Book Excerpts

Founding of Berne:
Rudolph von Habsburg Siege of Berne:
Waldstätten and Zurich form defensive League:
Battle of Morgarten:

 Founding of Berne
History of Switzerland – Dionysius Lardner, Roy Gerald Fitzgerald (1832)
Page 49 – A little hamlet, Berne, lay near the fortress of Nydeck, on a peninsula which is washed by the Aar. The banks of the rapidly flowing stream are on all sides high and steep. On the site of the present town lay a considerable pasture-ground, and behind it a thick wood. On every side were visible only a few farm houses and villages. The strong-holds of the nobles frowned from every height in the neighborhood. About a month after Berchthold had defeated them, he commissioned Cuno of Bubenberg to surround Berne with walls. Cuno exceeded the prescribed extent of ground, and soon after wards it was thought fit to extend still further the limits which he had set to the town. For a long time the duration of the new town seemed doubtful. The climate was raw, the region unattractive, the enemy’s vicinity dangerous. To counter balance these disadvantages, however, Berchthold placed it as a free town of the empire, under the emperor’s immediate protection, and thus rendered it independent of his own house for the future. Allured by this extraordinary boon, many of the inferior nobles, who valued freedom, which they could not enjoy in a state of isolation, gathered themselves together into the town, to secure by brotherly union this most precious of all possessions. Such were, for example, the Erlachs, Bubenbergs, and Muhlerers. Numerous artificers were attracted by hopes of profit. Even in its increased extent the town could not contain the increasing multitudes ; and as the land-owners preferred besides to live upon their property, Berne acquired many out-burghers, who added much to her strength.

 Waldstätten and Zurich form defensive League
History of Switzerland – Dionysius Lardner, Roy Gerald Fitzgerald (1832)
Shortly before this miserable epoch, in which Helvetia with the rest of the German empire was delivered over to every species of violence and injustice, the three districts of Uri, Schwytz, and Unterwalden, closed their first league for mutual aid and defence with Zurich.

The History of Switzerland, for the Swiss People – Heinrich Zschokke, Emil Zschokke (1855)
Already (in 1251), Uri, Schwyz and Zurich had formed a league with each other to withstand the nobles in their castles.

 Rudolph von Habsburg Siege of Berne
History of Switzerland – Dionysius Lardner, Roy Gerald Fitzgerald (1832)
Page 55 – Not more fortunate in its issue was the feud of Rudolph with Berne, which he besieged with 15,000 men in 1288. He was soon, however, obliged to draw off his forces, as the military skill of those times could effect nothing against a town surrounded on three sides by a rapid stream, protected by steep banks and walls, and defended by stout burghers. An attempt to take the town by surprise in the following year was frustrated by the resolute self-devotion of the citizens, and the timely aid of Wale of Gruyeres.

 Battle of Morgarten
History of Switzerland – Dionysius Lardner, Roy Gerald Fitzgerald (1832)
Page 61 – Soon after occurred the famous episode of William Tell, momentous to the main plot in its issue. This man, who was one of the sworn at Rutli, and noted for his high and daring spirit, exposed himself to arrest by Gessler’s myrmidons, for passing the hat without making obeisance. Whispers of conspiracy had already reached the vogt, and he expected to ex tract some farther evidence from Tell on the subject. Offended by the man’s obstinate silence, he gave loose to his tyrannical humor, and knowing that Tell was a good archer, commanded him to shoot from a great distance at an apple on the head of his child. God, says an old chronicler, was with him ; and the vogt, who had not expected such a specimen of skill and for tune, now cast about for new ways to entrap the object of his malice ; and, seeing a second arrow in his quiver, asked him what that was for 1 Tell replied, evasively, that such was the usual practice of archers. Not content with this reply, the vogt pressed on him farther, and assured him of his life, what ever the arrow might have been meant for. ” Vogt,” said Tell, ” had I shot my child, the second shaft was for thee ; and be sure I should not have missed my mark a second time !” Transported with rage not unmixed with terror, Gessler ex claimed, ” Tell ! I have promised thee life, but thou shalt pass it in a dungeon.” Accordingly, he took boat with his captive, intending to transport him across the lake to Kussnacht in Schwytz, in defiance of the common right of the district, which provided that its natives should not be kept in confinement beyond its borders. A sudden storm on the lake overtook the party ; and Gessler was obliged to give orders to loose Tell from his fetters, and commit the helm to his hands, as he was known for a skilful steersman. Tell guided the vessel to the foot of the great Axenberg, where a ledge of rock, distinguish ed to the present day as Tell’s platform, presented itself as the only possible landing-place for leagues around. Here he seized his cross-bow, and escaped by a daring leap, leaving the skiff to wrestle its way in the billows. The vogt also escaped the storm, but only to meet a fate more signal from Tell’s bow in the narrow pass near Kussnacht. The tidings of his death enhanced the courage of the people, but also alarmed the vigilance of their rulers, and greatly increased the dangers of the conspirators, who kept quiet. These occurrences mark ed the close of 1307.

