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The witness of

THE SWISS CATASTROPHE

in Protestantism

 


 

SWITZERLAND--CATASTROPHE 1528-1531.

BOOK 16 CHAPTER 6

by

J. H. Merle D'Aubigne

 

(Many long paragraphs have been modified for easier reading. The compilers of this site have added all the emphasis, as well as the entries in square brackets.)


Contents

page 0657 paragraph 1

The Five Cantons decide for WarDeceitful CalmFatal InactivityZurich forewarnedBanner of Lucerne plantedManifestoThe Bailiwicks pillagedThe Monastery of CappelLetterInfatuation of ZurichNew WarningsThe War beginsThe TocsinA fearful Night-The WarBanner and Army of ZurichZwingle's DepartureZwingle's HorseAnna Zwingle.

page 0657 paragraph 2

The Five Cantons, assembled in diet at Lucerne, appeared full of determination, and war was decided upon. "We will call upon the cities to respect our alliances," said they, "and if they refuse, we will enter the common bailiwicks by force to procure provisions, and unite our banners in Zug to attack the enemy." The Waldstettes were not alone. The nuncio, being solicited by his Lucerne friends, had required that auxiliary troops, paid by the pope, should be put in motion towards Switzerland, and he announced their near arrival.

page 0657 paragraph 3

These resolutions carried terror into Switzerland; the mediating cantons met again at Arau, and drew up a plan that should leave the religious question just as it had been settled by the treaty of 1529. Deputies immediately bore these propositions to the different councils. Lucerne haughtily rejected them. "Tell those who sent you," was the reply, "that we do not acknowledge them as our schoolmasters. We would rather die than yield the least thing to the prejudice of our faith."

The mediators returned to Arau, trembling and discouraged. This useless attempt increased the disagreement among the reformed, and gave the Waldstettes still greater confidence. Zurich, so decided for the reception of the Gospel, now became daily more irresolute! The members of the council distrusted each other; the people felt no interest in this war; and Zwingle, notwithstanding his unshaken faith in the justice of his cause, had no hope for the struggle that was about to take place.

Berne, on its side, did not cease to entreat Zurich to avoid precipitation. "Do not let us expose ourselves to the reproach of too much haste, as in 1529," was the general remark in Zurich. "We have sure friends in the midst of the Waldstettes; let us wait until they announce to us, as they have promised, some real danger."

page 0658 paragraph 1

It was soon believed that these temporizers [delay seekers] were right. In fact the alarming news ceased. That constant rumour of war, which incessantly came from the Waldstettes, was discontinued. There were no more alarms - no more fears! Deceitful omen! Over the mountains and valleys of Switzerland hangs a gloomy and mysterious silence, the forerunner of the tempest.

page 0658 paragraph 2

While the Zurichers were sleeping, the Waldstettes were preparing to conquer their rights by force of arms. The chiefs, closely united to each other by common interests and dangers, found a powerful support in the indignation of the people. In a diet of the Five Cantons, held at Brunnen on the banks of the Lake of Lucerne, opposite Grutli, the alliances of the confederation were read; and the deputies, having been summoned to declare by their votes whether they thought the war just and lawful, all hands were raised with a shudder.

The Waldstettes had immediately prepared their attack with the profoundest mystery. All the passes had been guarded - all communication between Zurich and the Five Cantons had been rendered impossible. The friends upon whom the Zurichers had reckoned on the banks of the Lakes Lucerne and Zug, and who had promised them intelligence, were like prisoners in their mountains. The terrible avalanche was about to slip from the icy summits of the mountain, and to roll into the valleys, even to the gates of Zurich, overthrowing every thing in its passage, without the least forewarning of its fall.

The mediators had returned discouraged to their cantons. A spirit of imprudence and of error - sad forerunner of the fall of republics as well as of kings - had spread over the whole city of Zurich. The council had at first given orders to call out the militia; then, deceived by the silence of the Waldstettes, it had imprudently revoked the decree, and Lavater, the commander of the army, had retired in discontent to Rybourg, and indignantly thrown far from him that sword which they had commanded him to leave in the scabbard.

