Switzerland during the Protestant Reformation

During the Protestant Reformation the ideas of Martin Luther quickly escaped beyond the border of Germany into neighboring Switzerland.

Switzerland at that time was not a single integrated nation but was rather composed of 13 loosely confederated city-states called cantons. The cantons each had its own leadership. Some cantons adopted the ideas of Luther (northern cantons) while others remained firmly ensconced within the Roman Catholic Church (southern cantons). Of the rebel cantons which became Protestant, the most powerful and important was that of Zurich.

First Battle of Kappel

The First Battle of Kappel occurred in 1529 as frictions worsened between the 2 parties. Violence was averted by a peace treaty which generally favored the Protestant position. While war was forestalled, the underlying causes of the conflict continued to simmer below the surface. The First Battle of Kappel, though no casualties occured, was the first armed conflict in Europe between Catholic and Protestant forces.

In the 2 years following the Peace of Kappel Ulrich (or alternately Huldrych) Zwingli continued to advance his vision of Protestantism. He resented the lack of progress by the cantons who remained faithful to their Catholic roots. The abbey at St. Gall was disbanded and the subjects of the abbey put under control of a bailiff appointed by Zurich. The Catholic cantons felt threatened by the growing power of Zurich. In the spring of 1531 Zurich forbade the sale of grain to the forest cantons, tightening their already considerable power.

Second Battle of Kappel

On October 11, 1531 battle between Zurich and the 5 opposing Catholic forest cantons broke out. Zurich at the time was without the support of other Protestant cantons when it was confronted by a force of 8,000 from the forest cantons. A small contingent from Zurich which included Ulrich Zwingli as chaplain went forth to meet the opposing force. The tactical error of failing to wait for the forces of Zurich to assemble led to the utter defeat of the Zurich force. Had the Zurich council awaited the marshalling of their men-at-arms, they would have held a numeric advantage. Zurich was routed and Ulrich Zwingli was killed in the battle.

The forces of Zurich reassembled and joined with a larger contingent of troops. This force met the Catholic forces and were again defeated, leaving Zurich prostrate before the victors. To their credit the victors were not draconian in the terms imposed upon Zurich. Terms of the earlier Peace of Kappel were negated and Catholic areas were granted protections.

The ensuing peace agreement forced the re-Catholicization of major portions of the rebel cantons. With the death of Zwingli in the Battle of Kappel, Heinrich Bullinger assumed the leadership role for the Protestant movement in Switzerland.



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