The powerful family of the Hapsburgs, still rulers of the Tyrol, or eastern portion of the Alps, long claimed authority over the western part as well. The severity of their rule led to an organized resistance on the part of the mountaineers, and the natural strength of the country secured to its defenders victory after victory. The battles of Morgarten (1315) and of Sempach (1386) were each accepted as final by their own generation; but the house of Hapsburg never formally relinquished its ancient rights, and its heads grew in power. From being dukes of Austria they advanced to be hereditary emperors of all Germany, and at length in 1499 the powerful Emperor Maximilian determined to enforce his double authority as duke and emperor. His projects were encouraged by the discord rife among the little states or cantons which composed the Swiss league.
The following account of the war that ensued is from the pen of a well-known Swiss historian, and is perhaps colored by rather more enthusiasm and racial pride than historic accuracy. Yet the struggle was final. Never after did German or Austrian dispute the independence of the Swiss. The unfortunate consequences brought by success upon the natives are not only true, but profoundly worthy of note.
Fortunately danger and trouble soon appeared from abroad. This united all the cantons anew, and was therefore salutary.
Maximilian I of Austria was Emperor of Germany. He had received from France the country of Lower Burgundy, and, to hold it more securely, incorporated it with the German empire as a single circle. He wished to make Switzerland, also, such a German imperial circle. The Confederates refused, preferring to remain by themselves as they had been until then. In Swabia, the existing states had formed a league among themselves for the suppression of small wars and feuds. This pleased the politic Emperor; by becoming an associate, he placed himself at the head of the league, which he was able to direct for the aggrandizement of his house of Austria. He desired that the Confederates, also, should enter the Swabian League. The Swiss again refused, preferring to remain by themselves as before.
The Emperor was irritated at this, and at Innspruck he said to the deputies of the Confederates: “You are refractory members of the empire; some day I shall have to pay you a visit, sword in hand.” The deputies answered and said: “We humbly beseech your imperial majesty to dispense with such a visit, for our Swiss are rude men, and do not even respect crowns.”
The boldness of the Confederates wounded the Swabian League no less. Many provocations and quarrels took place, here and there, between the people on the borders, so that the city of Constance, for her own security, joined the Swabian League. For, one day, a band of valiant men of Thurgau, incited by the bailiff from Uri, had tried to surprise the city, in order to punish her for her bravadoes against the Swiss.