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Knights Templar in Switzerland

According to Swiss history writing, the foundations for modern Switzerland date to 1291. The date being conveniently close to the dissolution of the Order of Knights Templar many see a connection between the two in later developments.



Official Swiss History dates the roots of modern Switzerland to 1291. The official version cites the ‘Bundesbrief’ (Federal Charter) of that year together with the oath of mutual assistance between the counties of Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden as the starting point of common interests with the logical end of an independent country. This view is not only flawed but downright Victorian.

In the late 19th century, Switzerland was surrounded by countries formed on national common roots. Germany, France, and Italy claimed (wrongly) to be impersonations of their nations of common interests, common regional origins, and no national identity.

In 1890, the city of Bern was preparing the celebrations for the 700 years jubilee of its founding in 1191 and decided to add on as an afterthought the jubilee of the founding of Switzerland in 1291. A historical row was the consequence, and as in all historical rows politics won the day over historic accuracy. Out of this, Switzerland was to get the common history it had previously lacked.

The ‘Bundesbrief’ had lain mouldering in an archive in Schwyz for centuries and had been widely ignored by everybody including historians. The document is basically a list of rights and duties of the population of the three signatory cantons in their relations with each other. It makes no claim to independence of the German Roman Empire. It is dated at the ‘beginning of August 1291’. It was in no way a unique document and most probably just a reiteration and elucidation of earlier documents now lost. Only two points out of many deal with armed conflict, all the rest concern civil matters.

Hans Schriber (translates to John the Scribe or Writer) collected the documents and legends relevant to the Swiss Confederation in 1470. He related the story of the oath of mutual armed assistance of the three cantons and dated it to 1307. The date comfortably coincides with Phillip IV of France move against the Knights Templar.

In 1891, the date of the ‘Bundesbrief’ and the oath taking together with the legend of Wilhelm Tell were mangled into a single coherent ‘historical date’ which was subsequently accepted as the history of the origin of Switzerland. In fact, the ‘Bundesbrief’ has meanwhile been carbon-dated to the end of the 13th century. The story told by Hans Schriber might well be true and correctly dated, as the persons mentioned are historically proven to have existed at the time mentioned and no proofs have been found to change Schriber’s dating. Wilhelm Tell’s legend took shape during the 15th century and contained many elements from the real life of Stauffacher, one of the oath takers.

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