Canton Nidwalden

The names Unterwalden, Obwalden and Nidwalden already appeared in documents in the 13th century.

Unterwalden means “in the forest” or “inter silvas” in Latin. In 1309 King Henry (Heinrich) VII (1273-1313) granted the status of free imperial city (Reichsunmittelbarket) to ‘Unterwalden’ (Obwalden and Nidwalden).

Both cantons share the same historical background (prehistory, Celts, Romans, Gallo-Roman culture and Alemanni). The Alemannic language and culture had replaced the Gallo-Roman culture around 900.

These farming villages were given the same status as towns. It was very exceptional in these days.


They were on the same footing as Strasbourg, Berne, Zurich and other cities in the Empire. It also indicates that these communities already had a high degree of independence and financial resources.

In the 14th century, Obwalden and Nidwalden came into being and replaced the use of Unterwalden as a political unity. They were also mentioned in the charter (Bundesbrief) of 1315, after the battle of Morgarten.

These Orte had only one vote in the meetings (Tagsatzung) with the other members of the (later) Eidgenossenschaft. It remained the situation until 1798 (Helvetic Republic) and the abolition of the (thirteen) cantons. Obwalden and Nidwalden alternated the seat in the Tagsatzung.

The most important landowners in Nidwalden were Murbach Monastery from Lucerne, Engelberg Monastery and until 1173, the Counts of Lenzburg. Habsburg became the dominant power in the thirteenth century.

After the opening of the Gotthard Pass, cattle breeding and trading were the most important economic activities, cattle and cattle products to Italy and agricultural products from the Lake Constance region and Italy to Nidwalden. Lucerne and Zurich were the main market places.

The Landsgemeinde became the political organisation in the fourteenth century and was abolished in 1996.

Nidwalden followed Uri and Schwyz in the expansion and administration of the Italian Untertanengebiete from 1403 to 1798.


The canton was a Catholic bastion of the Counter-Reformation and remained so until the Sarnerbund (1830) and the Sonderbundskrieg (1847).

Nidwalden also strongly resisted the Helvetian Republic (1798-1803) and the Confederation of 1815.

Troops of the Confederation occupied Nidwalden, after which the canton gave its consent. However, the territory of Engelberg Monastery was transferred to Obwalden as a sanction.


The origin of the double key in the coat of arms of Nidwalden is probably the seal that was used in the 14th century to seal documents.

Another explanation is the key of St. Peter, which Nidwalden carried as a direct descendant of the Romans and the first Bishop of Rome.

The warlike Pope Julius III (1443-1513) gave his blessing to this legend in 1512 as a reward for Nidwalden’s military support for his military campaign in Italy.

 This adventure led to the defeat at Marignano in 1515. Thousands of Eidgenossen and Nidwalders were in dire need of the key of St. Peter.

(Source: B. Meier, Von Morgarten bis Marignano, Baden 2015; www.nidwalden.ch).