Old Swiss Confederacy

Old Swiss Confederacy

Eidgenossenschaft  (German)
République des Suisses  (French)
Res publica Helvetiorum  (Latin)
c. 1300 – 1798
Flag of Swiss Confederacy
The Old Swiss Confederacy in the 18th century
The Old Swiss Confederacy in the 18th century
Capitalsee Vorort[1]
Common languagesMiddle French / French, Alemannic German, Lombard, Rhaeto-Romansh
Religion
Roman Catholic
Reformed
GovernmentConfederation
LegislatureTagsatzung
History 
• Death of Rudolf I
15 July 1291
1307/1291 (traditional dates) 1291
1356
13–14 September 1515
1529 and 1531
• Formal independence from the HRE
15 May/24 October 1648
January–June 1653
• Collapse
5 March 1798
Preceded by
Succeeded by
House of Habsburg
House of Zähringen
House of Kyburg
House of Werdenberg
Imperial Abbey of Saint Gall
Duchy of Milan
Duchy of Savoy
Duchy of Burgundy
Helvetic Republic
Part of a series on the
Switzerland
Nouvelle carte de la Suisse dans laquelle sont exactement distingues les treize cantons, leurs allies, et leurs sujets.
Early history
Old Swiss Confederacy
Transitional period
Modern history
Timeline
Topical
Flag of Switzerland.svg Switzerland portal

The Old Swiss Confederacy (Modern German: Alte Eidgenossenschaft; historically Eidgenossenschaft, after the Reformation also République des Suisses, Res publica Helvetiorum "Republic of the Swiss") was a loose confederation of independent small states (cantons, German Orte or Stände[2]) within the Holy Roman Empire. It is the precursor of the modern state of Switzerland.

It formed during the 14th century, from a nucleus in what is now Central Switzerland, expanding to include the cities of Zürich and Berne by the middle of the century. This formed a rare union of rural and urban communes, all of which enjoyed imperial immediacy in the Holy Roman Empire.

This confederation of eight cantons (Acht Orte) was politically and militarily successful for more than a century, culminating in the Burgundy Wars of the 1470s which established it as a power in the complicated political landscape dominated by France and the Habsburgs. Its success resulted in the addition of more confederates, increasing the number of cantons to thirteen (Dreizehn Orte) by 1513. The confederacy pledged neutrality in 1647 (under the threat of the Thirty Years' War), although many Swiss served privately as mercenaries in the Italian Wars and during the Early Modern period.

After the Swabian War of 1499 the confederacy was a de facto independent state throughout the early modern period, although still nominally part of the Holy Roman Empire until 1648 when the Treaty of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years' War. The Swiss Reformation divided the confederates into Reformed and Catholic parties, resulting in internal conflict from the 16th to the 18th centuries; as a result, the federal diet (Tagsatzung) was often paralysed by hostility between the factions. The Swiss Confederacy fell to invasion by the French Revolutionary Army in 1798, after which it became the short-lived Helvetic Republic.

Name

Old drawing with ornate writing and bull with a headdress
The "Swiss Bull" (Der Schweitzer Stier), horns decorated with a wreath showing the coats of arms of the Thirteen Cantons of the Confederacy (1584)

The adjective "old" was introduced after the Napoleonic era with Ancien Régime, retronyms distinguishing the pre-Napoleonic from the restored confederation. During its existence the confederacy was known as Eidgenossenschaft or Eydtgnoschafft ("oath fellowship"), in reference to treaties among cantons; this term was first used in the 1370 Pfaffenbrief. Territories of the confederacy came to be known collectively as Schweiz or Schweizerland (Schwytzerland in contemporary spelling), with the English Switzerland beginning during the mid-16th century. From that time the Confederacy was seen as a single state, also known as the Swiss Republic (Republic der Schweitzer, République des Suisses and Republica Helvetiorum by Josias Simmler in 1576) after the fashion of calling individual urban cantons republics (such as the Republics of Zürich, Berne and Basel).