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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 42. The First War of Cappel. 1529.


The year 1530 marks the height of the Zwinglian Reformation. It was firmly established in the leading cities and cantons of Zürich, Bern, and Basel. It had gained a strong majority of the people in Northern and Eastern Switzerland, and in the Grisons. It had fair prospects of ultimate success in the whole confederacy, when its further progress was suddenly arrested by the catastrophe of Cappel and the death of Zwingli.

The two parties had no conception of toleration (except in Glarus and the Grisons), but aimed at supremacy and excluded each other wherever they had the power. They came into open conflict in the common territories or free bailiwicks, by the forcible attempts made there to introduce the new religion, or to prevent its introduction. The Protestants, under the lead of Zwingli, were the aggressors, especially in the confiscation of the rich abbey of St. Gall. They had in their favor the right of progress and the majority of the population. But the Roman Catholics had on their side the tradition of the past, the letter of the law, and a majority of Cantons and of votes in the Diet, in which the people were not directly represented. They strictly prohibited Protestant preaching within their own jurisdiction, and even began bloody persecution. Jacob Kaiser (or Schlosser), a Zürich minister, was seized on a preaching expedition, and publicly burnt at the stake in the town of Schwyz (May, 1529).255255    For the particulars of this case see Mörikofer, II. 146 sqq., and Christoffel, I. 376 sq. His martyrdom was the signal of war. The Protestants feared, not without good reason, that this case was the beginning of a general persecution.

With the religious question was closely connected the political and social question of the foreign military service,256256    The Reislaufen, or running to war; reisig, in old German, means ready for war (kriegsrüstig). which Zwingli consistently opposed in the interest of patriotism, and which the Roman Catholics defended in the interest of wealth and fame. This was a very serious matter, as may be estimated from the fact that, according to a statement of the French ambassador, his king had sent, from 1512 to 1531, no less than 1,133,547 gold crowns to Switzerland, a sum equal to four times the amount at present valuation. The pensions were the Judas price paid by foreign sovereigns to influential Swiss for treason to their country. In his opposition to this abuse, Zwingli was undoubtedly right, and his view ultimately succeeded, though long after his death.257257    Christoffel, I. 382. Comp. § 7, p. 24.

Both parties organized for war, which broke out in 1529, and ended in a disastrous defeat of the Protestants in 1531. Sixteen years later, the Lutheran princes suffered a similar defeat in the Smalcaldian War against the Emperor (1547). The five Forest Cantons—Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Luzern, and Zug—formed a defensive and offensive league (November, 1528; the preparations began in 1527), and even entered, first secretly, then openly, into an alliance with Ferdinand Duke of Austria and King of Bohemia and Hungary (April, 1529). This alliance with the old hereditary enemy of Switzerland, whom their ancestors had defeated in glorious battles, was treasonable and a step towards the split of the confederacy in two hostile camps (which was repeated in 1846). King Ferdinand had a political and religious interest in the division of Switzerland and fostered it. Freiburg, Wallis, and Solothurn sided with the Catholic Cantons, and promised aid in case of war. The Protestant Cantons, led by Zürich (which made the first step in this direction) formed a Protestant league under the name of the Christian co-burghery (Burgrecht) with the cities of Constance (Dec. 25, 1527), Biel and Mühlhausen (1529), and Strassburg (Jan. 9, 1530).258258    The documents of these leagues are given by Bullinger, Hottinger, and by Bluntschli, l.c. I. 303-305, 318 sq.; II. 238-255.

Zwingli, provoked by the burning of Kaiser, and seeing the war clouds gathering all around, favored prompt action, which usually secures a great advantage in critical moments. He believed in the necessity of war; while Luther put his sole trust in the Word of God, although he stirred up the passions of war by his writings, and had himself the martyr’s courage to go to the stake. Zwingli was a free republican; while Luther was a loyal monarchist. He belonged to the Cromwellian type of men who "trust in God and keep their powder dry." In him the reformer, the statesman, and the patriot were one. He appealed to the examples of Joshua and Gideon, forgetting the difference between the Old and the New dispensation. "Let us be firm," he wrote to his peace-loving friends in Bern (May 30, 1529), "and fear not to take up arms. This peace, which some desire so much, is not peace, but war; while the war that we call for, is not war, but peace. We thirst for no man’s blood, but we will cut the nerves of the oligarchy. If we shun it, the truth of the gospel and the ministers’ lives will never be secure among us."259259    "Quod hactenus ad vos scripsi, iterum atque iterum facio, ut constantes sitis, neque bellum metuatis. Nam ista pax, quam quidam tantopere urgent, bellum est, non pax; et bellum, cui nos instamus, pax est, non bellum. Non enim sitimus cujusquam sanguinem, neque etiam per tumultum hauriemus, sed in hoc sumus, ut oligarchiae nervi succidantur. Id nisi fiat, neque Evangelii veritas, neque illius ministri apud nos in tuto erunt. Nihil crudele cogitamus: sed quicquid agimus, amicum et paternum est." Opera, VIII. 294.

