Graubünden (Grisons, Grigione, Grischun) Disturbances, 1620-1637

Graubünden, in the 17th century, was of significant strategic importance both to Spain and France. For the Spanish army, passage through Graubünden was essential in order to supply the Spanish Netherlands (where the War against the Dutch Republic resumed in 1621). France equally was interested to cut the Spanish Road, and Graubünden, with her Alpine passes, was the most likely place to achieve this.
Spanish envoys on one side, French and Venetian envoys on the other, competed for influence in Graubünden, and spent sums of money on pensions to local dignitaries. Thus, a pro-Spanish and a pro-French/Venetian party in Graubünden emerged. The Venetian alliance of 1603 had been interpreted by Spain as hostile, and Spanish Milan stopped grain export into Graubünden - a vital trade for the Valtellino and Engadin. The treaty resulted in a conflict between the pro-Spanish and the pro-French faction, which threatened the unity of the Federation. In 1613 both a Venetian and a Spanish offer for an alliance were rejected.
In 1618-1619 protestant preachers assembled at Thusis and held court, assuming jurisdiction over the federation, sentencing a number of leaders of the pro-Spanish party to death, among them Catholic archpriest Nicolo Rusca, the leading Catholic priest in the Valtellino.

On July 18th and 19th 1620, a Catholic mob in Tirano (in the Valtellino, the majority of the population was Catholic) massacred the Protestants in town; the rebellion moved up the valley; by June 22nd, about 600 persons had been killed; the Valtellino and Bormio had seceded from Graubünden. A campaign by the Graubünden militia to retake both areas ended in the defeat at Morbegno August 8th 1620; the rebels were supported by Spain and Austria and had the sympathies of Switzerland's Catholic Cantons. Zürich and Bern supported Graubünden with 1,000 respectively 2,100 men. The Grey League concluded a separate treaty with Spain (Feb. 6th 1621). The two other leagues regarded this act as treason; Pompejus Planta was regarded being mastermind of the treaty; he was brutally murdered Feb. 25th 1621. In October 1621, Jörg Jenatsch led a Graubünden army of 6,000 into Bormio; the attempt to retake the area failed.
Austria and Spain responded by invading Graubünden; Austria annexed the lower Engadin. Graubü'nden, on January 21st/ 22nd 1622, had to accept the Austrian conditions, which included measures favouring the Catholic rite; Protestant service, Protestant books were banned.

On Palm Sunday 1622, the population of the Prätigau rose in arms and expelled both Austrian soldiers and Catholic priests, as far as they were not killed. The Protrstant exiles returned; the Federation was reestablished; the Grey League forced to join.
In August 1622 the Austrians invaded a second time, with a force of 8,000 to 10,000 men (against 2,000 defenders). The Austrians committed atrocities in the lower Engadin; Graubünden again had to accept Austrian conditions in the Treaty of Lindau, September 30th 1622. The implementation of the Counterreformation in Graubünden resumed.
In 1623 France (Cardinal Richelieu) organized a force consisting of Graubünden exiles, French and Swiss mercenaries, 7,000 to 8,000 men strong, commanded by François-Annibal d'Estrees Marquis de Coeuvres. In October 1624 the regiment crossed into Graubünden territory; the country was liberated; even Bormio, the Valtellino and Chiavenna (1625) were retaken. In March 1626 the Treaty of Monsonio was signed, which recognized Graubünden rule over Bormio, Valtellino and Chiavenna, but contained a number of provisions which protected Catholicism in these areas.

In 1629 France entered the Mantua War of Succession; Austria, perceiving Graubünden as a French satellite, again invaded Graubünden. The Austrian soldiers were extraordinarily rough; they confiscated food, horses, carts at will; the populatuion suffered from the plague. In 1631, the Austrians evacuated Graubünden (the Mantua War of Succession had been concluded; Austrian troops were needed in Germany, where the arrival of the Swedes had turned the tables in the ongoing Thirty Years' War). Spain in 1629 had reoccupied the Valtellino, Chiavenna and Bormio, and held on to these.
In 1635 France declared war on Spain (Franco-Spanish War, -1659). The Duc de Rohan lead an army of 5,000 men into Graubünden. His plan to surprise the Spanish in the Valtellino failed, and a war between the two forces ensued; outnumbered, the Duc de Rohan was victorious in engagements at Livigno June 27th, at Mazzo July 3rd, in the Val Fraele (Oct. 31st), at Morbegno (Nov. 10th); he was in control of the Valtellino. Negotiations were begun between France, Austria and Spain. Then a mutiny among the Graubünden troops under the command of the Duc de Rohan (unpaid for some time) broke out; the Duc de Rohan was forced to surrender (March 26th 1637). Jörg Jenatsch, one of the most eminent Protestant preachers leading over the court at Thusis 1618-1619, an active leader of the pro-French party both at home and in the emigration, had converted to Catholicism in January 1635, and had been instrumental in organizing the mutiny and expulsion of the French in 1637; he was assassinated in January 1639.
In 1639 Graubünden concluded a treaty with Spain, the Milan Capitulate.

Nikolaus Rusca, from BBKL, in German
Georg (Jörg) Jentasch, from EB 1911, BBKL, in German
Blasius Alexander, from BBKL, in German
Henri Duc de Rohan, from EB 1911, from BBKL, in German
REFERENCE Friedrich Pieth, Bundnergeschichte (History of Graubunden), Chur : F. Schuler 1945, pp.198-227

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on March 21st 2004, last revised on November 19th 2004

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