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The Swiss and their Neighbours, 1460-1560Between Accommodation and Aggression$

Tom Scott

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198725275

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198725275.001.0001

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Calm amidst the Storm

Calm amidst the Storm

(p.48) 10 Calm amidst the Storm
The Swiss and their Neighbours, 1460-1560

Tom Scott

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The convulsions which seized southern Germany and Switzerland between 1520 and 1540 included the expulsion of Duke Ulrich of Württemberg (an ally of the Swiss) from his duchy of Württemberg; his intrigues to recapture his duchy by raising peasants in the Black Forest already in the throes of popular rebellion; and the beginnings of Reformed Protestant preaching by Huldrych Zwingli in Zürich. Any of these circumstances could easily have led to outright war on both banks of the Rhine. The Swiss were reluctant to give any support to Duke Ulrich, or to the peasants, though Zürich came to the aid of the Forest Town of Waldshut where Balthasar Hubmaier preached the new doctrines (and later Anabaptism). Konstanz, too, embraced Protestantism, to the chagrin of the Catholic Inner cantons. That effectively put an end to the city’s hopes of joining the Confederation.

Keywords:   Württemberg, Duke Ulrich, peasants’ rebellion, Reformed Protestantism, Zwingli, Zürich, Waldshut, Hubmaier, Anabaptism, Konstanz

Between 1520 and 1540 southern Germany and Switzerland were convulsed by political, social, and religious upheaval. First, Duke Ulrich’s expulsion from his duchy of Württemberg by troops from the Swabian League in 1519, followed by an Austrian government of occupation, together with his attempts from exile to recruit mercenaries in Switzerland to recapture his territory; then the mass uprising of the common man in the Peasants’ War of 1524–6, whose origins were on the Hochrhein in the county of Stühlingen; and lastly the spread of evangelical doctrines from Zürich under its preacher Huldrych Zwingli, which not only split the Confederation but embraced the precariously poised city of Konstanz—all these could have served as the pretext for outright war engulfing both banks of the Rhine. Indeed, rumours of war were rife. Yet the antagonism which had soured relations during the preceding hundred years did not lead to a fresh conflict between ‘Swabians’ and Swiss. Some of the invective which had accompanied that hatred was in fact displaced onto the emerging conflict between Protestant and Catholic cantons: in 1524, for example, some Zürich subjects mocked the Forest cantons as ‘cow-straps’ (Kuhkammen, that is, the cords to which cowbells were attached).282 In the same year the innkeeper at Töss by Winterthur was reported to have declared that the ‘cow-muzzles’ and ‘cow-tails’ (that is, the Inner cantons) should embrace the true Christian (evangelical) faith.283

Although Duke Ulrich had a Burgrecht with the Confederation, the cantons made it clear that they had no intention of intervening militarily on his behalf.284 Luzern and Solothurn may publicly have expressed their solidarity with Duke Ulrich, but that was as far as it went.285 During Ulrich’s attempted recruitment of mercenaries in 1522 from his stronghold of Hohentwiel castle in the Hegau, Schaffhausen was given strict instructions to keep any signs of a Bundschuh—the laced boot as a symbol of peasant-armed resistance which Duke Ulrich had appropriated—at bay.286 In the Peasants’ War itself Ulrich sought recruits in the Thurgau and the county of Baden, but both Zürich and Schaffhausen sent envoys to the rebels in the Klettgau ordering them to desist from inciting support among their subjects.287 Duke Ulrich’s march northwards in February 1525 collapsed as his (p.49) hired Swiss troops melted away like snow on the news of Emperor Charles V’s victory over the French at Pavia, which left the Swiss to deal with a revived Habsburg Austria. In truth, his campaign was doomed from the outset since he had, as it transpired, no money to pay his mercenaries.288

