Luzern Peasant War, 1513

In German, the war is referred to as "Zwiebelnkrieg" (War of the Onions).
During the late 15th and 16th century, Swiss mercenaries had an excellent reputation and many belligerents recruited mercenaries there. While the mountainous soil provided little alternative for those young men not inheriting farm or trade from their parents but enrolling in a foreign army, the small elite of families which governed cantons such as Luzern, by granting permission to recruit mercenaries to foreign powers - in return for pensions paid to themselves, were the real beneficiaries. Shortly after the event described in this chapter, Huldrych Zwingli would successfully arguing against this 'trade in human flesh', as he called it, with the effect that Zürich would ban mercenary recruitment.
During the War of the Holy League, Swiss troops provided the core infantry. In the Battle of Novara 1513 the regiments of Swiss mercenaries suffered severe losses. Then rumours spread through the Canton of Luzern that two members of the Luzern city council would recruit mercenaries for the French king (the enemy in the Battlr of Novara; thus having Swiss mercenaries fight Swiss mercenaries). The rebellion began in Willisau. Several thousand peasants took up arms, marched on Luzern and besieged the city for several days (July 3rd-7th 1513), in the process damaging gardens of city burghers located outside of the walls (hence the name - War of the Onions). Luzern city council made a number of concessions regarding the policy of alliances/mercenary recruitment, as well as regarding taxation and government. The rebels laid down their arms and returned to their farms. In January 1515 rebel leaders Rudolf Mettenberg and Hans Heid were executed.

Zwiebelnkrieg, from Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz, in German
Zur Geschichte des Kantons Luzern (2) : Das Alte Luzern (On the history of the old Canton Luzern (2) - the old Luzern), from Staatsarchiv Luzern

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on February 28th 2004, lst revised on November 17th 2004

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