Die Rütliwiese. Foto/Photo: TES

The Rütli, an oath and an impeachment

Der Weg der Schweiz is a historic road along Lake Urnersee, the southernmost arm of Lake Lucerne. The length is about 35 kilometres and is divided into 26 stages for the 26 cantons.

The order was determined by the time the cantons joined the Confederation.
The length of the sections is based on the number of inhabitants of a canton in 1991, with the length per inhabitant being 5 mm.

The Urnesee from Seelisberg

Because of this set-up, it is not surprising that the Rütli on the shores of the Urnersee is the first stop on this route. It is irrelevant whether, at this place, in 1291, the three first members, UriSchwyz and Unterwalden (Obwalden and Nidwalden)took an oath (Eid (Genossenschaft) to ratify their alliance. In any case, it is a story that fits the political and historical context. The same goes for the Wilhelm Tell history.

The ‘Schwurplatz’, the location of the oath 

In late medieval times, many alliances and partnerships existed in this part of Europe. However, only the Swiss Confederation (Eidgenossenschaft) survived to the 19th century. What ‘if’ is not an interesting historical question.

An authentic document from 1315 confirms an alliance between these Orte. This alliance was followed by a long process of state formation, from a loose confederation of increasingly more Orte and towns (the word canton dates back to the 16th century) to the modern Confederation in 1848. In 1291 or 1309, however, the Eidgenossen were not yet thinking or even considering founding their own state.

However, defending oneself against the sovereign, Habsburg, and his bailiffs was a mortal sin in these religious times. There had to be a justification, which is the background to Wilhelm Tell’s story. After all, the landlord (the bailiff Gessler) was a tyrant.

First page of the ‘Acte van Verlatinghe’, 1581. Photo: Wikipedia

A similar case occurred in the Netherlands in 1579 with the founding of the Union of Utrecht (a confederation of seven sovereign provinces (cantons) with a Staten-Generaal (Tagsatzung).

The Spanish king was deposed as sovereign with the subsequent ‘Acte van Verlatinghe’ (1581). The thorough and religiously based motivation was the same as in the William Tell story: the ruler is a tyrant, and therefore, the removal from office is justified, and only for this reason.

It is, therefore, all the more astonishing that certain (academic) circles in Switzerland expend so much energy, books, articles, and (scientific) research to dismiss the “oath” of 1291 or the William Tell story as nonsense.

Despite powerful neighbours, the Reformation, and economic, linguistic, and cultural differences between the cantons, this confederation has today’s least bad democratic system in Europe and perhaps even the world.

Image: Rütli Museum

Moreover, its economy, monetary policy,  multicultural and international society and culture, science and research, and respect for nature are of a high standard.

The Rütli, located at the foot of the village of Seelisberg (canton of Uri), is a location to cherish for good reason. A hike from Seelisberg to the Rütli takes about an hour downhill.

The path from Seelisberg to the Rütli

It is, to paraphrase the words of Neil Amstrong (1930-1982) on 21 July 1969 (first moon landing), “One small step for one person, but one giant leap for mankind”.
In other words, a walk to the Rütli from Seelsberg is a small step, but what started in this region over 700 years ago was a giant leap for the formation of today’s Confederation.

(Source and further information: Weg der Schweiz)

The Kleine and the Grote Mythe (canton of Schwyz). In the foreground Brunnen (kanton Uri), in the background Schwyz


The Rütli Museum

The Rütliwiese