The Basel landscape and the Frickthal on a map designed and printed by Wilhelm Haas in Basel, 1798.

Map: Basel University Library

The Fricktal has had a turbulent time. A part of Austria until 1797, the area on the Rhine even formed its own canton of Frickthal during the turbulent times of the Helvetic Republic.

Alexander Rechsteiner / Swiss National Museum

The Fricktal lies on the south bank of the Rhine and thus has its finger on the pulse of history. Over the millennia, the area between Rheinfelden, Laufenburg and Aarau with the eponymous Frick in the center has been inhabited and occupied by different groups over and over again. As early as the Neolithic Age, people lived in open settlements in this area. Since the northern border of the Roman Empire was again on the Rhine after the withdrawal from the Limes in the 4th century, massive border fortifications were built in the Fricktal at that time.

With the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Fricktal was one of the first areas in what is now Switzerland to be populated by Alemanni. In the Middle Ages and until 1797, the Fricktal was under the influence of the Habsburgs and belonged to Upper Austria. Although the region was repeatedly the scene of armed conflicts, the federal towns never succeeded in bringing the region under their control.

The Fricktal during the cherry blossom.  In the background the village of Frick with the Frickberg.

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With the rise of revolutionary France in Central Europe, the rule of the Austrians over the Fricktal ended. In the Peace of Campoformio (1797), Austria ceded the Fricktal to France, but it was not enforced until the Peace of Lunéville in 1801. In fact, the Fricktal was now a protectorate of France, but the administration was inefficient and nobody felt comfortable really responsible to enforce the terms of the contract. So the original conditions remained for the time being.

Left: The Helvetic Republic according to the Helvetic Constitution of April 12, 1798. The Fricktal was not yet one of them. Right: The Helvetic Republic according to the Second Helvetic Constitution of May 25, 1802.

Karte: Wikimedia / Marco Zanoli (l), Wikimedia / Marco Zanoli (r.)

Sebastian Fahrländer (1768-1841), who was born in the Black Forest, was dissatisfied with Austrian rule and moved to the Fricktal when it had to be ceded to France. When it was planned to integrate the Fricktal into the cantons of Basel or Aargau, Sebastian Fahrländer and his brother Karl (1759-1814) worked with the Swiss and French politicians to create their own canton. With the help of the French, the brothers expelled the Austrian officials and Sebastian Fahrländer appointed himself governor.

Shortly afterwards, on January 20, 1802, a state parliament in Rheinfelden approved the new cantonal constitution, written in the parish of Eiken. Sebastian Fahrländer was elected President of the Administrative Chamber based in Laufenburg, which thus became the capital of the young canton. A linden leaf served as the canton’s coat of arms. This already adorned the seal of the county of Homberg in the 16th century, whose domain coincided almost exactly with the area of ​​the Fricktal.

Portrait of Sebastian Fahrländer (1768-1841), «founder» of the canton of Frickthal.
A linden leaf serves as the coat of arms for the canton of Fricktal.  It is on both the canton's coat of arms (left) ...

A linden leaf serves as the coat of arms for the canton of Fricktal. It is on both the canton’s coat of arms (left) …

Image: Wikimedia

... as shown on the official seal (right).

… as shown on the official seal (right).

Image: State Archives Canton Aargau, seal cast collection SP.A

Handwritten constitution of the canton of Fricktal, dated February 20, 1802.  From the files of the government councilor Josef Venerand Friderich (1771-1847).

Handwritten constitution of the canton of Fricktal, dated February 20, 1802. From the files of the government councilor Josef Venerand Friderich (1771-1847).

Image: State Archives Canton Aargau HA / 9517

Although everything now seemed settled, the canton of Fricktal was not granted a prosperous future. Working in the unsteady political climate of Helvetic Republic was difficult and Fahrländer quickly made himself unpopular with his idiosyncratic manner. After the withdrawal of the French troops in the summer of 1802 and the subsequent “Stecklikkrieg” between the Swiss rulers and federalist insurgents, Fahrlander’s political opponents seized the opportunity to overthrow the hated governor and take him prisoner. With the coup, the seat of government and thus the canton capital changed from Laufenburg to Rheinfelden.

Laufenburg, around 1820, on the left the German bank, on the right the Aargau.  In 1796 the French set fire to the original bridge over the Rhine.  It was not until 1810 that the bridge was rebuilt on the old pillars.

Laufenburg, around 1820, on the left the German bank, on the right the Aargau. In 1796 the French set fire to the original bridge over the Rhine. It was not until 1810 that the bridge was rebuilt on the old pillars.

Image: Swiss National Library

For the young canton of Fricktal, this was the beginning of the end. Napoleon Bonaparte viewed the conditions newly created by the Stecklik War in the cantons with suspicion and allowed his troops to march back into Switzerland. This did not prevent Fahrländer’s opponents from accusing the former governor of squandering public funds, personal enrichment and arbitrariness. In December 1802, the French ambassador General Ney decided to expel Sebastian Fahrländer and his brother and to forbid them from any “service in the canton of Fricktal”.

At the same time, Napoleon convened the Helvetic Consulta in Paris, at which the Helvetic envoys, under the “guidance” of Napoleon, worked out a new constitution for Switzerland with the act of mediation. There were also two representatives of the Fricktal in Paris. On their return, however, they had bad news: Napoleon considered the formation of an independent canton of Fricktal to be “too adventurous” and on March 19, 1803 ordered the merger of the cantons of Fricktal with the cantons of Aargau and Baden. The hour of birth of today’s Canton of Aargau was the end of the political sovereignty of the Fricktal.

The mediation act of February 19, 1803 sealed the end of the canton of Frick.

The mediation act of February 19, 1803 sealed the end of the canton of Frick.

Image: Swiss National Museum

Other posts taken from the National Museum’s blog:

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This container village in Aargau shows you how we could handle energy in the future

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