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<b>Protestant cantons</b> Bern and Zürich and allies  <b>Five Catholic cantons</b> and allies  <b>Neutral parties</b>
Protestant cantons Bern and Zürich and allies  Five Catholic cantons and allies  Neutral parties

The Toggenburg War, also known as the Second War of Villmergen[2] or the Swiss Civil War of 1712,[3] was a Swiss civil war during the Old Swiss Confederacy, that took place from 12 April until 11 August 1712. On the one hand there were the Catholic "inner cantons" and the Imperial Abbey of Saint Gall, on the other the Protestant cantons of Bern and Zürich as well as the abbatial subjects of Toggenburg. The conflict was simultaneously a religious war, a war for the hegemony within the Confederacy and an uprising of subjects.[4] The war ended in a Protestant victory and toppled the balance of political power within the Confederacy.


The war was caused by a conflict between the prince-abbot of St Gall, Leodegar Bürgisser, and his Protestant subjects in the county of Toggenburg, that had belonged to the Imperial Abbey of St Gall ever since 1460, but was simultaneously connected to the Swiss cantons of Glarus and Schwyz through Landrecht since 1436. After the Reformation, about two thirds of the Toggenburg population had become Protestant, however the Protestants did not comprise the majority in every municipality. After the transaction of sovereignty to the Imperial Abbey, the Reformed inhabitants of Toggenburg were promised by their Swiss allies Zürich and Bern, and also by the prince-abbot, that the principle of equal treatment in religious matters would be respected. Despite this, the abbots of St Gall undertook attempts to recatholicise Toggenburg in the frame of the Counter-Reformation. In all municipalities, including the almost completely Reformed ones, the position of Catholics was strengthened, and new Catholic churches were built in several towns, so that the common usage of parish churches was no longer required.

In the 17th century the prince-abbots and their worldly magistrates, the Landeshofmeister, began to organise the abbatial sovereign territories more strictly and subject them to an at least tentatively modern governance in the frame of the absolutist practice of the day. This resulted in conflicts by the infringement of the Protestant clergy by the abbatial authorities. In 1663, for example, the abbatial governor of Toggenburg in Lichtensteig, Wolfgang Friedrich Schorno, tried to pass the death sentence to vicar Jeremias Braun there, because he allegedly committed blasphemy during a Reformed sermon. It was only because of the interference by the Protestant canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden that Braun could be saved – but he had to accept his banishment nonetheless. After an intervention of their protector cantons four years later, the Toggenburgers succeeded in having Schorno removed from office by abbot Gallus Alt (r. 1654–1687).

In 1695, in the frame of the Counter-Reformation, the seven Catholic cantons of the Confederacy and the prince-abbot of St Gall formed an alliance for the salvation of Catholicism against the "un-Catholic religion". To strengthen the connections between the Imperial Abbey and Catholic Central Switzerland, Schwyz proposed to prince-abbot Leodegar Bürgisser (r. 1696–1717) in 1699 to construct a new road over the Ricken Pass, strategically and economically important for the Catholic cantons, between Uznach and Wattwil. This would enable a rapid movement of Catholic troops to Toggenburg and the Princely Lands in case of war.

After the settlement of the "Cross War" with the also Reformed Imperial City of St. Gallen in 1697, prince-abbot Bürgisser ordered the municipality of Wattwil to start construction of the road over the Ricken Pass on the Toggenburg side through socage. Out of the refusal of the Wattwilers to collaborate to building the road, which they regarded as a threat to their religious freedom as well as financial suppression, a serious conflict with the prince-abbot arose. The abbot eventually resolved to simply incarcerate the highest Toggenburg magistrate, the Landweibel Josef Germann, to break the opposition. Because Germann was a Catholic, the complaints of the Toggenburgers were heard by the protector cantons, which began acting on behalf of the Toggenburgers. In this situation, Landeshofmeister Fidel von Thurn moved the abbot to seek diplomatic ties within the Holy Roman Empire, concluding a protection treaty with Emperor Leopold I of Habsburg in 1702,[5] and even receiving the investiture as Imperial Prince in 1706. These events threatened to raise the conflict to a European level. Moreover, this constituted a grave breach of the structure and sovereignty of the Confederacy: the Imperial Abbey of St Gall seemed to entirely escape the influence of the Confederacy (of which it was a member since 1451) and enter into the Austrian sphere of influence (while the Swiss had fought for centuries to uphold their independence from the Habsburgers). Especially both Appenzells, but also Zürich, could not accept such a turn of affairs. Besides that, the Princely Lands housed the fourth greatest population within the Confederacy, and was also of essential economic importance to Eastern Switzerland.[6]

The Toggenburgers sought and found allies, mainly in their protector cantons of Schwyz and Glarus, with whom they renewed their Landrecht in 1703 and 1704. Moreover, the Protestant outposts Zürich and Bern were becoming more and more supportive of the Toggenburg cause. In 1707, they presented the prince-abbot with a mediation proposal, in which Toggenburg would be granted far-reaching autonomy, to which however the abbot did not respond. With that a series of events began that eventually amounted to an escalation to war.[5]


