†††††† Excerpt from the book




†††††† Written and illustrated by

††††††††† Carl Alexander von Volborth , K.St.J., A.I.H.

††††††††††††††††††† Copenhagen 1973


†††††† Internet version edited by†† Andrew Andersen, Ph.D.








(pp. 112-113, 206-208 and 37)



The Swiss federal republic has developed from the three 'forest cantons' of Schwyz, Uri and Unterwalden. They belonged to the dukedom of Swabia, which again was part of the Holy Roman Empire. During the thirteenth century various noble Swabian families, and especially the Habsburgs, seized more and more power, and to counter this the forest cantons sought to come under the direct rule of the Emperor instead of having one of the local princely or aristocratic dynasties as intermediary. In 1291 the farmers of the three cantons formed an alliance (the Oath on the Ruetli) to unite against the noble rulers who wanted to have authority over them.

In the course of the fourteenth century Lucerne, Zurich, Bern, Zug and Glarus joined the Confederation, and when the Duke of Austria in 1386 tried to force his will upon it, his army of knights was defeated at the battle of Sempach. After this victory the Swiss achieved their aims: to come under the jurisdiction of the very loosely organised central government of the Empire, which meant in effect almost complete political freedom.


Fribourg (Freiburg) and Solothurn became in 1481 members of the Confederation, and in 1499 the Swiss compelled the Emperor to grant them what amounted to full independence.


At the beginning of the sixteenth century the Confederation was enlarged by the addition of Basel, Schaffhausen and Appenzell, but during the Reformation the country was torn apart by religious struggles. At this time it became more and more common for the young Swiss to enter military service under foreign princes, especially the King of France. The Papal Swiss Guard in the Vatican is a reminder of this particular side of Swiss history.


In 1798 the French revolutionary army marched into Switzerland, annexed Geneva and made the rest of the country into the Helvetian Republic. In 1815, after the fall of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna laid down that Switzerland should remain neutral for all time.


It is not to be wondered at that Swiss heraldry reflects many different influences. This is true both of the great majority of independently assumed arms and, perhaps to a greater extent, of those coats of arms granted by foreign princes. The oldest in this category date from the beginning of the fifteenth century and were granted by the German emperors and the Duke of Savoy. Subsequent patents were issued by the palace counts (see p. 203), the Duke of Milan, the King of France, the King of Prussia (in his capacity as Prince of Neuchatel in Switzerland), the Duke of Lorraine, Napoleon, and even the kings of Hungary, Bohemia and England.


Cantonal and civic heraldry is characteristic in its simplicity. Many coats of arms contain no charge at all, the field being divided into two fields by a simple line (Figs 591, 592, 595, 603 and 604). Others are allusive, e.g. the bear of Bern (German: Bar), Uri's aurochs (Latin: urus) and Schaffhausen's sheep (German: Schaf) (see Figs 596, 597 and 605). The arms of Geneva (Fig. 600) are composed of the eagle of the German Empire (the Bishop of Geneva became a vassal of the emperor in 1162) and the key of St Peter (the city's cathedral is dedicated to this saint). Other Swiss cities that wished to emphasise the fact that they owed allegiance to nobody else but the emperor could do as Lausanne did (Fig. 606).



591. Arms of the canton of Zurich.



592. Arms of the canton of Fribourg.






593. The Swiss coat of arms, dating from 1814 but resembling the colours of the Bern cavalry in the thirteenth century.


594. Arms of the canton of Zug.



595. Arms of the canton of Lucerne.



596. Arms of the canton of Bern.



599. Arms of the canton of Glarus.


598. Arms of the physician

Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim,

also called Paracelsus (1493- 1541).


597. Arms of the canton of Uri.



600. Arms of the canton of Geneva


603. Arms of the canton of Solothurn.



604. Arms of the canton of Ticino.






605. Arms of the canton of Schaffhausen.


606. City arms of Lausanne (Switzerland), ensigned by the arms of the Holy Roman Empire, seventeenth century.




607. Arms of the canton of Basel-Stadt (the head of a bishop's crosier).




The two family arms at the top of p. 113 are both allusive. A bucket like that in the arms of the Kueibele family is called a Kuebel and the wavy bend in the arms of Gonzenbach illustrates a stream or Bach.



601. Arms of the non- aristocratic family of Kuеbele.



602. Arms of the noble family of von Gonzenbach.




Fraternity and guild arms are known from the fourteenth century, first in the form of banners, later as proper escutcheons. Supporters were very common.


608. Arms of craftsmen etc. from Basel, fifteenth century.



As a contrast to the helmets of the age of chivalry and the coronets of the nobility it was customary during the life of the Helvetian Republic (1789-1803) to place Wilhelm Tellís cap of liberty on the shield, and a Tellenhut of this type can still be found.


The national arms of Switzerland, the couped white cross on a red field, were already in use as a military banner in Bern in the thirteenth century. They may originate from the time when Bern belonged to Savoy, the arms of this country being a white cross on a red field (see Fig. 206).


206. Arms of the Count of Savoy, fourteenth century.



Switzerland is perhaps the country where heraldry reaches the peak of its importance. Practically every parish and every farming or bourgeois family has its own coat of arms and uses it, the ancient traditions of democracy no doubt being the basis for this.


Interest in the study of heraldry is considerable in Switzerland and there are several societies. The most important is the Schweizerische Heraldische Gesellschaft, c/o The President: Leon Jequier, 5 Rue Robert-de-Traz, 1200 Geneve.






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