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The witness of


in Protestantism






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.)


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The Scene of War The Enemy at Zug Declaration of War Council Army of the Forest Cantons appears the first Gun fired Zwingle's Gravity and Sorrow Zurich Army ascending the Albis Halt and Council at the Beech Tree They quicken their March Jauch's Reconnaissance His Appeal Ambuscade.

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This night, which was so stormy in Zurich, had not been calmer among the inhabitants of Cappel. They had received the most alarming reports one after another.

It was necessary to take up a position that would allow the troops assembled round the convent to resist the enemy's attack until the arrival of the reinforcements that were expected from the city. They cast their eyes on a small hill, which lying to the north towards Zurich, and traversed by the highroad, presented an uneven but sufficiently extensive surface. A deep ditch that surrounded it on three sides defended the approaches; but a small bridge, that was the only issue on the side of Zurich, rendered a precipitate retreat very dangerous.

On the south-west was a wood of beech-trees; on the south, in the direction of Zug, was the highroad and a marshy valley. "Lead us to the Granges," cried all the soldiers. They were conducted thither. The artillery was stationed near some ruins. The line of battle was drawn up on the side of the monastery and of Zug, and sentinels were placed at the foot of the slope.

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Meantime, the signal was given at Zug and Baar; the drums beat: the soldiers of the Five Cantons took up their arms. A universal feeling of joy animated them. The churches were opened, the bells rang, and the serried ranks of the cantons entered the cathedral of St. Oswald, where mass was celebrated and the Host offered up for the sins of the people. All the army began their march at nine o'clock, with banners flying.

The avoyer [meaning of this title not known] John Golder commanded the contingent of Lucerne; the landamman James Troguer that of Uri; the landamman Rychmuth, a mortal enemy of the Reformation, that of Schwytz; the landamman Zellger, that of Unterwalden; and Oswald Dooss that of Zug. Eight thousand men marched in order of battle: all the picked men of the Five Cantons were there. Fresh and active after a quiet night, and having only one short league to cross before reaching the enemy, these haughty Waldstettes advanced with a firm and regular step under the command of their chiefs.

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On reaching the common meadow of Zug, they halted to take the oath: every hand was upraised to heaven, and all swore to avenge themselves.

They were about to resume their march, when some aged men made signs to them to stop. "Comrades," said they, "we have long offended God. Our blasphemies, our oaths, our wars, our revenge, our pride, our drunkenness, our adulteries, the gold of the stranger to whom our hands have been extended, and all the disorders in which we have indulged, have so provoked his anger, that if he should punish us today, we should only receive the desert of our crimes." The emotion of the chiefs had passed into the ranks. All the army bent the knee in the midst of the plain; deep silence prevailed, and every soldier, with bended head, crossed himself devoutly, and repeated in a low voice five paters, as many aves, and the credo.

One might have said that they were for a time in the midst of a vast and stilly desert. Suddenly the noise of an immense crowd was again heard. The army rose up. "Soldiers," said the captains, "you know the cause of this war. Bear your wives and your children continually before your eyes."

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The chief usher (grand sautier) of Lucerne, wearing the colours of the canton, now approached the chiefs of the army: they placed in his hands the declaration of war, dated on that very day, and sealed with the arms of Zug. He then set off on horseback, preceded by a trumpeter, to carry this paper to the commander of the Zurichers.

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It was eleven in the morning. The Zurichers soon discovered the enemy's army, and cast a sorrowful glance on the small force they were able to oppose to it. Every minute the danger increased. All bent their knees, their eyes were raised to heaven, and every Zuricher uttered a cry from the bottom of his heart, praying for deliverance from God. As soon as the prayer was ended, they got ready for battle.

There were at that time about twelve hundred men under arms.

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At noon the trumpet of the Five Cantons sounded not far from the advanced posts. Godli, having collected the members of the two councils who happened to be with the army, as well as the commissioned and non-commissioned officers, and having ranged them in a circle, ordered the secretary Rheinhard to read the declaration of which the Sautier of Lucerne was the bearer.

After the reading, Godli opened a council of war. "We are few in number, and the forces of our adversaries are great," said Landolt, bailiff of Marpac, "but I will here await the enemy in the name of God." "Wait!" cried the captain of the halberdiers, Rodolph Zigler: "impossible! let us rather take advantage of the ditch that cuts the road to effect our retreat [give us a way out], and let us every where [around it] raise a levee en masse [the main group]." This was in truth the only means of safety. But Rudi Gallmann, considering every step backwards as an act of cowardice, cried out, stamping his feet forcibly on the earth, and casting a fiery glance around him, "Here - here shall be my grave!" - "It is now too late to retire with honour," said other officers. "This day is in the hands of God. Let us suffer whatever he lays upon us." It was put to the vote.

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The members of the council had scarcely raised their hands in token of assent, when a great noise was heard around them. "The captain! the captain!" cried a soldier from the outposts who arrived in haste. "Silence, silence!" replied the ushers driving him back; "they are holding a council!" - "It is no longer time to hold a council," replied the soldier. "Conduct me immediately to the captain."......"Our sentinels are falling back," cried he with an agitated voice, as he arrived before Godli. "The enemy is there - they are advancing through the forest with all their forces and with great tumult."

