Period III newsletter

nineteenth century British Tourism. Photo/Bild: TES.

The relationship between Switzerland and Great-Britain

The relationship between Switzerland and Great-Britain had its heyday in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and ended with Churchill’s famous speech and his stay in Zurich in 1946. Ironically, the Confederation  (Eidgenossenschaft) of 13 cantons focused on the Eternal Peace with France until the French invasion of 1798. After the devastating defeat of the Eidgenossen in 1515 near Marignano against the French king.

The king made an attractive peace for and with the Confederation in 1516, the Eternal Peace (der ewige Friede). This treaty was prolonged again in 1777 on the eve of the French Revolution (1789).

In that year, however, Switzerland already had cult status in Anglo-Saxon countries for a long time. Numerous writers, historians, travellers, politicians, diplomats and merchants praised the political system, the organisation of the state and the functioning of the Eidgenossenschaft of 13 small republics. Edward Gibbon, Charles Dickens, Conan Doyle, John Ruskin, William Turner, Mark Twain, Thomas Cook and Lord Byron are just a few examples.

This attention went hand in hand with the increased awareness and idealisation of nature and impressive mountain landscapes. After all, it was also the time of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who stayed in Switzerland for a long time. British and American writers, in particular, had great admiration for the political organisation and functioning of the Incidentally, this recognition and appreciation was mutual. Switzerland took over essential parts of the American constitution of 1776 in 1848.

Geneva was even a kind of place of pilgrimage for two centuries, partly because of the Academy of Calvin. Especially after the Glorious Revolution in 1688 in England, Geneva would be a destination for the Grand Tour and English intellectuals until the French Revolution of 1789.

The first contribution about Geneva appeared in 1761 by George Keate “A Short account of the Republic of Geneva”. Many would follow. Edmund Burke, on the other hand, was enthusiastic about Bern, as were, among others, David Hume, Alexis de Tocqueville and De Montesquieu.

After the Napoleonic Wars, the new Eidgenossenschaft of 22 cantons in 1815 and the new Constitution of 1848, the basis of present-day Switzerland, Anglo-Saxon attention would focus on the tourist aspect of Switzerland, the development of the country and trade.

English engineers, for example, played an important role in the construction of the Swiss railway network, the numerous Grand Hotels still bear witness to the heyday of (English) tourism, and the export and import of goods from Anglo-Saxon countries increased enormously.

The foundations for the current large trade flows between Anglo-Saxon countries, and Switzerland were laid during this period. Also, Great Britain would be the great support and refuge during and after Napoleon and at the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) and separate peace treaties (among others Paris 1814/1815 and Turin 1816), tensions with Prussia, Austria, France and Russia because of the liberal Swiss admission of political refugees, internal tensions (especially at the Sonderbundkrieg of 1847) and the crisis in 1856/1857 over the Prussian royal claims to Neuchâtel.

The first severe test in the age-old relationship is the Boer War in South Africa (1900-1902). Two world wars later and after 1945, Switzerland would no longer play a significant role in the perception and experience of Anglo-Saxon public opinion.

On the contrary, banking secrecy and Jewish assets in bank accounts affected relations. With Brexit, there are new perspectives for the oldest democracies and centuries-old cosmopolitan (trade) partners.