Battle of St. Jakob on the Sihl
The opponents were, on the one hand, the contingents of the federal eight old towns of Lucerne , Schwyz , Glarus , Zug , Uri and Unterwalden, and on the other hand, troops from the imperial city of Zurich and the Habsburgs .
The renewed outbreak of war in May 1443 was sparked by Zurich's refusal to accept the alliance made in 1442 with the newly crowned King Friedrich III. to dissolve, although according to the Federal Letter of 1351 Zurich had the right to alliance with the Confederation. Zurich reacted negatively to the invitation to a federal arbitration tribunal in Einsiedeln , so that Schwyz as the main initiator - and Glarus in its wake - presented the remaining undecided federal places with a fait accompli, and on the night of May 20-21, the city of Zurich and Margrave Wilhelm von Hachberg submitted the declarations of war on behalf of the Austrian rulership.
After the Battle of Freienbach and in particular the Battle of the Hirzel , the Zurich-Austrian coalition fell completely on the defensive at the beginning of the war. The main star of Zurich withdrew to the city of Zurich and had to watch impotently as most of the fortified places in Zurich's area of influence went to the confederates. One after the other, the Aargau cities of Bremgarten , Mellingen and Baden as well as the small towns of Regensberg and Grüningen , located in the city of Zurich, fell to the Confederation, so that basically only Greifensee remained for the people of Zurich and Rapperswil and Winterthur in the immediate vicinity of Zurich remained for the people of Austria . After the capture of Grüningen, the federal army broke up on 17/18. June to bring in the haymaking and to equip again.
Then they wanted to march into the field again. It had previously been agreed with the city of Bern and Solothurn that they, together with Basel , should open a second theater of war directed against Austria in Laufenburg . At this point in time, Bern apparently still wanted to avoid direct action against Zurich; Bern and Solothurn therefore took part only hesitantly in the first move towards Zurich, and not at all in the second because of this agreement.
The contingents from Central Switzerland turned directly against Zurich. The Schwyzers and Glarners gathered in Kappel and set out on the morning of July 22nd to advance via Hedingen and Bonstetten towards Zurich. On the Uetliberg , a Schwyz vanguard encountered a detachment of around 200 people from Zurich who were repulsed in the battle on the Uetliberg . After further battles with mounted units of the Zürcher near Albisrieden , the Schwyzer and Glarus now received inflows from the contingents from Lucerne, Zug, Uri and Unterwalden, which had previously set out from Knonau . The Central Swiss Army increased to about 6000 men.
At the news of the approach of the Confederates, some of the Zurich troops under Mayor Rudolf Stüssi withdrew from the city in a disorderly manner. Two troop gatherings formed on the Sihlfeld; the larger unit consisted of soldiers and mounted men, the smaller unit, consisting only of mounted men, was a bit apart.
Since January 1443, Marshal Thuringia II von Hallwyl has been in command of the entire Zurich troops ; the latter was enraged by the striking lack of discipline of their own troops when they were deployed. Due to the hostile superiority and knowledge of their combat strength, the feud entrepreneur Hans von Rechberg suggested to the Zurich council that the troops should be taken back into a strategically favorable defensive position behind the Sihl so that they would not have to get involved in an open field battle and bring their own firearms to full advantage to be able to. The total of around 500 mounted men were supposed to inflict the greatest possible damage on the enemy through rapid attacks and to induce him to attack the main position behind the Sihl. In addition, in the event of a defeat, one can withdraw unhindered into the city, and in the event of a victory one can easily pursue the fleeing people.
On the federal side, they did not want to take direct action against the Zurich positions because they feared being exposed to the opposing artillery and cavalry; a bypass movement was therefore planned via Wiedikon in order to fall on the flank and, if possible, to prevent a retreat into the city.
The soldiers on the Sihlfeld, however, disregarded the order to march back behind the Sihl, and gathered completely disorderly on the meadows by the Sihlbrücke near the infirmary and the St. Jakob chapel, at today's Stauffacher tram stop and today's Reformed Church of St. Jakob in Zurich- Aussersihl . The "Klingenberg Chronicle" According to it found the troops on the Sihlfeld as honorable enough to retreat into a defensive position. It was neglected to organize the army properly and to send out guards and reconnaissance troops. Due to the heavy consumption of wine, there were also folk festival-like scenes on the Sihlfeld.
In the meantime, raids on the Confederates, who had set out in an orderly manner in the direction of Wiedikon, were scheduled to take place. Even before they reached Wiedikon, a federal vanguard got involved in battles with the Zurich cavalry, in which the main federal power immediately intervened. When the riders wanted to retreat to the defensive positions as planned, they had to find out that the Zurich armed forces were not in the intended place. Most of them joined the foot troops in order to sit down there and to face the enemy.