Thus the winds were about to be unchained from the mountains; the waters of the great deep, aroused by a terrible earthquake, were about to open; and yet the vessel of the state, sadly abandoned, sported up and down with indifference over a frightful gulf, - its yards struck, its sails loose and motionless - without compass or crew - without pilot, watch, or helm.

page 0658 paragraph 3

Whatever were the exertions of the Waldstettes, they could not entirely stifle the rumour of war, which from chalet to chalet called all their citizens to arms.

God permitted a cry of alarm - a single one, it is true - to resound in the ears of the people of Zurich. On the 4th October, a little boy, who knew not what he was doing, succeeded in crossing the frontier of Zug, and presented himself with two loaves at the gate of the reformed monastery of Cappel, situated in the farthest limits of the canton of Zurich. He was led to the abbot, to whom the child gave the loaves without saying a word.

The superior, with whom there chanced to be at that time a councillor from Zurich, Henry Peyer, sent by his government, turned pale at the sight. "If the Five Cantons intend entering by force of arms into the free bailiwicks," had said these two Zurichers to one of their friends in Zug, "you will send your son to us with one loaf; but you will give him two if they are marching at once upon the bailiwicks and upon Zurich."

The abbot and the councillor wrote with all speed to Zurich. "Be upon your guard! take up arms," said they; but no credit was attached to this information. The council were at that time occupied in taking measures to prevent the supplies that had arrived from Alsace from entering the cantons. Zwingle himself, who had never ceased to announce war, did not believe it. "These pensioners are really clever fellows," said the reformer. "Their preparations may be after all nothing but a French manoeuvre."

page 0658 paragraph 4

He was deceived - they were a reality. Four days were to accomplish the ruin of Zurich. Let us retrace in succession the history of these disastrous moments.

page 0658 paragraph 5

On Sunday, 8th October, a messenger appeared at Zurich, and demanded in the name of the Five Cantons, letters of perpetual alliance. The majority saw in this step nothing but a trick; but Zwingle began to discern the thunderbolt in the black cloud that was drawing near. He was in the pulpit: it was the last time he was destined to appear there; and as if he had seen the formidable spectre of Rome rise frightfully above the Alps, calling upon him and upon his people to abandon the faith: - "No - no!" cried he, "never will I deny my Redeemer!"

page 0658 paragraph 6

At the same moment a messenger arrived in haste from Mulinen, commander of the Knights-hospitallers of St. John at Hitzkylch. "On Friday, 6th October," said he to the councils of Zurich, "the people of Lucerne planted their banner in the Great Square. Two men that I sent to Lucerne have been thrown into prison. Tomorrow morning, Monday, 9th October, the Five Cantons will enter the bailiwicks. Already the country-people, frightened and fugitive, are running to us in crowds." -

"It is an idle story," said the councils. Nevertheless they recalled the commander-in-chief Lavater, who sent off a trusty man, nephew of James Winckler, with orders to repair to Cappel, and if possible as far as Zug, to reconnoitre the arrangements of the cantons.

page 0659 paragraph 1

The Waldstettes were in reality assembling round the banner of Lucerne. The people of this canton; the men of Schwytz, Uri, Zug, and Unterwalden; refugees from Zurich and Berne, with a few Italians, formed the main body of the army, which had been raised to invade the free bailiwicks. Two manifestoes were published - one addressed to the cantons, the other to foreign princes and nations.

page 0659 paragraph 2

The Five Cantons energetically set forth the attacks made upon the treaties, the discord sown throughout the confederation, and finally the refusal to sell them provisions - a refusal whose only aim was (according to them) to excite the people against the magistrates, and to establish the Reform by force. "It is not true," added they, "that - as they are continually crying out - we oppose the preaching of the truth and the reading of the Bible. As obedient members of the Church, we desire to receive all that our holy mother receives. But we reject the books and the innovations of Zwingle and his companions."

page 0659 paragraph 3

Hardly had the messengers charged with these manifestoes departed, before the first division of the army began to march, and arrived in the evening in the free bailiwicks. The soldiers having entered the deserted churches, and seen the images of the saints removed and the altars broken, their anger was kindled; they spread like a torrent over the whole country, pillaged every thing they met with, and were particularly enraged against the houses of the pastors, where they destroyed the furniture with oaths and maledictions. At the same time the division that was to form the main army marched upon Zug, thence to move upon Zurich.

