Swiss peasant war of 1653

[ 1653 ]

The Swiss peasant war of 1653 was a popular revolt in the Old Swiss Confederacy at the time of the Ancien Régime. A devaluation of Bernese money caused a tax revolt that spread from the Entlebuch valley in the Canton of Lucerne to the Emmental valley in the Canton of Bern and then to the cantons of Solothurn and Basel and also to the Aargau.

The population of the countryside demanded fiscal relief from their ruling authorities, the city councils of these cantons' capitals. When their demands were dismissed by the cities, the peasants organized themselves and threatened to blockade the cities. After initial compromises mediated by other cantons had failed, the peasants united under the treaty of Huttwil, forming the "League of Huttwil". Their movement became more radical, going beyond the initially purely fiscal demands. The Huttwil League considered itself a political entity equal to and independent from the city authorities, and it assumed full military and political sovereignty in its territories.

The peasants laid siege on Bern and Lucerne, whereupon the cities negotiated a peace agreement with the peasant leader Niklaus Leuenberger, the so-called peace on the Murifeld. The peasant armies retreated. The Tagsatzung, the federal council of the Old Swiss Confederacy, then sent an army from Zürich to definitely end the rebellion, and after the Battle of Wohlenschwil, the Huttwil League was forcibly annulled in the peace of Mellingen. The last resistance in the Entlebuch valley was broken by the end of June. After their victory, the city authorities took drastic punitive measures. The Huttwil League and the peace of the Murifeld were declared null and void by the city council of Bern. Many exponents of the insurrection were captured, tortured, and finally received heavy sentences. Niklaus Leuenberger was beheaded and quartered in Bern on September 6, 1653.

Although the military victory of the absolutist city authorities was complete, the war had also shown them that they depended very much on their rural subjects. Soon after the war, the ruling aristocrats instituted a series of reforms and even lowered some taxes, thus fulfilling some of the peasants' original fiscal demands. In the long term, the peasant war of 1653 prevented Switzerland from an excessive implementation of absolutism as occurred in France during the reign of Louis XIV.

Belligerents Initiation Date Termination Date
Lucerne and Zurich 1653 1653 View
Bern and Thurgau 1653 1653 View
Solothurn and Canton of Uri 1653 1653 View
Basel and Zurich 1653 1653 View
Aargau and Thurgau 1653 1653 View

Related Conflicts

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