The first step towards escalation was made by the Toggenburgers, with the approval of Bern and Zürich, by adopting a design for a constitution on 23 March 1707 at a Landsgemeinde at Wattwil, which installed an autonomous governance for Toggenburg while maintaining the sovereignty of the Imperial Abbey of St Gall over it. With it, the Toggenburgers acted upon the example given by Appenzell as a Landsgemeinde democracy. All abbatial magistrates and the governor were extradited and freedom of religion was promulgated, which obviously turned against the interests of the Catholic cantons. Therefore, the Catholic protector canton of Schwyz defected to the camp of the prince-abbot, whereby the conflict now assumed a clearly religious character, and the Confederacy chose sides along its fault lines of faith for either the prince-abbot of St Gall or the Reformed Toggenburgers. Attempts at mediation by Imperial and French envoys to the Confederacy failed, and the Reformed cantons urged to settle the conflict before the end of the War of the Spanish Succession, to diminish the likelihood of a foreign intervention.

The struggle reached such a peak that the Toggenburgers armed themselves with the support of Zürich, and occupied the abbatial fortresses at Lütisburg, Iberg and Schwarzenbach in 1710. The interfaith strifes were now splitting the Toggenburgers themselves along religious boundaries in the moderate "Lime Tree" (Linde) and the radical "Pine" (Harte), so that in 1711, several Catholic municipalities once again subjected themselves to the abbot. The "Pines" then militarily occupied these municipalities, the abbatial goods and the monasteries of Magdenau and Neu St. Johann – with the tacit approval of Bern and Zürich. This incident definitively forced the prince-abbot to take military counteractions, and it also meant an escalation on Confederate level.

On 13 April 1712, Bern and Zürich published a manifesto against the prince-abbot of St Gall and thereby revealed their support for the Toggenburgers. On the opposite side, the five Catholic inner cantons of Lucerne, Schwyz, Uri, Zug and Unterwalden published a counter-manifesto, and armed themselves for war. Bern and Zürich found support with the city of Geneva and the Principality of Neuchâtel as well as its allies in the Prince-Bishopric of Basel: Biel, Moutier and La Neuveville. The five cantons found support with Valais[1] and in their Vogteien in Ticino as well as in the Freie Ämter. The remaining cantons stayed neutral, the Catholic cantons of Fribourg and Solothurn without regard to Bern and France, the Reformed city of St Gallen was surrounded by the abbatial territory, Glarus internally divided. Although the Three Leagues did mobilise in favour of the Protestant cause because of their alliance with Zürich from 1707, they did not participate in any combat actions.

War course

Because Bern and Zürich had been preparing the war for a long time, they seized the offensive. Bern opened the first war phase on 26 April, when its first troops crossed the river Aar at Stilli, to support Zürich with the occupation of Thurgau and the assault on the abbatial lands. In mid-May, about 3000 Zürichers, 2000 Bernese, 2000 Toggenburgers and 1800 Protestant Thurgauers marched into the Princely Lands and first hit upon the abbatial city of Wil, that fell on 22 May after a short siege.[7] The allies then pushed forward to St. Gallen and occupied the Abbey of Saint Gall and the Vogtei Rheintal. The abbot fled to Neuravensburg, a lordship north of Lake Constance that the abbey had acquired in 1699. The five Catholic cantons did occupy Rapperswil, but initially left the abbot without any support. In concordance with contemporaneous laws of war, the abbey and its goods were put an under a military governance and the chattel and riches were abducted to Bern and Zürich.

Just like in the First War of Villmergen, the canton of Aargau became the most important stage of combat. The five cantons occupied the cities of Baden, Mellingen and Bremgarten with their strategic fords, thereby threatening to drive a wedge between Zürich and Bern. The Bernese immediately launched a counteroffensive under command of general-major Jean de Sacconay, and already on 22 May, the forces clashed in the county of Baden near Mellingen. The battle went in favour of the Bernese, who subsequently took the city. On 26 May, they were also victorious at the Battle of Fischbach and occupied Bremgarten. United with the Zürcher troops, the Bernese marched towards Baden, that was forced to surrender on 1 June. The fortress of the Catholic city, the Stein, that had been built after the First War of Villmergen despite protests from the Reformed cantons, was immediately destroyed to symbolise the Protestant victory. With that Bern and Zürich had successfully prevented that the five cantons would split them in Aargau. The five cantons then moved towards peace negotiations on 3 June, and on 18 July 1712 Zürich, Bern, Lucerne and Uri signed a treaty in Aarau. This decided that the five cantons would lose their share in the Gemeine Herrschaften of the county of Baden and (partially) the Freie Ämter.