page 0659 paragraph 4

Cappel, at three leagues [14.4 km] from Zurich, and about a league [4.8 km] from Zug, was the first place they would reach in the Zurich territory, after crossing the frontier of the Five Cantons. Near the Albis, between two hills of similar height, the Granges on the north, and the Ifelsberg on the south, in the midst of delightful pastures, stood the ancient/ and wealthy convent of the Cistercians, in whose church were the tombs of many ancient/ and noble families of these districts. The Abbot Wolfgang Joner, a just and pious man, a great friend of the arts and letters, and a distinguished preacher, had reformed his convent in 1527. Full of compassion, and rich in good works, particularly towards the poor of the canton of Zug and the free bailiwicks, he was held in great honour throughout the whole country. He predicted what would be the termination of the war; yet as soon as danger approached, he spared no labour to serve his country.

page 0659 paragraph 5

It was on Sunday night that the abbot received positive intelligence of the preparations at Zug. He paced up and down his cell with hasty steps; sleep fled from his eyes; he drew near his lamp, and addressing his intimate friend, Peter Simmler, who succeeded him, and who was then residing at Kylchberg, a village on the borders of the lake, and about a league from the town, he hastily wrote these words: "The great anxiety and trouble which agitate me prevent me from busying myself with the management of the house, and induce me to write to you all that is preparing. The time is come......the scourge of God appears......After many journeys and inquiries, we have learnt that the Five Cantons will march today (Monday) to seize upon Hitzkylch, while the main army assembles its banners at Baar, between Zug and Cappel. Those from the valley of the Adige and the Italians will arrive today or tomorrow."

This letter, through some unforeseen circumstance, did not reach Zurich till the evening.

page 0659 paragraph 6

Meanwhile the messenger whom Lavater had sent - the nephew of J. Winckler - creeping on his belly, gliding unperceived past the sentinels, and clinging to the shrubs that overhung the precipices, had succeeded in making his way where no road had been cleared. On arriving near Zug, he had discovered with alarm the banner and the militia hastening from all sides at beat of drum: then traversing again these unknown passes, he had returned to Zurich with this information.

page 0659 paragraph 7

It was high time that the bandage should fall from the eyes of the Zurichers; but the delusion was to endure until the end. The council which was called together met in small number. "The Five Cantons," said they, "are making a little noise to frighten us, and to make us raise the blockade." The council, however, decided on sending Colonel Rodolph Dumysen and Ulrich Funck to Cappel, to see what was going on; and each one, tranquillized by this unmeaning step, retired to rest.

page 0659 paragraph 8

They did not slumber long. Every hour brought fresh messengers of alarm to Zurich. "The banners of four cantons are assembled at Zug," said they. "They are only waiting for Uri. The people of the free bailiwicks are flocking to Cappel, and demanding arms......Help! help!"

page 0660 paragraph 1

Before the break of day the council was again assembled, and it ordered the convocation of the Two Hundred. An old man, whose hair had grown gray on the battle-field and in the council of the state - the banneret John Schweitzer - raising his head enfeebled by age, and darting the last beam, as it were, from his eyes, exclaimed, "Now - at this very moment, in God's name, send an advanced-guard to Cappel, and let the army, promptly collecting round the banner, follow it immediately." He said no more; but the charm was not yet broken. "The peasants of the free bailiwicks," said some, "we know to be hasty, and easily carried away. They make the matter greater than it really is. The wisest plan is to wait for the report of the councillors." In Zurich there was no longer either arm to defend or head to advise.

page 0660 paragraph 2

It was seven in the morning, and the assembly was still sitting, when Rodolph Gwerb, pastor of Rifferschwyl, near Cappel, arrived in haste. "The people of the lordship of Knonau," said he, "are crowding round the convent, and loudly calling for chiefs and for aid. The enemy is approaching. Will our lords of Zurich (say they) abandon themselves, and us with them? Do they wish to give us up to slaughter?" The pastor, who had witnessed these mournful scenes, spoke with animation.

