Swiss History at a Glance

A Timeline of the History of the Old Swiss Confederacy


1 August 1291 – Representatives from the Cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden meet at the Rütli, a meadow above Lake Uri. They form an Everlasting Alliance, the Eidgenossenschaft, pledging eternal support to each other; the mythic founding of the Old Swiss Confederacy.

1315 – Swiss forces triumph over the Hapsburgs at the Battle of Morgarten; the Peace of Brunnen follows.

1332 – Lucerne joins the Confederation.

1339 – Battle of Laupen; Victory of Bern and its allies over Freiburg and its Hapsburg allies.

1351 – Zürich joins the Confederation.

1352 – Glarus and Zug join the Confederation.

1353 – Bern joins the Confederation; the Acht Orte, or the Old Eight, is now formed.

1386 – Battle of Sempach; victory of the Confederation over Hapsburg forces.

1388 – Battle of Nӓfels; victory of Glarus-led forces over the Hapsburgs.

1393 – Covenant of Sempach is signed; it further unites the Acht Orte and forbids one member of the Confederacy from beginning a war unilaterally without the consent of the other Cantons.  

1395 Grey League is established in the Grisons. 

1405City of Bern suffers a catastrophic fire; sandstone construction is introduced on a large scale for the first time in a Swiss city. 

1414 – Council of Constance meets to address the matter of schism in the Church.

1415 – Annexation of the Aargau region from the Hapsburgs. 

1428 – Witch trials begin in Valais; in the following decades, they will spread to other areas of Switzerland.  

1440-1446 – Old Zürich War; the Eidgenossenschaft is tested as Zürich and seven other members of the Confederacy fight each other over the tight of succession to the County of Toggenburg.

1444 – Battle of St. Jakob an der Birs; victory of the Confederation over French forces.

1460 – The University of Basel is founded; oldest university in Switzerland. Annexation of the Thurgau by the Confederacy. 

1474-1477 – Swiss forces drive out Burgundian forces under Duke Charles the Bold in three decisive battles at Grandson (1476), Murten (1476), and Nancy (1477). 

1481 – Freiburg and Solothurn join the Confederation.

1489 – Peasant revolt and mismanagement of the City's affairs results in the death of Hans Waldmann, the Mayor of Zürich. 

1499 – The Swabian War is fought between the Confederation and the Hapsburgs. It is their last military engagement. The Empire grants the Confederation de facto independence.

1500 – The first Tagsatzung, or Federal Diet, is seated. It is the weak central body of the Eidgenossenschaft as real power lies with the individual Cantons.

1501 – Basel and Schaffhausen join the Confederation.

1507Petermann Etterlin's Chronicle of the Swiss Confederation is published at Lucerne. It is the oldest printed history of the Swiss Confederation.  

1513 – Appenzell joins the Confederation; the Dreizen Alten Orte, or the Thirteen Old Places, is now formed. No new Cantons will be admitted to the Confederation until after the fall of the Old Confederacy in 1798. 

1515 – Milanese forces defeat the Swiss at the Battle of Marignano; Swiss neutrality begins.

1516On the eve of the Reformation, the XIII Cantons declare a perpetual peace with France and grant them the right to recruit mercenaries. This decision will play a very large role in Swiss foreign policy for several centuries. 

1519 – Ulrich Zwingli preaches in Zürich; the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland begins.

1524Union of the Three Leagues is established in the Grisons. 

1527 – The Schleitheim Confession is proclaimed at Schleitheim in Schaffhausen; it is a unified statement of the Anabaptist faith.

1528 – Following the Bern Disputation, Bern accepts the Protestant Reformation, thus converting large swathes of the Confederation.

1531 – Second Kappel War - Roman Catholic and Protestant Cantons fight each other; Zwingli is killed. 

1536 – Jean Calvin arrives in Geneva; it is the center of the Reformation. Founds the Collège de Genève in 1559.

1566 – Heinrich Bullinger's Second Helvetic Confession of Faith is published, thus becoming the standard text of the Reformed faith in Switzerland. 

1582St. Peter Canisius and the Society of Jesus establishes the Collège de Saint-Michel in Freiburg; the Counter-Reformation begins in Switzerland. 

1597Sectarian strife in Appenzell splits the canton into two halves; Appenzell Ausserrhoden will be Protestant and Appenzell Innerrhoden will be Roman Catholic. 

1602 During the night of December 11/12, Protestant inhabitants of the City of Geneva repel soldiers sent by the Catholic Duke of Savoy. Known as L'Escalade, Genevan independence is preserved. 

1618 Known as the Revolt of the Leagues, twenty years of sectarian violence and political instability begins in the Grisons. 

1627 Freiburg closes the Patriciate to newcomers; the franchise is restricted and political stagnation sets in. 

1633With the Swedish invasion of Thurgau, the Thirty Years War is fought on Swiss soil. 

1643 – Following Freiburg's example, Bern restricts citizenship to families already established in the City; the Bernese Patriciate closes.  

1647 – Defensional of Wil is proclaimed; a joint militia to defend the borders of the XIII Cantons is established. 