Zürich was first ready for the conflict and sent four thousand well-equipped soldiers to Cappel, a village with a Cistercian convent, in the territory of Zürich on the frontier of the Canton Zug.260260    Cappel has become famous by the battle of 1531 and the death of Zwingli. It lies six miles from the town of Zug. The battlefield and the monument of Zwingli are about ten minutes’ walk from Cappel. The old church is well preserved, and has recently been repaired. See Annales Coenobii Capelloni per H. Bullingerum et P. Simlerum, in Simler’s (printed) Sammilung alter und neuer Urkunden (Zürich, 1760), II. 397; and Pestalozzi’s Bullinger, p. 20. Smaller detachments were located at Bremgarten, and on the frontier of Schwyz, Basel, St. Gall. Mühlhausen furnished auxiliary troops. Bern sent five thousand men, but with orders to act only in self-defence.

Zwingli accompanied the main force to Cappel. "When my brethren expose their lives," he said to the burgomaster, who wished to keep him back, "I will not remain quiet at home. The army requires a watchful eye." He put the halberd which he had worn as chaplain at Marignano, over his shoulder, and mounted his horse, ready to conquer or to die for God and the fatherland.261261    It is stated by Bullinger, and usually supposed, that he only went in the capacity of chaplain, like Konrad Schmid and Franz Zingg, who likewise preached in the army. The armor seems to indicate the warrior, as Hagenbach thinks (p. 405), but not necessarily. There is no evidence that Zwingli actually fought in any battle. A. Baur (Zwingli’s Theologie, II. 759) says that he went to war simply as patriot and chaplain, not as politician and captain. It is difficult, however, to separate these characters in him. The weapons of Zwingli—a harness, a helmet, and a sword—were kept in the arsenal at Luzern till 1848 in the Sonderbundskrieg, when they were carried to Zürich.

He prepared excellent instructions for the soldiers, and a plan of a campaign that should be short, sharp, decisive, and, if possible, unbloody.

Zürich declared war June 9, 1529. But before the forces crossed the frontier of the Forest Cantons, Landammann Aebli of Glarus, where the Catholics and Protestants worship in one church, appeared from a visit to the hostile army as peacemaker, and prevented a bloody collision. He was a friend of Zwingli, an enemy of the mercenary service, and generally esteemed as a true patriot. With tears in his eyes, says Bullinger, he entreated the Zürichers to put off the attack even for a few hours, in the hope of bringing about an honorable peace. "Dear lords of Zuerich, for God’s sake, prevent the division and destruction of the confederacy." Zwingli opposed him, and said: "My dear friend,262262    They addressed each other "Gevatter," "gossip, " which denotes a baptismal relationship. When Zwingli was pastor at Glarus, he stood sponsor to Aebli’s children in baptism. you will answer to God for this counsel. As long as the enemies are in our power, they use good words; but as soon as they are well prepared, they will not spare us." He foresaw what actually happened after his death. Aebli replied: "I trust in God that all will go well. Let each of us do his best." And he departed.

Zwingli himself was not unwilling to make peace, but only on four conditions which he sent a day after Aebli’s appeal, in a memorandum to the Council of Zürich (June 11): 1) That the Word of God be preached freely in the entire confederacy, but that no one be forced to abolish the mass, the images, and other ceremonies which will fall of themselves under the influence of scriptural preaching; 2) that all foreign military pensions be abolished; 3) that the originators and the dispensers of foreign pensions be punished while the armies are still in the field; 4) that the Forest Cantons pay the cost of war preparations, and that Schwyz pay one thousand guilders for the support of the orphans of Kaiser (Schlosser) who had recently been burnt there as a heretic.

An admirable discipline prevailed in the camp of Zürich, that reminds one of the Puritan army of Cromwell. Zwingli or one of his colleagues preached daily; prayers were offered before each meal; psalms, hymns, and national songs resounded in the tents; no oath was heard; gambling and swearing were prohibited, and disreputable women excluded; the only exercises were wrestling, casting stones, and military drill. There can be little doubt that if the Zürichers had made a timely attack upon the Catholics and carried out the plan of Zwingli, they would have gained a complete victory and dictated the terms of peace. How long the peace would have lasted is a different question; for behind the Forest Cantons stood Austria, which might at any time have changed the situation.

But counsels of peace prevailed. Bern was opposed to the offensive, and declared that if the Zürichers began the attack, they should be left to finish it alone. The Zürichers themselves were divided, and their military leaders (Berger and Escher) inclined to peace.

The Catholics, being assured that they need not fear an attack from Bern, mustered courage and were enforced by troops from Wallis and the Italian bailiwicks. They now numbered nearly twelve thousand armed men.

The hostile armies faced each other from Cappel and Baar, but hesitated to advance. Catholic guards would cross over the border to be taken prisoners by the Zürichers, who had an abundance of provision, and sent them back well fed and clothed. Or they would place a large bucket of milk on the border line and asked the Zürichers for bread, who supplied them richly; whereupon both parties peacefully enjoyed a common meal, and when one took a morsel on the enemy’s side, he was reminded not to cross the frontier. The soldiers remembered that they were Swiss confederates, and that many of them had fought side by side on foreign battlefields.263263    Similar episodes of kindly intercourse occurred between the Confederate and Union soldiers during the civil war in the United States. "We shall not fight," they said;, and pray God that the storm may pass away without doing us any harm." Jacob Sturm, the burgomaster of Strassburg, who was present as a mediator, was struck with the manifestation of personal harmony and friendship in the midst of organized hostility. "You are a singular people," he said; "though disunited, you are united."



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