“Acriter et Fideliter”

Since we’re in the middle of the Papal selection and seeing them on TV quite a bit, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the Papal Guard commonly called the Swiss Guard.

Swiss Guards at the Vatican. Source: future.wikia.com

Swiss Guards at the Vatican. Source: future.wikia.com

First a bit of history. In the medieval world there only two sets of foot soldiers who were feared by the nobility. One was the English (originally Welsh) longbowmen, who did so much damage to the French nobility at Agincourt, although the Black Death and the Wars of the Roses reduced their impact severely. The other group was the Swiss mercenaries.

You see Switzerland, which is one of the earliest states in Europe, was poor, in a continent based on agriculture it could hardly be otherwise, so the young men tended to go out in bands to earn their living. And then as now, the Swiss were fiercely independent and lent a lot of weight to Robert Heinlein‘s comment,

An armed society is a polite society

In any case the Swiss provided many of the royal guards in Europe, most famously for the King of France but also for  the House of Savoy,  Frederick I of PrussiaGrand Duchy of Tuscany,  Kingdom of Saxony,  Kingdom of Naples, personal guard for the Stadhouder of the Dutch Republic,  William I, the King of the Netherlands, and  Empress Maria Theresa (reigned 1740–1780), approximately 250 to 450 soldiers from Switzerland guarded the Hofburg, the winter palace in Vienna. See, they got around some, besides being the Papal Guard.

In fact, the King of France had two sets, one called  The Hundred Swiss (Cent Suisses)were created in 1480 when Louis XI retained a Swiss company for his personal guard. These were the inside guards at the Louvre. In addition there was another unit; In 1616, King Louis XIII gave a regiment of Swiss infantry the name of Gardes suisses (Swiss Guards). This one guarded the perimeter of the royal palaces.

They were extraordinarily good troops as well, one of their most famous engagements (from Wikipedia)

The most famous episode in the history of the Swiss Guards was their defence of the Tuileries Palace in central Paris during the French Revolution. Of the nine hundred Swiss Guards defending the Palace on August 10, 1792, about six hundred were killed during the fighting or massacred after surrender. One group of sixty Swiss were taken as prisoners to the Paris City Hall before being killed by the crowd there. An estimated hundred and sixty more died in prison of their wounds, or were killed during the September Massacres that followed. Apart from fewer than a hundred Swiss who escaped from the Tuileries, some hidden by sympathetic Parisians, the only survivors of the regiment were a three-hundred-strong detachment that had been sent to Normandy to escort grain convoys a few days before August 10th. The Swiss officers were mostly amongst those massacred, although Major Karl Josef von Bachmann in command at the Tuileries was formally tried and guillotined in September, still wearing his red uniform coat. Two Swiss officers, the captains Henri de Salis and Joseph Zimmermann, did however survive and went on to reach senior rank under Napoleon and the Restoration.

But the ones we are really talking about here are the Papal Guard which is commonly called the Swiss Guards. Again from Wikipedia

The Pontifical Swiss Guard has its origins in the 15th century. Pope Sixtus IV (1471–1484) already made a previous alliance with the Swiss Confederation and built barracks in Via Pellegrino after foreseeing the possibility of recruiting Swiss mercenaries. The pact was renewed by Innocent VIII (1484–1492) in order to use them against the Duke of Milan. Alexander VI (1492–1503) later actually used the Swiss mercenaries during their alliance with the King of France. During the time of the Borgias, however, the Italian Wars began in which the Swiss mercenaries were a fixture in the front lines among the warring factions, sometimes for France and sometimes for the Holy See or the Holy Roman Empire. The mercenaries enlisted when they heard King Charles VIII of France was going to war with Naples. Among the participants in the war against Naples was Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II (1503–1513), who was well acquainted with the Swiss having been Bishop of Lausanne years earlier. The expedition failed in part thanks to new alliances made by Alexander VI against the French. When Cardinal della Rovere became Pope Julius II in 1503, he asked the Swiss Diet to provide him with a constant corps of 200 Swiss mercenaries. In September 1505, the first contingent of 150 soldiers started their march towards Rome, under the command of Kaspar von Silenen, and entered the city on January 22, 1506, today given as the official date of the Guard’s foundation. “The Swiss see the sad situation of the Church of God, Mother of Christianity, and realize how grave and dangerous it is that any tyrant, avid for wealth, can assault with impunity, the common Mother of Christianity,” declared Huldrych Zwingli, a Swiss Catholic who later became a Protestant reformer. Pope Julius II later granted them the title “Defenders of the Church’s freedom”.

