Constitution and Democracy

The Thirteen Stars of Valais

The canton of Valais became a member of the Swiss Confederation of Twenty-two cantons in 1815. Until the French invasion in January 1798, the Republic of the Seven Communes (Republik der Sieben Zenden, Républik des sept Dizains) in the Haut-Valais formed the administration of the territory. This Republic also ruled from 1476 onwards over the Bas-Valais, western Valais to St Gingolph, the current border with France.

The history of Valais, as in all cantons, goes back to the Celts. In the area from the Furkapas to St. Gingolph Nantuates, Verager, Seduner and Uberer inhabited the area. After the Roman domination and province until 410, the tribe of Burgunder en entered the area, a tribe from the vicinity of Worms in Germany (before that from Bornholm in the Baltic Sea).

They adopted the local language (vulgar Latin and forerunner of French) and founded the (first) Burgundian kingdom (until 534).

Then the Franks ruled until the collapse of the Carolingian Empire in 888. Until 1032, the area of today’s Valais would fall under the second Burgundian Empire. During this period, more and more (German-speaking) inhabitants came to live in Haut-Valais.

From there they settled more and more towards the west so that the language border shifted further and further. From the thirteenth century onwards, the Walser emigrated to the east and south.

Politically, the area fell under the Holy Roman Empire from 1032 onwards. Local dynasties ruled the many territories, however. In Valais, these were the (French speaking) Dukes of Savoy with Sion (Sitten) as episcopal city. The German-speaking municipalities (Zenden/Dizains) in Upper Wallis resisted this domination in the forthcoming centuries.

At the time of the Burgundian wars (1474-1477), Savoy was forever expelled from the area. The Republic of the seven municipalities (Goms, Brig, Sitten, Visp, Raron, Siders, Leuk) came into being with the (French-speaking) Bas-Valais as its subject area. Until 1798.

From 1798 to 1815, Valais has no less than six different political forms. The Bas-Valais became officially independent from the Haut-Valais on 5 February 1798, and 16 March saw the creation of the Republic of ten municipalities, seven old and three new municipalities of Bas-Valais: Monthey, Saint-Maurice and Entremont.

This did not take long, since independence came to an end on 6 May. The area falls under the Helvetic Republic as a canton without autonomy. Until 5 September 1802, this political entity ceased to exist, and Valais became an independent republic divided into twelve communes (with the addition of Martigny and Hérémence from Bas-Valais). Under French supervision, of course, but as an independent state, also separate from the Confederation of 1803-1813 (Act of Mediation).

On 12 November 1810, this Republic also ceased to exist by French decree and the Simplon Department was established (the Simplon Pass and the Great St. Bernhard Pass were strategically important roads for Napoleon). With Napoleon’s defeat in 1813 and the arrival of Austrian troops, this Republic ceased to exist on 31 December 1813.

In 1815 Valais became a canton of the Confederacy. It did not happen by a stroke of the pen. The canton was not only bilingual but also religiously divided. The former ‘Sujet’ Bas-Valais demanded the same rights as the Haut-Valais in the canton’s administration and parliament and no restoration of the Ancien Régime.

Bas-Valais wins it from ‘old’, due to support from England and Austria (Congress of Vienna 1814-1815). The ‘old’ cantons of the federation were also divided, but they also agree in the end, and Valais became a new canton of the new Confederation on 4 August 1815.

The thirteen stars in the coat of arms of Valais symbolise the thirteen communes (the current districts) of the canton (the seven old and six new from Bas-Valais, Conthey was added on 4 August 1815).