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|Federal Charter of 1291|
|Date effective||Early August 1291|
|Purpose||Union of three cantons in what is now central Switzerland|
The Federal Charter or Letter of Alliance (German : Bundesbrief) is one of the earliest constitutional documents of Switzerland. A treaty of alliance from 1291 between the cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden, the Charter is one of a series of alliances from which the Old Swiss Confederacy emerged. In the 19th and 20th century, after the establishment of the Swiss federal state, the Charter became the founding document of Switzerland in the popular imagination.
The Charter documents the Eternal Alliance of the League of the Three Forest Cantons (German : Ewiger Bund der Drei Waldstätten), the union of three cantons in what is now central Switzerland. It is dated to early August 1291, which in the 20th century inspired the date of Swiss National Day, 1 August. Done in Latin, the Charter makes reference to a previous (lost or unwritten) pact. It is now exhibited at the Museum of the Swiss Charters of Confederation in Schwyz.
The Alliance was concluded between the people of the alpine areas of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden (homines vallis Uranie universitasque vallis de Switz ac communitas hominum Intramontanorum Vallis Inferioris). The participants are referred to as conspirati and (synonymously) coniurati, traditionally translated in German as "Eidgenossen" (and in English as "Confederates").
The Charter was probably intended to ensure legal certainty after the death of Rudolf I of Habsburg on 15 July 1291. The first two paragraphs commit all three communities to the joint defence of the three valleys. The remainder of the Charter concerns judicial matters: It calls for arbitration in the case of conflicts, rejects foreign judges, establishes the death penalty for murderers and exile for arsonists, and commands obedience to judges and judicial verdicts.
The authenticity of the letter used to be disputed as a supposed modern forgery. But historians now agree that it is certainly a product of the 14th century. In 1991, the parchment was radiocarbon dated to between 1252 and 1312 (with a certainty of 85%).
The document is thus not a forgery tied to the emergence of the modern federal state in 1848. It should rather be seen in the context of chapter 15 of the Golden Bull of 1356, where Charles IV outlawed any conjurationes, confederationes, and conspirationes, meaning in particular the city alliances ( Städtebünde ), but also other communal leagues that had sprung up through the communal movement in medieval Europe. It was then very common to produce documents only when needed. At the time, agreements were most often verbal, and any documentation drawn up later might have its contents or dates changed to suit current purposes.
The charter was part of a system of defensive pacts among the polities that later became the Swiss cantons. They include the following, also on display at the Museum of the Swiss Charters of Confederation:
The charter of 1291 became important in the historiography of Switzerland only in the late 19th century. Previously, the date of the foundation of the Confederacy was traditionally given as 1307 (Aegidius Tschudi); this is still the year inscribed on the Tell Monument, commissioned in 1895.
The idea of the charter of 1291 representing the founding document of the Confederacy was first suggested in a report by the Federal Department of Home Affairs of 21 November 1889, in the context of a proposed combined celebration of the 700th anniversary of the foundation of Bern and the 600th anniversary of the Confederacy in 1891. Celebration of a national holiday on 1 August based on the date on the document was first suggested in 1899 (although it was introduced officially only in 1994).
The idea to build a dedicated national monument housing the foundational documents of the Confederacy was first proposed in 1891 by federal councillors Emil Welti and Carl Schenk. This plan was revisited in 1915 during the preparation of the 600th anniversary celebration for the Battle of Morgarten, but its realisation was delayed due to World War I. After the war, the canton of Schwyz requested federal support for the project, which was granted in 1928. Designed by Joseph Beeler in 1933, the Bundesbriefarchiv (Federal Charter Archive) was opened in 1936. In 1979/80, the exhibition hall was renovated, and restoration work was carried out on the 21 banners and flags displayed in the museum. In 1998/99, the exhibition was re-arranged. In the meantime, the institution changed its name to Bundesbriefmuseum (Museum of the Swiss Charters of Confederation).
The canton of Schwyz is a canton in central Switzerland between the Alps in the south, Lake Lucerne to the west and Lake Zürich in the north, centered on and named after the town of Schwyz.
Unterwalden is the old name of a forest-canton of the Old Swiss Confederacy in central Switzerland, south of Lake Lucerne, consisting of two valleys or Talschaften, now two separate Swiss cantons, Obwalden and Nidwalden.
The 26 cantons of Switzerland are the member states of the Swiss Confederation. The nucleus of the Swiss Confederacy in the form of the first three confederate allies used to be referred to as the Waldstätte. Two important periods in the development of the Old Swiss Confederacy are summarized by the terms Acht Orte and Dreizehn Orte.
