The First War of Kappel

A.) Causes for the War

In the course of the late 15th and early 16th century, the mercenary trade had become a significant business in Switzerland; for the poor inhabitants of the Swiss mountain valleys, especially second-born sons, becoming mercenaries was their opportunity to escape extreme poverty. The influential persons in the cantons often received bribes in return for permitting foreign powers to recruit mercenaries in their territories.
HULDRYCH ZWINGLI, after having witnessed the BATTLE OF MARIGNANO, in which Swiss mercenaries suffered badly, turned into a harsh critic of the mercenary business. In 1521 he convinced the city council of ZÜRICH to terminate the practice of mercenary recruitment in their canton; Zürich advocated the other cantons to follow her lead. While the wealthy trading city of Zürich could afford to do without the revenue generated by the mercenary business, the latter was regarded essential by the so-called forest cantons (Uri, Unterwalden, Schwyz, Zug and Luzern). While Zürich, in 1523-1525, unter the leadership of Huldrych Zwingli, implemented the reformation, the forest cantons stuck to their traditional belief, because they regarded Zwingli a threat to their vital mercenary business.

B.) The First War of Kappel, 1529

Zwingli, convinced that his reformation was the only right interpretation of scripture, wanted to introduce the reformation in the forest cantons by force. He believed that the population of the forest cantons was sympathetic to the reformation, which was held up, in his view, by the "oligarchs", a few men who ruled these cantons. The forest cantons, fearing for their mercenary business, even contemplated an alliance with their archenemy, the Habsburg dynasty. Zürich implemented an economic boycott against the forest cantons, heating up the situation.
In 1529 the Zürich and the forest canton forces met at Kappel. However, HANS AEBLI, Bailliff of Glarus (another nearby canton) exerted moderating influence on both sides and bloodshed was avoided. Instead, the shared KAPPEL MILK SOUP proved to become the most memorable event of the entire war - the forest canton men contributed a barrel of milk, the Zürich men the bread. The men shared the soup, making sure that no one crossed the border line (dividing the barrel in two). Peace was concluded.

C.) The Legacy

The event only postponed a decision, which was produced by the SECOND WAR OF KAPPEL in 1531.


This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on January 31st 2003, last revised on November 17th 2004

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