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Year 4 Language and Literature

The Story of William Tell

william tell

The people of Switzerland have told this legend for a long time. No one knows if William Tell was a real man. His story may be a way of telling about an actual rebellion that took place around 1300.

Many years ago a cruel governor named Gessler ruled over the people of Switzerland. He taxed them heavily, so nothing could be bought or sold unless the governor received some of the money. Many people who did nothing wrong were put into prison for a long time. The Swiss people had much to suffer.

One day Gessler set up a tall pole in the public square of the town called Altdorf. Atop that pole he put his own cap, announcing that all citizens must uncover their heads as they passed by the cap, or else they would be put to death. Guards stood in the square day and night to see that the order was obeyed.

Now, in a small village not far away, there lived a famous hunter by the name of William Tell. No one in all the land could shoot with a bow and arrow as well as he could. One morning Tell took his little son, Walter, with him into Altdorf on business. He heard the news about Gessler’s order, but he could not bring himself to bare his head to a cap atop a pole.

'Take off your hat and bow!' a guard commanded.

'Why should I bow to a cap on a pole?' asked William Tell.

'This man will not uncover his head as he passes by your cap,' the guards reported to Gessler. 'You are said to be the best shot in the mountains,' said Gessler to William Tell. 'I will design a punishment just for you.' He sent a soldier to an orchard for an apple. 'Place this fruit upon the head of your son,' said Gessler. 'Then walk a hundred yards away and shoot that apple with your bow and arrow.'

Tell begged the tyrant to come up with another punishment. 'Obey my order!' roared Gessler. Walter took his place, with the apple on top of his head. Tell drew an arrow from his quiver. He slowly fitted the arrow to the bow and raised them to his shoulder.

'Shoot, Father,' said young Walter firmly. 'I am not afraid. I am staying still.' Tell pulled back his bowstring. Ping! The arrow flew through the air. It pierced the apple, which dropped in two pieces onto the ground. The people watching shouted for joy. As William Tell rushed to embrace his son, a second arrow fell from under his coat.

'Why did you bring a second arrow?' asked Gessler angrily.

'That arrow was for your heart, you tyrant!' William Tell responded. 'If I had hurt my beloved son, you can be sure I would not have missed the mark a second time.'

Legend has it that, in the years to come, William Tell did send an arrow through the heart of Gessler – and set the people of Switzerland free.


This story is from pages 30-31 of What Your Year 4 Child Needs to Know. Click below to see additional stories from other volumes.

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