The Rise of Switzerland
I T was during the fight for the Empire between Lewis IV and Frederick the Handsome (see Chapter XXX) that the Swiss struggle for freedom began. From the eleventh century the land now known as Switzerland had been part of the Empire. As a nation it did not then exist, but was divided into cantons. One of these cantons was called Schwyz, and in time it gave its name to the whole country.
The mountaineers who lived in these cantons were a brave and freedom-loving people, but they paid a loyal, if somewhat shadowy, allegiance to the emperor. Now the Hapsburgs, who were dukes of Austria, tried to convert these cantons into a mere family possession. This the Swiss resisted with all their strength, and three forest cantons, Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwarden, formed themselves into a league for national protection and defence.
Of the beginning of this resistance, in the early part of the fourteenth century, William Tell is the hero. Tell has been proved to the satisfaction of most people to be a myth. But the story, at least, illustrates how irksome the servile homage, demanded by a feudal overlord, had become to men who had grown to respect themselves, and had ceased to look upon themselves as mere chattels.
The first great battle for Swiss freedom was fought at Morgarten between the League and the Austrians in 1315. The Austrians were led by Leopold, duke of Austria, fighting in the interests of his brother Frederick. His army was filled with the flower of Austrian knighthood, but it went down before the untrained mountaineers fighting for freedom. This first great victory had two results. It checked the rule of Austria over the three forest states, and it bound them closer together.
Lewis was not ill-pleased to see the House of Austria thus defeated, and he rather favoured the League, which during his reign grew considerably stronger. What the Swiss fought for was not severance from the Empire, but freedom from the oppressions of the House of Austria. The dukes of Austria, however, were by no means minded to lose their power over these mountaineers and cowkeepers. So, save when they were too deeply engaged with schemes in other parts of the Empire, they carried on a fairly constant warfare against the Swiss.
These wars availed Austria little, while the Confederation grew constantly stronger. At length, seventy-one years after Morgarten, in the reign of Wenceslaus, the besotted son of Charles IV, the Austrians were again utterly defeated at the battle of Sempach. In this battle, as at the battle of Morgarten, they were again led by a Leopold of Austria, a nephew of the former duke.
Arnold von Winkelried
It was at Sempach that the patriot Arnold von Winkelried is said to have laid down his life for his country. The Austrian nobles stood a firm and glittering mass, and in spite of all their bravery the Swiss were unable to break through their lines. Seeing this Winkelried determined to force a way through.
"Comrades," he said, "I will make a way for you." Then spreading his arms wide and crying aloud, "Make way for Liberty," he ran upon the bristling spears, and gathering as many as he could to his breast, sank dying to the ground. The wall of steel was broken, and through the breach thus made the Swiss marched to victory.
Two years after Sempach the Swiss won another victory at Nafels. By these two battles the power of Austria over the Confederacy was shattered. The Hapsburgs resigned their claims, and signed a peace for seven years. This peace was renewed from time to time, and for many a long day the brave mountaineers were left to themselves, and gradually grew stronger as more towns and cantons joined the League.
In 1439 Albert, duke of Austria, was elected emperor. From that date until 1806, when Francis II resigned his empty title, in spite of a show of election, the title remained with hardly a break hereditary in the Hapsburg family, Charles V and Francis I being the only emperors not of the House of Austria.
Zurich and Austria
During the reign of Albert's son, Frederick III, the Swiss were involved in civil war. Zurich, one of the cantons, concluded a separate alliance with Austria. This caused such anger in the Confederacy that they made war against Zurich. The emperor then made an alliance with France, and in spite of the fact that France was still in the throes of the Hundred Years' War, obtained from him an army of thirty thousand soldiers under the Dauphin Louis. This army was little more than a rabble of hungry adventurers, but it was twice as large as the Swiss army, and at St. Jacob's, near 1444 Basle, the Swiss were defeated.
Yet although the Swiss lost the battle they had made such a brave fight that it counted as one more step towards freedom. The war continued, and five years later Zurich gave up its alliance with Austria and was again received into the Confederacy.
Twenty-six years after the battle of St. Jacob's the Swiss made an alliance with Louis XI, who, as Dauphin, had defeated them. Secretly encouraged by the wily Louis, they became embroiled in war with his great enemy Charles of Burgundy. In two great battles, one at Granson and one at Morat, they utterly defeated him. The following year Charles was killed in a battle near Nancy.
