The Schützenfest (Shooting Festival) has always been seen as having a pivotal role in the rich history and culture of Switzerland, ever since the founding of the Old Suisse Confederacy.
This was especially true during the late 14th to the early 15th centuries, when the cantonal leaders, their marksmen and citizens first participated in Schützenfest, contributing significantly to the coherence between the individualistic Old Suisse cantons.
Early accounts of the history of the Old Suisse Confederacy are found in the numerous Suisse chronicles of the early-mid centuries, depicting each of the Old Suisse cantons, as their own fully sovereign estates with its own border controls, army militia, and currency.
Skirmishes, and outright wars between these cantons are commonplace, as border integrities are in disputes between the cantons themselves or the much larger kingdoms that constantly threatening to annex them. Soldiers and militias from different cantons will often march in battles against each other as mercenaries under foreign banners such as the Habsburg Empire, or under other kingdoms, French or Germanic banners.
Swiss readiness for constant warfare provided significant impetus to the Old Suisse cantons to be extremely focused on their militia’s physical training. Marksmanship was considered a prime achievement across the cantons, with the heroic ideals of Wilhelm Tell and the tradition of military prowess serving to boost the skill with the crossbow.
Throughout the rural cantonal communes, Swiss village youths would train hard to expertly practice the use of the crossbow and participate in shooting matches. Winners would then be elevated to participate in shooting contests at the cantonal levels. This formed an important part of Swiss traditions and culture, with the victors becoming the local heroes of the day.
Shooting contest winners would then compete to be ultimately recognised as their cantons’ top marksmen. These sharpshooters would participate in the annual Schützenfest to win the revered title of Schützenkönig ("king of all marksmen").
It was these vital combat-ready attributes of Swiss mercenaries that gave them the edge in the battlefield and gained them many decisive victories. Often, they will take on enemies of numeric odds for their wealthy paymasters, and still came out victorious. Their fearsome reputation spread far and wide, allowing them to raise the monetary value of their military services.
It can then be said hence for the Swiss, the Schützenfest is special for it lays the foundation for the very first development of the Old Suisse Confederacy, starting with the Federal Charter of 1291, agreed between the rural communes of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden, even though similar alliances are likely to have existed decades earlier.
By 1353, the three original cantons had joined with the cantons of Glarus, Zug, Lucerne, Zurich and Bern city states to form the "Old Confederacy" of eight states that exist until the end of the 15th Century. The expansion led to increased power and wealth for the confederation, and protection from their larger neighbours that constantly threatens their independence.
In the 16th century, the Old Suisse Confederacy grew to comprise 13 sovereign confederate allies known as the Thirteen Cantons adding Appenzell, Basel, Fribourg, Solothurn & Schaffhausen.
After the French invasion of Switzerland in 1798, the Suisse Federation of States was eventually restored to 19 cantons adding St. Gallen, Graubünden, Aargau, Thurgau, Ticino & Vaud in 1803 (Act of Mediation), and three additional weston cantons, Valais, Neuchâtel and Geneva acceded in 1815.
Throughout the growth of the confederacy, the Schützenfest was always seen as an important highlighting event of the year, drawing the respective canton leaders and citizens from all participating cantons to come together in joyous celebration of friendly competition and comradeship.
Schützenfest have definitely fostered the mutual understanding and friendship of people across these cantons, and helped establish the common identity towards the values of unity, freedom and independence for Switzerland.