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The witness of

THE SWISS CATASTROPHE

in Protestantism

 


 

SWITZERLAND--CATASTROPHE 1528-1531.

BOOK 16 CHAPTER 8

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

 

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Unforeseen Change The whole Army advances Universal Disorder The Banneret's Death The Banner in Danger The Banner saved Terrible Slaughter Slaughter of the Pastors Zwingle's last Words Barbarity of the Victors The Furnace of Trial Zwingle's dying Moments Day after the Battle Homage and Outrage.

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The Zurichers, fearing that the enemy would seize upon the road that led to their capital, were then directing part of their troops and their guns to a low hill by which it was commanded.

At the very moment that the invisible arquebusiers [musket men] stationed among the beech-trees were taking their aim, this detachment passed near the little wood. The deepest silence prevailed in this solitude: each one posted there picked out the man he desired to bring down, and Jauch exclaimed: "In the name of the Holy Trinity - of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost - of the Holy Mother of God, and of all the heavenly host - fire!" At the word the deadly balls issued from the wood, and a murderous carnage in the ranks of Zurich followed this terrible discharge.

The battle, which had begun four hours ago, and which had never appeared to be a serious attack, now underwent an unforeseen change. The sword was not again to be returned to the scabbard until it had been bathed in torrents of blood. Those of the Zurichers who had not fallen at this first discharge, lay flat on the ground, so that the balls passed over their heads; but they soon sprang up, saying: "Shall we allow ourselves to be butchered? No! let us rather attack the enemy!"

Lavater seized a lance, and rushing into the foremost rank exclaimed: "Soldiers, uphold the honour of God and of our lords, and behave like brave men!" Zwingle, silent and collected, like nature before the bursting of the tempest, was there also halberd in hand. "Master Ulrich," said Bernard Sprungli, "speak to the people and encourage them."

"Warriors!" said Zwingle, "fear nothing. If we are this day to be defeated, still our cause is good. Commend yourselves to God!"

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The Zurichers quickly turned the artillery they were dragging to another quarter, and pointed it against the wood; but their bullets, instead of striking the enemy, only reached the top of the trees, and tore off a few branches that fell upon the skirmishers.

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Rychmuth, the landamman of Schwytz, came up at a gallop to recall the volunteers; but seeing the battle begun, he ordered the whole army to advance. Immediately the five banners moved forward.

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But already Jauch's skirmishers, rushing from among the trees, had fallen impetuously upon the Zurichers, charging with their long and pointed halberds. "Heretics! sacrilegists!" cried they, "we have you at last!"

"Man-sellers, idolaters, impious papists!" replied the Zurichers, "is it really you?" At first a shower of stones fell from both parties and wounded several; immediately they came to close quarters. The resistance of the Zurichers was terrible. Each struck with the sword or with the halberd: at last the soldiers of the Five Cantons were driven back in disorder. The Zurichers advanced, but in so doing lost the advantages of their position, and got entangled in the marsh. Some Roman-catholic historians pretend that this flight of their troops was a stratagem to draw the Zurichers into the snare.

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In the mean time the army of the Five Cantons hastened through the wood. Burning with courage and with anger, they eagerly quickened their steps; from the midst of the beech-trees there resounded a confused and savage noise - a frightful murmur; the ground shook; one might have imagined the forest was uttering a horrible roar, or that witches were holding their nocturnal revels in its dark recesses.

In vain did the bravest of the Zurichers offer an intrepid resistance: The Waldstettes had the advantage in every quarter. "They are surrounding us," cried some. "Our men are fleeing," said others. A man from the canton of Zug, mingling with the Zurichers, and pretending to be of their party, exclaimed: "Fly, fly, brave Zurichers, you are betrayed!" Thus everything was against Zurich. Even the hand of Him who is the disposer of battles turned against this people. Thus was it also in times of old that God frequently chastised his own people of Israel by the Assyrian sword. A panic-terror seized upon the bravest, and the disorder spread every where with frightful rapidity.

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In the mean while the aged Schweitzer had raised the great banner with a firm hand, and all the picked men of Zurich were drawn up around it; but soon their ranks were thinned. John Kammli, charged with the defence of the standard, having observed the small number of combatants that remained upon the field of battle, said to the banneret: "Let us lower the banner, my lord, and save it, for our people are flying shamefully."

"Warriors, remain firm," replied the aged banneret, whom no danger had ever shaken. The disorder augmented - the number of fugitives increased every minute; the old man stood fast, amazed and immovable as an aged oak beaten by a frightful hurricane. He received unflinchingly the blows that fell upon him, and alone resisted the terrible storm. Kammli seized him by the arm: "My lord," said he again, "lower the banner, or else we shall lose it: there is no more glory to be reaped here!" The banneret, who was already mortally wounded, exclaimed: "Alas! must the city of Zurich be so punished!" Then, dragged off by Kammli, who held him by the arm, he retreated as far as the ditch. The weight of years, and the wounds with which he was covered, did not permit him to cross it. He fell in the mire at the bottom, still holding the glorious standard, whose folds dropped on the other bank.