He had not ceased speaking before the sentinels, who were in truth retiring on all sides, ran up, and the army of the Five Cantons was soon seen climbing the slope of Ifelsberg in face of the Granges, and pointing their guns. The leaders of the Waldstettes were examining the position, and seeking to discover by what means their army could reach that of Zurich. The Zurichers were asking themselves the same question. The nature of the ground prevented the Waldstettes from passing below the convent, but they could arrive by another quarter.

Ulrich Bruder, under-bailiff of Husen, in the canton of Zurich, fixed his anxious look on the beech-wood. "It is thence that the enemy will fall upon us!" "Axes - axes!" immediately cried several voices: "Let us cut down the trees! Godli, the abbot, and several others were opposed to this: "If we stop up the wood, by throwing down the trees, we shall ourselves be unable to work our guns in that direction," said they. - "Well! at least let us place some arquebusiers in that quarter." - "We are already so small a number," replied the captain, "that it will be imprudent to divide the forces."

Neither wisdom nor courage were to save Zurich. They once more invoked the help of God, and waited in expectation.

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At one o'clock the Five Cantons fired the first gun: the ball passing over the convent fell below the Granges; a second passed over the line of battle; a third struck a hedge close to the ruins. The Zurichers, seeing the battle was begun, replied with courage; but the slowness and awkwardness with which the artillery was served in those days prevented any great loss being inflicted on either side.

When the enemy perceived this, they ordered their advanced guard to descend from Ifelsberg and to reach the Granges through the meadow; and soon the whole army of the cantons advanced in this direction, but with difficulty and over bad roads. Some arquebusiers of Zurich came and announced the disorder of the cantons. "Brave Zurichers," cried Rudi Gallmann, "if we attack them now, it is all over with them."

At these words some of the soldiers prepared to enter the wood on the left, to fall upon the disheartened Waldstettes. But Godli perceiving this movement, cried out: "Where are you going? - do you not know that we have agreed not to separate?" He then ordered the skirmishers to be recalled, so that the wood remained entirely open to the enemy. They were satisfied with discharging a few random shots from time to time to prevent the cantons from establishing themselves there. The firing of the artillery continued until three o'clock, and announced far and wide, even to Bremgarten and Zurich, that the battle had commenced.

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In the meanwhile the great banner of Zurich and all those who surrounded it, among whom was Zwingle, came advancing in disorder towards the Albis. For a year past the gaiety of the reformer had entirely disappeared: he was grave, melancholy, easily moved, having a weight on his heart that seemed to crush it. Often would he throw himself weeping at the feet of his Master, and seek in prayer the strength of which he stood in need. No one had ever observed in him any irritation; on the contrary, he had received with mildness the counsels that had been offered, and had remained tenderly attached to men whose convictions were not the same as his own.

He was now advancing mournfully along the road to Cappel; and John Maaler of Winterthour, who was riding a few paces behind him, heard his groans and sighs, intermingled with fervent prayers. If any one spoke to him, he was found firm and strong in the peace that proceeds from faith; but he did not conceal his conviction that he should never see his family or church again. Thus advanced the forces of Zurich.

A woeful march! resembling rather a funeral procession than an army [of God’s] going to battle.

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As they approached they saw express after express galloping along the road from Cappel, begging the Zurichers to hasten to the defence of their brothers.

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At Adliswyl, having passed the bridge under which flow the impetuous waters of the Sihl, and traversed the village through the midst of women, children, and old men, who, standing before their cottages, looked with sadness on this disorderly troop, they began to ascend the Albis.

They were about half-way from Cappel when the first cannon-shot was heard. They stop, they listen: a second, a third succeeds..........There is no longer any doubt. The glory, the very existence of the republic are endangered, and they are not present to defend it! The blood curdles in their veins. On a sudden they arouse, and each one begins to run to the support of his brothers. But the road over the Albis was much steeper than it is in our days. The badly harnessed artillery could not ascend it; the old men and citizens, little habituated to marching, and covered with weighty armour, advanced with difficulty: and yet they formed the greater portion of the troops. They were seen stopping one after another, panting and exhausted, along the sides of the road near the thickets and ravines of the Albis, leaning against a beech or an ash tree, and looking with dispirited eyes to the summit of the mountain covered with thick pines.

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They resumed their march, however; the horsemen and the most intrepid of the foot-soldiers hastened onwards, and having reached the "Beech Tree," on the top of the mountain, halted to take council.

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What a prospect then extended before their eyes! Zurich, the lake and its smiling shores - those orchards, those fertile fields, those vine-clad hills, almost the whole of the canton, alas! soon, perhaps, to be devastated by the forest-bands.

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Scarcely had these noble-minded men begun to deliberate, when fresh messengers from Cappel appeared before them, exclaiming, "Hasten forwards!" At these words many of the Zurichers prepared to gallop towards the enemy. Toning, the captain of the arquebusiers, stopped them. "My good friends," cried he to them, "against such great forces what can we do alone? Let us wait here until our people are assembled, and then let us fall upon the enemy with the whole army."

