no edit summary
Every country has its national heroes, who embody the spirit of the nation. Switzerland’s national hero is William Tell, who is seen as the embodiment of the nation’s love of liberty and its struggle for freedom. Tell is not only a hero in Switzerland but throughout the world, he is widely seen as a symbol of freedom and even of revolution. His audacious marksmanship when he shot an apple off his son’s head is well-known. There have been many works celebrating this hero. He has been the subject of a great opera by Rossini and a classic play by Schiller. However, the issue of the historicity of William Tell has been controversial. For many centuries there are those who denied that he was a historical figure. There are some, including many Swiss nationalists who claim that he was a real person. This article examines the legend of William Tell and determines if there was a real-life hero by that name or was the bowman only a myth.
[[File: William Tell One.jpg|200px|thumb|left|A mural showing William Tell’s arrest by
Modern-day Switzerland was part of the Holy Roman Empire in 1200. In the medieval period global warming, meant that the Alpine valleys became suitable for livestock and this allowed for the population to grow, rapidly. The Swiss territories or cantons were largely autonomous and only nominally controlled by the German Empire. However, this was to change with the rise of the Hapsburg dynasty in neighboring Austria. The Hapsburg’s became the most important power in central Europe and also Holy Roman Emperors. Successive Austrian monarchs began to interfere in the internal affairs of the Swiss Canton and threatened their traditional liberty. They even imposed bailiffs and local rulers on the cantons. Like many mountain-people the Swiss were independent-minded, and they resisted what they saw as Austrian oppression. In 1291 they adopted a federal charter which is still the basis of the Swiss Constitution, and in 1307 several cantons and cities came together to form a confederacy to protect their liberties. The Swiss, who were renowned pike men defeated the Hapsburgs at the Battle of Morgarten (1315) and the Battle of Sempach (1366). The cantons were able to expand their territory and later defeated the Dukes of Burgundy (1477) and their territories became the nucleus for the modern state of Switzerland. The context of the William Tell story is Switzerland’s struggle for independence from the Hapsburgs and its emergence as a nation <ref> Church, Clive H., and Randolph C. Head. A concise history of Switzerland (Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp 45-50</ref>.