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The enemy ran up with loud shouts, being attracted by the colours of Zurich, as the bull by the gladiator's flag. Kammli seeing this, unhesitatingly leaped to the bottom of the ditch, and laid hold of the stiff and dying hands of his chief, in order to preserve the precious ensign, which they tightly grasped. But it was in vain: the hands of the aged Schweitzer would not loose the standard. "My lord banneret!" cried this faithful servant, "it is no longer in your power to defend it." The hands of the banneret, already stiffened in death, still refused; upon which Kammli violently tore away the sacred standard, leaped upon the other bank, and rushed with his treasure far from the steps of the enemy. The last Zurichers at this moment reached the ditch; they fell one after another upon the expiring banneret, and thus hastened his death.

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Kammli, however, having received a wound from a gunshot, his march was retarded, and the Waldstettes soon surrounded him with their swords. The Zuricher, holding the banner in one hand, and his sword in the other, defended himself bravely. One of the Waldstettes caught hold of the staff - another seized the flag itself and tore it. Kammli with one blow of his sword cut down the former, and striking around him, called out: "To the rescue, brave Zurichers! save the honour and the banner of our lords."

The assailants increased in number, and the warrior was about to fall, when Adam Naeff of Wollenwyd rushed up sword in hand, and the head of the Waldstette who had torn the colours rolled upon the plain, and his blood gushed out upon the flag of Zurich. Dumysen, member of the Smaller Council, supported Naeff with his halberd, and both dealt such lusty blows, that they succeeded in disengaging the standard-bearer. He, although dangerously wounded, sprang forward, holding the blood-stained folds of the banner in one hand, which he carried off hastily, dragging the staff behind him. With fierce look and fiery eye, he thus passed, sword in hand, through the midst of friends and enemies: he crossed plains, woods, and marshes, every where leaving traces of his blood, which flowed from numerous wounds.

Two of the enemy, one from Schwytz, the other from Zug - were particularly eager in his pursuit. "Heretic! villain!" cried they, "surrender and give us the banner." - "You shall have my life first," replied the Zuricher. Then the two hostile soldiers, who were embarrassed by their cuirasses [defensive armour], stopped a moment to take them off. Kammli took advantage of this to get in advance: he ran; Huber, Dumysen, and Dantzler of Naenikon were at his side. They all four thus arrived near Husen, half-way up the Albis. They had still to climb the steepest part of the mountain. Huber fell covered with wounds. Dumysen, the colonel-general, who had fought as a private soldier, almost reached the church of Husen, and there he dropped lifeless: and two of his sons, in the flower of youth, soon lay stretched on the battle-field that had drunk their father's blood.

Kammli took a few steps farther; but halted erelong, exhausted and panting, near a hedge that he would have to clear, and discovered his two enemies and other Waldstettes running from all sides, like birds of prey, towards the wavering standard of Zurich. The strength of Kammli was sinking rapidly, his eyes grew dim, thick darkness surrounded him: a hand of lead fastened him to the ground, then, mustering all his expiring strength, he flung the standard on the other side of the hedge, exclaiming: "Is there any brave Zuricher near me? Let him preserve the banner and the honour of our lords! As for me, I can do no more!" Then turning a last look to heaven, he added: "May God be my helper!" He fell exhausted by this effort.

Dantzler, who came up, flung away his sword, sprung over the hedge, seized the banner, and cried, "With the aid of God, I will carry it off." He then rapidly climbed the Albis, and at last placed the ancient/ standard of Zurich in safety. God, on whom these warriors fixed all their hopes, had heard their prayers, but the noblest blood of the republic had been spilt.

page 0667 paragraph 1

The enemy were victorious at all points. The soldiers of the Five Cantons, and particularly those of Unterwalden, long hardened in the wars of the Milanese, showed themselves more merciless towards their confederates than they had ever been towards foreigners. At the beginning of the battle, Godli had taken flight, and soon after he quitted Zurich for ever. Lavater, the captain-general, after having fought valiantly, had fallen into the ditch. He was dragged out by a soldier and escaped.

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The most distinguished men of Zurich fell one after another under the blows of the Waldstettes. Rudi Gallman found the glorious tomb he had wished for, and his two brothers stretched beside him left their father's house desolate. Toning, captain of the arquebusiers, died for his country as he had foretold. All the pride of the population of Zurich, seven members of the Smaller Council, nineteen members of the Two Hundred, sixty-five citizens of the town, four hundred and seventeen from the rural districts: the father in the midst of his children, - the son surrounded by his brothers, - lay on the field.