According to a letter to the city of Zurich that was sent shortly afterwards, the Confederates used a ruse: to the confusion of the defenders, they changed their army symbol by wearing the Confederate’s white identification cross on their back and the Habsburg red cross on the front. Mayor Stüssi was deceived by this and ordered his crossbowmen - assuming they had their own troops in front of them - not to shoot.
When the battle began with the now attacking federal vanguard of around 300 men, the people of Zurich were unable to withstand the onslaught at the beginning of the fight and turned in a disorderly manner to flee over the bridge towards the Rennwegtor . Mayor Stüssi did not succeed in gathering enough people for an orderly resistance, but he tried to cover the retreat of the Zurich troops with the rearguard he had left. According to witnesses, Stüssi fell on the Sihl Bridge. The Swiss vanguard pursued the Swiss vanguard right up to the city gates, while the main crowd stopped at the Sihl.
According to tradition, some confederates managed to get into the city itself behind the fleeing Zurich. Only the attentive wife of the gatekeeper at the Rennweg gate, Anna Ziegler, saved Zurich by lowering the portcullis at the right time.
The Schwyzer Landschreiber Hans Fründ , who personally took part in the federal campaign, gives the fallen on the part of the Zurich people with at least 300 dead, including those who died later from the wounds. The number is based on a count of the harnesses captured; it is also said to be a minimum number, since the people of Zurich were able to recover many corpses when they withdrew to the city. On the part of the city of Zurich, on the other hand, the dead were given as 130 to 155 dead, including three nobles and around 30 to 40 mercenaries . Civilians who ventured out of the city out of curiosity are said to have been among the dead. The St. Gallen Abbey Library (140 dead), the “Klingenberger Chronik” (145 dead), the “Chronik der Stadt Zürich” (150 dead), as well as the well-known Canon Felix Hemmerlin (151 dead) and City chronicler Gerold Edlibach (160 dead). There are no reliable figures for the federal side.
Along with Mayor Stüssi, the commander of the Austrian troops, Baron Albrecht VII von Bussnang , also fell; he died in the chapel of St. Jacob behind the high altar. Among the dead was the Zurich town clerk Michael Stebler (called Graf), an exponent of Zurich's Austrian politics, who was allegedly stabbed to death by a man from Küsnacht , that is, from the Zurich countryside.
The city of Zurich leadership always emphasized that the enemy was exaggerating the Zurich loss figures. "If we lose one, then write through the whole country, we have lost twenty" . However, they also tended to correct their own losses downwards so as not to endanger their own morale. However, this also applied to the Confederates, who wrote to the imperial cities after the battle of Freienbach (around 40 dead on the Zurich side) that the enemy had suffered the heaviest losses. The people of Zurich always pointed out that they had hired foreign mercenaries so that there would be less "screaming" among the Zurich women in the city in the event of losses . Nevertheless, after the battles on the Hirzel and St. Jakob an der Sihl, which were devastating for Zurich, the rumor spread as far as Strasbourg that 1,500 people from Zurich had died in the war so far, and that is why there are around 900 widows in the city.
Death and desecration of the corpse of Rudolf Stüssi
The death of the knight Rudolf Stüssi on the Sihl Bridge provided a lot of material for discussion. According to tradition, he was one of the last defenders to fall and a confederate stabbed him from below through the planks of the bridge. This story, which underlines the heroism of Stüssi and the cowardice of the Confederates, is probably Zurich propaganda from the time of the Old Zurich War. Stüssi's death on the Sihl Bridge is, however, attested. According to a non-contemporary version, Stüssi should stop in the middle of the bridge, swing his battle ax and say "Stop, citizens, stop!" have shouted : To this a man from Zurich is said to have replied: “That God's wounds desecrate you! We have this essence from you alone » , and pierced the mayor with his lance.
The Zurich mayor was evidently particularly hated by the Swiss, especially the Schwyz. According to the chronic reports, his corpse was desecrated by federal warriors: They hung up the body, cut it open, removed the heart, stuck a cow's tail into it (as a mocking symbol) and rubbed shoes, boots and the leather on the spurs with Stüssis body fat. Finally, they provided the remains of the body with peacock feathers (the symbol of the Austrian party). The veracity of this desecration of the corpse was questioned contrary to numerous chronic reports in the older research; However, there is no reason to doubt these descriptions, especially since such brutal actions occurred several times in the Old Zurich War, as even with Count Friedrich VII of Toggenburg , whose death in 1436 originally triggered this war and also became another prominent one in 1443 in the Rüti monastery Desecration of corpses (see section on death and desecration of the grave ); In addition, the trade in human fat operated by soldiers was quite a common practice. The desecration of Stüssi's corpse was confirmed by a clientele of the Zurich city tour and was never denied in the numerous letters of justification from Schwyz. It points primarily to an increasing general brutality, cruelty as a result of increased hatred and sometimes fanaticism as early as the war year 1443. According to other reports, it was not uncommon for women to have their fingers and arms cut off to make it easier to get at the jewelry.
