November 15th 1315, the soldiers of Archduke Leopold I of
Hapsburg house still coveted the countries around the Gotthard pass to secure
this shortest passage to
time, the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor was claimed by both Duke Louis IV of
The actual occasion for the war was a dispute between the Confederates of Schwyz and the Hapsburg-protected monastery of Einsiedeln regarding some pastures.
Confederates of Schwyz expected the army in the west near the
Confederates prepared a road block and an ambush at a point between
When about 1500 men attacked from above
with rocks, logs and halberds, the knights had no room to defend themselves and
were crushingly defeated, while the foot soldiers in the rear fled back to the
confederates renewed their oath and within the next forty years cities like
The victory of the confederates left them in their virtual autonomy and gave them a breathing space of some sixty years before the next Hapsburg attack, the battle of Sempach.
At Morgarten men from Schwyz collected in little bands and laid an ambush above the long, narrow passage between the marshy lake shore and the rocky sides of the mountain rising above. When the half-mile-long Austrian column reached this area they found it blocked. A Swiss party, on the heights above, opened the battle by rolling an avalanche of boulders and tree trunks down the precipitous slopes.
Then the Swiss soldiers, wielding sharp halberts and morning stars (reinforced clubs studded with iron spikes), fell upon the disorganized Austrian knights at the head of the column. The attack drove the heavy cavalry back against its own infantry in a relentless phalanx. In less than two hours the Swiss methodically cut down the Austrians or hurled them into the lake to drown. The butchery ended only when the last Austrians had fled back up the road in terror.
A second column of Austrian cavalry, under Count Otto of Strassburg, attacked from the Brunig pass and overran Obwalden. Upon learning of Leopold's defeat they hastened to retreat.
At Morgarten the men of Schwyz decisively defeated the Duke's army of mounted, armored knights supported by numerous foot troops. It was their first victory over their Habsburg oppressors. The great victory not only delivered the Waldstatte from Austrian domination, it also strengthened the old alliance of the confederates. The three districts renewed their oath of perpetual alliance and reinforced the existing bond with the Bundesbrief of Brunnen on December 9, 1315. This charter of confederation included a provision for a united foreign policy.
The century to follow was taken up with a life and death struggle for independence against the House of Habsburg. By 1320, the name Schweiz (Switzerland) was applied to the confederates in commemoration of the victors of Morgarten, the men of Schwyz.
Forward to: Tabletop battle
© Eugene Å. Sulyagin