The councillors, whose infatuation was to be prolonged to the last, were offended at his message. "They want to make us act imprudently," replied they, turning in their arm-chairs.

page 0660 paragraph 3

They had scarcely ceased speaking before a new messenger appeared, wearing on his features the marks of the greatest terror: it was Schwytzer, landlord of the "Beech Tree" on Mount Albis. "My lords Dumysen and Funck," said he, "have sent me to you with all speed to announce to the council that the Five Cantons have seized upon Hitzkylch, and that they are now collecting all their troops at Baar. My lords remain in the bailiwicks to aid the frightened inhabitants."

page 0660 paragraph 4

This time the most confident turned pale. Terror, so long restrained, passed like a flash of lightning through every heart. Hitzkylch was in the power of the enemy, and the war was begun.

page 0660 paragraph 5

It was resolved to expedite to Cappel a flying camp of six hundred men with six guns; but the command was intrusted to George Godli, whose brother was in the army of the Five Cantons, and he was enjoined to keep on the defensive. Godli and his troops had just left the city, when the captain-general Lavater, summoning into the hall of the Smaller Council the old banneret Schweitzer, William Toning, captain of the arquebusiers, J. Dennikon, captain of the artillery, Zwingle, and some others, said to them, "Let us deliberate promptly on the means of saving the canton and the city. Let the tocsin [alarm bell] immediately call out all the citizens." The captain-general feared that the councils would shrink at this proceeding, and he wished to raise the landsturm [the reserves] by [using] the simple advice of the chiefs of the army and of Zwingle.

"We cannot take it upon ourselves," said they; "the two councils are still sitting; let us lay this proposition before them." They hastened towards the place of meeting; but, fatal mischance! there were only a few members of the Smaller Council on the benches. "The consent of the Two Hundred is necessary," said they. Again a new delay, and the enemy were on their march. Two hours after noon the Great Council met again, but only to make long and useless speeches. At length the resolution was taken, and at seven in the evening the tocsin began to sound in all the country districts.

Treason united with this dilatoriness [slowness], and persons who pretended to be envoys from Zurich stopped the landsturm [the general call-up] in many places, as being contrary to the opinion of the council. A great number of citizens went to sleep again.

page 0660 paragraph 6

It was a fearful night. The thick darkness - a violent storm - the alarm-bell ringing from every steeple - the people running to arms - the noise of swords and guns - the sound of trumpets and of drums, combined with the roaring of the tempest - the distrust, discontent, and even treason, which spread affliction in every quarter - the sobs of women and of children - the cries which accompanied many a heart-rending adieu - an earthquake which occurred about nine o'clock at night, as if nature herself had shuddered at the blood that was about to be spilt, and which violently shook the mountains and the valleys: all increased the terrors of this fatal night, - a night to be followed by a still more fatal day.

page 0660 paragraph 7

While these events were passing, the Zurichers encamped on the heights of Cappel to the number of about one thousand men, fixed their eyes on Zug and upon the lake, attentively watching every movement. On a sudden, a little before night, they perceived a few barks filled with soldiers coming from the side of Arth, and rowing across the lake towards Zug. Their number increases - one boat follows another - soon they distinctly hear the bellowing of the Bull (the horn) of Uri, and discern the banner. The barks draw near Zug; they are moored to the shore, which is lined with an immense crowd. The warriors of Uri and the arquebusiers [similar to riflemen] of the Adige spring up and leap on shore, where they are received with acclamations, and take up their quarters for the night: behold the enemies assembled! The council are informed with all speed.

page 0661 paragraph 1

The agitation was still greater at Zurich than at Cappel: the confusion was increased by uncertainty. The enemy attacking them on different sides at once, they knew not where to carry assistance. Two hours after midnight five hundred men with four guns quitted the city for Bremgarten, and three or four hundred men with five guns for Wadenschwyl. They turned to the right and to the left, while the enemy was in front.

page 0661 paragraph 2

Alarmed at its own weakness, the council resolved to apply without delay to the cities of the Christian co-burghery. "As this revolt," wrote they, "has no other origin than the Word of God, we entreat you once - twice - thrice, as loudly, as seriously, as firmly, and as earnestly, as our ancient/ alliances and our Christian co-burghery permit and command us to do - to set forth without delay with all your forces. Haste! haste! haste! Act as promptly as possible - the danger is yours as well as ours." Thus spake Zurich; but it was already too late.

