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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 2 of 2)

The three cantons grew to be thirteen Schwyz


course of the Reformation in each country must be described separately, and yet it is the one story with differences due to the accidents of national temperaments, memories, and political institutions.



Sec. 1. _The political Condition of Switzerland._[9]

Switzerland in the sixteenth century was like no other country in Europe. It was as divided as Germany or Italy, and yet it had a unity which they could not boast. It was a confederation or little republic of communes and towns of the primitive Teutonic type, in which the executive power was vested in the community. The various cantons were all independent, but they were banded together in a common league, and they had a federal flag--a white cross on a red ground, which bore the motto, "Each for all, and all for each."

The separate members of the Federation had come into existence in a great variety of ways, and all retained the distinctive marks of their earlier history. The beginnings go back to the thirteenth century, when the three Forest cantons, Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden, having freed themselves from the dominion of their feudal lords, formed themselves into a _Perpetual League_ (1291), in which they pledged themselves to help each other to maintain the

liberty they had won. After the battle of Morgarten they renewed the League at Brunnen (1315), promising again to aid each other against all usurping lords. Hapsburg, the cradle of the Imperial House of Austria, lies on the south-east bank of the river Aare, and the dread of this great feudal family strengthened the bonds of the League; while the victories of the independent peasants over the House of Austria, and later over the Duke of Burgundy, increased its reputation. The three cantons grew to be thirteen--Schwyz, Uri, Unterwalden, Luzern, Zurich, Bern, Glarus, Zug, Freiburg, Basel, Schaffhausen, Solothurn, and Appenzell. Other districts, without becoming members of the League, sought its protection, such as the Valais and the town and country under the Abbey of St. Gallen. Other leagues were formed on its model among the peasantry of the Rhaetian Alps--in 1396 the _League of the House of God_ (_Lia da Ca' De_)--at the head of which was the Church at Chur; in 1424 the _Graubuenden_ (_Lia Grischa_ or _Gray League_); in 1436 the _League of the Ten Jurisdictions_ (_Lia della desch Dretturas_). These three united in 1471 to make the _Three Perpetual Leagues of Rhaetia_. They were in close alliance with the Swiss cantons from the fifteenth century, but did not become actual members of the Swiss Confederacy until 1803. The Confederacy also made some conquests, and the districts conquered were generally governed on forms of mutual agreement between several cantons--a complicated system which led to many bickerings, and intensified the quarrels which religion gave rise to in the sixteenth century.

Each of these thirteen cantons preserved its own independence and its own mode of government. Their political organisation was very varied, and dependent to a large extent on their past history. The Forest cantons were communes of peasant proprietors, dwelling in inaccessible valleys, and their Diet was an assembly of all the male heads of families. Zurich was a manufacturing and commercial town which had grown up under the protection of an old ecclesiastical settlement whose foundation went back to an age beyond that of Charles the Great. Bern was originally a hamlet, nestling under the fortified keep of an old feudal family. In Zurich the nobles made one of the "guilds" of the town, and the constitution was thoroughly democratic. Bern, on the other hand, was an aristocratic republic. But in all, the power in the last resort belonged to the people, who were all freemen with full rights of citizenship.

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