1770-1794 History of Italy

Graubünden 1794-1815

In 1794, the peasants of Graubünden, dissatisfied with the control the leading families had over the country, assembled at Chur - an irregular assembly which by the leading families was regarded a threat to social order and a form of rebellion. This judgment was shared by Zürich and Bern, who rejected the Chur Assembly's request to send observers.
The Chur Assembly did not regard themselves revolutionaries, but democrats, and the leading families as abusing the Gr. constitution. A court was established which sentenced a number of members of the Salis family and others for the acceptance of bribes, acts of violence and misconduct in office. Some of the accused were ruined by the sentences. The total sum of fines thus collected amounted to 236,898 fl. - by comparison roughly the amount calculated for the road Chiavenna-Nauders projected in 1771. The movement of 1794 intended to revive Graubünden democracy (of the history of which they had a rather romantic concept) by strengthening her central authority. The equality of citizens was stressed. Feudalism was to be abolished, democracy to be secured, the return to an oligarchic rule prevented, Bundestag sessions were to be held in public and to be protocolled. The country was to be given a new military constitution; officers were to be elected, the citizens given military training. The educational system was to be reformed; here again J.B. Tscharner was the dominant figure.
The communities only in part followed the suggestions made by the Chur Assembly and the 1794ff. Bundestag, thus limiting the effect of the reforms.
The reformers of 1794 had failed to address the subject status of the inhabitants of Chiavenna, Bormio and Valtellino. Already in 1786 the Valtellino inhabitants had complained against arbitrary administration and requested the regulation of an orderly administration. When the French armies conquered Lombardy in 1796, Valtellino revolutionary leader Count Diego Guiccardi established contact with them. In March 1797, revolution erupted at the border of Valtellino to Milan; it spread into the valley. A secret assembly held by Valtellinian notables May 29th asked Napoleon Bonaparte to take care of their case. On June 19th 1797, the Valtellino declared independence; on Oct. 10th the Valtellino, at her own request, was annexed by the Cisalpine Republic.
The Gr. reformers regarded the cession of the subject territories as a loss, the Salis were blamed for it, and Graubünden hoped for the restoration of the territory by diplomatic means.
In 1798 the French suggested to Graubünden to join the Helvetian Republic; the Bundestag hesitated, then delegated the decision to the communities, which rejected the suggestion by a clear majority. Austria was very comcerned about the development in Gr. and threatened with intervention. Meanwhile, public opinion in Gr. turned against the patriots, many of whom now fled the country.
Reacting on Austrian pressure, the 1798 Bundestag at Ilanz requested Austrian protection; on Oct. 18th 4,000 Austrian troops entered Gr. France now regarded her promise to respect Gr. neutrality as no longer binding. In March 1799, French troops invaded Gr. and expelled the Austrians. 61 Graubünders were taken hostage, supposedly enemies of France and supporters of the pro-Austrian Party. Two representatives of Gr. signed a document in which Graubünden applied for annexion into the Helvetian Republic.
Following an Austrian victory over the French at Stockach March 25th 1799, the French withdrew in southern Germany and northern Italy. In the territory of the Grey League a rebellion erupted, French soldiers were disarmed; the rebels marched down the valley; on May 1st, at Reichenau, the exhausted rebels, c. 6,000 men, found several shipments of wine, which they consumed. The next day, the undisciplined farmers fought a French brigade, which they forced to retreat. But when it was reinforced, the rebels were dispersed, losing 638 men. The french reoccupied the Upper Federation and burnt down the village of Tamins and the monastery of Disentis. On May 14th/15th Austrian General Hotze invaded Gr.; 1100 French surrendered; 3,000 withdrew.
Gen. Hotze appointed a so-called Interim Administration consisting of 15 notables, mostly aristocrats (May 22nd). In Oct. 1799, the Russian Corps under Suworov, blocked entry into Switzerland, retreated over steep passes into Gr., losing most of their canons and wagons.
Napoleon's victory at Marengo again changed the tide; in July 1800 the French again invaded Gr.; the Austrians retreated, and with them the Interim Administration. The French treated Gr. as part of the Helvetian Republic. As the government of the Helvetian Republic underwent a restructuring, Gen Lecourbe established a French-style departmental administration over what now was called Rhaetia. On July 15 1800 France and Austria concluded a truce according to which Gr. was divided into a French, a neutral and an Austrian sector. The decision in the War of the Second Coalition fell in the Battle og Hohenlinden, Dec. 3rd 1800. On Dec. 25th a general truce was signed; Austria's army had to evacuate Gr., Tyrol and Carinthia.

The wars caused great suffering among the population; especially the French were regarded rapacious. Farming families were not only bereaved of their supplies, but had to provide their oxen to pull the canons of the bypassing troops, had to clear the roads of snow etc. The Treaty of Luneville brought peace; Graubünden was not mentioned, it was regarded part of the Helvetian Republic, which that year was reconstituted as the Swiss Federation.
The Vienna Congress left Graubünden with Switzerland, Bormio, the Valtellino and Chiavenna with the newly constituted Austrian Kingdom of Lombardo-Venetia.

DOCUMENTS Map featuring the Communes of the Rhaetian Republic, 1798, posted by Swiss Genealogy Project, a more detailed map by Historical Maps of the Modern Age
REFERENCE Friedrich Pieth, Bündnergeschichte (History of Graubünden), Chur : Fr. Schuler 1945, 638 pp., in German

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on August 17th 2003, last revised on November 10th 2004

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