If you want to do research in Switzerland, you better learn to get up early. I always thought I was an early riser, but compared to the average Swiss person I’m clearly a sleepy head. Arriving at the Berne State Archive just after 8am on a Tuesday morning, I found that most of the other readers were already there. Like me, they probably wanted to make the most of their working day as the archive closes again at 5pm, and of course for lunch. Between 11.45 and 11.50am a bell announces that you should leave the reading room, which feels a bit like an emergency evacuation every time, not least because you are always in the middle of something or other. You’re not allowed back in before 1pm. Healthy meal times and breaks for weary academics are enforced with Swiss precision.
Apart from that, the Swiss are pretty relaxed, it seems. At the Berne State Archive, most readers seem to know each other. You can leave your laptop and digital camera in the reading room over lunch, and nobody is going to take them. The archivists bring the material you order to your desk. They know who you are, and if not, it’s easy to work out. On most days I’m the only female in the reading room, I’m one of their younger readers too, and one of the few interested in Anglo-Swiss links in the seventeenth century.
The English republican exiles left few, but interesting traces in Switzerland. Forced to leave England after the Restoration of the Stuarts, they headed for Geneva, the Protestant Rome. But as the Genevan authorities were unable to assure them adequate protection, they soon moved to the Vaud, where they lived protected by the Excellencies of the Council of Berne. According to the Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow, the best known of the exiles in Switzerland, the group survived several assassination attempts plotted by the Stuarts in alliance with Savoy. Clearly, the Berne authorities proved efficient. Then, on 11 August 1664, John Lisle is shot dead in Lausanne, on his way to church. The assassins escape.
The murder of Lisle has recently inspired a work of historical fiction or speculative history which links the life of the exiles in Vevey and Lausanne to the fate of one of the assassins, Louis Deprez, already infamous locally for the abduction of the young patrician Sebastienne de Pierrefleur. But there is more to the story of the exiles worth our consideration. Why did they choose Switzerland? Who were their local contacts? How did they live, and did they leave any lasting impact on their host country? At the very least, the exiles on the shores of Lake Geneva motivated the eccentric collector Thomas Hollis to sent some 430 books to the public library of Berne in the eighteenth century in the hope that the spirit of liberty that had granted asylum to the refugees would stay alive and grow with the works of John Milton, Henry Neville and Algernon Sidney.
Alas, it will take some time for me to find out more, not least because after Easter the archive will be closed, not just for lunch, but for two entire weeks – for cleaning.