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Swiss Guards

Swiss Guards, Swiss mercenaries who fought in various European armies from the 15th cent. until the 19th cent. These mercenaries, who were not volunteers, were put at the disposal of foreign powers by treaties (called capitulations) between the Swiss diet, the separate cantons, and the foreign power concerned, in return for money payments. As a result of the traditional alliance between Switzerland and France—dating from the Everlasting Peace of 1516—the Swiss mercenaries played their most important role in the military history of France. Francis I used some 120,000 Swiss levies in his wars, and in the battle of Pavia (1525) his personal guard, the Hundred Swiss, was slain before Francis was captured by the Spanish. Under Louis XIV, the Swiss troops were organized in two categories: the king's military household and the ordinary Swiss regiments. The most famous episode in the history of the Swiss Guards was their defense (Aug. 10, 1792) of the Tuileries palace in Paris in the French Revolution. Some 500 men of the regiment were massacred by the invading mob. Their heroic stand is commemorated by the Lion of Lucerne, the impressive monument by Thorvaldsen at Lucerne, Switzerland. The French revolutionists abolished Swiss troops, but Napoleon I obtained (1803) several Swiss regiments, which were virtually annihilated in the Russian campaign of 1812. Swiss troops were used in the Bourbon restoration, and many of them were massacred in the July Revolution of 1830, after which they were permanently abolished. The Swiss constitution of 1874 forbade all military capitulations and recruitment of Swiss by foreign powers, although volunteering in foreign armies continued until absolutely prohibited in 1927. An exception to the ruling of 1874 is the Swiss Guard of the Vatican, founded in 1505 by Pope Julius II, which is the personal guard of the pope. Recruited from the Catholic cantons of central Switzerland, the Swiss Guard at the Vatican is garbed in colorful costume of Renaissance design.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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