Today’s installment concludes The Swiss Win Independence,
the name of our combined selection from F. Grenfell Baker and Lina Hug and Richard Stead. The concluding installment, by Lina Hug and Richard Stead from The Story of Switzerland, was published in 1890.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed three thousand words from great works of history. Congratulations!
Previously in The Swiss Win Independence.
Time: April 5, 1388
Place: Sempach, Switzerland
The victory of Naefels forms a worthy pendant to that of Sempach, and as such cannot be passed over in silence. The Austrians, having recovered their spirits after the terrible disaster, and the “foul peace” (faule Friede) hastily arranged having expired, they carried the game to its conclusion. Despite all prohibitions, Glarus had kept up its friendship with the Eidgenossen, and in conjunction with them had, in 1386, captured Wesen, the key to the district. To Glarus, therefore, Albrecht III. now gave his whole attention. But Glarus itself, feeling much more free after Sempach, assembled its inhabitants, in the spring of 1387, for the first time as a Landsgemeinde, and drew up for itself a constitution. Wesen on Walensee was recaptured by the Austrians on their way to Glarus. This happened through the treachery of the inhabitants of the town, who, siding with their old masters, opened their gates. The federal garrison was surprised as they slept, and put to the sword (February, 1388). The Austrians assembled at Wesen a force of six thousand horse and foot, and on the 9th of April set out in two divisions. Count Hans von Werdenberg, the chief mover in the enterprise, climbed the opposite heights, with the intention of forming a junction at Mollis, whilst Count Donat von Toggenburg and other nobles led the main force along the river Lint. Reaching Naefels, at the entrance of the Glarus valley they found their passage barred by an Alpine fortification -— a Letzi, as it is called—consisting of rampart and ditch. This, however, was stormed without difficulty, as the guard was insufficient for its defense.
In truth, the Glarner were unaware of the Austrian movements, and though Ambühl and his two hundred men fought with the utmost bravery, they were no match for the far superior numbers against them. Like a torrent the Austrians rushed into the open and defenseless valley, and, fancying no doubt there was no further opposition or danger to fear, dispersed in all directions, pillaging property, firing houses, driving cattle. Plunder and destruction seemed indeed to be now their sole aim; but meanwhile the tocsin was sounding through the valley to call the villagers to arms in defense of their country. Fast they flocked to the standard of Ambühl, who had posted himself with his troops on the steep declivity of Rautiberg, waving high the banner of St. Fridolin to attract his friends. Here, six hundred men all told, including a handful of men from Schwyz, awaited the foe. At last, in straggling and disorderly fashion, the Austrians appeared in sight, many lingering behind for the sake of plunder. Their attempt to ascend the eminence occupied by the foe was met by a shower of stones, which threw the horses into confusion. With true Alpine agility the mountaineers now dashed down the slopes and fell on the cavalry. A fierce encounter followed, and then a terrible chase, during which the Austrians are said to have ten times stopped in their flight and attempted to hurl back their Swiss pursuers, but ten times were compelled to give way again before the terrible strokes which met them. Darkness set in, and with it came on fog, and a sudden fall of snow. A superstitious panic seized on the Austrians, and they fled in the utmost confusion to Naefels, and thence sought to regain their faithful Wesen. But here a fresh catastrophe awaited them. Thronging the bridge spanning the outlet of the lake their weight broke down the structure, and hundreds of fugitives dragged down by their heavy armor sank with it, and were drowned. Count Werdenburg, who was watching the disaster from his eminence, fled as fast as he could. This disaster explains the loss by the Austrians of so disproportionate a number of men, viz., seventeen hundred, as against the fifty-four who fell of the Glarus force. The latter fell chiefly in defense of the Letzi.
Year after year the people of Glarus, rich and poor alike, Protestant and Catholic, still commemorate this great victory. On the first Thursday in April, in solemn procession, they revisit the battlefield, and on the spot the Landammann tells the fine old story of their deliverance from foreign rule, whilst priest and minister offer thanksgiving. The 5th of April, 1888, was a memorable date in the annals of the canton, being the five-hundredth anniversary of the day on which the people achieved freedom. From all parts of Switzerland people flocked to Naefels to participate in the patriotic and religious ceremonies. A right stirring scene it was when the Landammann presented to the vast assembly the banner of St. Fridolin -— the same which Ambühl had raised high -— and thousands of voices joined in the national anthem, Rufst du mein Vaterland, which, by the way, has the same melody as God save the Queen. If the Switzer has no monarch to love and revere, he has still his national heroes and his glorious ancestors, who sealed the freedom of their country with their blood.
In 1389 a seven years’ peace was arranged, and Glarus returned to the Confederation. This peace was first prolonged for twenty years, and afterwards, in 1412, for fifty years. Finally, after a strife of more than one hundred years, Austria renounced her claims to rule over the Forest, and all her rights in Zug, Lucerne, and Glarus. In process of time the various dues were paid off in ordinary form.
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