III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > F. Europe, 461–1500 > 6. Western Europe, 1300–1500 > f. The Holy Roman Empire > 2. The Swiss Confederation
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
2. The Swiss Confederation
Lake Lucerne and the original Forest Cantons belonged to the duchy of Swabia, and the expansion of powerful Swabian families during the Great Interregnum led the Forest Cantons to a determined effort to replace feudal allegiances to various nobles with a single direct allegiance to the emperor. Most powerful of the Swabian families was the rising house of Habsburg (whose original lands expanded in the 13th century into the Aargau, Breisgau, and Alsace). Rudolf I (b. 1218) of Habsburg sought to restore the duchy of Swabia under his house.  1
The Forest Cantons of Uri (already acknowledged independent of any but a loose imperial allegiance in 1231), Schwyz, and Unterwalden emerged as champions of local independence and masters of the St. Gothard Pass into Italy. Rudolf, during the Interregnum, expanded his suzerainty, but as emperor he was too busy to assert it.  2
First (known) League of the Three Forest Cantons (sometimes called the Everlasting League), an undertaking for mutual defense, a kind of constitution, but not an independent federal league, as the cantons did not claim independence. Emperor Adolf confirmed the status of Uri and Schwyz, Henry VII that of Unterwalden, and thenceforth the three Forest Cantons were thought of as a unit. The Swiss sent Henry VII 300 soldiers for his Italian expedition, the first recorded use of Swiss troops outside their own borders. The legend of the Swiss patriot William Tell, whom Austrian officials forced to shoot an apple off his small son's head, derives from this period.  3
1315, Nov. 15
Battle of Morgarten. Leopold of Austria, in an effort to crush the Swiss and punish them for support of Louis IV against the Habsburg Frederick the Handsome, was thoroughly beaten at Morgarten, a battle that began the brilliant career of the Swiss infantry in Europe. Renewal and strengthening of the league and its confirmation by Louis IV.  4
Additions to the Forest Cantons: canton of Lucerne (1332); canton of Zurich (1351); canton of Glarus (1352); canton of Bern (1353), bringing the number to seven, half of which were peasant cantons, the other half urban.  5
The terror that accompanied the spread of the Black Death to Swiss lands led to charges of witchcraft and to pogroms against those perceived as social outcasts, such as the Jews, who were accused of poisoning the wells.  6
1386, July 9
Battle of Sempach. The confederation, supported by the Swabian League, defeated the Habsburg Leopold III of Swabia.  7
Twenty-year truce between the confederation and the duke of Austria. Austria abandoned claims on Zug and Glarus. The confederation became solely dependent on the empire, which amounted to practical independence.  8
The confederation was controlled by a federal Diet (1393), but the cantons retained the widest possible autonomy. Throughout the succeeding period there was but little evidence of union. The various cantons followed their own interests (Lucerne and Schwyz looked to the north; Bern to the west; Uri to the south) and wrangled among themselves. Only the threat from Austria invariably united them against the common enemy.  9
The canton of Uri began expansion southward, to get control of the passes to the Milanese. In 1410 the whole Val Antigorio was conquered, with Domodossola. The Swiss were driven out by the duke of Savoy in 1413, but in 1416 they regained mastery of the country.  10
Conquest in the north of the Aargau, from Frederick of Austria, at the behest of his rival, the Emperor Sigismund.  11
Civil war between Zurich and some of the neighboring cantons over the succession to the domains of the count of Toggenburg. Zurich allied itself with Emperor Frederick III (1442) but was defeated by Schwyz (1443); Zurich besieged (1444). Frederick called in the French, but after a defeat near Basel, the French withdrew. The emperor made the Peace at Constance (June 12, 1446) and in 1450, peace was made within the confederation. The general effect of the war was to strengthen the confederacy.  12
Conquest of the Thurgau from Austria gave the confederation a frontier on Lake Constance.  13
The great war against Charles the Bold of Burgundy, whose designs on Alsace were regarded as a menace to the confederation. The Swiss allied themselves with the South German cities. This combination was joined by the emperor. Louis XI of France also joined, but in 1475 both the emperor and the king withdrew again. Great victories of the Swiss at Grandson (March 2, 1476), Morat or Murten (June 22, 1476), and Nancy (Jan. 5, 1477) sealed the fate of Charles's plans and established the great military reputation of the Swiss, who were thenceforth sought far and wide as mercenaries.  14
War with Milan. Victory of the Swiss at Giornico (Dec. 28). Alliance with the pope, who was allowed to engage Swiss forces.  15
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.