This series has three easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Causes and Consequences of Austrian Misrule.
After their victory at Morgarten in 1315 the people of Switzerland enjoyed two generation of peace. They used this time for growth and internal development. The Swiss Confederation of 1291 was renewed and to the three original cantons (Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden) they added Lucerne, Zurich, Glarus, Zug, and Bern (1332-1353). This growth collided with the growing domination of their overlords to produce the two stories of this series.
The selections are from:
- The Model Republic; a History of the Rise and Progress of the Swiss People by F. Grenfell Baker published in 1805.
- The Story of Switzerland by Lina Hug and Richard Stead published in 1890.
There’s 1.5 installments by F. Grenfell Baker and 1.5 installments by Lina Hug and Richard Stead.
We begin with F. Grenfell Baker.
Time: July 9, 1386
Place: Sempach, Switzerland
Austria’s conduct soon began once more to disturb the Swiss, and to threaten a renewal of hostilities. Her first act of importance was the conquest of the Tyrol, after which, under pretence of benefiting the pilgrims to Einsiedeln, but in reality to separate Glarus from Zurich, she built a bridge across the lake at Rapperschwyl. The possession of this bridge by Austria acted as a perpetual hinderance to Zurich’s trade with the South, and was accordingly greatly resented by the city. Austria’s position, as ruler in so many burghs that, from their situation and the nationality of their inhabitants, were essentially Swiss, also acted as a never-ending source of trouble. Her rule was both harsh and unjust, and, as a result, her local governors were extremely unpopular. In 1386 the anti-Austrian feeling in Switzerland had grown to such a pitch that popular outbreaks against her authority were, in many centers, of frequent occurrence, and war appeared inevitable.
From Lucerne came the final troubles that precipitated the country again into a conflict with Austria. Previous to the actual declaration of war, constant collisions in the neighborhood of Lucerne had for some time past taken place, with all the horrors and savagery of war. In 1385 a body of men from Lucerne attacked and demolished the castle town of Rothenburg, the residence of an Austrian bailie. Next, both Entlibuch and Sempach, at the instigation of Lucerne, revolted against her Austrian rulers, expelled the bailies, and entered into alliances with the city. Lucerne herself commenced extending her territories by the purchase of Wiggis, and — contrary to her treaty stipulations — admitted a number of Austrian subjects into the privileges of citizenship. Austria retaliated by attacking Richensee, a small Lucerne town containing a garrison of some two hundred soldiers. This she carried by assault and destroyed, massacring the inhabitants of all ages and of both sexes.
Other reprisals on both sides followed in quick succession, in which immense numbers of victims perished. Soon both the Duke, Leopold II, and the Confederates were fully prepared, and the former took the field with a large army. After menacing Zurich, the Duke, accompanied by many nobles from Germany, France, and North Italy, headed some six thousand picked men, and marched upon Lucerne. On his way he burned Willisau and several smaller towns, where his troops committed every form of excess. On July 9th a portion of his forces appeared before the walls of Sempach, while another division menaced Zurich. At Sempach the Confederates mustered to the help of Lucerne, but were only able to bring about sixteen hundred men, taken chiefly from the Forest States. In spite of their disparity in numbers, the Confederates determined to risk an encounter.
The decisive and brilliant battle of Sempach, the second of the long roll of victories that mark the prowess of the Swiss, is thus described by an old writer:
The Swiss order of battle was angular, one soldier followed by two, these by four, and so on. The Swiss were all on foot, badly armed, having only their long swords and their halberds, and boards on their left arms with which to parry the blows of their adversaries, and they could at first make no impression on the close ranks of the Austrians, all bristling with spears. But Anthony zer Pot, of Uri, cried to his men to strike with their halberds on the shafts of the spears, which he knew were made hollow to render them lighter, and, at the same time, Arnold von Winkelried, a knight from Unterwalden, devoting himself for his country, cried out: ‘I’ll open a way for you, Confederates!’ and, seizing as many spears as he could grasp in his arms, dragged them down with his whole weight and strength upon his own bosom, and thus made an opening for his countrymen to penetrate the Austrian ranks.
This act of heroism decided the victory. The Swiss rushed into the gap made by Winkelried, and, having now come to close quarters with their enemies, their bodily strength and the lightness of their equipment gave them a great advantage over the heavily armed Austrians, who were already fainting under the heat of a July sun. The very closeness of the array of the Austrian men-at-arms rendered them incapable either of advancing or falling back, and, the grooms who held their horses having taken flight, panic seized them, they broke their ranks, and were hewed down by the Swiss halberds in frightful numbers. Duke Leopold was urged by those around him to save his life, but he scorned the advice, and, seeing the banner of Austria in danger, rushed to save it, and was killed in the attempt. The rout then became general, but the Swiss had the humanity, or the policy, not to pursue their enemies, of whom otherwise not one, perhaps, would have escaped. The loss of the Austrians amounted to two thousand men, including six hundred and seventy-six noblemen, three hundred and fifty of whom wore coroneted helmets. Most of them were buried at Koenigsfelden, with their leader Leopold. The Swiss lost two hundred men in this memorable battle, the second in which they had defeated a duke of Austria at the head of his chivalry.”
After Sempach the men of Glarus set about making themselves a free people. One of their first acts was the capture of Wesen and the expulsion of its Austrian soldiers. This was followed by a truce, which lasted till 1388, when Leopold’s sons recommenced the war with fresh fury. Wesen was recaptured by the admission of a number of soldiers in disguise, who opened the gates to their comrades without and massacred all the chief Swiss leaders. Some months later the men of Glarus inflicted a severe defeat on the Austrians at the little town of Naefels, within their state. In this important combat three hundred and fifty men of Glarus, together with fifty from Schwyz, posted themselves on the heights above the town, and, as the Austrians advanced, suddenly hurled down masses of stones that soon caused a panic. Then, following the successful tactics employed at Morgarten, the Swiss rushed down on the disordered mass — said to consist of fifteen thousand soldiers, but probably about half that number — and dealt death on every side. A precipitate flight of the invaders followed, but they were met near Wesen by a fresh body of seven hundred Glarus peasants, who completed the victory.
Lina Hug and Richard Stead begins here.
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