Lake Lucerne - Birthing Pool of a Nation
It was at Lake Lucerne, around the turn of the 14th century, in a small lakeside meadow framed by the Alps, that the Old Swiss Confederacy - the infant Switzerland - was born. A loose alliance of three rural german-speaking communities (cantons) that shared the Lake Lucerne shoreline, the Confederacy soon grew to eight cantons, and by 1513 the eight had become thirteen.
An Alemannic Parentage
Until the beginning of the 5th century, this land was part of the Roman empire, whose fortifed border lay far to the north, along the lines of the Danube and the Rhine. Just beyond sat Alamanicus' boys, the tribe of the Alemanni, waiting, threatening. As the Western Roman Empire crumbled, the Alemanni moved, and in 406 they occupied the northern Swiss plateau. By 536, however, the Alemanni had been swallowed up by the Frankish empire, and the Duchy of Alamannia covered the modern day territories of Alsace (France), the southern part Baden-Württemberg as far east as the river Lech (Bavaria and Austria), Lichtenstein, and eastern and central Switzerland.
The Kingdom of Germany and the Holy Roman Empire
The Frankish empire briefly united continental western Europe under Charlemagne, who established himself as the successor of the Roman empire by having Pope Leo III crown him 'Emperor of the Romans' on Christmas Day in the year 800. Two generations later, his empire was split, eventually becoming in the west, France; and in the east, the Kingdom of Germany, a collection of independent kingdoms and peoples. In 962 the German King Otto I was crowned Emperor of the Romans, thus founding the Holy Roman Empire, itself a loose collection of independent territories which at its height included the Kingdom of Italy and Kingdom of Burgundy, and which was to dominate central Europe until its dissoution in 1806.
The Swabian Dynasties
In 917 the Duchy of Alamannia became the Duchy of Swabia, and over the next three or four centuries a number of families rose to prominence: the House of Hohenstaufen, Kings of Germany and Holy Roman Emperors; the House of Zähringen, founders of the cities of Freiburg (Germany) and Bern (Switzerland); the House of Baden, a Zähringer branch which, unlike the Zähringer line that died out in 1218, survives to this day; and the House of Kyburg, masters of the area between Lake Constance and Lake Zurich in modern day Switzerland, which outlived the Zähringer by only 50 years. And then there was the House of Habsburg.
Habsburg Star Rising and the Old Swiss Confederacy Resistance
Through marriage, acquisition, and the support of the Hohenstaufen rulers, Count Rudolph IV of Habsburg established the House of Habsburg as a leading force in Swabian politics. In 1273 he was elected King Rudolph I of Germany, whereupon he immediately established direct Habsburg control of the autonomous Swabian cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden (on the shores of Lake Lucerne in modern day Switzerland). Immediately after his death in 1291 the three cantons signed the Federal Charter, forming what became known as the Old Swiss Confederacy for mutual defence against a common enemy. In 1307 the alliance was re-confirmed with an oath taken on the Rütli ('Rütlischwur'), a meadow below Seelisberg on the shore of Lake Lucerne (centre bottom in the picture), where Swiss National Day is now celebrated every year on August 1st. In 1315 a Habsburg army attempting to re-establish imperial control over the confederacy was defeated in the Battle of Morgarten, following which the three Swiss cantons signed the Pact of Brunnen, turning the alliance into a formal confederacy.
The Old Swiss Confederacy matures into young Switzerland
By 1353 the Confederacy was enlarged with the addition of the cities of Lucerne (pictured: Chapel Bridge over the Reuss River), Zurich, and Bern, and the cantons of Glarus and Zug. In 1386 at the Battle of Sempach, Habsburg forces opposing the expansion of Lucerne interests were routed by troops of the Old Swiss Confederacy. The defeat decimated the ranks of Swabian nobility who fell in the Habsburg cause. For the Swiss, the victory heralded the growth of the eight cantons of the Old Swiss Confederacy into thirteen cantons, and de facto independence from the Holy Roman Empire following the Bergundian Wars of the 1470s and the Swabian War of 1499. In 1506 the reputation of the Swiss as warriors led to their adoption by Pope Julius II as the Swiss Guard in the Vatican. The Confederacy escaped the ravages of the Thirty Years' War, largely because Swiss troops served as mercenaries in the armies of all the major powers in Europe. In the Peace of Westphalia that ended the war in 1648 Switzerland gained legal independence from the Holy Roman Empire.
Epic Blog? No. Just an Epilogue
Of course, Alamanicus would have been all the more jazzed if he had known that he was at one point gazing down upon such an immensely historic part of his history (and to this day the Swiss German spoken in Switzerland is an Alemannic dialect), but he's a kind of "let's just see what's what" kind of traveller, and must confess to being a tad lazy when it comes to researching his destinations in advance. Besides which, it's taken him two weeks since his visit to trace the events from the first appearance of the Alemanni in the historical record in 213 A.D. to the establishment of Switzerland as an independent country in 1648. He's thankful, though, that Mrs Alamanicus was not seriously suggesting that they some day walk the entire 150km (90 mile) shoreline. At least, he assumes she was joking. This time we circumnavigated the lake by car, although the attempt to pioneer a non-autobahn route through the Rütli area failed, just teasingly over the lake from Brunnen where we were staying. Switzerland is expensive, and we were on a budget here, so saved the autobahn toll (the 'vignette') by sticking to the country roads. Instead we backtracked to Beckenried on the south shore, and hopped the car ferry over to Gersau. On our way back to Germany we took in the charming Schwanau Island on Lake Lauerz (pictured) - very nearly the final resting place of the car after an unfortunate parking incident involving a failure to leave the thing in gear or with parking brake engaged - and the town of Lucerne itself.