Switzerland's Rise

In 1291, the three cantons URI, SCHWYZ and NIDWALDEN established what was to become the SWISS FEDERATION. They were small communities, significant because they controlled a pass over which a crucial transalpine trade route led. By the middle of the 14th century, the powerful cities of LUZERN, ZUERICH, BERN and BASEL had joined. In the 1470es, CHARLES THE BOLD, the ambitious Duke of Burgundy, claimed sovereignty over Switzerland. The Swiss joined the coalition of his enemies, and defeated the Burgundians in the BATTLE OF NANCY.
Now Swiss MERCENARIES were sought after. Italian princes signed on Swiss mercenaries to fight in their regional wars. Both the Kings of France and the Popes in Rome hired SWISS GUARDS, respected for their loyalty, which were to serve in France until the French Revolution, in Rome, now more a tourist attraction than a military force, until today. Since the Battle of Nancy, Switzerland's independence has not been contested for centuries.

The political center long had moved from the 3 forest cantons (Uri, Schwyz, Nidwalden) to the urban centers of Zuerich, Bern, Basel. Switzerland's geograpgy was complex, as there was the Swiss Federation, and associated cantons which were independent, not full members, such as GRISONS (= GRAUBUENDEN), GENEVA etc.
Many of the cantons were, and still are, DIRECT DEMOCRACIES, such as Glarus and Appenzell. The adult men meet every sunday after church on market square and decide over political issues, by raising their sword when in favour. Switzerland is one of Europe's oldest republics, with a particular, complex constitution.
In the 16th century, there were member cantons and dependent territories. For instance, much of the land surrounding the cities of Bern and Zuerich were not free communities, but property of that city, thus politically represented by that city's burghermaster. The Swiss Federation had a weak executive and strong Canton governments. Thus, the fact that 4 different languages were spoken in Switzerland was not so much of an obstacle, the language on the canton level counted. Switzerland was and still is a nation constituted by it's political constitution.

Swiss History Timeline, from Information About Switzerland
Swiss History, from Swiss Genealogy on the Internet
DOCUMENTS History of Switzerland, Primary Documents, from Eurodocs
An Eternal Bond of Brothers, 1291, from Eurodocs

This page is part of World History at KMLA
Last revised on February 20th 2002

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