History of Italy 1500-1577

Graubünden before the Reformation

During the era of the Barbaric People's Migration (5th to 6th centuries), in the higher regions of the Roman province of Rhaetia a Romanized population held on to the land; ties to Rome/Italy loosened, and the regional language developed separately, into Rhaeto-Romanic, still spoken today in parts of the country. The population of valleys descending into the Italian plain historically kept better communication with Italy and do speak Italian (Val Calanca, Val Bregaglia, Val Poschiavo). In the course of the high and middle ages, groups of German-speaking Waldensians settled valleys in Graubünden, thus contributing to the linguistic caleidoscope the country forms today. The country's name in Rhaeto-Romanic is Grischun, in Italian Grigione, in German Graubünden. Abroad it is often referred to according to its French spelling, Grisons.
During the High Middle Ages, ownership of the land was split among large landowners such as the Princebishopric of Chur, the Counts of Vaz, a number of other noblemen, and monasteries such as Disentis. Graubünden was and is thinly populated; Chur was the only city in the country (and a small one).
The 13th and 14th centuries saw the noble families involved in frequent feuds; the most notable noble family were the Counts of Vaz, the line of whom ended in 1337. Their territories were split among the husbands of the daughters of the last count, who resided otside of the country - the Counts of Toggenburg and Werdenberg. Peter von Böhmen, Bishop of Chur (1355-1369), resided outside of the country and caused resentment by increasing the debt of the bishopric. He was prepared to transfer the secular administration of the Princebishopric of Chur to the Austrian Habsburgs, who recently had acquired Tyrol and Vorarlberg. Within the Princebishopric of Chur, communities of free peasants within the Princebishopric established the League of the House of God with the intention to prevent an Austrian takeover; it was founded in 1367. The League of the House of God declared itself willing to raise the money necessary to pay off the debt of the Princebishopric. Over the following decades it influenced the administration of the Princebishops (which was deficitary) and in 1439 caused the bishop to appoint a regency. In 1452 the administrator of the Princebishopric was deposed. Thus, the political weight of the League of the House of God increased over time.
In the Upper Rhine Valley, law and order had largely broken down due to extended feuds. In 1395 the Grey League or Upper League (Oberer resp. Grauer Bund) was founded, in which the abbot of Disentis took a leading role. Its main purpose was to restore peace; it consisted of the Abbey of Disentis and a number of peasant communities. The regional nobles took it upon themselves no longer to search for justice by pursuing feuds. Other goals of the federation included the protection of property and of the roads. In 1406 the Grey League and the League of the House of God concluded an alliance. In 1424 the Grey League (by now larger than in 1395) renewed her charter, by now having a more democratic character, as the communities now dominated. A federal court was established, as a central institution.
Count Heinrich of Werdenberg complained about the inhabitants of Schams and Rheinwald who, despite being his subjects, had joined the Grey League. They refused to follow his orders and in 1431 were (temporarily) excommunicated. In 1450 Baillif Hans von Rechberg caused the people of Schams to rebel; soon troops from the other valleys came to their aid; Rechberg's force was defeated. The rebels moved down the valley into other territories ruled by the Counts of Werdenberg. The conflict ended in 1452; the Counts of Werdenberg had to recognize the Grey League and the League of the House of God. In 1456 the Counts sold their property in Rhaetia to the Bishops of Chur.
Following the death of the last Count of Toggenburg, the Toggenburgian communities in Rhatia founded the League of the Eleven Jurisdictions, which by the merger of two districts in 1506 turned to the League of the Ten Jurisdictions (Zehngerichtebund).
In 1440/1455 the Grey League established an alliance with the city of Chur and with the 4 villages. By joining in 1471, the League of the House of God and the League of the 10 Jurisdictions founded Grischun - Grigione - Graubünden. The federations took it upon themselves to provide each other with military assistance, if needed. Freedom of trade, safeguarding the roads, the termination of feuds were among the statutes of Graubünden, not codified until 1524. A Bundestag (federal diet) was created, which in many cases forwarded matters to be decided by the individual federations or communities.

Graubünden depended on foreign trade, especially on the trade with Milan. During a conflict between Pope Innocent VIII and Duke Gian Galeazzo Sforza of Milan, the former called on many princes for help, among them the Princebishop of Chur. In 1486 and 1487, Graubünden forces occupied Chiavenna and the Valtellino; on March 17th 1487 Milan and Graubünden concluded a peace treaty; the occupied territories were restored to Milan; the Duke paid an indemnity of 17,000 golden Ducats and granted freedom of import and export duties to Graubünden merchants.
The House of Habsburg, in 1471/1497 acquired feudal rights in Graubünden, but recognized the existence of the federations as well as the union. In order to counterbalance Austrian influence, Graubünden allied herself with Swiss cantons; 1497/1498 the Grey League and the League of the House of God associated themselves with the Swiss Federation (thus not becoming full members). War begann in 1499; Tyrolean troops occupied contested communities in the Upper Etsch valley and sacked the monastery at Münster. The Bishop of Chur refused to enter into an alliance with the League of the House of God and entered into secret communication with the Austrians. The League of the House of God regarded his actions an act of treason and treated him a prisoner.
Meanwhile the Austrians appealed to the Swabian League, which took their side. Graubünden found the Swiss as their allies; the Swabian War (Schwabenkrieg, 1499-1500) ensued. Austrian troops invaded Graubünden and caused serious damage - 17 villages were burnt down; various columns of Graubünden troops then surrounded the invaders and defeated them in the Battle of Calven; many of the fleeing Austrians drowned when a bridge collapsed under them, or were cut down.
The French conquest of Milan (1500) caused Emperor Maximilian to give in and recognize the independence of Graubünden.

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 15th 2003, last evised on November 10th 2004

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