Swiss Guard

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Swiss Guard posted at St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City
The famous red-black Swiss Gate (Schweizertor) at the Hofburg Palace, Vienna

Swiss Guards (Latin: Custodes Helvetici; Italian: Guardie Svizzere) are the Swiss soldiers who have served as guards at foreign European courts since the late 15th century. In addition to small household and palace units, Swiss mercenary regiments have served as regular line troops in various armies; notably those of France, Spain and Naples (see Swiss mercenaries). The Swiss were famous mercenaries for hundreds of years. Since Switzerland was a poor country, young men often sought their fortunes abroad. Swiss troops had a reputation for discipline and loyalty, and for employing revolutionary battle tactics such as the pike square. They were considered the most effective mercenaries of the 15th century, until their battle-drill was improved upon by the German Landsknechte. At the Battle of Marignano (1515), the Landsknecht in French service defeated the Swiss pikemen.

The earliest Swiss guard unit to be established on a permanent basis was the Hundred Swiss (Cent Suisses), which served at the French court from 1490 to 1817. This small force was complemented in 1567 by a Swiss Guards regiment. In the 18th and early 19th centuries several other Swiss Guard units existed for periods in various European courts. The Papal Swiss Guard (now located in Vatican City) was founded in 1506 and is the only extant Swiss Guard. It is one of the oldest military units in the world.

Currently, the name Swiss Guard generally refers to the Pontifical Swiss Guard of the Holy See stationed at the Vatican. The Papal Swiss Guard has a bodyguard-like role. Recruits to the guards must be Catholic, single males with Swiss citizenship who have completed basic training with the Swiss Armed Forces and can obtain certificates of good conduct. Recruits must have a professional degree or high school diploma and must be between 19 and 30 years of age and at least 174 cm (5 ft 8.5 in) tall.[1] The official dress uniform is of blue, red, orange and yellow with a distinctly Renaissance appearance. After the 13 May 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II by gunman Mehmet Ali Ağca, a much stronger emphasis has been placed on the guard's non-ceremonial roles, and has seen enhanced training in unarmed combat and small arms. The Swiss Guard uses traditional weapons, such as a sword and a halberd, as well as modern weapons such as the SIG P220 and Glock 19 pistols, the Steyr TMP machine pistol and submachine guns like the Heckler & Koch MP5A3.

In France[edit]

Grenadier of the Swiss Guard in France, 1779

There were two different corps of Swiss mercenaries performing guard duties for the Kings of France: the Hundred Swiss (Cent Suisses), serving within the Palace as essentially bodyguards and ceremonial troops, and the Swiss Guards (Gardes Suisses), guarding the entrances and outer perimeter. In addition the Gardes Suisses served in the field as a fighting regiment in times of war.

Hundred Swiss (Cent Suisses)[edit]

The Hundred Swiss were created in 1480 when Louis XI retained a Swiss company for his personal guard.[2] By 1496 they comprised one hundred guardsmen plus about twenty-seven officers and sergeants. Their main role was the protection of the King within the palace as the garde du dedans du Louvre (the Louvre indoor guard), but in the earlier part of their history they accompanied the King to war. In the Battle of Pavia (1525) the Hundred Swiss of King Francis I were slain before Francis was captured by the Spanish. The Hundred Swiss shared the indoor guard with the King's Bodyguards (Garde du Corps), who were Frenchmen.

The Hundred Swiss were armed with halberds, the blade of which carried the Royal arms in gold, as well as gold-hilted swords. Their ceremonial dress as worn until 1789 comprised an elaborate 16th century Swiss costume covered with braiding and livery lace. A less ornate dark blue and red uniform with bearskin headdress was worn for ordinary duties.

The Cent Suisses company was disbanded after Louis XVI left Versailles in October 1789. It was however refounded on 15 July 1814 with an establishment of 136 guardsmen and eight officers. The Hundred Swiss accompanied Louis XVIII into exile in Belgium the following year and returned with him to Paris following the Battle of Waterloo. The unit then resumed its traditional role of palace guards at the Tuileries but in 1817 it was replaced by a new guard company drawn from the French regiments of the Royal Guard.[3]

Swiss Guards (Gardes Suisses)[edit]

Regimental flag of the Swiss Guards
Uniform of the Swiss Guards c. 1750

King Francis I of France used some 120,000 Swiss mercenaries in his wars. In 1616, King Louis XIII gave a regiment of Swiss infantry the name of Gardes suisses (Swiss Guards). The new regiment had the primary role of protecting the doors, gates and outer perimeters of the various royal palaces. In its early years this unit was officially a regiment of the line, but it was generally regarded as part of the King's Military Household.

During the 17th and 18th centuries the Swiss Guards maintained a reputation for discipline and steadiness in both peacetime service and foreign campaigning. Their officers were all Swiss and their rate of pay substantially higher than that of the regular French soldiers. Internal discipline was maintained according to Swiss codes which were significantly harsher than those of the regular French Army.

By the end of the 17th century the Swiss Guards were formally part of the Maison militaire du roi. As such they were brigaded with the Regiment of French Guards (Gardes Françaises), with whom they shared the outer guard, and were in peace-time stationed in barracks on the outskirts of Paris. Like the eleven Swiss regiments of line infantry in French service, the Gardes suisses wore red coats. The line regiments had black, yellow or light blue facings but the Swiss Guards were distinguished by dark blue lapels and cuffs edged in white embroidery. Only the grenadier company wore bearskins while the other companies wore the standard tricorn headdress of the French infantry. The Guards were recruited from all the Swiss cantons. The nominal establishment was 1,600 men though actual numbers normally seem to have been below this.

