The Bernese Occupation of Vaud, 1536-1798

The Bernese Occupation of Vaud, 1536-1798:

What the Bernese did, and what they did not do.

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During the period of the Bernese occupation, generations of diplomats, generals, and scholars commented on the nature of the occupation of Vaud by Their Excellencies of Bern. Their Excellencies were more precisely the town council of Bern, some 200 burghers divided among several governing bodies. It seems safe to state the following:

Their Excellencies did:

Their Excellencies did not:

As a direct result of the general inaction and exploitation by Bern, the population of Vaud underwent a well-documented decline, even in spite of the huge influx of Huguenot refugees after 1685. Early demographers noted that the absence of opportunity for anything but foreign military service was the main cause of the decline; in addition, if a peasant managed to accumulate a little money, the most productive thing he could find to do with it was to emigrate.

The Bernese system fostered an extreme dependence on the courts. Litigation over debts of all kinds resulted in voluminous records of consistories, local courts, district courts, etc., so that the surviving records can be depended on to mention almost every adult in Vaud.

It may seem strange that the forces of Bern were able to occupy Vaud almost unopposed in 1536. The explanation is that the people of Vaud had not forgotten the barbarity of the soldiers from Bern in 1475-1476, a savage episode that by some accounts reduced the population of Vaud by two thirds. See Book 3, Chapter IX of Verdeil's Histoire du Canton de Vaud for an account of this most interesting period. In 1536, most people seemed to feel it was safer in the long run to cooperate with the armies of Bern and Fribourg, rather than to oppose them.

Further reading:

Summary inventory of a register of "mandats souverains" kept by the Curial of Moudon, 1766-1796.

Matzinger-Pfister, Regula, Les sources du droit du Canton de Vaud. C. Epoque bernoise. I. Les mandats généraux bernois pour le Pays de Vaud, 1536–1798, Basel: Schwabe & Co., 2003.

Coordinator for this site is John W. McCoy
French translation by Anne Bohy
This page last updated Friday, 14-Feb-2003 12:17:39 MST