1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Winkelried, Arnold von
WINKELRIED, ARNOLD VON. The incident with which this name is connected is, after the feat of William Tell, the best known and most popular in the early history of the Swiss Confederation. We are told how, at a critical moment in the great battle of Sempach, when the Swiss had failed to break the serried ranks of the Austrian knights, a man of Unterwalden, Arnold von Winkelried by name, came to the rescue. Commending his wife and children to the care of his comrades, he rushed towards the Austrians, gathered a number of their spears together against his breast, and fell pierced through and through, having opened a way into the hostile ranks for his fellow-countrymen, though at the price of his own life. But the Tell and Winkelried stories stand in a very different position when looked at in the dry light of history, for, while in the former case imaginary and impossible men (bearing now and then a real historical name) do imaginary and impossible deeds at a very uncertain period, in the latter we have some solid ground to rest on, and Winkelried's act might very well have been performed, though, as yet, the amount of genuine and early evidence in support of it is very far from being sufficient.
The history of the Winkelrieds of Stans from 1248 to 1534 has been minutely worked out from the original documents by Hermann von Liebenau, in a paper published in 1854, and reprinted at Aarau in 1862, with much other matter, in his book, Arnold von Winkelried, seine Zeit und seine That. They were a knightly family when we first hear of them about 1250, though towards the end of the 14th century they seem to have been but simple men without the honours of knighthood, and not always using their prefix "von." Among its members we find an Erni Winkelried acting as a witness to a contract of sale on the 1st of May 1367, while the same man, or perhaps another member of the family, Erni von Winkelried, is plaintiff in a suit at Stans on the 29th of September 1389, and in 1417 is the landamman (or head man) of Unterwalden, being then called Arnold Winkelriet. We have, therefore, a real man named Arnold Winkelried living at Stans about the time of the battle of Sempach. The question is thus narrowed to the points, Was he present at the battle, and did he then perform the deed commonly attributed to him? This involves a minute investigation of the history of that battle, to ascertain if there are any authentic traces of this incident, or any opportunity for it to have taken place.
1. Evidence of Chronicles.—The earliest known mention of the incident is found in a Zurich chronicle (discovered in 1862 by G. von Wyss), which is a copy, made in 1476, of a chronicle written in or at any rate not earlier than 1438, though it is wanting in the 16th-century transcript of another chronicle written in 1466, which up to 1389 closely agrees with the former It appears in the well known form, but the hero is stated to be ein getrüwer man under den Eidgenozen, no name being given, and it seems clear that his death did not take place at that time. No other mention has been found in any of the numerous Swiss or Austrian chronicles till we come to the book De Helvetiae origine, written in 1538 by Rudolph Gwalther (Zwingli's son-in-law), when the hero is still nameless, being compared to Decius or Codrus, but is said to have been killed by his brave act. Finally, we read the full story in the original draft of Giles Tschudi's chronicle, where the hero is described as "a man of Unterwalden, of the Winkelried family," this being expanded in the final recension of the chronicle (1564) into "a man of Unterwalden, Arnold von Winckelried by name, a brave knight," while he is entered (in the same book, on the authority of the "Anniversary Book" of Stans, now lost) on the list of those who fell at Sempach at the head of the Nidwalden (or Stans) men as "Herr Arnold von Winckelriet, Ritter," this being in the first draft "Arnold Winckelriet."
2. Ballads.—There are several war songs on the battle of Sempach which have come down to us, but in one only is there mention of Winkelried and his deed. This is a long ballad of 67 four-line stanzas, part of which (including the Winkelried section) is found in the additions made between 1531 and 1545 to Etterlin’s chronicle by H. Berlinger of Basel, and the whole in Werner Steiner's chronicle (written 1532). It is agreed on all sides that the last stanza, attributing the authorship to Halbsuter of Lucerne, "as he came back from the battle," is a very late addition. Many authorities regard it as made up of three distinct songs (one of which refers to the battle and Winkelried), possibly put together by the younger Halbsuter (citizen of Lucerne in 1435, died between 1470 and 1480), though others contend that the Sempach-Winkelried section bears clear traces of having been composed after the Reformation began, that is, about 1520 or 1530. Some recent discoveries have proved that certain statements in the song usually regarded as anachronisms are quite accurate; but no nearer approach has been made towards fixing its exact date, or that of any of the three bits into which it has been cut up. In this song the story appears in its full-blown shape, the name of Winckelriet being given.
3. Lists of those who fell at Sempach.—We find in the "Anniversary Book" of Emmetten in Unterwalden (drawn up in 1560) the name of "der Winkelriedt" at the head of the Nidwalden men, and in a book by Horolanus, a pastor at Lucerne (about 1563), that of "Erni Winckelried" occurs some way down the list of Unterwalden men.
4. Pictures and Drawings.—In the MS. of the chronicle of Diebold Schilling of Bern (c. 1480) there is in the picture of the battle of Sempach a warrior pierced with spears falling to the ground, which may possibly be meant for Winkelried; while in that of Diebold Schilling of Lucerne (1511), though in the text no allusion is made to any such incident, there is a similar picture of a man who has accomplished Winkelried's feat, but he is dressed in the colours of Lucerne. Then there is an engraving in Stumpf's chronicle (1548), and, finally, the celebrated one by Hans Rudolf Manuel (1551), which follows the chronicle of 1476 rather than the ballad.