Zürich’s involvement in the peasant uprising was politically fraught. The city had felt obliged in October 1524 to send a detachment of 170 men, supposedly volunteers, to help defend Waldshut, the Forest Town on the Hochrhein which had fallen under the spell of Balthasar Hubmaier, a radical evangelical who embraced Zwinglian doctrines (only to espouse Anabaptism as the rebellion unfolded). In the face of imminent attack from Austrian troops Waldshut had appealed to the Black Forest peasants for help; they did indeed rally to the town but were induced to withdraw by the threat of dire reprisals. Zürich’s default position in the rebellion was to offer mediation, not to foment further unrest on its own doorstep, since it was well aware of Archduke Ferdinand’s minatory demand that failure to withdraw from Waldshut might lead to a regional war (Landkrieg).289 It is most unlikely that its magistrates lent any active support to Count Rudolf von Sulz’s Klettgau subjects—apart from encouraging enthusiasm for evangelical doctrines—since both Count Rudolf and the abbot of St Blasien in the Black Forest, another hotbed of unrest, were signatories to Burgrechte with the city. In any case, the rights and revenues which Zürich’s citizens possessed in the Klettgau gave the city a vested interest in upholding seigneurial obligations, not in hastening their abolition.290

By September 1525 a truce had been arranged on the Hochrhein, though there were rumours that Zürich’s rural subjects were keen to lend support. Some of the city’s peasants from the lordship of Eglisau north of the Rhine did indeed join their Klettgau neighbours in a last defiant stand, but they were defeated by Austrian troops, with Count Rudolf von Sulz at their head, at Grießen. Zürich and Schaffhausen’s effort to avoid the impending bloodshed came too late.291

With Schaffhausen, its situation north of the Rhine made it harder for the council to isolate its territory from the surrounding rebellion. Disturbances centred on the villages of Hallau and Neunkirch, where Schaffhausen had not yet succeeded in wresting control from the bishop of Konstanz.292 Moreover, the unrest was unfurled under an explicitly evangelical banner. Yet the rural revolt in Schaffhausen, remarkably, discharged itself, not in efforts to forge links with its Austrian neighbours (p.50) under the sign of the Gospel, but rather in making common cause with the city’s winegrowers to topple the Schaffhausen council.293

After the Peasants’ War the religious stance of the city of Konstanz became a live political and diplomatic issue which could easily have capsized into a regional conflagration. The city’s sympathies for Reforming doctrines manifested themselves from 1522 onwards,294 while Zwingli in his ‘Plan for a Military Campaign’ (now plausibly dated to 1526), intended to forge a military alliance among the evangelical Swiss cities as a preliminary to liberating the Tirol, had envisaged Konstanz as a partner in the enterprise,295 but it was the city’s evangelical alliance (Christliches Burgrecht) with Zürich in late 1527 which brought the crisis to a head. Earlier that year Zürich warned Konstanz that the Swabian League and Austria were planning to station troops on Swiss soil, if the Catholic cantons gave permission, as a preliminary to storming Konstanz.296 For their part, the V Catholic cantons (Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Zug, and Luzern) suspected that Bern and Zürich were plotting to admit Konstanz as a full member of the Confederation, whereupon Zürich would seize the Thurgau and return it to Konstanz’s control.297 The mutual distrust was palpable. Matters were not helped by Konstanz’s eager propagation of the new doctrines in the Thurgau, which quickly installed evangelicals in preacherships in many parts of the landgraviate once Catholic priests had been driven out,298 or by the rumour that the territorial bailiff of the Thurgau had seized the property of all such evangelically minded persons.299 The administration of the common lordship of the Thurgau was thrown into disarray.300 Both jurisdictional lords and the Thurgau communes expressed distress at the discord, but at least undertook to prevent anyone crossing the Rhine or Lake Konstanz onto Swiss soil in the event of war.301 Whether they could successfully have done so is another matter.

When Konstanz’s Great and Small Councils were consulted, according to the city secretary Jörg Vögeli, they complained that they could expect no help from the league, which had plundered the city’s estates during the Swiss War and was now (p.51) harrying its Reforming clerics: the Catholic cantons certainly would not come to the city’s rescue.302

The upshot was that the city council felt it had no option but to seek safety in Zürich’s arms, though not all the guilds were in favour.303 Their opponents countered by declaring that the Burgrecht contravened the provisions of the Treaty of Basel.304 To rub salt in the wound, Konstanz then concluded a Burgrecht with Bern, the other major Swiss city which was on the point of formally introducing Reformed worship.305

In a neat diplomatic side-step, Zürich maintained that its Burgrecht was not intended to underpin the Reformed faith, nor was it directed against the Empire, Austria, or the Swabian League. Moreover, it did not contravene either the Basel treaty or the Hereditary Agreement: therefore there was no reason for it to lead to war. This bland assurance convinced no one. Austria was known to be planning a counter-attack: the bailiff of Nellenburg was allegedly about to seize the Reichenau.306 Yet in the end nothing happened! Late in 1528 the Upper Austrian government in Innsbruck was still imploring the Catholic cantons to get Zürich and Bern to abandon their alliance with Konstanz.307 All to no avail. The link was only severed after the conclusion of the Kappel Wars from 1529 to 1531 which brought the Confederation to the brink of implosion,308 at which point all sides realized that, in the famous words of Benjamin Franklin, if they did not hang together, then assuredly they would hang separately.

