Category Archives: Zumbrunnen in Uri

Where Was the Castle Zumbrunnen?

A number of Swiss history books all recount the story that Werner, the Baron of Attinghausen, owned a castle named Schloss Zumbrunnen in the early 1200s which he gave to his son Walter in the year 1209. Walter adopted the name of the castle as his own surname. But where was this castle that became the namesake of the Zumbrunnen family?

Schloss Zumbrunnen is long gone now, and its site is uncertain, but there are two leading possibilities for where it might have stood.

Option 1: On a Hill in Brunnen, Switzerland

A number of books about the town of Brunnen, Switzerland, say that the Castle Zumbrunnen once stood upon a small hill close to the shore of Lake Lucerne. The town of Brunnen is also identified in Hans Jacob Leu’s 1750 Swiss lexicon. The site is not hard to find today, and is circled in the aerial photo below. For many years, the site was the location of a hotel called the Park-Hotel Hellerbad (you can find many historic postcards of the hotel online). Today, the site is the the location of the Aeskulap Seeklinik, an upscale lake-side clinic where people go to relax for treatment of stress-related illnesses such as burnout, depression and sleep disorders.


Aerial photo of the village of Brunnen, Switzerland. Some sources say that the Castle Zumbrunnen was located atop the small hill circled in red, where a tuft of trees is growing.
via Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-2.0

Here’s the location on Google Maps:

Brunnen map

A journal article from 1906 on the morphology of Brunnen said of this hill:

According to tradition, a castle was said to have stood here, the castle and courtyard of the noble Zumbrunnen family, which in 1209 was held by the family of Attinghausen through inheritance. [The historian] W. Oechsli mentions the site in 1891 in his book “The Beginnings of Switzerland” but gives no corresponding evidence. In a discussion of the Zumbrunnen family from Liebenau, the hill in Brunnen as a castle site is not mentioned. If such had existed, it should be expected on the dominant hill of the time. On the southern entrance of the Park-Hotel, on Gersauer Street, for quite a distance behind the houses there is large rubble, which could have been taken from the castle hill. According to the present owner of the castle hill …more than 1000 cubic meters of rock have been demolished in three periods.

So it seems that, if indeed a castle once stood here, many of its stones have been carried away, used in the construction of other buildings and retaining walls and the like.

An old drawing of this spot from the year 1833, before the hotel was built and before the big shorefront buildings were constructed, shows that the hill was once quite a bit more pronounced. Even at the time of this drawing, the Castle Zumbrunnen that once stood at this location had likely been abandoned for hundreds of years, perhaps 500 or even 600.


The hill on the right, with a large house and barn, is associated with the site of the Castle Zumbrunnen.
via the Swiss National Library

The stone rubble upon a hill is good and logical evidence that a castle once stood here, but it’s not certain that this was the same castle as Castle Zumbrunnen. For one thing, if the family possessed a mighty castle here, why were all their feudal lands and other early historical evidence place the family in the Canton of Uri?

Uri and Brunnen are not far from each other. The castle was originally passed to Walter Zumbrunnen, but Walter’s son Burkhard became a leader in Uri. This is just speculation, but perhaps Burkhard moved to Uri to work with his uncle Werner II, Baron of Attinghausen, and this is how Burkhard became a leader of the people of Uri. Perhaps at some point, they sold the Zumbrunnen Castle to acquire more lands in Uri.


Brunnen (bottom left circle) and Uri (top right circle) are not far from each other, and can be reached via a quick sailing trip on Lake Lucerne, or via a roughly 9 mile trail along the edge of the mountains.

Option 2: Near a Fountain in Uri

While it’s fun to imagine a mighty castle upon a hill in Brunnen, the other possibility is that the “Schloss Zumbrunnen” was a more modest stone house near one of the fountains in Uri. (This location was cited in an 1830 book on Swiss castles.) The name “Zumbrunnen” is somewhat more suggestive of this possibility. “Zum” means “to the” and “Brunnen,” in addition to being the name of a village, also means “fountain” or “town well.” If the name referred “to Brunnen” the town, then in German it would typically be rendered “Zu Brunnen” rather than “Zum Brunnen.”

