Local History

Neuchâtel, La Maison des Halles (1569), Les Orléans-Longueville. Bild/Photo: TES.

The Forgotten Occupation of Neuchâtel

The town of Neuchâtel is named after the castle Novum Castellum which King Rudolf III of Burgundy (970-1032) had built around 1000, probably in 1011. In the following centuries, the county of Neuchâtel (end 12th century) would arise and around 1500 the county reached the size of the present canton of Neuchâtel. In these centuries, Colombier, Valangins, Corcelles, Môtier, Auvernier, (Val de) Travers, Nugerol, Boudry, Le Landeron, Bevaix and other (newly founded) towns and villages already played a significant role in this area, either as autonomous seigneuries or as places with monasteries. La Chaux-de-Fond, Le Locle, La Brévine, La Sagne, Les Verrières and other sites in the upper Jura region are also developing during this period. Neuchâtel was strategically located at the foot of the Jura and Lake Neuchâtel and the trade routes to present-day Franche-Comté and Burgundy, the route to (the Prince-Bisdom) Basel, Morat and Seeland. Neuchâtel was part of the Holy Roman Empire from 1032/1034 and would be ruled by the dynasty of the Counts of Neuchâtel until 1395. From 1395-1503 the county belonged by inheritance to German princes, from 1503 to the French dynasty Les Orléans-Longueville. Neuchâtel was then a principality and would formally remain so until 1856 when the king of Prussia relinquished his rights. The citizens of Neuchâtel elected the (Protestant) king of Prussia in 1706 as the successor of the extinct French dynasty. However, from 1815 and 1848 Neuchâtel was already recognized as a canton and a member of the Eidgenossenschaft.

After 1503 the French princes of Les Orléans-Longueville will rarely show up. However, the Confederates (Eidgenossen) were all the more interested in this area. The Burgundian wars (1474-1477) were just over and until 1515 (Marignano) they were in a winning mood. Neuchâtel was considered French territory and therefore a possible base for French attacks. For this reason, four cantons (Bern, Solothurn, Fribourg and Lucerne) occupied Neuchâtel in June and July 1512 and took over the administration. It was not a military occupation as in Aargau, Thurgau, Tessin or from 1536 Vaud. It was only an administrative change of government, welcomed by the local elite, and the French did not attempt to intervene militarily. That, in turn, has to do with international developments. The French king was far too busy in other areas, especially in Italy. After 1515 (Marignano) and his victory over the Eidgenossen, he made an ‘everlasting peace’ with the Eidgenossenschaft in 1516. Hence there was no reason for the confederal interference anymore. It would take until 1529 before the administration was handed over to the princes of Les Orléans-Longueville. It was due more to the disagreement between the 13 cantons and practical problems than to deliberate policy. However, this intermezzo would continue to strengthen the bond between the citizens of Neuchâtel and the Eidgenossenschaft. In 1536 Vaud (territory of Savoy) was occupied by the Eidgenossen (this time with excessive violence). Neuchâtel was spared this fate, but for centuries the Eidgenossen were direct and dominant neighbours. These centuries of history and contacts contributed to the choice for the Eidgenossenschaft after 1813, not to mention the international political developments and influence (Congress of Vienna 1814-1815).