Myth History in William Tell's Switzerland

Explanation about the myth history of Middle Ages Switzerland.

The story of William Tell successfully shooting the apple from his son's head, riposting Austrian occupiers and subsequently steering an uprising of free Swiss peasants to independence, has long been regarded by historians as on the same level of myth-history as the legend of Robin Hood. But an exhibition currently in Lausanne now argues provocatively that not only the story of Tell but the picture of a spontaneous uprising to throw off a foreign Habsburg yoke is a myth as well.

'Our Forefathers the Forest dwellers' (die Waldstaetten) has been put together by Professor Werner Meyer and colleagues from a medieval history seminar at Basel University. The exhibition takes a close look, with the aid of medieval records and manuscripts and the latest archaeological research, at central Switzerland in the Middle Ages. It challenges the idea that the alliance of 1291 – between the three cantons of Uri, Schwytz and Unterwald – occasioned the birth of a new nation. Meyer argues, in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, that 'for a historian, the events of 1291 did not justify the 1991 celebrations'.

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