Canton of Neuchâtel

The Republic and Canton of Neuchâtel (French: République et Canton de Neuchâtel)[lower-alpha 1] is a French-speaking canton in western Switzerland. In 2007, its population was 169,782, of whom 39,654 (or 23.4%) were foreigners.[3] The capital is Neuchâtel.

Republic and Canton of Neuchâtel
République et canton de Neuchâtel (French)
Anthem: Hymne neuchâtelois
("The Neuchâtelois anthem")
Location in Switzerland
Map of Neuchâtel

Coordinates: 46°59′N 6°47′E
Largest cityLa Chaux-de-Fonds
Subdivisions31 municipalities
  ExecutiveConseil d'État (5)
  LegislativeGrand Council (115)
  Total802.24 km2 (309.75 sq mi)
 (December 2020)[2]
  Density220/km2 (570/sq mi)
ISO 3166 codeCH-NE
Highest point1,552 m (5,092 ft): Chasseral Ouest
Lowest point429 m (1,407 ft): Lake Biel
County (Principality) of Neuchâtel
  • Grafschaft (Fürstentum) Neuenburg (German)
  • Comté (Principauté) de Neuchâtel (French)
Coat of arms
Historical eraMiddle Ages
 City founded
 County founded
from 1406
 Inherited by Orléans-Longueville
 Elected to Prussia
 French occupation
 Joined Swiss Confed. as canton, and later quit monarchy
1815 1848
 Neuchâteloise revolution
1 March 1848
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Duchy of Burgundy


The only part of present-day Switzerland to enter the Confederation as a principality (on May 19, 1815), Neuchâtel has a unique history. Its first recorded ruler, Rudolph III of Burgundy, mentioned Neuchâtel in his will in 1032. The dynasty of Ulrich count of Fenis (Hasenburg) took over the town and its territories in 1034. The dynasty prospered and, by 1373, all the lands now part of the canton belonged to the count. In 1405, the cities of Bern and Neuchâtel entered a union. The lands of Neuchâtel had passed to the Zähringen lords of Freiburg in the late 14th century as inheritance from the childless Elisabeth, Countess of Neuchâtel, to her nephews, and then in 1458 to margraves of Sausenburg who belonged to the House of Baden.

Their heiress, Johanna of Hachberg-Sausenberg (Jehanne de Hochberg), and her husband, Louis I d'Orléans, duc de Longueville, inherited it in 1504, after which the French house of Orléans-Longueville (Valois-Dunois). Neuchâtel's Swiss allies then occupied it from 1512 to 1529 before returning it to its widowed countess.

The French preacher Guillaume Farel brought the teachings of the Protestant Reformation to the area in 1530. Therefore, when the house of Orléans-Longueville became extinct with Marie d'Orléans-Longueville's death in 1707, Neuchâtel was Protestant, and looked to avoid passing to a Catholic ruler. The rightful heiress in primogeniture from Jeanne de Rothelin was Paule de Gondi, Duchess of Retz, who was Catholic. The people of Neuchâtel chose Princess Marie's successor from among fifteen claimants.[n 1] They wanted their new prince first and foremost to be a Protestant, and also to be strong enough to protect their territory but based far enough away to leave them to their own devices. King Louis XIV of France actively promoted the many French pretenders to the title, but the Neuchâtelois people in the final decision in 1708 passed them over in favour of the Protestant King Frederick I of Prussia, who claimed his entitlement in a rather complicated fashion through the House of Orange and Nassau, who were not even descended from Jeanne de Rothelin.

Frederick I and his successors ruled the Principality of Neuchâtel (German: Fürstentum Neuenburg) in personal union with Prussia from 1708 until 1806 and again from 1814 until 1857. Napoleon Bonaparte deposed King Frederick William III of Prussia as prince of Neuchâtel and appointed instead his chief of staff Louis Alexandre Berthier. Starting in 1807, the principality provided Napoleon's Grande Armée with a battalion of rangers. The rangers were nicknamed Canaris (i.e. canaries) because of their yellow uniforms.

Rulers of Neuchâtel 10341848
Name Reign
Ulrich I de Fenis1034–1070
Mangold I1070–1097
Mangold II?–1144
Rudolph I?–1148
Ulrich II1148–1191
Rudolph II1191-1196
Berthold I1196–1259
Ulrich III1191-1225
Berthold I1159–1263
Rudolph III1259-1263
Ulrich IV1263-?
Henri ?-1283
Rudolph IV1288–1343
Louis I1343–1373
Conrad IV of Freiburg1395–1424
Jean de Fribourg1424–1458
Rudolph IV of Hachberg-Sausenberg1458–1487
Philip of Hachberg1487–1503
Johanna of Hachberg1504–1512
Swiss Confederacy1512–1529
Johanna of Hachberg1529–1543
François d'Orléans-Longueville15431548
Léonor d'Orléans-Longueville15481573
Henri I15731595
Henri II15951663
Jean Louis Charles16631668
Charles Paris16681672
Jean Louis Charles16721694
Marie de Nemours16941707
Frederick I of Prussia17071713
Frederick William I17131740
Frederick II17401786
Frederick William II17861797
Frederick William III17971806
Louis Alexandre Berthier18061814
Frederick William III18151840
Frederick William IV18401848/57
Republic of Neuchâtel1 March 1848