These victories welded the Confederates still more closely together, and from now onward they began to be looked upon as a nation, and received the name of Swiss.
This new nation was still in name part of the Empire, but it was, in fact, quite independent. The Swiss had not fought against the Empire but against the House of Austria. The emperors were now, however, continuously drawn from the Hapsburgs, and showed an inherited desire to subdue Switzerland. This the Swiss resisted.
They were now so strong that they had no need of protection from the Empire, which, indeed, was in no condition to give protection, and had itself become a feeble shadow. They were able, by their own authority, to keep the peace within their own borders, and they had no need to have the king's peace thrust upon them.
Yet the emperors still obstinately regarded the country as part of the Empire, and in 1499 the Emperor Maximilian I again tried to force the Swiss to acknowledge his sway and began a campaign against them.
But in this war he got little aid from the Empire as a whole, for most of the states regarded it as a purely Austrian quarrel. The Swiss, on the other hand, fought with the glorious courage which comes to a small nation fighting for its very existence against the overweening pride of militarism. And they won. After eight months of bitter struggle Maximilian was defeated and forced to conclude the Pease of Basle.
After this Switzerland was practically independent, but this independence was not openly acknowledged until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.
The many victories which the Swiss had won over their powerful foes had gained for them a great reputation as fighters, and from the time of their wars with Charles the Bold onward all the rulers in Europe, but especially the French, became eager to have Swiss soldiers in their armies. In consequence, Switzerland became sort of a "market of men," and in almost every great campaign Swiss mercenaries were to be found fighting on one side or another. It was not until the nineteenth century that many of the cantons forbade foreign enlistment. Yet, strange to say, in spite of fighting thus on any side for which they were paid to fight, the Swiss kept their own nationality, and amid the broils of Europe the little republic has remained safe and intact.
In the reign of Frederick, under whom the Swiss practically secured their freedom, the Empire sank to its lowest. It was shorn of its dependencies, war raged everywhere throughout the land, the great princes each struggling to increase their power and wealth while the Empire was reduced to the last stage of beggary. Yet the lower the Empire sank the greater grew the arrogance of the Emperor, and Frederick took for his motto the letters A.E.I.O.U., which stood for the Latin Austria Est Imperare Orbi Universo, or in German, Alles Erdreich 1st Oesterreich Unterthan.
But while the wearer of this proud motto sat upon the throne Constantinople fell before the Turks. They overran Europe, reaching even to the borders of Austria, and the emperor raised no finger to stay their course. It was left to the Poles and the Hungarians to sweep back the Moslem tide which threatened to overwhelm the Western even as it had overwhelmed the Eastern Empire.
While Frederick arrogantly proclaimed the subjection of all the realms of earth to Austria, dauntless adventurers were sailing unknown seas, revealing new and undreamed of lands. But Germany without unity or nationality had no part in these discoveries, and neither then nor later did she share the heritage of Europe in the New World.
In 1493 Maximilian, the son of Frederick III, succeeded his father as emperor. He was the first who took the title of emperor without waiting to go to Rome to be crowned by the pope. Up to this time the German overlord had only been styled king of the Romans until crowned by the pope. But Italy was at this time full of war, and the journey to Rome was one of difficulty and danger. So in 1508 Maximilian announced that he intended to take the title of emperor.
The pope, Julius II, was anxious to have Maximilian on his side in his Italian wars, so he gave his consent. After this all the emperors took the title on their election, and only one (Charles V) went to Rome to be crowned.
In his own time Maximilian was one of the best loved of German emperors. Yet he never did anything for the Empire. He was constantly at war, and nearly always defeated.
He has been called the last of the knights, yet he did more than any other Continental ruler to kill knighthood, for he was one of the first to follow the example of England and organize foot soldiers for his army to take the place of the splendid but useless mounted knights.
He was vainglorious and vacillating, and succeeded in little. Yet through him great European complications were to arise. In 1477, long before he became emperor, he married Mary of Burgundy, the daughter of Charles the Bold, who fought the Swiss. Through her he became possessed of Burgundy and the Netherlands. When Maximilian became emperor he gave the government of the Netherlands to his son Philip. This son married Joanna, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, and thus Spain and the Netherlands became united. All this had important results for Europe.
List of Emperors