page 0661 paragraph 3

At break of day the banner was raised before the town-house; instead of flaunting proudly in the wind, it hung drooping down the staff - a sad omen that filled many minds with fear. Lavater took up his station under this standard; but a long period elapsed before a few hundred soldiers could be got together. In the square and in all the city disorder and confusion prevailed. The troops, fatigued by a hasty march or by long waiting, were faint and discouraged.

page 0661 paragraph 4

At ten o'clock, only 700 men were under arms. The selfish, the lukewarm, the friends of Rome and of the foreign pensioners [paymasters], had remained at home. A few old men who had more courage than strength - several members of the two councils who were devoted to the holy cause of God's Word - many ministers of the Church who desired to live and die with the Reform - the boldest of the townspeople and a few peasants, especially those from the neighbourhood of the city - such were the defenders who, wanting that moral force so necessary for victory, incompletely armed, and without uniform, crowded in disorder around the banner of Zurich.

page 0661 paragraph 5

The army should have numbered at least 4000 men; they waited still; the usual oath had not been administered; and yet courier after courier arrived, breathless and in disorder, announcing the terrible danger that threatened Zurich. All this disorderly crowd was violently agitated - they no longer waited for the commands of their chiefs, and many without taking the oath had rushed through the gates. About 200 men thus set out in confusion. All those who remained prepared to depart.

page 0661 paragraph 6

Zwingle was now seen issuing from a house before which a caparisoned [dressed-up] horse was stamping impatiently: it was his own. His look was firm, but dimmed by sorrow. He parted from his wife, his children, and his numerous friends, without deceiving himself, and with a bruised heart.

He observed the thick waterspout, which, driven by a terrible wind, advanced whirling towards him. Alas! he had himself called up this hurricane by quitting the atmosphere of the Gospel of peace, and throwing himself into the midst of political passions. He was convinced that he would be its first victim. Fifteen days before the attack of the Waldstettes, he had said from the pulpit: "I know the meaning of all this: I am the person specially pointed at. All this comes to pass - in order that I may die."

The council, according to an ancient/ custom, had called upon him to accompany the army as its chaplain. Zwingle did not hesitate. He prepared himself without surprise and without anger, - with the calmness of a Christian who places himself confidently in the hands of his God. If the cause of Reform was doomed to perish, he was ready to perish with it. Surrounded by his weeping wife and friends - by his children who clung to his garments to detain him, he quitted that house where he had tasted so much happiness.

At the moment that his hand was upon his horse, just as he was about to mount, the animal violently started back several paces, and when he was at last in the saddle, it refused for a time to move, rearing and prancing backwards, like that horse which the greatest captain of modern times had mounted as he was about to cross the Niemen. Many in Zurich at that time thought with the soldier of the Grand Army when he saw Napoleon on the ground: "It is a bad omen! a Roman would go back!" Zwingle having at last mastered his horse, gave the reins, applied the spur, started forward, and disappeared.

page 0661 paragraph 7

At eleven o'clock the flag was struck, and all who remained in the square - about 500 men - began their march along with it. The greater part were torn with difficulty from the arms of their families, and walked sad and silent, as if they were going to the scaffold instead of battle. There was no order - no plan; the men were isolated and scattered, some running before, some after the colours, their extreme confusion presenting a fearful appearance; so much so, that those who remained behind - the women, the children, and the old men, filled with gloomy forebodings, beat their breasts as they saw them pass, and many years after, the remembrance of this day of tumult and sadness drew this groan from Oswald Myconius: "Whenever I recall it to mind, it is as if a sword pierced my heart." Zwingle, armed according to the usage of the chaplains of the confederation, rode mournfully behind this distracted multitude. Myconius, when he saw him, was nigh fainting. Zwingle disappeared, and Oswald remained behind to weep.

page 0662 paragraph 1

He did not shed tears alone; in all quarters were heard lamentations, and every house was changed into a house of prayer. In the midst of this universal sorrow, one woman remained silent; her only cry was a bitter heart, her only language the mild and suppliant eye of faith: - this was Anna, Zwingle's wife. She had seen her husband depart - her son, her brother, a great number of intimate friends and near relations, whose approaching death she foreboded. But her soul, strong as that of her husband, offered to God the sacrifice of her holiest affections. Gradually the defenders of Zurich precipitated their march, and the tumult died away in the distance.

On to Chapter Seven.


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