1653: Six beheaded and one hanged for the Swiss Peasant War

On this date in 1653, seven ringleaders of Switzerland’s greatest peasant revolt were executed in Basel.

Six were decapitated (like the foreground) and one hanged (find the triangular gallows in the background).

Not widely known now outside of Switzerland, the peasant war of 1653 shook the Swiss city-states so profoundly that it was described in its own time as a revolution.

Like most peasant rebellions, it was triggered by the economy; a recovery of peacable harvests after the Thirty Years’ War ended in 1648 had staggered Swiss peasants who had grown accustomed to selling their produce abroad at a premium. When they were pressed even harder by taxes and currency devaluations inflicted by city-states with their own budget problems, they found their breaking-point.

In February 1653, peasants of the Entlebuch Valley gathered in an illegal assembly and decided to stop tax payments to Lucern until they got some concessions.

To the chagrin of urban grandees, Entlebuch’s refusal soon began garnering sympathetic imitations among its neighbors and peasant resistance spread across the whole north, spanning the put-upon rural dominions of four cities: Lucern, Bern, Basel, and Solothurn.

(cc) image by Lupo.

Tense negotiations continued into April, but Lucern’s concessions were undone by its refusal to offer a blanket amnesty that would also cover the rebellion’s leaders. That May, with the cities still powerless to control affairs, the disaffected peasants throughout the region united in the League of Huttwil — named for the little town where they met. In this cross-confessional compact, Catholic and Protestant peasants made common purpose and declared themselves a sovereignty apart from the cantons. Then, the army they had raised from their number marched on both Lucern and Bern simultaneously, the threatened sieges respectively led by Christian Schybi and Niklaus Leuenberger. Bern was so unprepared for this turn of events that it had to capitulate to the peasantry’s demands, which arrangement led Lucern also to conclude a truce.

In so doing the cities had to capitulate to the peasantry’s economic demands. Had this state of affairs somehow stood, it would have forced a rewrite in the relationship between city and country throughout the Swiss confederation.

And for just that reason, the affected cities as well as nearby Zurich were raising armies to undo the nascent revolution. Within days, troops from Zurich had dealt the peasant force a crushing defeat at the Battle of Wohlenschwil, then united with a Bernese column to conclusively shatter the rebellion. Before June was out, all of Entlebuch Valley stood pacified and the rebellion’s leaders lay in dungeons. To the peasantry’s economic burdens was added a bitter levy to fund the war that had smashed them.

Several dozen peasants were executed in the ensuing weeks, most aggressively by the canton of Bern — whence derives today’s illustration.

Notwithstandng such vengeance, The Swiss were wise enough to wield the carrot along with the stick. Even as the cities re-established their political control of the countryside, they took care in the coming years to use a lighter touch in governing the peasantry for fear of stoking new disturbances; arguably, the memory and the threat of the peasant war might have checked the potential development of absolutism in Switzerland.

How’s your German? Two academic books on the Swiss Peasant War

On this day..

7 thoughts on “1653: Six beheaded and one hanged for the Swiss Peasant War

  1. I am a direct descendant of Joggi Mohler of Diegten who was executed, following the 1653, Bauern Krieg. Is it possible to learn the name of the Leader involved in this War, who was hanged and not beheaded. Ad I just read that six were beheaded and one was hanged. I am wondering why they were not all beheaded, and only one of them hanged. Joggi’s name is listed on the monument at Liestal, located on the grounds of “The Ongel Hotel.” My Husband and I stayed at this hotel during the year 1989, and found the names of the 7 leaders who were executed in 1653. Dr. Schroeder of the Archives at Liestal informed us of the monument, and its location. Very interesting! They still celebrate Joggi Mohler in the village of Diegten every year.

    • Hi Alice, I’m an archival researcher with PBS looking to track down archival images of the Swiss Peasant war of 1653. I’m wondering if you might know where to find illustrations or if you could put me in touch with any contacts you have at Swiss archives – maybe Dr. Schroeder of the Archives at Liestal? Thank you so much!

  2. There is a list on a monument in Liestal.

    “Uli Schad v. Oberdorf
    Hans Gysin v. Liestal
    Uli Gysin v. Läufelfingen
    Galli Jenny v. Langenbruck
    Joggi Mohler v. Diegten
    Konrad Schuler v. Liestal
    Heinrich Stutz v. Liestal

  3. I am also a descendant of Damian Leibundgut. His grandchildren came to America after they fled to the Republic of Mulhouse, then to Alasce, and then to Amsterdam. They came to Pennsylvania in the early 1720s and were residents of Berks County, Pennsylvania. Eventually, Peter and Jacob Leibundgut, now Livingood ended up in Elk Lick Township in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Some Livingoods moved West to Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

  4. I also would like to know the names. Is there anyway of finding out? My ancestor Damien Liebengut was said to have been hung for his involvement in the Swiss Peasant War, and I would like to find further evidence of this. If anyone has information, I would appreciate anything you could share. Thanks.

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