Federal Charter of 1291
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The Federal Charter or Letter of Alliance (German: Bundesbrief) documents the Eternal Alliance or League of the Three Forest Cantons (German: Ewiger Bund der Drei Waldstätten), the union of three cantons in what is now central Switzerland. It is dated in early August, 1291 and initiates the current August 1 national Swiss holiday. This agreement cites a previous (lost or most likely not existent in written form) similar pact. It is currently exhibited at the archives of the Swiss Charters of Confederation in Schwyz.
This inaugural confederation grew through a long series of accessions to modern Switzerland. The Alliance was concluded between the people of the alpine areas of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden (homines vallis Uranie universitasque vallis de Switz ac communitas hominum Intramontanorum Vallis Inferioris). The participants are referred to as conspirati and (synonymously) coniurati, traditionally translated in German as "Eidgenossen".
The charter was set up as a canon for judicature and defense purposes (only two of seven paragraphs address foreign dangers), probably prompted by the death of Rudolf I of Habsburg on 15 July 1291 to ensure legal certainty.
The authenticity of the letter used to be disputed as a supposed modern forgery but modern historians now agree that it is certainly a product of the 14th century: In 1991, the parchment was radiocarbon dated to between 1252 and 1312 (with a certainty of 85%). The document is thus certainly not a late forgery tied to the emergence of the modern federal state in 1848. It should rather be seen in the context of chapter 15 of the Golden Bull of 1356, where Charles IV outlawed any conjurationes, confederationes, and conspirationes, meaning in particular the city alliances (Städtebünde), but also other communal leagues that had sprung up through the communal movement in medieval Europe. It should be mentioned that it was very common to produce documents only when needed in this period; agreements were made by word of mouth (which is still a legal form of contract in Switzerland today), which means the date of any documents was subject to "moving" through time to meet the purpose of the document.
The abovementioned archive shows the following additional charters:
- 1315: Federal Charter of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden 9 December 1315
- 1332: Charter of the City of Lucerne with Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden
- 1352: Charter with Glarus
- 1352: Charter with Zug
- 1451: Contract with St. Gallen Abbey and Zurich, Lucerne and Schwyz and Glarus
- 1454: Eternal Contract for St. Gallen with Zurich, Bern, Lucerne and Schwyz, Zug and Glarus
- 1464: Contract of Rapperswil with the abovementioned
- 1481: Contract of Freiburg und Solothurn
- 1501: Contract with Basel of which the number of copies is known to be 11, corresponding to the 11 seals.
- 1501: Contract with Schaffhausen
- 1513: Contract with Appenzell
- Visitor Information to the Bundesbriefmuseum
- Radio carbon result by ETH
- German (modern) translation of the 1501 contract including some history (german)
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