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Gerold Meyer of Knonau, son of Anna Zwingle, at that time twenty-two years of age, and already a member of the council of Two Hundred, - a husband and a father, - had rushed into the foremost ranks with all the impetuosity of youth. "Surrender, and your life shall be spared," cried some of the warriors of the Five Cantons, who desired to save him. "It is better for me to die with honour than to yield with disgrace," replied the son of Anna, and immediately, struck by a mortal blow, he fell and expired not far from the castle of his ancestors.

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The ministers were those who paid proportionally the greatest tribute on this bloody day. The sword that was at work on the heights of Cappel thirsted for their blood: twenty-five of them fell beneath its stroke. The Waldstettes trembled with rage whenever they discovered one of these heretical preachers, and sacrificed him with enthusiasm, as a chosen victim to the Virgin and the saints. There has, perhaps, never been any battle in which so many men of the Word of God have bitten the dust. Almost every where the pastors had marched at the head of their flocks.

One might have said that Cappel was an assembly of Christian churches rather than an army of Swiss companies. The abbot Joner, receiving a mortal wound near the ditch, expired in sight of his own monastery. The people of Zug, in pursuit of the enemy, uttered a cry of anguish as they passed his body, remembering all the good he had done them. Schmidt of Kussnacht, stationed on the field of battle in the midst of his parishioners, fell surrounded by forty of their bodies. Geroldsek, John Haller, and many other pastors, at the head of their flocks, suddenly met, in a terrible and unforeseen manner, the Lord whom they had preached.

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But the death of one individual far surpassed all others. Zwingle was at the post of danger, the helmet on his head, the sword hanging at his side, the battle-axe in his hand. The action had scarcely begun, when, stooping to console a dying man, says J. J. Hottinger, a stone hurled by the vigorous arm of a Waldstette struck him on the head and closed his lips. Yet Zwingle arose, when two other blows which hit him successively on the leg, threw him down again. Twice more he stands up; but a fourth time he receives a thrust from a lance; he staggers, and sinking beneath so many wounds, falls on his knees.

Does not the darkness that is spreading around him announce a still thicker darkness that is about to cover the Church? Zwingle turns away from such sad thoughts; once more he uplifts that head which had been so bold, and gazing with calm eye upon the trickling blood, exclaims: "What matters this misfortune? They may indeed kill the body, but they cannot kill the soul!" These were his last words.

page 0668 paragraph 1

He had scarcely uttered them ere he fell backwards. There, under a tree (Zwingle's Pear-tree), in a meadow, he remained lying on his back, with clasped hands, and eyes upturned to heaven.

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While the bravest were pursuing the scattered soldiers of Zurich, the stragglers of the Five Cantons had pounced like hungry ravens on the field of battle. Torch in hand, these wretches prowled among the dead, casting looks of irritation around them, and lighting up the features of their expiring victims by the dull glimmering of these funeral torches. They turned over the bodies of the wounded and the dead; they tortured and stripped them. If they found any who were still sensible, they cried out, "Call upon the saints and confess to our priests!"

If the Zurichers, faithful to their creed, rejected these cruel invitations, these men, who were as cowardly as they were fanatical, pierced them with their lances, or dashed out their brains with the but-ends of their arquebuses. The Roman-catholic historian, Salat of Lucerne, makes a boast of this. "They were left to die like infidel dogs, or were slain with the sword or the spear, that they might go so much the quicker to the devil, with whose help they had fought so desperately."

If any of the soldiers of the Five Cantons recognised a Zuricher against whom they had any grudge, with dry eyes, disdainful mouth, and features changed by anger, they drew near the unhappy creature, writhing in the agonies of death, and said: "Well! has your heretical faith preserved you? Ah ha! it was pretty clearly seen to-day who had the true faith......Today we have dragged your Gospel in the mud, and you too, even you are covered with your own blood. God, the Virgin, and the saints have punished you." They had scarcely uttered these words before they plunged their swords into their enemy's bosom. "Mass or death!" was their watchword.

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Thus triumphed the Waldstettes; but the pious Zurichers who expired on the field of battle called to mind that they had for God one who has said: "If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" - "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him."

It is in the furnace of trial that the God of the Gospel conceals the pure gold of his most precious blessings. This punishment was necessary to turn aside the Church of Zurich from the "broad ways" of the world, and lead it back to the "narrow ways" of the Spirit and the life. In a political history, a defeat like that of Cappel would be styled a great misfortune; but in a history of the Church of Jesus Christ, such a blow, inflicted by the hand of the Father himself, ought rather to be called a great blessing.

