Legend of Wilhelm Tell the Swiss Hero

Wilhelm Tell
by Tell.ch


The story of Wilhelm Tell
The legend of William Tell
At a time soon after the opening of the Gotthard Pass, when the Habsburg emperors of Vienna sought to control Uri and thus control trans-Alpine trade, a new bailiff, Hermann Gessler, was despatched to Altdorf. The proud mountain folk of Uri had already joined with their Schwyzer and Nidwaldner neighbours at Rütli in pledging to resist the Austrians’ cruel oppression, and when Gessler raised a pole in the central square of Altdorf and perched his hat on the top, commanding all who passed before it to bow in respect, it was the last straw. William Tell, a countryman from nearby Bürglen, either hadn’t heard about Gessler’s command or chose to ignore it; whichever, he walked past the hat without bowing. Gessler seized Tell, who was well known as a marksman, and set him a challenge. He ordered him to shoot an apple off his son’s head with his crossbow; if Tell was successful, he would be released, but if he failed or refused, both he and his son would die.
The boy’s hands were tied. Tell put one arrow in his quiver and another in his crossbow, took aim, and shot the apple clean off his son’s head. Gessler was impressed and infuriated – and then asked what the second arrow was for. Tell looked the tyrant in the eye and replied that if the first arrow had struck the child, the second would have been for Gessler. For such impertinence, Tell was arrested and sentenced to lifelong imprisonment in the dungeons of Gessler’s castle at Küssnacht, northeast of Luzern. During the long boat journey a violent storm arose on the lake, and the oarsmen – unfamiliar with the lake – begged with Gessler to release Tell so that he could steer them to safety. Gessler acceded, and Tell cannily manoeuvred the boat close to the shore, then leapt to freedom, landing on a flat rock (the Tellsplatte) and simultaneously pushing the boat back into the stormy waters.
Determined to see his task through and use the second arrow, Tell hurried to Küssnacht. As Gessler and his party walked along on a dark lane called Hohlegasse on their way to the castle, Tell leapt out, shot a bolt into the tyrant’s heart and melted back into the woods to return to Uri. His comrades were inspired by Tell’s act of bravery to throw off the yoke of Habsburg oppression in their homeland, and to remain forever free.
English: William Tell / German: WILHELM TELL,
Swiss legendary hero who symbolized the struggle for political and individual freedom. The historical existence of Tell is disputed. According to popular legend, he was a peasant from Bürglen in the canton of Uri in the 13th and early 14th centuries who defied Austrian authority, was forced to shoot an apple from his son's head, was arrested for threatening the governor's life, saved the same governor's life en route to prison, escaped, and ultimately killed the governor in an ambush. These events supposedly helped spur the people to rise up against Austrian rule. The classic form of the legend appears in the Chronicon Helveticum (1734-36), by Gilg Tschudi, which gives November 1307 as the date of Tell's deeds and New Year 1308 as the date of Switzerland's liberation. There is no evidence, however, for the existence of Tell; but the story of the marksman's test is widely distributed in folklore. In the early Romantic era of nationalist revolutions, the Tell legend attained worldwide renown through the stirring play Wilhelm Tell (1804) by the German dramatist Friedrich von Schiller.

The same Story but just another text

The legend of William Tell

Hard times

At the end of the 13th century the sheriffs of Habsburg tyrannized and subdued the people who lived in the area that we today call Switzerland. The most cruel of them all was Gessler who used extremely humiliating methods. Peacock feathers At a time he had placed his hat - decorated with peacock feathers - on a pole at the market-place of Altdorf and announced that every man who passed the market-place should fall down on his knees as a sign of appreciation and reverence.

The hero

One day William Tell - a hunter from the nearby valley of Schächen - passed the market-place with his son Walter without paying attention to the hat. Gessler had him arrested immediately and told him that his only chance to stay alive was if he could hit the apple that Gessler had placed on the head of his son Walter- with a cross-bow. Tell's arrow hit the apple and, when Gessler saw that Tell had brought a second arrow, he asked why. Tell replied that it was intended for Gessler if he had hit his son instead of the apple. Gessler was furious, had Tell dragged on to his boat which was ready for departure to his castle in Küssnacht at the north-western shores of Lake Lucerne. Suddenly there was a raging storm and the boat was close to heeling over. Gessler got scared to death and decided to release Tell from his fetters hoping that he could save them all with his strong arms. Tell stood in towards land and some rock that he knew near Sisikon. He escaped at one single bound. The boat drove on and Tell knew that he was lost. Therefore he hurried to Küssnacht where he hid in a bush near the gorge that led to Gessler's castle. When Gessler arrived Tell hit him with an arrow straight through his heart.

The legend

Since that day Tell's heroic deed has been regarded as the beginning of the struggle for liberty which finally resulted in the Confederation of Helvetica which we today call Switzerland; "Land of the Schwyzers". Schwyz was one of the three original cantons that swore the oath and formed the confederation in 1291 on the Rütli. The other original cantons was Uri and Unterwalden.

TELL William
(c14 century)
Swiss activist. According to legend, in 1307 Switzerland's region of Uri was subjected to the tyranny of Gessler an Austrian overlord. One village bailiff placed his hat on top of a pole and commanded the villagers to bow down to it. Chamois hunter William Tell refused and was forced to shoot an apple placed on his son's head. This he did but the bailiff went back on his word and arrested William. William escaped and led an successful uprising. Inspired 'Wilhelm Tell' (1804) by Friedrich von Schiller, and 'Guillaume Tell' (1829) by Gioacchino Rossini.

for text thanks to Paul Sirugo

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