After the Liberation Wars the principality was restored to Frederick William III in 1814.[5] The Conseil d'État (state council, i.e. government of Neuchâtel) addressed him in May 1814 requesting the permission to establish a special battalion, a Bataillon de Chasseurs, for the service of his majesty.[5] Frederick William III then established by his "most-supreme cabinet order" (Allerhöchste Cabinets-Ordre, A.C.O.), issued in Paris on 19 May 1814, the Bataillon des Tirailleurs de la Garde following the same principles as with the Neuchâtel battalion within the Grande Armée.[5] The Conseil d'Etat of Neuchâtel had the right of nomination for the battalion's officers. The commander was the battalion's only officer chosen by the monarch.

Le Locle, 1907

A year later he agreed to allow the principality to join the Swiss Confederation, then not yet an integrated federation, but a confederacy, as a full member. Thus Neuchâtel became the first and only monarchy to join the otherwise entirely republican Swiss cantons. This situation changed in 1848 when a peaceful revolution took place and established a republic, in the same year that the modern Swiss Confederation was transformed into a federation. King Frederick William IV of Prussia did not cede immediately, and several attempts at counter-revolution took place, culminating in the Neuchâtel Crisis of 1856–57. In 1857, Frederick William finally renounced the monarchy's claim on the area.


View of Lake Neuchâtel from the northern shore, port of Vaumarcus

The canton of Neuchâtel is located in Romandy, the western part of Switzerland, it is also located in the Jura mountainous region. To its northeast it borders the canton of Bern, to the northwest France (Bourgogne-Franche-Comté). Lake Neuchâtel lies southeast of the canton, while the canton of Vaud is southwest of the canton of Neuchâtel. The canton lies in the central area of the Jura Mountains. Lake Neuchâtel drains the lands in the south, whilst the river Doubs drains the northern areas.

The canton is commonly divided into three regions. The viticultural region is located along the lake. Its name derives from the many vineyards found there. The region called Les Vallées lies further north. The two largest valleys of the canton of Neuchâtel lie in this region: the Ruz Valley and the Val de Travers. Both valleys lie at about 700 m (2,297 ft). The highest region of the canton, however, is the Neuchâtelois Mountains at 900 m (2,953 ft) to 1,065 m (3,494 ft). This region is made up of a long valley home to La Chaux-de-Fonds, Le Locle and La Brévine.


Neuchâtel Castle, now seat of the cantonal government

Neuchâtel was one of the first cantons in Switzerland to grant women the right to vote (1959) and also to grant the vote to foreigners holding a residence permit and who have been domiciled in the canton for at least five years (2002), as well as to lower the voting age to 18.

The legislature, the Grand Council of Neuchâtel, has 115 seats distributed in proportion to the population of the six districts that make up the electoral constituencies: Neuchâtel (35 seats), Boudry (25), Val-de-Travers (8), Val-de-Ruz (10), Le Locle (10), La Chaux-de-Fonds (27). The State Council (cantonal government), five "ministers" who assume the annual presidency in turn and manage the departments of justice, health and safety; finance and social welfare; public economy; regional management; education and culture. The cantonal authorities, which have their seat in the castle (the Château de Neuchâtel), are elected every four years by universal suffrage.

The people also elect their representatives to the federal parliament every four years: five of the 200 members of the National Council (lower chamber) and two of the 46 members of the Council of States (upper chamber).


Federal election results

Percentage of the total vote per party in the canton in the National Council elections 1971–2015[6]
FDP.The Liberalsa Classical liberalism24.322.420.619.420.422.525.720.514.812.726.924.4
CVP/PDC/PPD/PCD Christian democracy* b********
SP/PS Social democracy30.638.937.433.130.829.828.
SVP/UDC Swiss nationalism********22.523.221.420.4
LPS/PLS Swiss Liberal16.022.126.430.930.
EVP/PEV Christian democracy*********1.2**
Ring of Independents Social liberalism**4.83.5********
GLP/PVL Green liberalism***********3.4
BDP/PBD Conservatism**********1.51.0
PdA/PST-POP/PC/PSL Socialism13.
GPS/PES Green politics***
Solidarity Anti-capitalism*******2.72.2***
SD/DS National conservatism********
Rep. Right-wing populism10.1***********
EDU/UDF Christian right******2.3*****
Turnout %48.347.243.343.737.438.131.934.050.450.242.441.8
  • ^a FDP before 2009, FDP.The Liberals after 2009
  • ^b "*" indicates that the party was not on the ballot in this canton.
  • ^c Part of the FDP for this election