The story seems to have been first questioned about 1850 by Moritz von Stürler of Bern, but the public discussion of the subject originated with a lecture by O. Lorenz on Leopold III. und die Schweizer Bünde, which he delivered in Vienna on March 21, 1860. This began the lively paper war humorously called "the second war of Sempach," in which the Swiss (with but rare exceptions) maintained the historical character of the feat against various foreigners—Austrians and others.
Most of the arguments against the genuineness of the story have been already more or less directly indicated, (1) There is the total silence of all the old Swiss and Austrian chroniclers until 1538, with the solitary exception of the Zurich chronicle of 1476 (and this while they nearly all describe the battle in more or less detail). The tale, as told in the 1476 chronicle, is clearly an interpolation, for it comes immediately after a distinct statement that "God had helped the Confederates, and that with great labour they had defeated the knights and Duke Leopold," while the passage immediately following joins on to the former quite naturally if we strike out the episode of the "true man," who is not even called Winkelried. (2) The date of the ballad is extremely uncertain, but cannot be placed earlier than at least 60 or 70 years after the battle, possibly 130 or 140, so that its claims to be regarded as embodying an oral contemporary tradition are of the slightest. (3) Similar feats have been frequently recorded, but in each case they are supported by authentic evidence which is lacking in this case. Five cases at least are known: a follower of the count of Hapsburg, in a skirmish with the Bernese in 1271; Stülinger of Ratisbon (Regensburg) in 1332, in the war of the count of Kyburg against the men of Bern and Solothurn; Conrad Royt of Lucerne, at Nancy in 1477; Henri Wolleben, at Frastanz in 1499, in the course of the Swabian War; and a man at the battle of Kappel in 1531 (4) It is argued that the course of the battle was such that there was little or no chance of such an act being performed, or, if performed, of having turned the day. This argument rests on the careful critical narrative of the fight constructed by Herr Kleissner and Herr Hartmann from the contemporary accounts which have come down to us, in which the pride of the knights, their heavy armour, the heat of the July sun, the panic which befell a sudden part of the Austrian army, added to the valour of the Swiss fully explain the complete rout. Herr Hartmann, too, points out that, even if the knights (on foot) had been ranged in serried ranks, there must have been sufficient space left between them to allow them to move their arms, and therefore that no man, however gigantic he might have been, could have seized hold of more than half a dozen spears at once.
Herr K. Bürkli (Der wahre Winkelried,-die Taktik der alten Urschweizer, Zürich, 1886) has put forth a theory of the battle which is, he allows, opposed to all modern accounts, but entirely agrees, he strongly maintains, with the contemporary authorities. According to this the fight was not a pitched battle but a surprise, the Austrians not having had time to form up into ranks. Assuming this, and rejecting the evidence of the 1476 chronicle as an interpolation and full of mistakes, and that of the song as not proved to have been in existence before 1531, Herr Bürkli comes to the startling conclusion that the phalanx formation of the Austrians, as well as the name and act of Winkelried, have been transferred to Sempach from the fight of Bicocca, near Milan (April 27, 1522), where a real leader of the Swiss mercenaries in the pay of France, Arnold Winkelried, really met his death in very much the way that his namesake perished according to the story. Herr Bürkli confines his criticism to the first struggle, in which alone mention is made of the driving back of the Swiss, pointing out also that the chronicle of 1476 and other later accounts attribute to the Austrians the manner of attack and the long spears which were the special characteristics of Swiss warriors, and that if Winkelried were a knight (as is asserted by Tschudi) he would have been clad in a coat of mail, or at least had a breastplate, neither of which could have been pierced by hostile lances.
Whatever may be thought of this daring theory, it seems clear that, while there is some doubt as to whether such an act as Winkelried's was possible at Sempach, taking into account the known details of the battle, there can be none as to the utter lack of any early and trustworthy evidence in support of his having performed that act in that battle. It is quite conceivable that such evidence may later come to light; for the present it is wanting.Authorities.—See in particular Theodor von Liebenau's Die Schlacht bei Sempach—Gedenkbuch zür fünften Säcularfeier (1886), published at the expense of the government of Lucerne. This contains every mention or description of the battle or of anything relating to it, published or unpublished, in prose or in verse, composed within 300 years after the battle, and is a most marvellous and invaluable collection of original materials, in which all the evidence for Winkelried's deed has been brought together in a handy shape. Besides the works mentioned in the text, and the life of Winkelried by W Oechsli in vol. liii. of the Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, the following are the most noteworthy publications relating to this controversy. In support of Winkelried's act: G. v . Wyss, Über eine Zürcher-Chronik aus dem 15ten Jahrhundert (Zürich, 1862); A. Daguet, "La Question de Winkelried," in the Musée Neuchâtelois for December 1853; G. H. Ochsenbein, "Die Winkelriedfrage," in the Sonntagsblatt of the Bund newspaper for January and February 1879; A. Bernoulli, Winkelrieds That bei Sempach (Basel, 1886); W. Oechsli, Zur Sempacher Schlachtfeier (Zürich, 1886); E. Secretan, Sempach et Winkelried (Lausanne, 1886), and the summary in K. Dändliker's larger Geschichte der Schweiz, i. 550-559 (3rd ed., Zürich, 1893). Against Winkelried's claims we have the remarkable study of O. Kleissner, Die Quellen zur Sempacher Schlacht und die Winkelriedsage (Gottingen, 1873); O. Hartmann, Die Schlacht bei Sempach (Frauenfeld, 1886); and the concise summary of the evidence given by M. v. Stürler (the first to suspect the story) in the Anzeiger für Schweiz. Gcschichte (1881), 392-394.
(W. A. B. C.)