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Meanwhile Zwingle lay extended under the tree, near the road by which the mass of the people was passing. The shouts of the victors, the groans of the dying, those flickering torches borne from corpse to corpse, Zurich humbled, the cause of Reform lost, - all cried aloud to him that God punishes his servants when they have recourse to the arm of man. If the German reformer had been able to approach Zwingle at this solemn moment, and to pronounce those oft-repeated words: "Christians fight not with sword and arquebuse, but with sufferings and with the cross," Zwingle would have stretched out his dying hand, and said, "Amen!"

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Two of the soldiers who were prowling over the field of battle, having come near the reformer without recognising him, "Do you wish for a priest to confess yourself?" asked they. Zwingle, without speaking (for he had not strength), made signs in the negative. "If you cannot speak," replied the soldiers, "at least think in thy heart of the Mother of God, and call upon the saints!" Zwingle again shook his head, and kept his eyes still fixed on heaven.

Upon this the irritated soldiers began to curse him. "No doubt," said they, "you are one of the heretics of the city!" One of them, being curious to know who it was, stooped down and turned Zwingle's head in the direction of a fire that had been lighted near the spot. The soldier immediately let him fall to the ground. "I think," said he, surprised and amazed, "I think it is Zwingle!" At this moment Captain Fockinger of Unterwalden, a veteran and a pensioner, drew near: he had heard the last words of the soldier. "Zwingle!" exclaimed he; "that vile heretic Zwingle! That rascal, that traitor!" Then raising his sword, so long sold to the stranger, he struck the dying Christian on the throat, exclaiming in a violent passion, "Die, obstinate heretic!"

Yielding under this last blow, the reformer gave up the ghost: he was doomed to perish by the sword of a mercenary. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." The soldiers ran to other victims. All did not show the same barbarity. The night was cold; a thick hoar-frost covered the fields and the bodies of the dying . The Protestant historian, Bullinger, informs us that some of the Waldstettes gently raised the wounded in their arms, bound up their wounds, and carried them to the fires lighted on the field of battle. "Ah!" cried they, "why have the Swiss thus slaughtered one another!"

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The main body of the army had remained on the field of battle near the standards. The soldiers conversed around the fires, interrupted from time to time by the cries of the dying. During this time the chiefs assembled in the convent sent messengers to carry the news of their signal victory to the confederate cantons, and to the Roman-catholic powers of Germany.

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At length the day appeared. The Waldstettes spread over the field of battle, running here and there, stopping, contemplating, struck with surprise at the sight of their most formidable enemies stretched lifeless on the plain; but sometimes also shedding tears as they gazed on corpses which reminded them of old and sacred ties of friendship.

At length they reached the pear-tree under which Zwingle lay dead, and an immense crowd collected around it. His countenance still beamed with expression and with life. "He has the look," said Bartholomew Stocker of Zug, who had loved him, "he has the look of a living rather than of a dead man. Such was he when he kindled the people by the fire of his eloquence."

All eyes were fixed upon the corpse. John Schonbrunner, formerly canon of Zurich, who had retired to Zug at the epoch of the Reformation, could not restrain his tears: "Whatever may have been thy creed," said he, "I know, Zwingle, that thou hast been a loyal confederate! May thy soul rest with God!"

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But the pensioners of the foreigner, on whom Zwingle had never ceased to make war, required that the body of the heretic should be dismembered, and a portion sent to each of the Five Cantons. "Peace be to the dead! and God alone be their judge!" exclaimed the avoyer Golder and the landamman Thoss of Zug. Cries of fury answered their appeal, and compelled them to retire.

Immediately the drums beat to muster; the dead body was tried, and it was decreed that it should be quartered for treason against the confederation, and then burnt for heresy. The executioner of Lucerne carried out the sentence. Flames consumed Zwingle's disjointed members; the ashes of swine were mingled with his; and a lawless multitude rushing upon his remains flung them to the four winds of heaven.

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Zwingle was dead. A great light had been extinguished in the Church of God. Mighty by the Word as were the other reformers, he had been still mightier than they in action; but this very power had been his weakness, and he had fallen under the weight of his own strength. Zwingle was not forty-eight years old when he died. If the might of God always accompanied the might of man, what would he not have done for the Reformation in Switzerland, and even in the empire! But he had wielded an arm that God had forbidden; the helmet had covered his head, and he had grasped the halberd.

His more devoted friends were themselves astonished, and exclaimed: "We know not what to say!......a bishop in arms!" The bolt had furrowed the cloud, the blow had reached the reformer, and his body was no more than a handfull of dust in the palm of a soldier.

 

On to Chapter Nine.


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