Throughout the Kappel Wars Konstanz remained on the sidelines. Despite its active promotion of the new faith in the Thurgau, its adherents in the face of the bailiff’s hostility turned rather to Zürich for protection. Although by 1529 the Christliches Burgrecht had expanded to take in Basel and Schaffhausen Konstanz still felt vulnerable. Rumours of an army being mustered in Swabia prompted the city to seek allies in the imperial cities there, many of whom had embraced the Reformation. Of its Swiss allies, only Bern signalled its willingness to send troops in an emergency.309

The question of a closer relationship with the Confederation remained open. Konstanz conducted secret talks with its evangelical allies but knew perfectly well that the Catholic cantons would not tolerate the admission of a fourteenth member on either confessional or political grounds, especially if that involved surrendering the common lordship of the Thurgau.310 Only after the Second Peace of Kappel was Bern prepared to air the issue openly,311 not least because throughout the (p.52) conflict it maintained a less aggressive stance towards the Catholic cantons than Zürich.312 But even at the end of the decade, despite persistent rumours,313 nothing had changed.

Konstanz was left to deal with problems on its own doorstep, above all the efforts of the new bishop, Johann von Lupfen (r. 1532–7), from 1535 onwards to incorporate the Reichenau into his own ecclesiastical territory,314 which at last came to fruition under his successor, Johann von Weeze (r. 1538–48) in 1540.315 The Catholic cantons were initially in favour, not simply because it would isolate Konstanz but also because it would bolster the Catholic faith.316 But by the end of the decade, as the Empire was increasingly riven between the Protestant Schmalkaldic League and its Catholic adversaries, a more sombre mood prevailed. While King Ferdinand was quite happy for the Reichenau to pass under episcopal control,317 there was some uneasiness among the Catholic cantons. They recognized that the Reichenau did not lie on Swiss territory, but rather beyond the Rhine within the Empire, so that they had no business to interfere.318 They sensed that the bishop might prove an uncomfortable neighbour if he grew too powerful (Uri was especially dubious about the transfer),319 and were concerned that, were they to succeed, the bishop and chapter should not be allowed construct a fortress on the peninsula.320 Nevertheless, by 1540 the annexation was complete; Konstanz’s last-minute offer to buy the Reichenau itself for 14,000 fl was brushed aside.321


(282) EA IV, 1a, 369–71 (no. 167: 4) (1524). An earlier incident in 1522 of a Thurgau subject being abused as a ‘cow-muzzle’ and having a cow’s tail waved at him in Konstanz does not seem to have had any religious import. EA IV, 1a, 231–5 (no. 107: g) (1522).

(283) EA IV, 1a, 371–80 (no. 168: to q 5, 5) (1524).

(284) EA III, 2, 1253–4 (no. 835: c) (1520).

(285) EA III, 2, 1257–60 (no. 840: a) (1520).

(286) EA IV, 1a, 253–9 (no. 120: aa) (1522).

(287) EA IV, 1a, 569–80 (no. 244: f) (1525).

(288) Tom Scott, ‘Reformation and Peasants’ War in Waldshut and Environs: A Structural Analysis’, in Town, Country, and Regions in Reformation Germany (Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions, 106) (Leiden/Boston, MA, 2005), 3–56,Town, Country, and RegionsPart II

(289) EA IV, 1a, 504–18 (no. 218: vv 4) (1524).

(290) Scott, ‘Reformation and Peasants’ War’, 26–7.

(291) EA IV, 1a, 689–99 (no. 285: nn; rr) (1525). The villages of Rafz, Wil, and Hüntwangen rallied. SAZH, A 192, 1, nos 184, 185, 186; Scott, ‘Reformation and Peasants’ War’, 51 and n 187.

(292) EA IV, 1a, 175–8 (no. 74: q) (1522); 198 (no. 87) (1522).