Although the impending conquest of the city could be averted, Zurich was at the most critical point during the entire war. In the wake of the defeat, panic broke out among the townspeople; some of the people barricaded themselves in their houses. The Austrian leadership also feared that pro-federalists could open the gates for their opponents or even bring about an overthrow. Since a siege was expected, the Zurich council transferred the management and the keys of the Zurich city gates to Margrave Wilhelm von Hachberg . He had not previously taken part in the Zurich move - allegedly he was afraid of being locked out - and handed each of the gates to a nobleman for guarding. These were the Counts Wilhelm von Lützelstein and Ludwig von Helfenstein as well as the knights Burkhard VII. Münch and Hans von Rechberg .
Incremental material about alleged traitors was also started. A well-known example is a surviving protocol in which Anna von Hewen (1429–1484), the abbess of the Fraumünster , was accused by witnesses of having held fairs for the benefit of the enemy during the battle and of enjoying the events that were damaging to Zurich. She was also accused of looking like a pregnant woman and having a relationship with the former mayor of Zurich, Rudolf Meis, an exponent of the city's federal party.
By stopping the main Harst in front of the Sihl, a storm on the city moved into the distance. Apparently the federal side did not seriously consider besieging the city or daring a storm. They stayed for four days on the Sihlfeld to rob the fallen and plunder the houses in the suburbs. The booty included the Zurich flag, a few hundred head of cattle, several stallions by Austrian riders as well as weapons, armor and money. After the federal soldiers were very effectively shot at from the city walls, they finally withdrew. Before that, the houses in front of the city including the churches of St. Anna and St. Stephan were burned down, and the Selnau monastery was completely devastated; the villages of Altstetten , Albisrieden, Wiedikon and Kilchberg were also affected. On July 26th, the federal army withdrew to Baden for unsuccessful negotiations before returning to Zurich to visit the area around Höngg . The army then moved via Zollikon and Küsnacht to Rapperswil , which was enclosed and besieged on July 29th. Rapperswil held out without any problems, but the military stalemate of 1443 on August 9 led to the "Peace of Rapperswil" (also called "wretched peace" in the Zurich Chronicle ), an armistice brokered by Bishop Heinrich von Hewen of Constance , which was valid until 23 August April 1444. From this date the war broadened, the acts of war dragged on uninterruptedly until June 12, 1446; the subsequent peace negotiations lasted another four years.
The sources and research agree that any conquest of Zurich would have led to an immediate end to the war. It is unclear why the captains of the Confederates let the main Harst hold on the Sihl and thus did not take advantage of the military success of their vanguard. Basically, you could almost call this a “miracle on the Sihl” . The reasons for this could be as follows: on the one hand there was hope that the people of Zurich would give in in the face of the threat, on the other hand it is also possible that the captains deliberately tried to prevent a massacre. A conquest of Zurich by 6,000 unleashed soldiers might have led to a bloodbath among the population and a complete pillage and perhaps even extensive destruction of the city. The murder of numerous nobles could hardly have been prevented, which would have caused quite a stir. In addition, the main point of contention among the adversaries at the time of the war was above all the interpretation of the law of alliances among allies; For these reasons it could not be in the interests of the Confederates to damage Zurich to such an extent.
As for the battle itself, what is most evident is the lack of discipline on both sides. The tactical plans of both sides were not implemented or only insufficiently. On the federal side, the advance in the direction of Wiedikon began in an orderly manner, but it quickly dissolved due to the fighting with the mounted units and the meeting was ultimately decided by the impetuous, violent impact of the only 300-strong, extremely belligerent federal vanguard. On the Zurich side, the non-compliance with Thuringian II von Hallwyl's orders to withdraw the troops behind the Sihl was decisive, which undermined the whole plan. In a good defensive position, an opposing attack could well have been stopped. The lack of education and preparation as well as the alcohol consumption of the people of Zurich on the Sihlfeld may have contributed to the defeat. The execution of the Zurich-Austrian plan only worked properly with regard to the attacks by the mounted soldiers.
The change of the standard by the Confederates, which the Confederates always denied, is also not certain. On June 22nd, 1444, they decided at a meeting to write a justification to the electors in this matter. Allegedly, doubly marked casualties were found by the people of Zurich. In addition to the above-mentioned letter, the "Klingenberger Chronik" also reports on it . However, this adds: "That sig now or sig nit, so I'll leave that" .
- Hans Stadler: Sankt Jakob an der Sihl, battle at. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland .
- Martin Illi: Old Zurich War. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland .
- Klingenberger Chronik around 1460
- Hans Fründ : Chronicle of the Old Zurich War. From 1447.
- Peter Niederhäuser, Christian Sieber: A "fratricidal war" makes history. 2006
- Gerold Edlibach : Zurich and Swiss Chronicle. 1485/1486.
- Heinrich Zschokke : The history of Switzerland for the Swiss people. 1855.
- Alois Niederstätter: The Old Zurich War 1995