The Late Middle Ages and beyond

The Rütli meadow
The Rütli meadow © Markus Schweiss

Since the end of the 19th century, the Federal Charter (Bundesbrief) of 1291 has been considered as the founding document of the present-day Swiss Confederation. In this ancient pact, the valley communities of Uri, Schwyz and Nidwalden pledged to keep the peace and to assist each other against any external threat to their freedom.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, rural and urban communities formed a loose federation. By the end of the 1400s, it was strong enough to affect the balance of power in Europe. Various wars were fought in which the Confederates displayed courage and ingenuity, and they gained a reputation as a formidable opponent in combat. The Confederation was enlarged in various ways with some areas joining voluntarily and as equal or subordinate members while others were bought or conquered. Consequently, citizens’ rights varied from one place to next.

The members of the Confederation mainly managed the affairs of their own regions but met regularly to discuss issues of common interest. Known as “Tagsatzung”, these meetings were held in Lucerne, Zurich, Bern and Baden and were attended by one or two representatives from each member of the Confederation.

The Late Middle Ages and beyond (PDF, 303.0 kB, English)