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, and form an Everlasting Alliance, the Eidgenossenschaft, pledging eternal support to each other; 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.  

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

1415 – Annexation of the Aargau from the Hapsburgs. 

1440-1446 – Old Zürich War; the Eidgenossenschaft is tested as Zürich and seven other members of the Confederacy fight each other over the 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). 

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.

1481 – Freiburg and Solothurn join the Confederation.

1489 – Hans Waldmann, the Mayor of Zürich, leads a peasant revolt; he is beheaded.

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.

1501 – Basel and Schaffhausen join the 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.

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

1531 – Second Kappel War - 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.

1646 – With the Peace of Westphalia, Switzerland receives formal independence from the Hapsburg Empire.

1653 – Multi-Canton peasant uprising and tax revolt; Niklaus Leuenberger is executed in the Canton of Bern.

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.

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.

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.

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 the Canton of Uri against increased taxes and lack of representation; it is crushed.

1762 – 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.

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.

1798 – French forces under Napoleon 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.