The force has varied greatly in size over the years and has even been disbanded. Its first, and most significant, hostile engagement was on May 6, 1527 when 147 of the 189 Guards, including their commander, died fighting the troops of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in the stand of the Swiss Guard during the Sack of Rome in order to allow Clement VII to escape through the Passetto di Borgo, escorted by the other 40 guards. The last stand battlefield is located on the left side of St Peter’s Basilica, close to the Campo Santo Teutonico (German Graveyard).

For all the parading in the uniforms reminiscent, at least, of those designed by Michelangelo, these are fully modern Swiss infantry troops, when they are not parading with their halberds (the terror of medieval cavalry when used by disciplined infantry) this company is equipped as well as any in the world, and are charged as the close in defenders of the pope, actually they comprise the army of the Vatican State. and have for over 500 years.

In April–May 2006, to celebrate 500 years in the line of duty, a group of veteran guards marched from Switzerland to Rome, a month-long journey through Italy. In a public ceremony on May 6, 33 new guards were sworn in on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica instead of the traditional venue in the San Damaso Courtyard. Also on parade at this event were the Company of Pikemen and Musketeers of the Honourable Artillery Company of London. The Band and Corps of Drums of the HAC also provided musical support, and HAC members attended as guests.

The Pontifical Swiss Guard is the oldest active military unit presently in existence. While Britain’s Yeomen of the Guard was established in 1485 (twenty-one years prior to the Swiss Guard), it is a part-time body with a solely ceremonial role.

 Fiercely and Faithfully

About Neo
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

3 Responses to “Acriter et Fideliter”

  1. Hi NEO !
    Gosh.. I pass through by the Trouble clicking..

    Wanted to add that till this days, while you are doing your Army Duty.. they are calling for people who might be interested ..of courses they come to Grenadiers which got like the US the Motto Semper Fidelis.. you have to be of certain high ..till then al fine..
    But You Have To Be A Catholic ..lol..
    I suppose they even check that you are a good one.
    I went to visit Rome, and did visit the guys..They were from all over Switzerland, seems to get a good job, what might bring you in Security Agencies or Stuff like that.
    True to say, that were a Guardian of a Pope add something, that only a few can have.

    About the poor Switzerland Sending its youth to fight, they were trained from early age from the elder and so on..It did bring money on the first level, but all this was very well organize that No Swiss Find Himself Fighting Swiss !
    Also Geopolitical.. you choice for who you are fighting, yes the money, but not for one that could turn against Switzerland, on the contrary if can fight a potential threat…they did!
    So it is a Survival from the bread in the mouth till keeping freedom in the country.

    Many thing out of that are still “spiritually” very well alive.. Civilian ask to do their Military Duty (Now Even Voluntary Women Are Part Of It). Food Supply Are According a potential conflict.

    Well this under is in constant attack from the left,who say it is nonsense and cost money.
    How ever I will bring a link that tell that , Today…is a time the closest that is CRUCIAL that Switzerland Posses an Army, that is well equipped and trained !!!
    +Semper Fidelis+
    God Bless You


    • NEO says:

      More than I knew, Wil, Thanks.

      One thing I do know is that, we Americans, a lot of us, anyway, admire the Swiss, a lot. It take a lot of gut to remain free and independent. Semper Fi, indeed.


  2. Those kind of Informations will never be on my site, but this one did pass, quite a while ago and been publicised…. so..



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