William Tell

William Tell

The Master Marksman

When a foreign tyrant devised new humiliations for the honest people of Altdorf in 1307, William Tell became an immortal hero by defending the pride of the nation…

The story of William Tell is world famous: an archer who shot an apple from the head of his son. But few people know the details of what precipitated this dramatic feat. This is what the legend tells…


It was on a Sunday in 1307 when William Tell set out from Bürglen, a small village in the Schächen Valley of Canton Uri, to visit his father-in-law, Walter Fürst, in Altdorf. He shouldered his crossbow, took his boy Walter by the hand, and strode forward. The path was not long, and they soon reached the town. Upon the main square, they came to an iron pole stuck into the earth, and atop it was crowned a bright yellow hat dressed with a gaudy peacock feather. This belonged to the tyrannical Governor Gessler, the newly appointed Austrian Habsburg ruler who enjoyed devising new humiliations for the people. Gessler demanded that every citizen must bow to the hat. Two guards forced passers-by to obedience; the women had to kneel, and the men bowed their heads, pale with anger and shame.

But William Tell would not bow, and passed the hat with his head held high. The guards brandished their spears, and shouted “You have not shown respect to the hat! Now you shall be punished!” Tell defended himself and a great argument broke out. This caused such a tumult that soon the whole village came together at the square. Suddenly the earth trembled with horses’ hooves as Governor Gessler and his soldiers rode up. “Lord, he did not bow,” shouted a guard.


Gessler recognized Tell, and was insulted by Tell’s disobedience. “Thou shalt be such a good shooter; then prove your skill. I command you: shoot an apple from the head of your child or you both shall die!” Tell went white and begged for mercy, but the soldiers had already tied the boy to a tree. Tell had no choice; he grimly drew two bolts and loaded the bow. The whole village held its breath as he took aim, paused, and fired.


And indeed, the crowd cheered as the apple fell to the ground, pierced in the middle by the bolt. Overjoyed, little Walter escaped the bonds and ran to his father, who was trembling and still clutching his crossbow. “A masterful shot,” said Gessler, “but why did you draw the second bolt?” William Tell replied, “Had I hit my child, I certainly would not have missed you!”

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