†††††† Excerpt from the book
†† HERALDRY OF THE WORLD
†††††† Written and illustrated by
††††††††† Carl Alexander von Volborth ,
††††††††††††††††††† Copenhagen 1973
†††††† Internet version edited by†† Andrew Andersen, Ph.D.
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
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).
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.
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.