Political structure in the 17th century
In the 17th century, the Confederation consisted of various territories whose inhabitants enjoyed greatly varying amounts of freedom depending on where they lived.
Even among the cantons there were big differences. The rights of the residents were closely linked to their status and to the political structure of the canton.
The six rural cantons regularly held what were known as popular assemblies, in which the male population could decide on the important business of the canton. However, not all communes had the right to participate and the higher administrative offices were shared between a limited number of families.
The city government in some cantons, such as Zurich, Basel and Schaffhausen, was mainly in the hands of the guilds. To join a guild one had to meet very strict criteria, which meant, among other things, that residents from the rural areas had no opportunity to exert any political influence.
Other cities such as Bern, Lucerne, Fribourg and Solothurn were administered by aristocrats. This meant that a few families ruled in the capital city while the ordinary citizens had no say at all. In Bern, the rulers were known as Their Excellencies.
The so-called "common lordships" were governed by bailiffs. These bailiffs were alternately sent from the various cantons. Since the Catholic cantons were in the majority, more Catholics than Protestants were appointed as bailiffs. This not only led to tensions between the Protestant inhabitants and the Catholic bailiffs, but also between the various cantons.
The situation was somewhat better in the subject territories such as Vaud, which was governed by Bern – the Bernese bailiffs ruled jointly with local deputies.
The common body, attended by representatives from all the cantons, was the Diet, but it did not have binding powers.
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