Friday, August 15, 2014

Old Zurich War (1436–1450)

Old Zurich War (1436–1450)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Zurich and Austria (with French
aid) vs. Schwyz, Glarus, and the Swiss Confederacy

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Zurich and the Toggenburg


MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Control of the Toggenburg

OUTCOME: Zurich relinquished the Toggenburg to
Schwyz, and the house of Savoy was installed in the
Aargau (Switzerland).

Schwyz and Swiss Confederacy, 20,000; Zurich and allies,


TREATIES: Peace of Ensisheim, 1444; Peace of Constance,

The Old Zurich War grew from a territorial dispute created
by the death of the last count of Toggenburg in 1436.
The Toggenburgs, always vassals of either German kings
or Holy Roman Emperors, boasted extensive possessions
in what is now northeastern Switzerland. The dying off of
the dynasty not only raised questions about who would
rule some of the large Toggenburg holdings but fed the
greed of nearby towns. The Toggenburg lands were
bounded to the west and to the southwest by the free
cities of Zurich, Schwyz, and Glarus—all members of the
Swiss Confederation. To the southeast, Toggenburg possessions
bordered lands held by two of the three leagues
later known collectively as the Grisons.
While the southeasternmost part of the territory was
quickly claimed (and occupied) by the newly formed
Zehngerichtenbund (League of Ten Jurisdictions), the rest
of the Toggenburg inheritance fell open to dispute. The
House of Raron (in distant Valais) managed successfully to
claim most of the countship, but the dependencies nearest
to Lake Zurich and a tract to the east of them was
promptly invaded by the men of Schwyz, who blocked the
road to Zurich. These moves were, of course, fiercely
resented by Zurich, whose leaders desired to control at
least the shore of the lake if nothing else. When a meeting
of the Swiss confederates in 1437 authorized Schwyz and
Glarus to retain nearly all the occupied zone, Zurich
rejected the settlement out of hand and appealed to the
Imperial Diet in 1440. The Austrian duke and German
king Frederick III (1415–43) allied his forces with Zurich,
which prompted Schwyz and its ally Glarus to declare war
on Zurich and Austria.
During the opening clash, Zurich’s burgomaster, at
the head of its army, was killed, sending the forces of
Zurich into headlong retreat. The Imperial Diet now called
for conciliation, whereupon Zurich broke with Austria,
which rejected the directive of the Diet. Joining the side of
Schwyz, the Swiss Confederacy aided the city with some
20,000 troops in its siege against Zurich. Frederick
obtained aid from France—40,000 men—who were nevertheless
defeated by the much smaller Schwyz-Swiss
Confederacy force in 1444.
The Peace of Ensisheim was concluded in 1444, but
Zurich refused to be a party to it. Two years later, however,
the Peace of Constance ended the Austrian-Zurich alliance
and gave some territory back to Zurich, but yielded to
Schwyz most of Toggenburg. Austria remained involved in
sporadic fighting in the region until a special court of arbitration
ordered Austria out of the Aargau (Switzerland)
altogether and installed there the house of Savoy. Ultimately,
the major portion of the Toggenburg countship
was sold by the house of Raron to the prince-abbot of
Sankt Gallen in 1468, only to become a ground for discord
during the Swiss Reformation (see the VILLMERGEN WAR,

Further reading: William Martin, Switzerland: From
Roman Times to the Present (New York: Praeger, 1971).

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