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On November 15th 1315, the soldiers of Archduke Leopold I of Austria were thoroughly defeated by an ambush of the Swiss Confederation near the Morgarten pass.

The Hapsburg house still coveted the countries around the Gotthard pass to secure this shortest passage to Italy, while the Confederates of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden had imperial freedom letters from former emperors granting them local autonomy within the empire.



At the time, the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor was claimed by both Duke Louis IV of Bavaria (who was to become Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor and Frederick the Handsome, a Hapsburg prince. The Confederates supported Louis IV because they feared the Hapsburgs would annex their countries as Hapsburg property which they already had tried in the late 13th century.



The actual occasion for the war was a dispute between the Confederates of Schwyz and the Hapsburg-protected monastery of Einsiedeln regarding some pastures.




Frederick's Brother, Leopold of Austria, led an army of 3000 to 5000 men, about one third of them knights on horseback to crush the rebellious confederates, planning a surprise attack from south via lake Aegeri and the Morgarten pass and counting on a complete victory over the rebellious peasants.




The Confederates of Schwyz expected the army in the west near the village of Arth, where they had erected fortifications. A historically plausible legend tells of the Knight of Huenenberg who shot an arrow into the camp of the Confederates with the attached message "watch out on St. Otmar's day at the Morgarten".




The Confederates prepared a road block and an ambush at a point between lake Aegeri and Morgarten pass where the small path led between the steep slope and a swamp.




 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 city of Zug.



The confederates renewed their oath and within the next forty years cities like Lucerne, Zug, Zurich and Berne joined the confederation.

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.




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Eugene . Sulyagin