History

Preface from Hans Braun "The von Wattenwyl Family"

The von Wattenwyl family looks back on a tradition of more than 650 years and is thus one of the most venerable houses of Bern. After their rise in the course of the 14th and 15th century, the von Wattenwyls provided three Bernese Schultheissen(sheriffs), who alongside numerous magistrates were followed by another two in the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century.

They also made their names as officers and generals in foreign service and owned, to mention just a few of their residences, Burgistein, Belp, Jegenstorf and Diessbach as well as large vineyards at Lake Biel and Lake Geneva.

 

Alongside the two Bernese houses zu Pfistern and zum Distelzwang, a third lineage, which returned to the catholic faith, settled in the Free County of Burgundy. This lineage served in prominent military and political offices, first under the Duke of Savoy, then under the Spanish and finally under the French Crown. They commanded several principalities and abounded in property.

 

After the loss of their class privileges in the first half of the 19th century, the family entered a process of redefinition as part of modern bourgeois society.

 

On the one hand, this richly-illustrated book situates the family in its respective social environment in various epochs. On the other, it explores the family’s self-image – how is it reflected in the historical documents? What unites a house which has had many branches since the 17th century? Which intra-familial areas of conflict emerge?

The coat of arms

Das Wappen  In the 13th and 14th century, the von Wattenwyl family bore various coats of arms featuring, amongst others, a rose in a triangular escutcheon, but also an erect lion or, like cadet Niclaus (1380 – 1465), a horizontally partitioned escutcheon with two chevrons standing side by side in the upper half.

n 1453 the above mentioned Niclaus had a grant of arms issued by Emperor Friedrich III. On 18th October, the imperial registry states:

"Item Clasen von Wattenwil einen wapenbrirfe mit namen einen weissen schild, darinne drey rott aufgetan flügel und auf dem schilde einen helm getziert mit einer weissen und rotten helmdecke, darauf zwo aufgetan flügel auch von warben (= Farben) als in dem schilde ...”

Soon the von Wattenwyls would exchange the colours for three white wings on a red background.

A keystone in the northern aisle of the Bernese cathedral (Berner Münster) features one of the oldest depictions of the family escutcheon which is still in use today. It merges the coat of arms of Niclaus with that of his second spouse Anna von Praroman, marking their alliance, and must have been crafted around 1455. A crest displaying a crowned figure of a woman with wings appears above the coat of arms, on the seals of the very same Niclaus.

 

Thus it seems highly unlikely that the woman’s torso should serve as a reference to Jacob Posthumus’s (born 1466) mother, Barbara von Erlach, who became ancestress of all succeeding members of the house of von Wattenwyl. Meanwhile, several family members adopted a single silver wing as crest instead. In 1463, the above-mentioned cadet Niclaus complemented the coat of arms with the following motto: “Sub umbra alarum tuarum protege nos Domine.”