 Appenzell’s persistent efforts were crowned with success; it was granted the position of thirteenth canton, with the same rights as the three preceding ones.
The federal constitutio
At the beginning of the sixteenth century the “Great League of High Germany” was an aggregate of districts differing widely in their political conditions. The thirteen cantons, or Orte—Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Zurich, Lucerne, Glarus, Zug, Berne, Fribourg, Solothurn, Basle, Schaffhausen, and Appenzell—were the Confederates; they sat in the Diet, had full right to vote, took possession of conquered territory, and acted externally as Sovereign States of the League.
The allied districts, or Zugewandte, enjoyed the protection of the Confederates and owed them military support; they were linked by treaties or combourgeoisies to one or more of the cantons. The Valais and the Grisons were themselves, like the Confederation, federal groups; to a certain extent they acted externally as autonomous. The towns of Biel, St Gall, Rottweil, and Mühlhausen, the abbey of St Gall, and the county of Neuchatel, temporarily administered by the cantons, were also allied districts. There may also be included in this category the abbey of Engelberg, the republic of Gersau, the county of Toggenburg—combourgeois of Schwyz and Glarus—the subjects of the Count of Gruyeres who were allies of Berne and Fribourg, and Rapperswil which was under the protection of the Forest Cantons and Glarus.
Moreover the thirteen cantons had actual subjects. Schwarzenburg, Morat, Grandson, Orbe, and Échallens were owned jointly by Berne and Fribourg; Uznach and Gaster by Schwyz and Glarus. The county of Baden, the Freiamt, Thurgau, Rheinthal, and Sargans were subject to seven or eight cantons; the county of Bellinzona was dependent on Uri, Schwyz, and Nidwald, and Leventina on Uri; the other bailiwicks beyond the mountains from Val Maggia to Mendrisio were subject to twelve cantons. In conformity with contemporary ideas, the Confederates did not dream of putting these possessions on the same footing as their own territories; they respected local privileges, especially in the towns, but regarded themselves as legitimate successors of the former lords.
From the internal point of view, the members of the League were bound by no written constitution; in 1515 it was proposed that a minority should yield to the decisions of a majority of the cantons in matters affecting the weal of the Confederation and not interfering with alliances, but this plan was not adopted. Various pacts and agreements laid down rules for the maintenance of peace and the prosecution of war, such as the Charter of the Priests (1370), the Charter of Sempach (1393), and the Covenant of Stanz (1481). The only federal authority was the Diet, an assembly of delegates or envoys from the sovereign cantons who tended to become actual representatives of the various members of the League; the deputies were provided with instructions, and the execution of the decisions arrived at and expressed in the official reports (abschied or recess) depended on the good will of the States. Although the legal capacity of the Diet was never defined, this institution actually acquired the position of the directing power of the Confederation, and foreign countries regarded it as such.
Notwithstanding such slight legal bonds, the Confederates were inspired with a common sentiment of cohesion and solidarity which was developed during the course of their wars. Their military organisation, which became remarkable in the fourteenth century, rested on compulsory service from the age of sixteen to that of nearly sixty, on the training of the young men, and on pike-drill; periodical inspections ensured the use and upkeep of weapons; marksmanship began to be greatly esteemed, but artillery was still much neglected in the fifteenth century. The Diet and the government of cantons acted as a General Staff at the beginning of a campaign; by an elaborate system of signals and intelligence the army, when required, could be rapidly mobilised; in the latter half of the fifteenth century the Diet could call up between 50,000 and 60,000 men, though in practice never more than half of these were summoned. Discipline was not always perfect, but their warlike spirit and the sense of danger generally saved the situation and averted the gravest catastrophes. The military preparedness of the Confederation was the chief reason of its power; its infantry easily overcame the foot-soldiers of other European countries.
Even after Marignano (1515) the conquests of the Confederates had not attained what they regarded as their natural frontiers: on the left bank of the Rhine Austria still retained Frickthal; she commanded the river at Kaiserstuhl and Laufenburg, and held certain important parts of the Grisons. Constance still held aloof from the League. Southward and westward Ossola had been lost, Geneva was not yet attained, and the house of Savoy was in occupation of Vaud; in this direction Berne had not yet relinquished all hopes of extension. The perpetual alliance of 1516 put an end to the position of the Confederation as a great military power; whenever permitted to do so by the French alliance, henceforward in the conflicts of her neighbours Switzerland adopted and cherished a policy of neutrality which suited her political situation.
Popular sentiment increasingly tended to encourage the Confederates in keeping out of great international politics and in restricting themselves to their own affairs. Moreover a violent reaction shewed itself against the evils which had unquestionably enfeebled this strange little body politic, namely venality, incapacity for reform, military agreements, and discord between towns and country districts. Her security being now attained, Switzerland was faced with the task of arriving at a national conception of her political and social life, so as to become an actual State.