Swiss Guard

From Academic Kids

Swiss Guards have been Swiss who fought for various European powers from the 15th century until the 19th century, called up from the separate Swiss cantons and placed at the disposal of various foreign powers by treaties (the "capitulations"), in return for money payments. Today, they serve only the Roman Catholic Pope and the Vatican City.


Swiss Guards in Austria

When Empress Maria Theresa von Hapsburg became Empress of Austria she could not become the head of state as she was a female. Therefore, when her husband became Emperor she was not authorized her own Imperial Guards. The Swiss Guards were formed as they were foreigners. They numbered 250 to 450 men and were picked for their height and physique. They were abolished upon the ascension of Franz Joseph to the throne.

Swiss Guards in France

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Pioneer of the Swiss Guards in France, 1779

As a result of the Everlasting Peace between Switzerland and France declared in 1516, Swiss mercenaries have played their most important roles in the military history of France. Francis I of France used some 120,000 Swiss levies in his wars, and in the battle of Pavia (1525) his personal guard, the Hundred Swiss ("Cent Suisses"), were slain before Francis was captured by the Spanish. Under Louis XIV, the Swiss troops were organized in two categories, with the king's military household separate from the ordinary Swiss regiments.

The most famous episode in the history of the Swiss Guards of the royal household was their defense of the Tuileries Palace in Paris during the French Revolution, when several hundred of the Guard were massacred by the invading mob that stormed the Palace, August 10, 1792. Their heroic stand, which permitted the royal family to escape across the gardens, is commemorated by Bertel Thorvaldsen's monument in Lucerne, the Lion of Lucerne, dedicated in 1821. The French Revolution abolished mercenary troops in its citizen army, but Napoleon I and the Restoration Monarchy both used them. When the Tuileries were stormed again, in the July Revolution (July 29, 1830), the Swiss Guards melted into the crowd. They were not used again.

The Swiss constitution, as amended in 1874, forbade all military capitulations and recruitment of Swiss by foreign powers, although volunteering in foreign armies continued until prohibited outright, in 1927.

Vatican Swiss Guard

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Papal Swiss Guards in their traditional uniform.

The Swiss Guard as part of the Military of the Vatican City is an exception to the Swiss rulings of 1874 and 1927. It is a small force responsible for the security of the Apostolic Palace, the entrances to the Vatican City and the safety of the Pope.

The Swiss Guard is not considered to belong to any larger force, but is instead the army of the sovereign state of the Vatican. The force is specifically limited to one hundred soldiers and currently consists of 4 officers, 23 NCOs, 70 halberdiers, 2 drummers, and a chaplain, all with an equivalent Italian army rank. Although the guards are fully trained and equipped in modern weaponry and tactics, they also receive instructions in using the sword and halberd.

The guards must be Roman Catholic males of Swiss nationality who have completed basic training with the Swiss military and can obtain certificates of good conduct. Recruits must be between 19 and 30 and at least 174 cm (5ft 9in) tall.

Qualified candidates must apply to serve. If accepted, new guards are sworn in every May 6 in the San Damaso Courtyard (Italian: Cortile di San Damaso) in the Vatican. (May 6 is the anniversary of the Sack of Rome.) The chaplain of the guard reads aloud the oath in German, the guard's official language (translation below):

"Ich schwöre, treu, redlich und ehrenhaft zu dienen dem regierenden Papst [Name des Papstes] und seinen rechtmäßigen Nachfolgern, und mich mit ganzer Kraft für sie einzusetzen, bereit, wenn es erheischt sein sollte, selbst mein Leben für sie hinzugeben. Ich übernehme dieselbe Verpflichtung gegenüber dem Heiligen Kollegium der Kardinäle während der Sedis-Vakanz des Apostolischen Stuhls. Ich verspreche überdies dem Herrn Kommandanten und meinen übrigen Vorgesetzten Achtung, Treue und Gehorsam. Ich schwöre, alles das zu beobachten, was die Ehre meines Standes von mir verlangt."
"I swear to faithfully, honestly and honorably serve the reigning Pope [name of Pope] and his legitimate successors, and to dedicate myself to them with all my strength, ready to sacrifice, should it become necessary, even my own life for them. I likewise assume this promise toward the members of the Sacred College of Cardinals during the period of the Sede Vacante of the Apostolic See. Furthermore, I pledge to the Commandant and to my other superiors respect, fidelity, and obedience. I swear to abide by all the requirements attendant to the dignity of my rank."

