Catalogue description Secretaries of State: State Papers Foreign, Switzerland

Search within or browse this series to find specific records of interest.

Date range

Details of SP 96
Reference: SP 96
Title: Secretaries of State: State Papers Foreign, Switzerland

Mainly in-letters to the Secretary of State or his secretary from the English (later British) representatives to the thirteen cantons ('the Helvetic body') forming the confederation of Switzerland, including the Grison Leagues and the republic of Geneva. Most letters are from the envoys extraordinary, resident ministers or those in charge of affairs at Berne, Geneva, or Coire (Chur), for the Grison Leagues.

Date: ?1582-1780
Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English and French
Physical description: 52 bundles and volumes
Publication note:

Selected documents dated before August 1589 are described in the Calendar of State Papers Foreign Series of the Reign of Elizabeth I ed A J Butler S C Lomas and R B Wernham (London 1901-1950). For references to the more important papers for the period August 1589 to December 1595 see the List and Analysis of State Papers Foreign Series Elizabeth I I-VI ed by Richard Bruce Wernham (London 1964-1993). Please speak to staff at the Map and Large Document Room enquiry desk for the precise location.

Administrative / biographical background:

By 1513 Switzerland comprised 13 cantons, each with its own government. The cantons were divided by religion, laws, language and economic interest. With these divisions, Switzerland was unable to play an independent role in seventeenth-century Europe, and remained neutral during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). The long negotiations that resulted in the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which ended the war, owed a good deal to the efforts of the representative of Basel, B├╝rgermeister Johann Rudolph Wettstein.

In October 1647 he succeeded in obtaining a declaration from the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire that the city of Basel and the 13 cantons (with their allies and common lordships) were not subject to imperial jurisdiction. Despite the neutrality of the confederation, there was a long-standing Franco-Swiss alliance, renewed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which allowed Swiss soldiers to enjoy paid service with the French army.

There were, however, conflicts within Switzerland itself, particularly between the Catholic cantons and Protestant Berne (Bern), and government was by the aristocracy. The rule by aristocratic families was finally overthrown with the French invasion of 1798 and the setting up of the 'Helvetic Republic'.

Geneva was proclaimed an independent state by the burghers of the city in 1533. It was declared a Protestant state in 1536, an act which alienated the Catholic Swiss cantons for generations. As a consequence it was not until after the tumult of the French Revolution that Geneva was able to join the confederation (in 1815).

The territory of the Grison (or Graub├╝nden) union of leagues lay to the south-east of the Swiss confederation. In its constitution, the union was not unlike that of a Switzerland in miniature, and was in loose alliance with the confederation until uniting permanently in 1803.

Have you found an error with this catalogue description?