The enduring legend of William Tell

I must start this article with my first introduction to the Tell legend as it appeared as a serial in the late 1950s on British television. The adventures of William Tell acted out by Conrad Phillips so well it is logged in the mind forever. The common man who cut down the power of the Hapsburgh Empire and helped build the Swiss nation. Great stuff to watch and believe. But sadly none of it is fact. Tell is not even a Swiss or German name.


The first known mention of the actions of this hero appeared in a work called Chronicon Helveticum penned by Gilg Tschudi in 1734. A play by Friedrich Von Schiller was produced by the famous Rossini and so the Legend entered the minds as fact for many.

700 hundred years ago around the Christmas events the Hapsburgh King Rudolf died. 1307  in fact it was which draws us right around to the event in the Swiss town of Altdorf and the man Tell shooting the apple off his sons head on the order of the tyrant bailiff Gessler who represented the even more evil King Rudolf. The date is 1307 and the news had just reached Tell that this King was dead and so he rebelled to make his own nation. He shot Gessler and took to the hills as outlaw with the towns folk with him.

William Tell on a gold five Franc coin 1931 images_029

That is the basic thread of the story as we know. Nothing was recorded in any records in Swiss history or that of German Baverian . Not until 1734 can say a thing be found to tell this tale as genuine. It was only in the mind of a novelist called Gilg Tschudi

Not even the fat bailiff Landburger Gessler existed in reality as  he set this story of freedom fighter William Tell on the date of Switzerland national date of becoming a free nation in all things severed from the German Austria Empire and set Tell in as the hero.


There are no facts until this came about and Tell was a figment of the writers mind only.

For you looking deeper into this Rudolf did exist and was a tyrant King of Empire under Hapsburgh rule of even the Swiss nation. 1282-1307 .


What really sealed William Tell in as the legend we all of us love was when the great Italian opera composer decided to put on stage a play he could write the music for.We all know the William Tell Overture by Rossini that came from that play that was produced from the work by Schiller in 1803.  With out this the legend would be unknown by any so we can say Tell never existed as a man but I can see how he can live in the minds of the Swiss as a hero from the people that brought hope to their ancestors in the struggle to be a nation out of just a chained State of a power mad cruel King from another land.

Gilg Tschudi was born in 1505 as Swiss, died in February 1572. He was a magistrate in the town of Garus  and is known a man who invented tales to fill in the gaps in his history of Swiss nation. Bit like the British Geoffrey of Monmouth did in his history of Kings of Britain.

If Tell had have lived not just one man would have known but nothing from the time is recorded so Tell is myth.

Further more there is a legend that is almost exact but it is from the Viking age centuries before Tell.   Toko was a Viking recorded warrior who upset his King and paid the price of shooting an apple off his young sons head. A real fact history and in a different country than we deal with here. It was over 250 years before Tell and so Tschudi knew that story well he just made it Swiss and changed the Heros name.  No mystery as to why.

A British Television serial show called the Adventures of William Tell used to thrill me as a child and each week we watched Conrad Phillips the actor play out what we thought was noble history. Not until now I go far deeper did the shock hit me that Tell was not real nor his history.

I dare say if you are Swiss this will come as a shock to most of you. No less a great nation because of this . Tell really belonged to justice and freedom for all peoples so to find he was created by pen alone is not what we want to believe but is fact never the less.

So there we are dear friends another good story bites the dust.

Yours Sir Kevin.

copyright Kevin Parr Bt 2019


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