1648 – With the Peace of Westphalia and through the efforts of Basel diplomat, Johann Rudolf Wettstein, Switzerland receives formal independence from the Hapsburg Empire.

1653 – Swiss Peasants' War, a multi-Canton peasant uprising and tax revolt; Niklaus Lewenberger is executed in the Canton of Bern.

1663 Alliance with France is renewed; a customs union is established and continued use of Swiss mercenaries in French forces. 

1669 – Zürich, Uri, and Solothurn restrict citizenship to individuals and families already residing in their respective cities. 

1685 – Following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes by the French King Louis XIV, thousands of Huguenot refugees stream into French-speaking parts of the Confederation, particularly the City of Geneva, driving the Swiss economy forward. 

1700s – Swiss Enlightenment produces various scholars, such as, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Bernoulli family, Salomon Gessner, Albrecht von Haller, Leonhard Euler, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, and Johann Jakob Scheuchzer.

1705 – Daniel Jean Richard revolutionizes the Swiss watch industry at Le Locle.

1707 – Lucerne, Schwyz, and Basel close their citizenship rolls to new residents and families. 

1708With the death of Princess Marie de Nemours, the Principality of Neuchâtel passes to the King of Prussia in a personal union. 

1712 – The Toggenburg War - a religious civil war about Confederacy hegemony - is resolved by the Peace of Aarau (1712) and the Peace of Baden (1718). Protestant Cantons and their allies are victorious.

1717 – Based in Wilchingen, the County of Klettgau rebels against the Canton of Schaffhausen because of a dispute about the area's lucrative viticulture; it is crushed. 

1719 – The County of Werdenberg rebels against the Canton of Glarus because of taxes; it is crushed.  

1720 – Sankt Gallen emerges as the unquestioned leader of the textile industry in Switzerland.

1723 – Led by Jean Davel, French-speaking Lausanne revolts against German-speaking Bern; he is executed.

1726 – Rev. Samuel Lutz arrives at Amsoldingen in the Canton of Bern. His ideas about a return to the basics of Christianity come to be known as Pietism; they sweep over the Confederation as a Second Reformation. 

1735 – Emigration to North America reaches its peak, especially from the Cantons of Basel, Bern, and Zürich.

1749 – Rebellion in Bern against the Patrician government; Samuel Henzi is executed.

1755 – Liviner Uprising in Ticino against the Canton of Uri because of increased taxes and lack of representation; it is crushed.

1761 – The Helvetic Society is founded. Dedicated to national rebirth and reform, it unites students and scholars across Cantonal and religious lines. The Society quickly becomes a popular political movement.

1768 Bern restricts citizenship and the franchise to only 78 families in the City. 

1773 Lucerne restricts citizenship and the franchise to only 29 families in the City. 

1777Last mercenary alliance with France is concluded. 

1781 – Pierre-Nicolas Chenaux leads an uprising in Freiburg for increased rights and freedoms; he is executed.

1782 – Revolution in Geneva seeks to extend the franchise to all male residents; it fails.

1789 French Revolution spurs the end of serfdom in the Prince-Bishopric of Basel and inspires tax revolts in Schaffhausen, Vaud, Valais and Zürich. 

1790 Fearing a revolution in Switzerland, authorities begin a violent Confederation-wide crack down on civil liberties and political activities.  

1792 – Prince-Bishop of Basel loses most of his territory; French-backed Rauracian Republic is proclaimed on December 17th. 

1794 – The City of Geneva issues a new, radical Constitution proclaiming the equality of all its citizens. 

1797 – Napoleon conquers the Grisons and incorporates it into the new Cisalpine Republic. 

1798 French forces occupy Vaud, Freiburg, and Solothurn. Bern falls on March 5th, thus ending the Old Swiss Confederacy. The Helvetic Republic is proclaimed by Peter Ochs and his Deputies at Aarau on April 12th.   

Further Reading

Most of these works may be freely downloaded via GoogleBooks. 

Published in 1922, Wilhelm Oeschli's History of Switzerland is an excellent and comprehensive work about the Old Swiss Confederacy. 

Published in 1913, the Rev. James Isaac Good's History of the Swiss Reformed Church Since the Reformation goes into great depth about the Reformation in Switzerland and the lasting legacy of the Reformation in the Cantons where the Reformed faith was embraced.

Helen Maria Williams was a British poet, writer, and translator of French-language works. In the 1790s, she undertook a tour of Switzerland. Published in 1798 immediately after the institution of the Helvetic Republic, Williams's two-volume work A Tour in Switzerland provides a fascinating picture of life in the Old Swiss Confederacy right before its collapse. Volume One; Volume Two

In 1764, Scottish aristocrat, biographer, and diarist James Boswell undertook a tour of Germany and Switzerland as part of the Grand Tour a young, wealthy gentleman of the period typically took after finishing his studies at university. He recorded his impressions of the country in The Grand Tour: Germany and Switzerland, 1764

Please note that Boswell's Journal is not available for download via GoogleBooks, but it can be read for free via Internet Archive. However, an account is required.