We also know the Zumbrunnen family in Uri associated their name with fountains. They used a picture of a fountain on their coat of arms. When they were in Italian speaking regions, they even sometimes translated their name to Fontana, the Italian word for fountain. (This is not definitive proof, however, as many Swiss liked wordplay and puns.)

There are a number of ancient fountains in the town of Altdorf, Uri. These would have been logical sites for a stone house too, and make sense as a division of inheritance, as they are across the river from the Attinghausen Castle. Here’s an old fountain near the hospital in Altdorf, Uri. A number of the Zumbrunnen were later involved with the hospital in Uri.


A fountain outside the hospital in Altdorf, Uri.
Roland Zumbuehl via via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

The most likely candidate, however, is the old fountain in the main town square of Altdorf. A famous status of William Tell was built next to the fountain. This fountain has since been moved, but you can see it in this old postcard. It closely resembles the fountain that the Zumbrunnen family later used in their coat of arms.


The fountain in the town square of Altdorf, next to a monument to William Tell.

If the Zumbrunnen Castle was, in fact, a more modest stone residence in Altdorf, it would explain why the earliest historical records of the family all point to Altdorf. One site in particular is a possibility: there is a road called Zumbrunnenweg, only about 1,200 feet from the town square, that could have been the location of this stone residence.


This is likely not the last word on the Castle Zumbrunnen. Future research may be able to shed some light on these two locations. If the castle was located in Brunnen then what became of it? Why did it leave the family and when was it ruined? Did some members of the Zumbrunnen family stay in Brunnen? If not for a historic Zumbrunnen residence, then why is the street in Altdorf, not far from the fountain, known as Zumbrunnenweg?


  • “To the Morphology of Brunnen, in Canton Schwyz” by J. Früh. Published 1906 in the Swiss journal Eclogae Geologicae Helvetiae.
  • Zumbrunnen entry in the “General Helvetic, Confederate or Swiss Lexicon” by Hans Jacob Leu. Published in 1750.
  • “History of the Canton Schwyz” by Thomas Fassbind. Published in 1832.
  • “The Swiss in Their Knightly Castles and Mountain Castles” by Johann Jakob Hottinger and Gustav Schwab. Published in 1830.
  • Translating the Zumbrunnen Entry in Hans Jacob Leu’s Dictionary

    The General Helvetic, Confederate and Swiss Lexicon of 1750

    The General Helvetic, Confederate and Swiss Lexicon of 1750

    In Zürich in the mid-1700s, a historian named Hans Jacob Leu set about compiling a historical dictionary about Switzerland, especially the families and events that contributed to the development of Switzerland from a territory of the Holy Roman Empire into a unified confederacy. Leu would later go on to become the mayor of Zürich, which speaks to the political nature of such early dictionaries, which were intended to instill a sort of patriotism and shared history among the Swiss.

    The fourth volume of his work (titled the General Helvetic, Confederate and Swiss Lexicon) was published in 1750 and contains an entry on the Zumbrunnen family. At the time Leu was writing, the Zumbrunnen family no longer lived in Uri, but he was aware that a branch of the family had moved away to Parma.

    His entry on the Zumbrunnen family is not long, but importantly, his work was published several decades before these archives were destroyed by fire in 1799.

    What follows is a sentence-by-sentence translation of his entry on the Zumbrunnen. (My own commentary, provided for context, is in parentheses and highlights like this) The original is on Google Books and, as always, any improvements to the translation would be welcomed.

    zum Brunnen

    A noble family formerly from the country of Uri, of which Bucelin notes in his genealogy, has the same origin as the von Attighausen. Werner von Aetting or Ettighausen in 1209 distributed his estates among his two sons, to Werner, the Schloss Attinghausen and to Walter, the Schloss zum Brunnen (Schloss typically translates as “castle” but generally applied to any respectable stone house. The post on Zumbrunnen family castles contains examples of castles both grand and more modest). Some say this Schloss was located where the village Brunnen stands in the canton of Schweiz. Both men became known by the names of their estates.

