The Legend of the Swiss Archer William Tell

The Legend of the Swiss Archer William Tell

In the beginning of the 14th century, Austria’s Emperor appointed Albrecht Gessler to govern Uri, a region in Switzerland, aiming to annex it to his empire. Gessler was an unpopular leader, focused only on accumulating more power and ignoring the well-being of the Swiss people. During a visit to Altdorf’s marketplace, Gessler devised a scheme to solidify his authority. He ordered his soldiers to erect a tall pole, placing his hat on top as a symbol of his rule. From that moment, all residents were mandated to bow to the hat as a sign of respect or risk imprisonment.

William Tell’s Defiance

On a sunny Sunday, William Tell, a hunter from the Canton of Uri (under Austrian rule at the time) renowned for his archery skills and love for freedom, strolled into the marketplace with his eldest son, Walter. They bypassed the pole without bowing triggering their immediate arrest. Gessler, aware of Tell’s reputation, decided to give him a chance to prove his archery skills for his freedom.

The Infamous Apple Shot

Outside, a big crowd gathered to learn about Tell’s fate, who was a well-loved figure in the village. Gessler challenged him to shoot an apple off Walter’s head from a distance of 100 paces. Displaying courage and skill, Tell shot the arrow, splitting the apple cleanly in half.

The Unveiling of Tell’s True Intentions

However, Tell had prepared a second arrow, which led Gessler to inquire about its purpose. Tell responded that had he killed his son with the first shot, the second arrow would have been for Gessler. Enraged, Gessler ordered Tell’s imprisonment in his castle across the lake.

Tell’s Daring Escape and Gessler’s Downfall

During their journey across the stormy lake, Tell was untied to help guide the boat. Seizing the opportunity, he jumped ashore at a narrow point and disappeared into the wilderness. Later, Gessler was killed by an arrow while riding through the forest, leading to Switzerland’s liberation from Austrian rule.

The Legend Lives On

Though William Tell disappeared, his courageous actions became a part of Swiss folklore, possibly propagated by his son, Walter. The tale continues to inspire, symbolizing the fight against oppressive rule.

Appendix: Who Was a Better Archer, Willian Tell or Robin Hood?

Comparing the archery skills of William Tell and Robin Hood isn’t that simple due to the fact that both are legendary figures, and their feats of archery are based on folklore and myth rather than historical fact. However, based on the legends associated with each character, we can make some observations.

William Tell is renowned for his exceptional skill in archery, as demonstrated by the feat of shooting an apple off his son’s head with a single bolt from his crossbow. This feat, which is central to the Tell legend, is a testament to his precision and skill.

Robin Hood, on the other hand, is known for his ability to split an arrow that has already landed on the target with another arrow shot from the same spot, a feat so rare and impressive that it has been named after him in the world of archery

This act, known as a “Robin Hood”, is considered a testament to an archer’s accuracy, skill, and consistency.

While both feats require a high level of skill and precision, the “Robin Hood” shot is considered particularly difficult due to the need to hit the exact same spot on the target with two consecutive shots, often from a significant distance. This suggests that, based on their legendary feats, Robin Hood might be considered the more skilled archer.

Further Reading:


  1. William Tell: One against an Empire. by Paul D. Storrie – This graphic novel brings the legend to life with illustrations.
  2. The Legend of William Tell. by Friedrich Schiller – The play by Schiller is a classic and provides a literary perspective on the tale.
  3. Swiss Myths. by Sacha Zala – This book contains various Swiss myths, including that of William Tell, placing them in historical and cultural context.

Academic Papers

  1. William Tell: Myth or History? – This paper explores the historical accuracy of the William Tell story.
  2. Archery, Nobility, and the Legend of William Tell – This scholarly article discusses the role of archery in the legend and its cultural significance.

Online Sources

  1. William Tell – Renaissance and Reformation – Oxford Bibliographies offers a general introductory overview of the William Tell legend from the first recorded appearance of the story in historical chronicle, song, and play form from the late-15th- and early-16th-century songs and chronicle.
  2. In Search of William Tell | History| Smithsonian Magazine provides a detailed account of the William Tell legend and the historical doubts surrounding the existence of William Tell.
  3. William Tell – New World Encyclopedia unfolds a comprehensive overview of the William Tell legend and the historical authenticity of the character.
  4. Schiller’s William Tell: A Folkloristic Perspective – JSTOR offers a folkloristic perspective on the Tell legend, particularly focusing on the incident of the apple shot.
  5. William Tell | Story, Apple & Swiss Folklore – Britannica gives an overview of the William Tell legend and its significance in Swiss folklore. It also discusses the historical existence of Tell, which is disputed, and the widespread distribution of the marksman’s test story in folklore.