"Yes, if we had an army," bitterly replied the captain-general, who, in despair of saving the republic, thought only of dying with glory; "but we have merely a banner and no soldiers." - "How can we stay calmly upon these heights," said Zwingle, "while we hear the shots that are fired at our fellow-citizens? In the name of God I will march towards my brother warriors, prepared to die in order to save them." - "And I too," added the aged banneret Schweitzer.

"As for you," continued he, turning with a contemptuous look towards Toning, "wait till you are a little recovered." - "I am quite as much refreshed as you," replied Toning, the colour mantling on his face, "and you shall soon see whether I cannot fight." All hastened their steps towards the field of battle.

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The descent was rapid; they plunged into the woods, passed through the village of Husen, and at length arrived near the Granges. It was three o'clock when the banner crossed the narrow bridge that led thither; and there were so few soldiers round it that every one trembled as he beheld this venerated standard thus exposed to the attacks of so formidable an enemy. The army of the Cantons was at that moment deploying before the eyes of the newcomers. Zwingle gazed upon this terrible spectacle. Behold, then, these phalanxes of soldiers! - a few minutes more, and the labours of eleven years will be destroyed perhaps for ever!......

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A citizen of Zurich, one Leonard Bourkhard, who was ill-disposed towards the reformer, said to him in a harsh tone, "Well, Master Ulrich, what do you say about this business? Are the radishes salt enough?...who will eat them now?" "I," replied Zwingle, "and many a brave man who is here in the hands of God; for we are his in life and in death." - "And I too - I will help to eat them," resumed Bourkhard immediately, ashamed of his brutality; "I will risk my life for them." And he did so, and many others with him, adds the chronicle.

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It was four o'clock; the sun was sinking rapidly; the Waldstettes did not advance, and the Zurichers began to think that the attack would be put off till the morrow. In fact, the chiefs of the Five Cantons seeing the great banner of Zurich arrive, the night near at hand, and the impossibility of crossing under the fire of the Zurichers the marsh and the ditch that separated the combatants, were looking for a place in which their troops might pass the night. "If at this moment any mediators had appeared," says Bullinger, "their proposals would have been accepted."

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The soldiers, observing the hesitation of their chiefs, began to murmur loudly. "The big ones abandon us," said one. "The captains fear to bite the fox's tail," said another. "Not to attack them," cried they all, "is to ruin our cause." During this time a daring man was preparing the skilful manoeuvre that was to decide the fate of the day.

A warrior of Uri, John Jauch, formerly bailiff of Sargans, a good marksman and experienced soldier, having taken a few men with him, moved towards the right of the army of the Five Cantons, crept into the midst of the clump of beech-trees that, by forming a semicircle to the east, unites the hill of Ifelsberg to that of the Granges, found the wood empty, arrived to within a few paces of the Zurichers, and there, hidden behind the trees, remarked unperceived the smallness of their numbers, and their want of caution.

Then, stealthily retiring, he went to the chiefs at the very moment the discontent was on the point of bursting out. "Now is the time to attack the enemy," cried he. "Dear gossip," replied Troguer, captain-in-chief of Uri, "you do not mean to say that we should set to work at so late an hour; besides, the men are preparing their quarters, and every body knows what it cost our fathers at Naples and Marignan for having commenced the attack a little before night. And then it is Innocent's day, and our ancestors have never given battle on a feast-day."

"Don't think about the Innocents of the calendar," replied Jauch, "but let us rather remember the innocents that we have left in our cottages." Gaspard Godli of Zurich, brother of the commander of the Granges, added his entreaties to those of the warrior of Uri. "We must either beat the Zurichers tonight," said he, "or be beaten by them tomorrow. Take your choice."

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All was unavailing; the chiefs were inflexible, and the army prepared to take up its quarters. Upon this the warrior of Uri, understanding, like his fellow-countryman, Tell, that great evils require great remedies, drew his sword and cried: "Let all true confederates follow me."

Then hastily leaping to his saddle, he spurred his horse into the forest; and immediately arquebusiers, soldiers from the Adige, and many other warriors of the Five Cantons, especially from Unterwalden - in all about 300 men, rushed into the wood after him. At this sight Jauch no longer doubted of the victory of the Waldstettes. He dismounted and fell upon his knees, "for," says Tschudi, "he was a man who feared God." All his followers did the same, and together invoked the aid of God, of His holy mother, and of all the heavenly host.

They then advanced; but soon the warrior of Uri, wishing to expose no one but himself, halted his troops, and glided from tree to tree to the verge of the wood. Observing that the enemy was incautious as ever, he rejoined his arquebusiers, led them stealthily forward, and posted them silently behind the trees of the forest, enjoining them to take their aim so as not to miss their men. During this time the chiefs of the Five Cantons, foreseeing that this rash man was about to bring on the action, decided against their will, and collected their soldiers around the banners.

On to Chapter Eight.

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