    The family Von Attinghausen were landammann, as were those of the family zum Brunnen. Among the zum Brunnen family there were several Landammann of Uri:

  • Burkhard in 1273.
  • Johannes, who had previously been bailiff (the Swiss title of “landvogt.”) in the free states in 1468, 1470, was landammann in 1482.
  • Hans, in 1477 the bailiff to Baden and in 1484 an envoy at the agreement between the Confederates and the cities of Bern and Fribourg. He fought in the Battle of Marignano where, according to Jove, he killed a number of enemies with his great battle sword before dying.
  • Mansuetus in 1548.
  • Hans in 1579. Also bailiff to Baden in 1536 and 1564. (the date of 1536 might refer to Mansuetus, rather than Johann) Also, at some time, he was involved in the business of the Catholic confederates to Rome, and was an envoy to King Henry the III of France in 1582. His brother Walter became a papal guard captain, and his nephew Josua became captain of Uri.
  • In 1621 and 1637 the Landammann of Uri was Johann Heinrich Zumbrunnen, who was also at the same time the captain of Uri, and a Knight in the Order of St. Michael. In 1622 he was sent to the House of Austria during the violent disputes of the Gray League in Lindau. In 1625 he owned a regiment in the French services, recruited into the Valtellina(This was a brutal conflict in the Thirty Years’ War).
  • This family is now extinct in the land of Uri, but there is still a fund, founded by the family, at Altdorf, which is called the zum Brunnische Pfründe (A “Pfründe” is a German word that refers to an endowment that sponsors a priest. The English word for this is prebendary.). Some of the family moved to Parma, and there they are still propagating.

    There was also a Conrad zum Brunnen who was Abbot of St. Urban from 1349 to 1356, but whether he is of the same family is not known.

    Also, this family sometimes was called Lowenstein.

    Original Sources: The Necrology of the Brotherhood of “Old Grysen” in Altdorf

    In Altdorf, in the 1500 and 1600s, a number of the prominent residents of the Canton of Uri belonged to a brotherhood named “Old Grysen.” The exact purpose of the brotherhood is unclear to me, but it was ecclesiastical, or at least church-affiliated, in character. The book is of interest because it establishes membership in the brotherhood for some of our Zumbrunnen ancestors and records some of their years of death. (You can read a bit more about older Necrologies here).

    The books have been transcribed by historians. The lists below draw on a transcription published in 1910 in the Journal of Swiss Church History. Not all the death years were written down but, because the people were listed in chronological order of death, the historians were able to infer many of the dates from the surrounding people on the list. The data added by historians is in [brackets] whereas the rest of the information is the direct transcription. Below are all the entries for our ancestors; a relatively small slice of the overall necrology. Read more …

    The Zumbrunnen Go to College

    The church at the Collège Saint-Michel, built 1606-1613

    The church at the Collège Saint-Michel, built 1606-1613, was the heart of the college.
    via Wikimedia Commons/(CC BY-SA 3.0)

    Many of our ancestors were active in political offices, especially as leaders, clerks and secretaries in the Canton of Uri. By the 1500s in Switzerland, people with such aspirations often pursued some sort of formal education. So, the boys of the Zumbrunnen family began to go to college.

    Their alma mater was the Jesuit Collège Saint-Michel[1], or the College of St. Michael, in Fribourg, Switzerland. The school was founded by Father Peter Canisius, S.J., in 1582. Amazingly, the school has some alumni records dating back to its founding. Nine different Zumbrunnen boys, all from Uri, enrolled in these early decades. Read more …

    Original Sources: The Oldest Baptism Book in Altdorf, Uri

    A register of baptisms at the church in Altdorf begins in 1648. Earlier records were destroyed in a fire in 1799. These baptisms don’t seem to be available on any genealogy websites, but were published in a Swiss history journal called “The History Friend: Messages from the Historical Society of Central Switzerland“.