Political subdivisions


Districts of Canton Neuchâtel

Until 2018 the Canton was divided into six districts. On 1 January 2018 the districts were dissolved and all municipalities were placed directly under the canton.[7]


There are 27 municipalities in the canton (as of 2021).[7]


La Chaux-de-Fonds, most populous city in the canton

The population is almost entirely French-speaking. The canton has historically been strongly Protestant, but in recent decades it has received an influx of Roman Catholic arrivals, notably from Portugal and Italy. In 2000, its population was closely split between Protestants (38%) and Roman Catholics (31%).[8]

The 175,894 inhabitants (as of 2020)[2] are fairly evenly distributed with many small towns and villages lining the shore of the Lake of Neuchâtel. The average population density is 209 inhabitants per square kilometre (540/sq mi). Neuchâtel (2020 population: 33,455) is the canton's capital while La Chaux-de-Fonds (2020 population: 36,915) is the canton's largest settlement. Some 38,000 of the inhabitants, or a little less than a quarter of the population, are of foreign origin.

Historical population

The historical population is given in the following table:

Historic population[9]
Year Total population Swiss Non-Swiss Population share
of total country
1850 70,753 65,773 4 980 3.0%
1880 102,744 93,791 8,953 3.6%
1900 126,279 113,090 13,189 3.8%
1950 128,152 121,357 6,795 2.7%
1970 169,173 132,478 36,695 2.7%
2000 167,949 129,377 38,572 2.3%
2020 175,894 2.0%


The canton is well known for its wines, which are grown along the Lake Neuchâtel shore, and for its absinthe. The Val-de-Travers is famous as the birthplace of absinthe, which has now been re-legalized both in Switzerland and globally. There are dairy farming and cattle breeding in the valleys, but it is for the breeding of horses that Neuchâtel has a fine reputation. Watchmaking is well-established in the canton, with fine mechanics and microchip production being established more recently. Higher educational institutions include Haute école Arc (representing Bern, Jura and Neuchâtel) and the University of Neuchâtel.


  1. German: Kanton Neuenburg; Romansh: Chantun Neuchâtel; Italian: Cantone di Neuchâtel
  1. The claimants were: 1. the King in Prussia; 2. the Duke of Württemberg-Montbéliard; 3. Jeanne de Mouchy, marquise de Mailly et de Nesle; 4. the marquis Yves d'Alègre; 5. Julianne Catherine d'Amont, dame de Sergis; 6. the Prince of Nassau-Siegen; 7. the Prince of Carignan; 8. Jacques de Matignon, comte de Torigny; 9. Paule-Françoise-Marguerite de Gondi, duchesse de Retz et de Lesdiguières; 10. Béat-Albert-Ignace, baron de Montjoie; 11. comte Trébonius-Ferdinand de Fürstemberg; 12. the Prince of Conti; 13. Angelique-Cunégonde de Montmorency-Luxembourg; 14. the Margrave of Baden-Durlach and 15. the Canton of Uri.[4]


  1. Arealstatistik Land Cover - Kantone und Grossregionen nach 6 Hauptbereichen accessed 27 October 2017
  2. "Ständige und nichtständige Wohnbevölkerung nach institutionellen Gliederungen, Geburtsort und Staatsangehörigkeit". (in German). Swiss Federal Statistical Office - STAT-TAB. 31 December 2020. Retrieved 21 September 2021.
  3. Federal Department of Statistics (2008). "Ständige Wohnbevölkerung nach Staatsangehörigkeit, Geschlecht und Kantonen". Archived from the original (Microsoft Excel) on December 15, 2008. Retrieved November 5, 2008.
  4. David Guillaume Huguenin, Les chateaux neuchâtelois: anciens et modernes (1843) pp. 253-256.
  5. Ilse Nicolas, "Militaria: Die Neffschandeller am Schlesischen Busch", in Kreuzberger Impressionen (1st ed. 1969), Berlin: Haude & Spener, 2nd ed. 1979 (Berlinische Reminiszenzen; vol. 26), pp. 111–114, here p. 111. ISBN 3-7759-0205-8.
  6. Nationalratswahlen: Stärke der Parteien nach Kantonen (Schweiz = 100%) (Report). Swiss Federal Statistical Office. 2015. Archived from the original on 2 August 2016. Retrieved 5 August 2016.
  7. "Amtliches Gemeindeverzeichnis der Schweiz" (in German) accessed 15 February 2018
  8. Federal Department of Statistics (2004). "Wohnbevölkerung nach Religion". Archived from the original (Interactive Map) on 24 September 2016. Retrieved 15 January 2009.
  9. "Wallis". Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz (in German). Retrieved 25 January 2022.
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