We turn first to Switzerland, lying in the midst of the great chain of the Alps which extends from the Mediterranean to Vienna. During the Middle Ages the region destined to be included in the Swiss Confederation formed a part of the Holy Roman Empire and was scarcely distinguishable from the rest of southern Germany. As early as the thirteenth century the three "forest" cantons on the shores of the winding lake of Lucerne formed a union to protect their liberties against the encroachments of their neighbors, the Hapsburgs. It was about this tiny nucleus that Switzerland, gradually consolidated. Lucerne and the free towns of Zurich and Berne soon joined the Swiss league. By brave fighting the Swiss were able to frustrate the renewed efforts of the Hapsburgs to subjugate them.
Various districts in the neighborhood joined the Swiss union in succession, and even the region lying on the Italian slopes of the Alps was brought under its control. Gradually the bonds between the members of the union and the Empire were broken.
In 1499 they were finally freed from the jurisdiction of the emperor and Switzerland became a practically independent country. Although the original union had been made up of German-speaking people, considerable districts had been annexed in which Italian or French was spoken. The Swiss did not, therefore, form a compact, well-defined nation, and consequently for some centuries their confederation was weak and ill-organized.
In Switzerland the first leader of the revolt against the Church was a young priest named Zwingli, who was a year younger than Luther. He lived in the famous monastery of Einsiedeln, near the Lake of Zurich, which was the center of pilgrimages on account of a wonder-working image. "Here", he says, "I began to preach the Gospel of Christ in the year 1516, before any one in my locality had so much as heard the name of Luther".
Three years later he was called to an influential position as preacher in the cathedral of Zurich, and there his great work really commenced. He then began to denounce the abuses in the Church as well as the shameless traffic in soldiers, which he had long regarded as a blot upon his country's honor.
But the original cantons about the Lake of Lucerne, which feared that they might lose the great influence that, in spite of their small size, they had hitherto enjoyed, were ready to fight for the old faith. The first armed collision between the Swiss Protestants and Catholics took place at Kappel in 1531, and Zwmgtf fell in the battle. The various cantons and towns never came to an agreement in religious matters, and Switzerland is still part Catholic and part Protestant.
Switzerland had made a business, ever since the time when Charles VIII of France invaded Italy, of supplying troops of mercenaries to fight for other countries, especially for France and the pope, and Swiss guards may still be seen in the pope's palace.