Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Fröhlich Geburtstag! Bon anniversaire! Buon Compleanno! Bun di da naschientscha!
During the 12th century, the dukes of Zähringen were lords of what is now Western Switzerland. When Berchtold V died in 1218, the Zähringer dynasty ended, and these Swiss cities became Reichsfrei (or city states within the Holy Roman Empire). It was during this time that the Kyburg were fighting the Habsburg over these territories.
During this time, also, the alpine passes in Raetia and St. Gotthard gained in importance as ways to pass through the Alps. This suited the Reichsfrei of the Forest Cantons of Uri, Unterwalden and Schwyz. Unfortunately the Kyburg dynasty became extinct in 1273, thereby eliminating all rivals to the Habsburgs for control of these territories. Once rulers, they promptly revoked the Cantons' Reichsfrei status.
At this point, the Forest Cantons decided to conspire against the Habsburgs. They drafted the Federal Charter of 1291 and this formed the Ewiger Bund der Drei Waldstätten, signed on August 1st, 1291, effectively bringing Switzerland into existence. The famous Oath on the Rütli (or Patto di Grütli, as I learned in my History class) is said to have occurred in 1307, although evidence has never been found to corroborate that it ever happened.
Through wars, alliances, luck and necessity, Switzerland was able to keep its independence and add territory, until it became the country we know today.
Some points of interest:
1) Although many claim that Switzerland joined the Nazis during WWII in order to maintain their "neutrality" this is certainly not true. The Germans did draft a plan of invasion for Switzerland but never followed through. The Swiss were also able to maintain independence thanks to economic concessions (made to both Axis and Allied powers), through a general agreement that Switzerland was to remain neutral and (most importantly in my view) due to the fact that Germany had many other issues to occupy its time. It should be noted that there was a Swiss Nazi party, but it never gained any real power, due to the divided and different cultures forming Switzerland. The Swiss newspapers also tended to be very antagonistic towards the Third Reich, with many articles infuriating the German government.
2) Between 1798 and 1803, the Swiss flag looked like this:
3) William Tell never featured in this. His legend only came about in the 15th century, with similar legends featuring in Norse, British and Danish folktales.