William Tell is the legendary Swiss national hero who lived in the late 13th and early 14th century.
According to the legend, the Habsburg Duke of Austria sent the reeve Gessler to the canton of Uri (on the shores of Lake Lucerne) to strengthen his control over the region. Gessler is a ruthless and brutal person and makes himself unpopular with the people within a very short time. He set up a pole with a hat in the village of Altdorf and decreed that all passers-by bowed before the hat, in order to honor the duke.
One day, an peasant and experienced crossbow marksman named William Tell came to the village with his son Walter and refused to pay tribute to the hat. Gessler gets angry and has Tell arrested. He hears about Tell being an excellent marksman and and assures Tell that he will spare him the death penalty if he can shoot an apple from the head of his son with the crossbow.
Tell, having not much of a choice, takes two arrows from his quiver and loads his crossbow. He manages to hit the apple without hurting his son Walter. When Gessler asks him why he prepared another arrow , Tell tells him that it had had been destined for Gessler, if he had shot his son.
Gessler has to keep up his promise and has to annul his execution, but he will imprison him for his treason. During the crossing over Lake Lucerne a powerful storm comes up and the soldiers unleash Tell’s shackles and ask him to take over the rudder, fearing that they would otherwise capsize.
After Tell saved Gessler and his men from drowning, Tell jumps at the chance to to escape with a audacious leap to the shore.
Soon afterwards, while Gessler was traveling through a narrow alley, Tell kills him with his crossbow in an ambush.
The historical existence of Tell is controversial and there is no evidence for his existence. But the history of the marksman is widespread in Swiss folklore. In the early romantic era of the nationalist revolutions the Tell legend gained world renown through the famous play “Wilhelm Tell” by the German dramatist Friedrich von Schiller. Gioacchino Rossini named his last opera «Guillaume Tell». The premiere took place on 3 August 1829 at the Académie Royale de Musique in Paris.