Swiss History: Old Swiss Confederation (13th-15th centuries)

Figure 1.--Switzerlan's great national hero is the semi-legendary William Tell. He is believdcto have played an important role in launching the Swiss revolt which defeated the Haosburg effort to controll the developing Swiss Confedertion. Part of that legend was shooting an apple of his son's head and killing Albrecht Gessler, the newly appointed Austrian Vogt of Altdo (1307). The statue is located in the market place at Altdorf, Uri Canton. This was one of the original three forest cantons. It is situated at the foot of an old tower. It shows the famed Swiss national hero with his crossbow and ayoung son. It was consecrated in 1895. The sculptor was Richard Kissling..

The creation of Switzerland began with the development of transalpine trading routes. Three small valleys afected by these trading routes had not attracted the attentiin of the dukes and kings that were fashioning the modern shape of Europe. The three forest cantons in central Switzerland (Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden) signed the Eternal Alliance (1291). They swore to help each other against anyone attempting to subject them. This is referred to as the Oath on Rütli (a meadow on the western shore of Lake Lucerne). The Alliance developed into a loose confederation of what had been largely independent cantons. They would prove to be the nucleus for the future Swiss state. It was a challenge to Hapsburgh rule. The Hapburghs attempted to crush the Swiss revolt, but this proved difficult in the rugged mountaneous territory of Switzerland. It is at this time that the semi-legendary William Tell appears (figure 1). The Swiss managed to defeat a large Hapsburgh army at the battle of Morgarten (1315). The Swiss agin repulsed Hapsburg armies at Sempach (1386) and Näfels (1388). They eventually lost their native castle in northern Switzerland. The Haosburgs probably had the military strength needed to supress the nascent Swiss revolt, although they were not yet the great European power that they became. The cost to the Hapsburghs of pursuing a war in the easily defended Alps proved greater than the potential prize. The Swiss thus achieved autonomy within the German Holy Roman Empire as the Swiss Confederation. It is often called the Old Confederation meaning the state before the French Revoutin and conquest by French revolutinary armies. The Confederacy gradually expanded to include the cities of Zürich and Berne (mid-14th century). This created a rare union at the time of rural and urban communes. They had the statis , all of which had the status of imperial immediacy within the Holy Roman Empire. The Confederation of eight cantons (Acht Orte) by persisted for more than a century managed to be become an establish political entity in the border regions between Francec and Austria. Swiss mlitary success in the Burgundy Wars (1470s) essentially established the Swiss Confederation as a permanrnt independent enity in Europe. This was durther confirmed by the Swabian War (1499). As a result, more cantons joined the Confederation which incrreased to 13 cantons (Dreizehn Orte) (1513).


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Created: 8:59 AM 6/4/2012
Last updated: 8:59 AM 6/4/2012