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Gessler

(g hard). The Austrian governor of the three Forest Cantons of Switzerland. A man of most brutal nature and tyrannical disposition. He attempted to carry off the daughter of Leuthold, a Swiss herdsman; but Leuthold slew the ruffian sent to seize her, and fled. This act of injustice roused the people to rebellion, and Gessler, having put to death Melchtal, the patriarch of the Forest Cantons, insulted the people by commanding them to bow down to his cap, hoisted on a high pole. Tell refusing so to do, was arrested with his son, and Gessler, in the refinement of cruelty, imposed on him the task of shooting with his bow and arrow an apple from the head of his own son. Tell succeeded in this dangerous skill-trial, but in his agitation dropped an arrow from his robe. The governor insolently demanded what the second arrow was for, and Tell fearlessly replied, “To shoot you with, had I failed in the task imposed upon me.” Gessler now ordered him to be carried in chains across the lake, and cast into Kusnacht castle, a prey “to the reptiles that lodged there.” He was, however, rescued by the peasantry, and, having shot Gessler, freed his country from the Austrian yoke.

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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