The Prince-Bishopric of Basel after 1813
16 November 2022
The Prince-Bishopric of Basel experienced two significant revolutions after 1500. The title of Prince-Bishopric is a consequence of the status of the Bishop in the Holy Roman Empire. The Bishop was a prince (Reichsfürst/Fürstbischof) of the Empire.
The Reformation in the years 1527-1529 was a clear break. The Bishop moved to Porrentruy (Pruntrut in German, present-day canton of Jura). The cathedral is still evangelical-Lutheran. The chapter settled in Arlesheim (Canton of Basel-Landschaft) in 1678; Solothurn has been the episcopal seat since 1828, but the diocese is still called Bishopric Basel.
The Prince-Bishopric did not survive the second infringement, however. The French revolutionary troops occupied the northern Catholic part (roughly the canton of Jura) in 1792 and annexed it to France (Mont-Terrible department).
The southern Protestant part (the French-speaking part of canton Bern and the German-speaking territories of Birseck and Laufen in the present-day canton Basel-Landschaft) was protected by the Confederation of cantons.
However, this area was occupied in 1797 as well, just before the French invasion of the Confederation in 1798. The Prince-Bishopric was formally dissolved in 1803. The territory was divided into new political units. The area of the Prince-Bishopric was assigned to the department of Haut-Rhin in 1800.
The French period came to an end in 1813. The cantons of Bern and Basel wanted to restore the old situation. The city of Biel aspired to the status of a canton and wanted a part of this area. The new canton of Neuchâtel, formally still a principality of the King of Prussia (even until 1857 !), also claimed some territory.
Supporters in the northern part of the Jura (Porrentruy and Delémont) wanted to join France. However, these Swiss interests were irrelevant to the great powers at the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815).
The outcomes were the kingdom of Sardinia-Savoie and the kingdom of Netherlands and the expansion of Prussian territories on the right bank of the Rhine. The containment of France was the priority.
Canton Bern got the territories of the Jura and the Laufental. The Birseck was assigned to canton Basel.
The discussions were not over yet. In 1833, Basel-Landschaft, inclusive of the Birseck, became a new canton, and Laufen joined this canton after a referendum in 1994. The canton Jura became a new member of the Confederation in 1979. Moutier will leave canton Bern in 2026 to join the canton of Jura.
(Quelle: J.-C. Rebetez, D. Bregnard (Hrsg.), De la crosse à la croix. L’ancien évêché de Bâle devient suisse (Kongresse von Vienne – 1815), Neuenburg 2018).