The second, much bloodier phase of the war was triggered by the Landsgemeinden of Schwyz, Zug and Unterwalden who, after being influenced by the papal nuncio Caraccioli, had rejected the treaty of Aarau. In Lucerne and Uri, too, the people demanded from the government to take up arms once more against the Protestant cantons. On 20 July, the first strike of the forces of the five cantons on the Bernese armed bands occurred at Sins, who then retreated to join the main guard of Bern at Muri (Battle of Sins). On 22 July, the Schwyzer and Zuger troops launched an attack against the Zürcher redoubts at Richterswil and Hütten, without success. On 25 July, Villmergen once again became the site of the decisive battle. The 8000 men strong Bernese companies under the command of Samuel Frisching, Niklaus von Diesbach and Jean de Sacconay fought against 12,000 men from Central Switzerland under command of Franz Konrad von Sonnenberg and Ludwig Christian Pfyffer. The lengthy undecided battle was finally determined by the intervention of a fresh corps from Seengen en Lenzburg as well as the superior Bernese artillery. At the conclusion of the battle, the Catholics lost 2,000 killed.[8] After their victory in the Second Battle of Villmergen, the Bernese and Zürichers advanced into the Lucernese territory, the land of Zug, across the Brünig Pass to Unterwalden, and via Rapperswil to the Linthebene, after which the resistance of the five cantons finally collapsed.[9]

Peace of Aarau or "Fourth Landfrieden"

At the Peace of Aarau of 11 August 1712, the Fourth Landfrieden in the history of the Confederacy, Bern and Zürich secured their rule over the Gemeine Herrschaften. With this, the since 1531 existing political hegemony of the Catholic cantons in the Gemeine Herrschaften came to an end.[10] This simultaneously meant the restoration of a compromised religious peace within the Old Confederacy.

The territorial conditions for peace were somewhat sharpened compared to the first peace treaty:

  • Zürich and Bern together with Glarus maintained their ownership of the county of Baden and the lower Freie Ämter, limited by a line between Oberlunkhofen and Fahrwangen. This secured the military connection between Zürich and the Bernese land of Aargau, as well as blocking the Catholic cantons' access to the North.
  • The lordship of Rapperswil was acquired by Zürich, Bern and Glarus.
  • The Schwyzer Hurden (in Freienbach) became a Gemeine Herrschaft of Zürich and Bern.
  • From now on, Bern had co-rule in all Gemeine Herrschaften in which it previously did not have a share: Thurgau, the Vogtei Rheintal, the county of Sargans and the upper Freie Ämter.
  • Inside the Gemeine Herrschaften and Toggenburg, subjects kept their right to exercise both the Catholic and the Protestant religion.

Further stretching Zürcher claims to the county of Uznach, Höfe (lost in the Old Zürich War) and the Vogtei Gaster were not supported by Bern and the other cantons.

Juridically, the Fourth Landfrieden made the Second Landfrieden of Kappel of 1531, confirmed at the Third Landfrieden in 1656, cease to function. Because of this, the Protestant religion was formally treated equally before the law in the Tagsatzung as well as in the governance of the Vogteien, and in all conflicts in which both religions were concerned there was parity from now on. In the Landvogteien Thurgau, Baden, Sargans and Rheintal, the Reformed municipalities now kept the guarantee of their religious exercise under Zürcher sovereignty, while the rights of the Catholics were secured. Instead of mere tolerance, the Protestants now received equal treatment before the law to the traditionally favoured Catholic religion. A "Landfriedliche Kommission", composed of representatives from Zürich, Bern, Lucerne en Uri, would now keep oversight in matters of religion.[11]

The prince-abbot of Saint Gall, Leodegar Bürgisser, went into exile with his convent on 29 May to Neuravensburg Castle, the residence of a new lordship of St Gall north of Lindau. Zürich and Bern occupied the Princely Lands and governed it together. A large part of the monastic movable goods that were left behind in St. Gallen, including parts of the archive of and the library, were taken away by them. Because of the in his eyes outrageous damaging of the rights of the Imperial Abbey and the danger posed to the Catholic religion in Toggenburg, abbot Bürgisser obtained the Peace of Rohrschach, that was finally approved on 28 March 1714 after a series of negotiations with Zürich and Bern. After the death of prince-abbot Bürgisser, a new treaty, the Peace of Baden, was concluded with his successor Joseph von Rudolphi (r. 1717–1740) on 16 June 1718. The Imperial Abbey of St Gall was restored, including its rule over Toggenburg, while its autonomy and freedom of religion were confirmed.

Zürich and Bern ratified the Peace on 11 August 1718. The fact that pope Clement XI would denounce the peace in a letter shortly after, no longer had any effect on the settlement of the conflict. Abbot von Rudolphi returned to the monastery of St Gall on 7 September 1718 after a six-year exile. On 23 March 1719, he was able to retrieve a large part of the library that was abducted to Zürich at the start of the war. Further objects from the Bernese spoils of war were returned to St. Gallen in 1721. Despite this, several valuable pieces of the monastic library of St Gall remained in Zürich, including manuscripts, paintings, astronomy tools and the Globe of St Gall. The cultural goods conflict (Kulturgüterstreit) between Zürich and St. Gallen, that resurged in the 1990s, was finally settled amicably in 2006.

The animosity between the Imperial Abbey and Toggenburg increased further until the abolishment of the monastic state in 1798, after two abbatial magistrates were murdered in 1735 and a 1739 conference in Frauenfeld between the parties also did not yield any results.

See also

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