The History of Switzerland, for the Swiss People – Heinrich Zschokke, Emil Zschokke (1855)
Page 41 – The night came. One of the young men who had taken the oath at Rutli, went to the castle of Rossberg in Obwalden, where lived a young girl beloved by him. With a rope the young girl drew him up from the castle-ditch into her chamber. But twenty others were waiting below, whom the first drew up also. When all had entered, they mastered the steward and his servants and the whole castle. When it was day, Landenberg left the royal castle near Sarnen to attend mass. Twenty men of Unterwalden met him, bearing, as customary presents, fowls, goats, lambs, and other New Year’s gifts. The bailiff, in a friendly manner, told them to enter the castle. When under the gate, one of them sounded his horn. At once, all drew forth sharp spear heads, fastened them upon their staves, and took the castle, while thirty others, who had been hidden in a neighboring thicket, came to their assistance. Landenberg, terrified, fled over the meadows towards Alpnach. But they took him, and made him and all his people swear to leave the Waldstatten forever. Then they permitted him to retire to Lucerne. No injury was done to any one. High blazed the bonfires on the Alps. With the people of Schwyz, Stauffacher went to the lake of Lowerz, and seized the castle of Schwanau. The people of Uri marched out, and Gessler’s tower was taken by assault. High blazed the bonfires on the Alps. That was Freedom’s New Year’s day. On the following Sunday, deputies from the three districts assembled, and, with an oath, renewed their original bond for ten years ; and the bond was to endure forever and to be often re newed. They had reassumed their ancient rights, had shed no drop of blood, and had done no harm to any, be longing to the king or to Habsburg, in the land. When king Albert learnt what had taken place, he was exceedingly incensed, assembled troops, and, in company with many noble lords, rode into Aargau. With him was also his nephew and ward, duke John of Suabia, from whom he had withheld his patrimony. As, on the 1st of May, 1308, having left Baden, he was crossing the Reuss near Windisch, duke John cried out, “This is the reward of injustice!” and pierced the monarch’s throat with his lance. Other lords, who had conspired with the duke, followed his example. Knight Rudolf of Balm plunged his sword into the king’s bosom, Walter of Eschenbach clove his head. The rest remained motionless, in horror at the crime. Finally, they all dispersed. The emperor of Germany expired in the arms of a poor woman, who passed, by chance, along the road. This crime occasioned horror everywhere. The murderers wandered and died, cursed of men. Zurich closed her gates against them; the Waldstatten would grant no asylum to the assassins of their enemy. But the children of the murdered man, duke Leopold of Austria, and Agnes, queen of Hungary, and his widow, queen Elizabeth, wreaked their vengeance on innocent and guilty. The most cruel of all was Agnes. Many castles of the suspected were reduced to ashes : Wart, Fahrwangen, Masch- wangen, Altburen. When, at Fahrwangen, the blood of sixty-three guiltless knights flowed at the feet of Agnes, she is said to have exclaimed : ” See, now I am bathing in May -dew !” In vain did the wife of knight Rudolf of Wart beg before her in the dust for the life of her husband. His limbs were broken, and, still living, he was exposed on the wheel to the voracity of birds of prey. From the wheel, while dying, he consoled his faithful wife, who alone knelt near him, and prayed and wept till his dear soul had fled. But Agnes and her mother built the rich convent of Koenigsfelden on the spot of the emperor’s assassination. She herself retired thither, to close her days in devotion. But brother Berthold Strebel, of Oftringen, filled with indignation, said to her, one day, as she was inviting passers-by to enter her church: “Woman! that is poor Gods-service, which sheds innocent blood, and builds a convent with the spoil!” Neither did duke Leopold forgive the Waldstatten for their resistance to his father, especially when he saw that they preferred the emperor, Louis of Bavaria, to his brother, Frederick of Austria. He marched against them with many knights and signiors, and a large force. Count Otto of Strassburg crossed the Brunig against Obwalden, with four thousand men. More than a thousand soldiers were sent by the governors of Willisau, Wollhausen and Lucerne, to attack the country of Unterwalden from the lake. The duke himself advanced with the best of his troops from Aegeri, by Morgarten, against the mountains of the Schwyzers. He carried with him numerous ropes to hang the leaders