When his name is called, each new guard approaches the Swiss Guard's flag, grasping the banner in his left hand. He raises his right hand with his thumb, index, and middle finger extended, a gesture that symbolizes the Holy Trinity and speaks:

"Ich, [Name des Rekruten], schwöre, alles das, was mir soeben vorgelesen wurde, gewissenhaft und treu zu halten, so wahr mir Gott und seine Heiligen helfen."
"I, [name of the new guard], swear to diligently and faithfully abide by all this which has just been read to me; may The Almighty and His Saints be my witnesses."

The term of service is between two and 25 years. The official dress uniform—a jumpsuit of blue, red, orange and yellow with a distinctly Renaissance appearance—dates to 1914. (A common misconception is that the dress uniform was designed by Michelangelo, but there is little evidence to support this claim.) The working uniform is more functional and consists of blue coveralls and a black beret.

After the May 13, 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II by Mehmet Ali Ağca, a much stronger emphasis has been made of the Swiss Guards' functional, non-ceremonial roles. This has included extended training in unarmed combat and with issue SIG P 75 pistols and Heckler und Koch submachine-guns.

Pope Julius II in 1505 asked the Swiss Federal Tagsatzung to provide him with a constant core of 200 Swiss mercenaries. In September 1505, a first contingent of 150 soldiers started their march towards Rome, and they entered the Vatican on January 21, 1506, today given as the official date of the Guard's foundation. The force has varied greatly in size and has even been disbanded. Its first, and most significant, hostile engagement was on May 6, 1527 when 147 Guards, including their commander, died fighting the forces of Charles V. Since 1859 mercenary service has been outlawed by Swiss law. The Swiss Guard is explicitly considered a police force by Swiss law, so that its continuation, while not officially recognized as an exception, was not endangered by this legislation.

Estermann killing

Ten hours before Colonel Alois Estermann was found dead, Pope John Paul II appointed him the 31st captain commander of the Swiss Guard. "It's an honor," Estermann told the Swiss newspaper Le Matin, "These are big responsibilities. But behind this choice, I see the will of God, who will help me accomplish my service well." Estermann joined the Swiss Guard in 1980, and during the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II he jumped onto the moving Popemobile, shielding the pope with his own body.

On May 6, 1998, Alois Estermann, commander of the Swiss Guard, his Venezuelan wife Gladys Meza Romero and a Swiss Guard, Cédric Tornay, were killed. The Vatican's official report names Tornay as the murderer; his motive being that he was upset about a reprimand issued by Estermann for not returning to the barracks on time, and that he was not one of the guardsmen honored by the pope. Inquiries by Tornay's mother and French lawyers Jacques Vergès and Luc Brossolet have since countered the Vatican's report.

As a result of the murder, some changes have taken place within the Swiss Guard, including new methods of candidate screening, a reform of the training and promotion procedures, and new recruiting campaigns. Pius Segmuller was appointed the new commander.

See also

External link

ca:Guàrdia Suïssa del Vaticà de:Schweizergarde es:Guardia Suiza del Vaticano fr:Garde suisse gl:Garda Suíza Pontificia it:Guardie Svizzere he:המשמר השוויצרי nl:Zwitserse Garde no:Sveitsergarden pt:Guarda Suíça sl:Švicarska garda sv:Schweizergardet


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