    By the late 1600s, the Zumbrunnen family was in decline in Uri, and there are only a handful of Zumbrunnen baptisms. The surviving branches of the Zumbrunnen family seem to have left Uri by this point. Below I’ve transcribed the Zumbrunnen entries and translated them from Latin as best I could. There are many more entries for other families that had close ties to the Zumbrunnen, such as the Beroldingen, Crivelli, Zwyer, Puntener family, etc., that I haven’t transcribed.

    Most of these entries include some additional identifying information which I’ve included below, such as titles. (My own commentary, which is provided for context, is in parentheses and highlights like this). The commentary in the history journal introducing this information scoffs at the use of titles, however, noting that basically everyone who is not a cobbler is identified as a lord.

    • May 23, 1649: Sebastian Peregrin zum Brunnen, child of Lord Captain Sebastian zum Brunnen and Lady Maria Salome Rizard. Sponsors: Lord Colonel Sebastian Peregrin Zwyer, landammann and general captain of Uri. and Lady Maria Elisabetha von Beroldingen. (Sebastian Peregrin Zwyer was a very prominent political and military leader in Switzerland in the 1600s and a close associate of Landammann Johann Heinrich Zumbrunnen.)
    • April 17, 1654: Anna Maria Magdalena, child of Lord Carl Ernst von Roll and Lady Maria Magdalena Zumbrunnen. Sponsors: Carl Emanuel von Roll, landammann and supreme captain of Uri, and Lady Maria Magdalena Rheding.
    • November 8, 1655: Maria Barbara, child of Nicolao An der Halden and Agatha Klan. Sponsors: Reverend Lord Stephen Straumeyer and lady Maria Magdalena Zumbrunnen. (A Maria Magdalena Zumbrunnen was married to Johann Martin Straumeyer. Perhaps Stephen was her brother-in-law. A close familial tie to the clergy may explain why she appears in multiple baptisms below, along with a clergy member.)
    • August 10, 1668: Maria Magdalena, child of Lord Antonio Schmidt, a centurion in the Savoy guard, and Lady Maria Anna Zwyer von Evebach. Sponsors: the pastor and Lady Maria Magdalena Zumbrunnen.
    • January 16, 1679: Maria Margaretha, child of Francis Alexander Besler and Lady Maria Magdalena von Montenach. Sponsors: Lord Captain Johann Anthoni Schmidt and Lady Maria Magdalena Zumbrunnen.
    • August 14, 1684: Melchior Joseph, child of Johann Carl Besler, prefect of Lugano, and Lady Maria Anna von Beroldingen. Sponsors: Reverend Johann Melchior Imhoff and Lady Maria Magdalena Zum Brunnen.
    • April 10, 1688: Anna Maria Margaritha, child of Lord Sebastian von Beroldingen and Lady Regina Gasser. Sponsors: R.D. Franz von Beroldingen, of the monastery of Seedorf, and Lady Anna Maria Margaritha zum Brunnen.
    • October 10, 1691: Johann Baptist Anton Zum Brunnen, child of Lord Johann Heinrich zum Brunnen and Lady Maria Hyacintha, born in Parma on October sixth and baptized Catholic on October 10. Sponsors: Lord Joanne Herardo de Naithuldt and Lady Anna de Buffalini. (This branch of the family had moved to Italy, and must have written back to their home priest asking for the baptisms to be recorded in their “home” church. They may have used the name Fontana in Italy. The names Buffalini, Fratini, Ballarini, etc., suggest that they were integrating into Italian society.)
    • October 15, 1694: Anna Maria Theresia Salome Zum Brunnen, child of Lord Johann Heinrich Zum Brunnen and lady Maria Hyacintha, born in Parma and baptized Catholic on October 15, 1694. SponsorsL Lord Bartholomaeo de Ballarini and Lady Angela de Fratini.
    • September 19, 1697: Franz Heinrich, son of Lord Johann Sebastian Jauch, landschreiber, and Lady Maria Anna Troger. Sponsors: Reverend Lord Franz Troger, abbot of Fischingen, and Lady Maria Magdalena zum Brunnen.
    • There are also records of a “Bell Baptism” that took place in 1582. This was apparently a ceremony to consecrate beautiful new church bells and to honor their donors. Landammann Johann zum Brunnen and his brother Josue zum Brunnen are identified as the benefactors for one of these bells.