(293) Paul Herzog, Die Bauernunruhen im Schaffhauser Gebiet 1524/25 (Aarau, 1965), 49–50,

(294) Bernd Moeller, Johannes Zwick und die Reformation in Konstanz (Quellen und Forschungen zur Reformationsgeschichte, 28) (Gütersloh, 1961); Hans-Christoph Rublack, Die Einführung der Reformation in Konstanz von den Anfängen bis zum Abschluß 1531 (Quellen und Forschungen zur Reformationsgeschichte, 40/Veröffentlichungen des Vereins für Kirchengeschichte in der evangelischen Landeskirche Baden, 27) (Gütersloh/Karlsruhe, 1971).

(295) Bruce Gordon, The Swiss Reformation (Manchester/New York, 2002), 123

(296) EA IV, 1a, 1069–70 (no. 431: to g) (1527); SAZH, Missiven B II, 31: Konstanz to Zürich, 21 Feb. 1527.

(297) EA IV, 1a, 1078–86 (no. 436: 1; 2; 4) (1527).

(298) Dobras, ‘Konstanz zur Zeit der Reformation’, 103.

(299) EA IV, 1a, 1180–7 (no. 486: to f+g, I) (1527).

(300) Up to 1529 all the territorial bailiffs, whose office ran for two years, were drawn from Catholic cantons. The situation was made worse by the fact that in the rural cantons appointment to offices was bought, so that the bailiffs has every incentive to squeeze as much money from their office as they could. Giger, ‘Gerichtsherren’, 20.

(301) EA IV, 1a, 1446–9 (no. 600: c) (1528).

(302) EA IV, 1a, 1180–7 (no. 486: to f+g, II: i; ii; iii; iv; viii; ix; x) (1527).

(303) EA IV, 1a, 1200 (no. 491) (1527); 1214–15 (no. 496) (December 1527): Appendix 6 (Christliches Burgrecht). Around 10% of guildsfolk were hostile, led by the pro-Austrian fishers’ guild. Dobras, ‘Konstanz zur Zeit der Reformation’, 63.

(304) EA IV, 1a, 1266–74 (no. 504: i) (1528): Appendix 6a; Braun, Eidgenossen, 277.

(305) EA IV, 1a, 1277 (no. 507) (1528); 1282 (no. 511) (1528).

(306) EA IV, 1a, 1301–4 (no. 522: to a 2; to a 3: 1; 4) (1528).

(307) EA IV, 1a, 1423–9 (no. 588: b) (1528).

(308) Rublack, ‘Außenpolitik’, 69.

(309) EA IV, 1b, 326–8 (no. 163: a; b; to b) (1529).

(310) EA IV, 1b, 671–2 (no. 334: 1; 3; 4) (1530).

(311) EA IV, 1b, 1248–53 (no. 668: r) (1532).

(312) See EA IV, 1b, 980–3 (no. 507: b; to b 2, 2) (1531). Bern was behind the cities’ plea to avoid bloodshed which would hit guilty and innocent alike. Nor should banishment be deployed, since the Confederation’s enemies would only rejoice to behold the discomfort and discord among the Swiss.

(313) GLA 209/358, 6 Dec. 1539; Dobras, ‘Konstanz zur Zeit der Reformation’, 117.

(314) Dobras, ‘Konstanz zur Zeit der Reformation’, 116.

(315) Konstantin Maier, ‘Johannes von Weeze. Kaiserlicher Orator, nominierter Erzbischof von Lund, Bischof von Roeskilde und Konstanz 1489(?)–1548’, in Gerhard Taddey and Joachim Fischer (eds), Lebensbilder aus Baden-Württemberg, 19 (Stuttgart, 1998), 79–108,

(316) EA IV, 1c, 537–44 (no. 315: e; to e) (1535).

(317) EA IV, 1c, 1096–7 (no. 661: 4, 6) (1539).

(318) EA IV, 1c, 1163–8 (no. 709: k) (1539).

(319) EA IV, 1c, 1192–7 (no. 724: k) (1539).

(320) EA IV, 1c, 1163–8 (no. 709: k) (1539).

(321) EA IV, 1c, 1175–81 (no. 716: n; to n; 3; 5, 2) (1540); Dobras, ‘Konstanz zur Zeit der Reformation’, 118.