Michael Stettler, Schweitzer Chronic, 1631
First published in 1627, with an update re-issued as “Schweitzer Chronic” in 1631
What do you expect from a “Swiss chronicle”? Certainly a history of Switzerland. Actually, this book is something quite different. The author, Michael Stettler, was commissioned by the burghers of Bern to write a continuation of Bernese history. In 1624, when the commission was placed, there was only the chronicle of Valerius Anshelm available, and he had ended exactly with the year 1526, that is two years before the Bernese Reformation edict was decreed. The reformed burghers thus had every right to believe that their history had to written yet.
They chose Michael Stettler as their historian. In our eyes, that was a strange decision. “Without great talent,” is how the article in the “Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz” (“Historical Dictionary of Switzerland”) describes the man. The somewhat older encyclopedia “Allgemeine Deutsche Biographien” even calls him an “unimaginative rhymer with no creative power.” Well, genius would have been more of an obstacle to Stettler during his career. He stemmed from an old patrician dynasty and earned his living in the administration of the city of Bern. Eventually he even became a member of the Grand Council, followed by the position of bailiff of Oron and “Oberlehenskommissär” of the so-called “welsch lands”. But then this desk criminal fostered a strange interest in the past, and so he wrote a ten-volume history of his homeland in his spare time. He had this manuscript elaborately bound and handed it over to the Bernese Council.
That’s why the Bernese burgher knew that they had a man in their midst who shared their convictions and ideals while working as an author at the same time. These were optimal conditions for commissioning a chronicle with no unpleasant surprises to fear! Historians are known for their tendency to judge events differently than a stern authority would like them to. In these regards, Michael Stettler posed no threat.
His world view corresponded to that of his contemporaries. And so his work is characterized by a profound faith in the Almighty God, who makes the fate of his own take a turn to the better. Without the protection of God (and the altruistic commitment of the pious Bernese burghers), the tiny Confederation would of course never have been able to evolve into the powerful community that successfully evaded the religious war raging – we are, after all, right in the 30 Years’ War. Based on his own convictions, Stettler celebrates the Bernese aristocracy as the ideal form of government, as the foundation of happiness of not just the city of Bern but the whole of Switzerland.
Today, we might tend to disagree. And that would be exactly what Stettler’s clients would not have wished. His contemporaries appreciated the work indeed.
While today’s generations of historians use Stettler only because of his superb source work, the Bernese burghers loved him precisely because of his way of seeing things that seems strange to us. Self-criticism is a more modern virtue anyway.
Translated by Annika Backe