The Cambridge Modern History - Vol. 2

By A. W. Ward; G. W. Prothero et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X.
THE HELVETIC REFORMATION.

THE Helvetic Reformation, like the German, was the outcome of both the national history and the Renaissance. The history of Switzerland had been a record of free communities in town or country, more than holding their own under changing local dynasties and weakening imperial power. Gradually a sense of national unity emerges, but earlier local connexions are long retained. The Teutonic communities of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden separately gain their independence in ways common enough elsewhere, and then become the centre of the later confederation. The lands around them are divided into two strongly marked parts--a Burgundian west, looking towards France, Burgundy, and Savoy, converted by Gallic or Roman missionaries, divided among many dynasties, and a Swabian or Alamannic east, richer in civilisation and democratic cities, converted by Irish missionaries, looking by the run of its valleys and the lie of its plains towards Germany. This division lasts through the Frankish Empire and through the Middle Ages, and is the most essential feature in Swiss history.

The growth of the early Habsburg power, following the extinction of the House of Zäringen ( 1218), at first threatened the freedom of the Swiss; the connexion of the Habsburg House with the Empire gave it an imperial claim to jurisdiction in addition to the varied local claims it already possessed, though at the same time it absorbed its energy in other and more important fields. The tendencies to union shown by the German Leagues operated also among the Swiss communities, and in the end gave rise to the Perpetual League of the three Forest Cantons, Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden ( August, 1291), with simple provisions for maintaining their primitive liberty and regulating their mutual relations. The League concluded at Brunnen on December 13, 1315, after the great battle of Morgarten, added nothing essential, although it bound the members more closely together against a usurping lord. The accidents of Habsburg history and the varied grouping of the neighbouring Powers kept this early league alive and even caused it to grow: victories against the Habsburgs and afterwards against Burgundy

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