Home > Medieval Europe (13th to 15th c.) > Swiss Confederacy or the Swiss League
Print Friendly
27 Jul

Swiss Confederacy or the Swiss League

The Federal Charter of 1291

The Federal Charter of 1291

Decline of the central power under Frederick II of Germany and chaos during the period of Interregnum forced the local communities to connect themselves against robbers, petty nobles as well as against powerful landlords who tried to extend their possessions. Thus the crisis in the Holy Roman Empire during the period of Interregnum resulted in the creation of the Old Swiss Confederacy, an alliance of the rural communes (cantons) of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden and the precursor of modern-day Switzerland in 1291. The Luxembourg rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, Henry VII and his successor Charles IV appointed administrative representatives in each of the three communes and de facto recognized the Old Swiss Confederation.

The Habsburg Dynasty tried to take advantage of the political crisis and win back lost lands in southern Germany. For that reason the three cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden supported Louis IV of Bavaria instead of Frederick I of Austria (Habsburg) in their struggle for the German throne. Frederick’s brother Leopold I, Duke of Austria led a military campaign against the Swiss in 1315 but he was severely defeated in the Battle of Morgarten. A month later, the three cantons renewed their alliance and reached an agreement over their unification which formed the legal basis of the confederacy for the next five centuries. The most important clause of the agreement was the provision that alliances with other states will not be concluded without consent of all cantons, while each canton took an oath to defend its independence. The three cantons had been joined by the cantons of Glarus and Zug and the city states of Lucerne, Zurich and Bern by 1353 forming the Bund of Acht Orte or the alliance of the eight places.

Bern and Zurich retained a right to maintain special relations with the Habsburg House which tied to prevent the eventual rise of the Swiss Confederacy. Leopold III of Austria assembled an army against the Swiss when Lucerne invaded Habsburg lands in 1385 and captured the city of Sempach. However, the Habsburg House was defeated for the second time, while Glarus declared independence and defeated Leopold’s brother Albert III in the Battle of Nafels in 1388. The Habsburg pretensions in the Swiss Confederacy afterwards ceased. The Swiss took advantage of the tense relations between Frederick IV of Austria and Emperor Sigismund and invaded and conquered Aargau in 1415. Aargau was of great strategic importance and played an important role in the history of constitutional development of the Swiss Confederacy, while joint administration of the canton resulted in the rise of consciousness of common identity. The Pfaffenbrief signed by the members of the Swiss Confederacy in 1370 restricted the privileges of clergy, while the Sempacherbriefsigned in 1393 determined that a war can be declared only after consulting with all cantons of the Confederacy.

The relations between the cantons were not ideal. The claim of Zurich to Toggenburg resulted in a ruinous war with the other confederates between 1436 and 1446. The war was intervened by the Habsburg House which supported Zurich against Bern by sending troops that were loaned to Emperor Frederick III by Charles VII of France. However, the French commander withdrew after the clash with the confederates and the French heir to the throne Louis XI signed a peace agreement with the confederates in the name of France. Zurich reconciled with the Confederation but had to dissolve its alliance with the Habsburgs.

The Swiss Confederacy developed into an influential military power and helped Louis XI of France defeat Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy in the Battle of Nancy in 1477. The Swiss soldiers gained a reputation of near invincibility during the Burgundian Wars and their mercenary services were afterwards increasingly sought by all European great powers. The Swiss Confederacy repulsed the attack of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor at the end of the 15th century and Maximilian granted Switzerland virtual independence in 1499.

© Copyright - Medieval Times - Site by Local SEO Company