of the people. The Confederates, to oppose his power, stationed them selves, thirteen hundred strong, on the height near the march of Einsiedeln. Four hundred of Uri, three hundred of Unterwalden, had joined the Schwyzers. Also, fifty men to Schwyz, who had been banished, came and begged permission to show themselves worthy of restoration to their country by deeds of valor. As, on the 16th of November, 1315, the many thousand harnessed knights, in the rosy dawn of morning, were ascending the mountain, the Confederates, with loud cries, rushed upon them at a small plain near the Hasellmat, and on the broad grassy slope of the mountain. The fifty banished men rolled down huge masses of rock from the heights of the Siegler-Flue, then broke forth from the morning-mist upon the disarrayed enemy. There was great disorder among the troops of the duke, then flight and rout. Leading the Schwyzers with word and deed were Henry of Ospenthal and the sons of old Reding of Biberegg, who had given the plan of the battle. The enemy were driven into the defile below at Aegeri. The flower of the nobility fell at Morgarten under the halberds and maces* of the shepherds. Leopold saved himself with difficulty from the victorious pursuers. Then, on the following day, the victors hastened across the lake of the Waldstatten towards Unterwalden ; there they defeated the Lucerners, many of whom were drowned in the lake. Strassburg saw this, and fled terrified. After this great heroic day, the Confederates renewed their ancient bond, to die, all for each, each for all ; to enter into no engagement with foreign powers except with consent of all ; to respect foreign property and rights in the country, as their own. Thus the name of Schwyzers (Swiss) became world- renowned, and afterwards was the name of all the Confederates. The aid of their formidable arms was soon demanded in the wars of the empire. Their intercession saved the liberties of Zurich and St. Gallen, when the emperor, in want of money, wished to pledge these imperial cities to the dukes of Austria. But Schaffhausen, Rheinfelden and Neuchatel fell into the power of Austria, as mortgaged property. This greatly grieved those cities. Lucerne learnt by sad experience the heavy pressure of a prince’s yoke. Dependent upon Austria, the burghers of Lucerne, to their great detriment, had been compelled to fight against the Waldstatten and in all foreign wars, for many long years. Besides this, the dukes, making use of their princely power, had increased the taxes. At last, the citizens could bear no more. Thereupon, they concluded a truce of twenty years with the Waldstatten ; but, seeing that the nobles and principal families, devoted to the service of the dukes, meditated projects injurious to the city, on this account, they united in a perpetual bond with the Confederates, that they would stand by them, each for all, all for each, but without detriment to ancient rights. Thereat the nobility dwelling in Aargau declared war against the city in the name of Austria. The burghers valiantly defended their good right. The Waldstatten fought with them against the nobles. But the principal families in Lucerne itself sided with the foreign nobles. For caste does not forsake its caste. The nobles of Lucerne conspired to make a nocturnal massacre, and to give up the city to the duke, after the friends of the Waldstatten had been murdered in their beds. They were already assembled in arms, in the darkness of the night, in a cellar near the lake, under the tailors’ hall, when a boy chanced to overhear their projects. They seized and would have killed him. However, his life was spared, and he was forced to take an oath to tell to no man what he had heard. But he went into the hall of the butchers, where some burghers were still drinking and playing, and there, in a loud voice, related to the dumb stove that which he had sworn to tell to no man. All the burghers listened wondering, hastened away and roused the city. They made the conspirators prisoners, called in auxiliaries from Unterwalden, and took the government of the city forever from those principal families which had until then been invested with it. The chief persons were exiled. Three hundred burghers thenceforth formed the council; but the city- property, the taxes, war and alliances were controlled by the commune. Thus the prudence and patriotism of a child saved the liberties of Lucerne. Afterwards, the dukes, burdened or exhausted with other wars, willingly made peace with Lucerne, as soon as nine arbitrators of Bale, Berne and Zurich had declared : that the perpetual bond of the four Waldstatten was blameless, and in no wise injurious to the rights of Habsburg-Austria.