Who is William Tell

The story of William Tell is most likely the most famous apple story in the world and has the most history associated with it.


William Tell is the famous Swiss marksmen who inspired his countrymen to fight for freedom and justice against Austrian rule.

The historical accuracy of the story is disputed but legend has it that he was a peasant from Bürglen in the Canton of Uri in what is now known as Switzerland who defied Austrian authority in the 13th/14th century.

The Habsburg emperor wanted control of Uri to regulate the Trans- Alpine trade route.  Herman Gessler, the new Austrian Bailiff, determined to command respect of the citizens of Uri, raised a pole in the central square and put his hat on top.  All who passed by were charged to bow to the hat. William Tell and his son Walter walked through the square without bowing.  Gessler was furious and had him seized. He challenged Tell to shoot an apple off Walter's head with his crossbow.  If he was successful they would go free but if he failed they would be put to death.  The boy was bound to a lime tree and an apple was placed on his head. Crowds gathered round. William Tell put an arrow in his quiver and a second in his crossbow. His son called out that he was not afraid. Tell took aim and fired.  The arrow shot clean through the apple. Gessler was both impressed and furious.  He asked Tell what the second arrow was for. William Tell looked the tyrant in the eye and told him that if the first arrow had killed his son the second was to kill Gessler. This great historical event took place on November 18, 1307.

He was immediately arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment in the dungeon of Gessler's castle.  When he was being transported to prison a violent storm arose on Lake Lucern. The oarsmen begged Gessler to let Tell help them steer the boat. He agreed and William Tell skillfully maneuvered the boat close to land. He leapt out onto a flat rock now known as Tellsplatte and fled into the night.


Resolving to ambush Gessler, Tell made his way towards the castle, meeting many people who were suffering from the ruler's cruelty.  The storm died down and the boat landed safely. Gessler and his men hurried to the castle. It was an easy target for Tell. He shot Gessler through the heart. William Tell's blow for liberty sparked a rebellion and helped spur the people to rise up against Austrian rule.

This heroic story is regarded as the beginning of the struggle for justice and freedom for Switzerland.  There are pageants, plays and monuments commemorating the story of William Tell.


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