William Tell, The Man, The Myth, The Legend

By | February 19, 2019

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William Tell with a crossbow, is forced to hit the apple placed on top of his son's head, according to the legend, on November 18, 1307. Colored woodcut, XVI century. Source: (Photo by Fototeca Gilardi/Getty Images).

If you are like most people, the only thing you really know about William Tell was that he shot an apple off someone’s head. While that is a central part of the story, there is much more to William Tell than just fruit and archery. He is a Swiss folk hero who, according to legend, did much more than spear apples with his arrow. He set events in motion that led to the creation of Switzerland as a nation. The only flaw in the story may be that it is fictional. It is quite possible that William Tell never really existed. 

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Altdorf, Switzerland. Source: (tailwinds.org)

William Tell and the Apple

William Tell was said to be a proud, patriotic hunter and farmer from the town of Altdorf. The region at that time was comprised of a lot of small, independent towns and villages, but the Hapsburg Dynasty of Austria was claiming control over the area. In the early 14th century, a representative of the Hapsburgs, Bailiff Gessler, was stationed in Altdorf. He was attempting to throw his weight around and exert his power over the townspeople. To that end, he placed a Hapsburg hat on a pole and, with much fanfare, declared that all passersby would be required to remove their own hat and pay homage to the Hapsburgs. William Tell, who had come into town with his young son, refused. Bailiff Gessler decided to make an example out of Tell. But he picked the wrong man.