    Original Sources: The Oldest Church Death Book in Altdorf

    Nearly all early church records in the Zumbrunnen hometown of Altdorf, Switzerland, were destroyed in a fire in 1799. The oldest book of church death records that has survived is one that begins in 1649. This church book was therefore started after the Zumbrunnen family had branched off to the Bernese Highlands region of Switzerland, and may also have been published after a branch of the Zumbrunnen family ended up in Baden-Wurttemberg.

    A copy of this record was published in the “Journal for Swiss Church History” in 1911. As far as I can tell, this record isn’t available on any of the various genealogy websites. The deaths of 16 members of the Zumbrunnen family are recorded in this church book (I think, strictly speaking, most of these are the dates of funeral services rather than death dates), and are listed below:

    Note: I’ve preserved the different renderings of the name. It seems the family during this period was inconsistent in the spacing and capitalization of the name (sometimes Zumbrunnen vs zum Brunnen vs Zum brunnen) although I don’t know if there’s any significance to this; it could merely reflect different styles of handwriting. Most of these entries include some additional identifying information which I’ve included below. (My own commentary, which is provided for context, is in parentheses and highlights like this).

    • April 17, 1648, Lord Johann Heinrich zum Brunnen, knight, old Landammann and captain.
    • March 2, 1649, Captain Josue Zumbrunnen. (There are several Josue’s and I’m not sure which one this record refers to. The Josue who was Johann Heinrich Zumbrunnen’s brother is said in other sources to have died in 1643.)
    • May 8, 1655 Carolus Ernestus a Roll. Born 1631 and married to Magdalena zum Brunnen
    • April 20, 1657, father P Bernhardi Zum brunnen.
    • September 12, 1667, Joannes Gualtherus Rothuet, married to Anna Barbara Zum Brunnen.
    • February 18, 1672, Captain Burkardus zum Brunnen. Married 1st to Anna Katharina Behsler and 2nd on October 3, 1651 to the widow Maria Elisabetha Blatler von Unterwalden.
    • January 7, 1678, Captain Sebastianus zum Brunnen.
    • December 21, 1684, Josue zum Brunnen.
    • October 10, 1687. Henrichus Burkardus zum Brunnen. (Because there are three different people named Heinrich Burkhard Zumbrunnen — I, II and III — it’s unclear which one this is.)
    • June 23, 1689. Anna Maria Margaritha Zumbrunnen, wife of Josue Zumbrunnen (Her maiden name was also Zumbrunnen; Josue was her second cousin once removed.)
    • March 21, 1690. Maria Magdalena Zum brunnen, wife of Ernst von Roll and married a second time to Johann Karl von Schmidt.
    • May 8, 1690. Henrichus Burkardus Zumbrunnen. Listed as mentally incompetent. (As above, there are three different Heinrich Burkhards — I, II and III — and it’s unclear which one this is.)
    • May 9, 1699. Maria Magdalena zum Brunnen. (There was a Maria Magdalena Zum Brunnen married to Johann Martin Straumeyer, although if this is her it’s unclear why her married name isn’t mentioned.)
    • September 30, 1700. Anna Barbara zum Brunnen.
    • March 26, 1705. R. D. Franciscus Zum Brunnen, died at age 62. Son of Burkhard and Anna Catherine Behsler.
    • September 3, 1729. Maria Elisabeth Crivelli, born zum Brunnen. Wife of Heinrich Anton Crivelli.

    Vassals of the Fraumünster: the Zumbrunnen Family in the Feudal Period

    The Fraumünster Church in Zürich
    Sidonius via Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-2.5

    In the 800s, Louis the German, a king from the Carolingian dynasty and the grandson of Charlemagne, ruled over most of the land that is today Switzerland and Germany. His kingdom stretched from the Alps in the south to the North Sea, and from the Rhine River in the west to the Elbe River in the east.

