William Tell’s Tale is an interesting one.
An etched scene depicting William Tell preparing to shoot an apple on his son’s head can be seen on this 19th Century Mettlach beer stein by Villeroy & Boch. “Why?”, you ask? Because this is the acclaimed “apple-shot” that led up to the notorious kill-shot making William Tell a big-shot.
William Tell’s Tale of the Man
Tell was a proud patriot from Uri in Switzerland. He had a young son named Walter. It is said that he was a strong man, a farmer, and a hunter who used a crossbow. More importantly, he was a hero.
William Tell’s Tale of the Marksman
William Tell became a folk hero of Switzerland because, on November 18, 1307, he assassinated a tyrant member of the old Swiss Confederacy. The events that occurred on that fabled day have been recounted in two different books. The version summarized here comes from a book written by Aegidius Tschudi.
According to Tschudi, in 1307 the House of Habsburg, emperors of Austria, were seeking to dominate the Canton of Uri. At the same time, Tell conspired with Werner Stauffacher from the Canton of Schwyz to resist Habsburg rule. An Austrian by the name of Albrecht Gessler was just appointed Vogt of Altdorf, Switzerland. Wanting to show off his power as the new Vogt, Gessler put up a pole in the middle of the village, placed his Habsburg hat on top of it, and demanded that the townsfolk bow before it.
Tell was walking through town that day with his son. When Tell passed by the hat he refused to bow. Consequently, Tell was arrested and sentenced to death. However, Gessler was intrigued with Tell’s famed marksmanship based on stories he had heard. So the Vogt devised a different plan. Instead of an execution, Gessler told the marksman that he could save his own life if he could shoot an apple off of his son’s head in a single attempt. Tell took the shot and split the apple in half.
When the apple hit the ground Gessler looked back at Tell and noticed that he had removed not 1, but 2 crossbow bolts from his quiver. When asked why, Tell replied that if he had killed his son, he would have killed Gessler next with the second bolt. Gessler was infuriated with the response, but he kept his promise. So instead of killing him, he ordered for Tell to be bound and imprisoned for the rest of his life in the Küssnacht Castle’s dungeon.
Dutifully, Gessler’s guards put Tell on the boat and heading for Küssnacht. Along the way, on Lake Lucerne, a terrible storm broke. The guards convinced Gessler to remove Tell’s shackles so that he could help them. Once Tell took the helm he steered the boat next to some rocks and jumped out. He kicked the boat back into the stormy water and took off running cross-country. When Tell reached the Castle, he prepared his crossbow and patiently waited in the shadows for Gessler and his men to arrive.
William Tell’s Tale as the Hero
When Gessler finally appeared, Tell used that same second crossbow bolt and killed the Vogt. This assassination caused a rebellion which ultimately led to the formation of the Old Swiss Confederacy. For doing this Tell is considered a hero and recognized as a central figure in Switzerland’s history. There was even a patriotic song written about him in the 1870s titled “Tellenlied” which means Song of Tell. The song is also known as “Bundeslied” which means Song of the Confederacy. The song tells how William Tell had reserved an additional bolt to shoot the tyrant and befittingly refers to him as the “first confederate”
Check out our Mettlach Villeroy & Boch William Tell Stein.
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