Far away in the heart of Europe there lies a little country called Switzerland. It seems wonderful that when great and powerful kings and princes swept over the world, fighting and conquering, little Switzerland should not have been conquered and swallowed up by one or other of the great countries which lay around. But the Swiss have always been a brave and fearless people.
At one time one of the great princes of Europe tried to conquer Switzerland and take away the freedom of its people. But the people fought so bravely that instead of being conquered they conquered the tyrants and drove them away.
In those far-off times the greatest ruler in Europe was the Emperor, and his empire was divided into many states, over each of which ruled a prince or king who acknowledged the Emperor as overlord. When an Emperor died the kings and princes met together and chose another Emperor from among their number.
Switzerland was one of the countries which owned the Emperor as overlord. But the Swiss were a free people. They had no king or prince over them, but a governor only, who was appointed by the Emperor.
Austria was another of the states of the great empire, and at one time a Duke of Austria was made ruler of Switzerland. Because of its great beauty, this duke cast greedy eyes upon Switzerland and longed to possess it for his very own.
But the Swiss would not give up their freedom; and three cantons, as the divisions of Switzerland are called, joined together, and swore to stand by each other, and never to submit to Austria.
Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden were the names of these three cantons. A little later another canton joined the three. These four cantons lie round a lake which is called the Lake of the four Forest Cantons. When Albrecht, Duke of Austria was chosen Emperor he said to himself that now truly he would be lord and master of Switzerland. So he sent two nobles to the Swiss to talk to them, and persuade them to own him as their king.
Some of the people of Switzerland were persuaded to belong to Austria, but all the people of the free cantons replied that they wished to remain free.
So the messengers went back to Albrecht and told him what the people said. When he heard the message he was very angry. “The proud peasants,” he cried, “they will not yield. Then I will bend and break them. They will be soft and yielding enough when I have done with them.”
Months went by and the Emperor appointed no ruler over Switzerland. At last the people, feeling that they must have a governor, sent messengers to the Emperor, begging him to appoint a ruler, as all the Emperors before him had done. “A governor you shall have.” said Albrecht. “Go home and await his coming. Whom I send to you, him you must obey in all things.”
When they had gone, Albrecht smiled grimly to himself. “They will not yield,” he said, “but I will oppress them and ill-treat them until I force them to rebel. Then I will fight against them and conquer them, and at last Switzerland will be mine.”