    Louis was a powerful enough king that he could afford to give something to his daughter and so, in the year 853, he created a convent in the already-ancient city of Zürich. The Benedictine Convent, which became known as the Fraumünster, was built on the banks of the Limmat River in the very heart of the city. To preserve the lifestyle his daughter Hildegard was accustomed to he gave her the convent, which was endowed with all the nearby lands, among them the Valley of Uri.

    Thus the valley of Uri, the ancient homeland of the Zumbrunnen family, fell under the sphere of influence of Zürich. Though it has been expanded and renovated throughout the centuries, the Fraumünster Church is still there in the heart of Zürich (although it’s a Protestant Church now).

    Along with the ancient church necrologies in Uri, the records of the Fraumünster contain some of the oldest records of the Zumbrunnen family, dating back to the 1200s, showing ancient proof of the Zumbrunnen family’s origins in the Middle Ages.

    The Zumbrunnen family first shows up in records of the Fraumünster in the 1200s. The reason for these records is pictured below: Read more …

    The Ancient Necrologies of the Zumbrunnen and Attinghausen Families

    One of the ways we know for certain that the Zumbrunnen were an important family even in the 1200s and 1300s is through their appearance in ancient church books, where they were memorialized for their donations to the church.

    In the Middle Ages, when a wealthy person died they (or their family) would often make a donation of property or wealth to the Catholic Church. The churches, in return, would record the names of these beneficiaries in large beautiful books, where each donor was assigned a day of the year. These books, which were zealously protected by their churches over the centuries, were known as Jahrzeitbuch (in German) and liber anniversarum or martyrologium (in Latin). In English, they are often called Necrologies or simply Yearbooks.

    In exchange for these large donations, the priests of the church would consult the Necrology throughout the year and pray for the benefactors on their designated date. It is in part through this practice of donating land in exchange for a place in the necrology that the Catholic Church came to own the rights to huge swaths of land across the Holy Roman Empire. Below is a scan of one of the pages from the Necrology for the Monastery of the Order of St. Lazarus, to show what they looked like.

    The necrology of the Monastery of the Order of St. Lazarus

    Sadly, no Zumbrunnen are on the page I’ve found an image of! A full facsimile of this beautiful book is available at some European libraries. It’s quite difficult to make sense of, isn’t vigilant about spelling, was clearly added to over time, and is written in a sort of German-Latin pidgin (for example, the Zumbrunnen sometimes have their names as “Zum Brunnen” or “Zem Brunnen” or “Ze Dem Brunnen” or even translated literally into Latin as Ad Fontem meaning “to the fountain”). One name you can clearly make out in fairly large letters, on the seventh line from the bottom, is “Frat. Egloff de Atighuse”

    Read more …

    William Tell and the Zumbrunnen Family

    The town center of Altdorf includes this famous sculpture of William Tell

    The market place of Altdorf features this famous sculpture of William Tell.
    H. Grob via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

    The Zumbrunnen family originates from the Swiss towns of Attinghausen and Altdorf, in the Canton of Uri, and if you’d ever heard of these towns before it’s very likely because of William Tell, whose famous story takes place in Altdorf. Read more …

    The Oldest Genealogy of the Zumbrunnen by Gabriel Bucelin

    The Benedictine monk Gabriel Bucelin, who published a genealogy of the Zumbrunnen family in 1678

    The Benedictine monk Gabriel Bucelin, who published a genealogy of the Zumbrunnen family in 1678 via Wikimedia Commons

    In the mid-1600s, a Benedictine monk named Gabriel Bucelin compiled numerous genealogies of prominent German-speaking families. I had seen references that Bucelin wrote a genealogy of the Zumbrunnen family, but it took me quite awhile to find it (Bucelin wrote in Latin and I can’t read Latin).

    One of Bucelin’s works is called “Germania topo-chrono-stemmato-graphica sacra et prophana” published in 1678, containing thousands of genealogical entries. Each volume of the sprawling work runs for hundreds of pages. I finally located the Zumbrunnen entry in Volume 4, page 48. There’s no copyright for works this old so I’ll just post the page in its entirety, as there’s actually a sort of beauty in manuscripts this old.

    Read more …