The Battle of Morgarten occurred on 15 November 1315, when a 1,500-strong force from the Swiss Confederacy ambushed a group of Habsburg soldiers on the shores of Lake Ägeri near the Morgarten Pass in Switzerland. The Swiss, led by Werner Stauffacher, defeated the Habsburg troops, who were under the command of Duke Leopold I. The Swiss victory consolidated the Everlasting League of the Three Forest Cantons, which formed the core of modern Switzerland.
Each of the 26 modern cantons of Switzerland has an official flag and a coat of arms. The history of development of these designs spans the 13th to the 20th centuries.
The Old Swiss Confederacy began as a late medieval alliance between the communities of the valleys in the Central Alps, at the time part of the Holy Roman Empire, to facilitate the management of common interests such as free trade and to ensure the peace along the important trade routes through the mountains. The Hohenstaufen emperors had granted these valleys reichsfrei status in the early 13th century. As reichsfrei regions, the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden were under the direct authority of the emperor without any intermediate liege lords and thus were largely autonomous.
Eidgenossenschaft is a German word specific to the political history of Switzerland. It translates to "oath fellowship" in reference to the "eternal pacts" formed between the Eight Cantons of the Old Swiss Confederacy of the late medieval period, most notably in Swiss historiography being the Rütlischwur between the three founding cantons Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden, traditionally dated to 1307. In modern usage, it is the German term used as equivalent with "Confederation" in the official name of Switzerland, Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft, rendered Confédération and Confederazione in French and Italian, respectively. The related adjective, eidgenössisch, officially translated as Swiss federal, is used in the name of organisations, for example the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. The term Eidgenosse refers to the individual members of the Eidgenossenschaft. It is attested as early as 1315, in the Pact of Brunnen, referring to the cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden. The abstract noun Eidgenossenschaft is attested in the 15th century. In modern usage, Eidgenosse is sometimes used for "Swiss citizen".
The early modern history of the Old Swiss Confederacy and its constituent Thirteen Cantons encompasses the time of the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) until the French invasion of 1798.
Waldstätte is the Stätte, or later Ort or Stand of the early confederate allies of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden in Central Switzerland.
The Rütlischwur is the legendary oath taken at the foundation of the Old Swiss Confederacy by the representatives of the three founding cantons, Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden, traditionally dated to 1307. It is named for the site of the oath-taking, the Rütli, a meadow above Lake Uri near Seelisberg. Recorded in Swiss historiography from the 15th century, the oath is notably featured in the play William Tell by Friedrich Schiller (1804).
The Swiss National Day is the national holiday of Switzerland, set on 1 August. Although the founding of the Swiss Confederacy was first celebrated on this date in 1891 and annually since 1899, it has only been an official holiday since 1994.
The Old Swiss Confederacy was a loose confederation of independent small states within the Holy Roman Empire. It is the precursor of the modern state of Switzerland.
The County of Sargans was a state of the Holy Roman Empire. From 1458 until the French Revolutionary War in 1798, Sargans became a condominium of the Old Swiss Confederacy, administered jointly by the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Lucerne, Zürich, Glarus and Zug.
The English name of Switzerland is a compound containing Switzer, an obsolete term for the Swiss, which was in use during the 16th to 19th centuries. The English adjective Swiss is a loan from French Suisse, also in use since the 16th century.
Vogtei Rheintal was a condominium of the Old Swiss Confederacy from the 15th century until 1798. Its territory corresponded to the left banks of the Alpine Rhine between Hoher Kasten and Lake Constance, including the towns of Altstätten and Rheineck.
The Pact of Brunnen is a historical treaty between the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, concluded in Brunnen on 9 December 1315.
When the Imperial Circles — comprising a regional grouping of territories of the Holy Roman Empire — were created as part of the Imperial Reform at the 1500 Diet of Augsburg, many Imperial territories remained unencircled.
The Raron affair was a 15th-century rebellion in the Valais against the power of a local noble family, the Raron family. The rebellion brought several cantons of the Swiss Confederation into conflict with each other and threatened a civil war in the Confederation. While Bern was initially successful, they were eventually forced to surrender most of their gains.
Uri is a Swiss Talschaft and canton in the upper Reuss valley.
The Second Battle of Ulrichen was a battle fought in 1419 between the Old Swiss Confederacy lead by Bern and rebels from Valais near Ulrichen in the district of Goms in the canton of Valais in Switzerland. Negotiations after the battle led to the end of the Raron affair and self-determination for Valais.
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