TELL The story of William Tell's skill in shooting at and striking the apple which had been placed on the head of his little son by order of Gessler, the tyrannical Austrian bailiff of Uri, is so closely bound up with the legendary history of the origin of the Swiss Confederation that they must be considered together.
Many details are given of the oppressions of the bailiffs: we hear of Gessler, of the meeting of Stoupacher of Schwyz, Furst of Uri, and a man of.
To give an instance of tyranny in Uri, the author tells us the story of the refusal of "der Than" to do reverence to the hat placed on a pole, of his feat of skill, and of his shooting the bailiff, Gessler, from behind a bush in the "hollow way" near Kussnacht.
In the final recension of Tschudi's Chronicle (1734-36), which, however, differs in many particulars from the original draft still preserved at Zurich, we are told how Albert of Austria, with the view of depriving the Forest lands of their ancient freedom, sent bailiffs (among them Gessler) to Uri and Schwyz, who committed many tyrannical acts, so that finally on 8th November 1307, at the Riitli, Werner von Stauffacher of Schwyz, Walter Fiirst of Uri, Arnold von Melchthal in Unterwalden, each with ten companions, among whom was William Tell, resolved on a rising to expel the oppressors, which was fixed for New Year's Day 1308.
In particular, while in his first draft he speaks of the bailiff as Gryssler - the usual name up to his time, except in the White Book and in Stumpff's Chronicle of 1548 - in his final recension he calls him Gessler, knowing that this was a real name.
Later writers added a few more particulars, - that Tell lived at Burglen and fought at Morgarten (1598), that he was the son-in-law of Furst and had two sons (early 18th century), &c. Johannes von Muller (1780) gave a vivid description of the oath at the Ruth by the three (Tell not being counted in), and threw Tschudi's version into a literary form, adding one or two names and adopting that of Hermann for Gessler, calling him of "Bruneck."
Vischer (1867) has carefully traced out the successive steps in the growth of the legend, and Rochholz (1877) has worked out the real history of Gessler as shown in authentic documents.
It has been pointed out above that with two exceptions the bailiff is always called Gryssler or Grissler, and it was Tschudi who popularized the name of Gessler, though Grissler occurs as late as 1765.
Now Gessler is the name of a real family, the history of which from 1250 to 1513 has been worked out by Rochholz, who shows in detail that no member ever played the part attributed to the bailiff in the legend, or could have done so, and that the Gesslers could not have owned or dwelt at the castle of Kiissnacht; nor could they have been called Von B runeck.
Rochholz, Tell and Gessler, with a volume of documents1250-1513(Heilbronn, 1877).