During the Revolution[edit]

Massacre of the Swiss Guards
Massacre of the Swiss Guards during the storming of the Tuileries

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 10 August 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.[4] An estimated hundred and sixty more died in prison of their wounds, or were killed during the September Massacres that followed. Apart from less 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 10 August.[5] 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.[6]

The Lion Monument in Lucerne. The incised Latin may be translated, To the loyalty and courage of the Swiss.

There appears to be no truth in the charge that Louis XVI caused the defeat and destruction of the Guards by ordering them to lay down their arms when they could still have held the Tuileries. Rather, the Swiss ran low on ammunition and were overwhelmed by superior numbers when fighting broke out spontaneously after the Royal Family had been escorted from the Palace to take refuge with the National Assembly of France. A note has survived written by the King ordering the Swiss to retire from the Palace and return to their barracks but this was only acted on after their position had become untenable. The regimental standards had been secretly buried by the adjutant shortly before the regiment was summoned to the Tuileries on the night of 8/9 August, indicating that the likely end was foreseen. They were discovered by a gardener and ceremoniously burned by the new Republican authorities. The barracks of the Guard at Courbevoie were stormed by the local National Guard and the few Swiss still on duty there also killed.[7]

The heroic but futile[8] stand of the Swiss is commemorated by Bertel Thorvaldsen's Lion Monument in Lucerne, dedicated in 1821, which shows a dying lion collapsed upon broken symbols of the French monarchy. An inscription on the monument lists the twenty-six Swiss officers who died on 10 August and 2–3 September 1792, and records that approximately 760 Swiss Guardsmen were killed on those days.[9]

Swiss Guards during the July Revolution

Following the Restoration[edit]

The French Revolution abolished mercenary troops in its citizen army, but Napoleon I and the Restoration Monarchy both made use of Swiss troops. Four Swiss infantry regiments were employed by Napoleon, serving in both Spain and Russia. Two of the eight infantry regiments included in the Garde Royale from 1815 to 1830 were Swiss and can be regarded as successors of the old Gardes suisses. When the Tuileries was stormed again, in the July Revolution (29 July 1830), the Swiss regiments, fearful of another massacre, were withdrawn or melted into the crowd. They were not used again. In 1831 disbanded veterans of the Swiss regiments and another foreign unit, the Hohenlohe Regiment, were recruited into the newly raised French Foreign Legion for service in Algeria.[10]

In other European states[edit]

Franz Rudolf Frisching, Colonel of the Swiss Guards in the Netherlands, painted by Jean Preudhomme in 1785

Swiss Guard units similar to those of France were in existence at several other Royal Courts at the dates indicated below:

  • From 1579 on, a Swiss Guard served the House of Savoy, rulers of Savoy and later the Kingdom of Sardinia. The Guard was dissolved in 1798.
  • From 1696 to 1713, a Swiss Guard served at the court of Frederick I of Prussia.
  • a Swiss Guard also existed in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany during the 18th century.
  • a Cent-Suisse unit was in existence from 1730 until 1757 and again from 1763 to 1814 in the Kingdom of Saxony.
  • a similar unit existed from 1734 until 1789 in the Kingdom of Naples. Swiss line infantry regiments continued to serve in the Neapolitan Army until the 1860s.
  • From 1748 until 1796, a company of Swiss (Cent-Suisses) served as a personal guard for the Stadhouder of the Dutch Republic; besides a Dutch Guard Regiment, there was also a Swiss Guard Regiment. William I, the King of the Netherlands, incorporated four regiments of Swiss infantry in the new Dutch Army between 1814 and 1829, of which the 4th (Regiment Swiss nr. 32) served as Guard Infantry, until the Swiss regiments were disbanded and new official Guard Regiments of Grenadiers and Jagers were raised.
  • For a brief time (1748–1767) during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa (reigned 1740–1780), approximately 250 to 450 soldiers from Switzerland guarded the Hofburg, the winter palace in Vienna. They replaced previous military units that had performed that duty, and were later replaced by others. The oldest courtyard of the palace is still called the "Swiss Court" (Schweizerhof) in acknowledgement of their 20-year presence.
  • In Portugal, a Swiss regiment was raised by the Count of Lippe on 12 June 1762. It comprised two battalions (commanded by Colonel Gabriel Thorman and Colonel Marcus Saussure) of 809 men each, consisting of four companies of Swiss troops plus four non-Swiss companies, for a total of 1618 men. Enlistment was for six years, and the soldiers could not be required to serve at sea. Half the soldiers had to be Swiss, while the other half could be made up of Germans and Hungarians. The Portuguese government paid the sum of 2,960,000 reis to raise, arm and equip these two battalions. Colonels paid for their officers. Each soldier earned 4,537 reis per month plus a daily ration of bread. On 22 June 1763, Colonel Gabriel Thorman was sentenced to imprisonment until he returned funds and property embezzled from his regiment, while Colonel Marcus Saussure was sentenced to death for desertion. The regiment was disbanded on 17 September 1763 by a decree that also ordered the raising of a new Swiss regiment (the "Reais Estrangeiros" or "Royal Foreigners"), which met a similar fate to its predecessor. Its eight companies comprised ninety soldiers each, plus the superior and inferior officers. It was ordered dissolved in 1765, and its commander, Colonel Luiz Henrique Graveson, condemned by a council of war to death by hanging. This sentence was commuted to a firing-squad, and the execution was carried out on 15 November 1765, in Campo de Ourique, on 2 January 1766.

Swiss constitutional prohibition[edit]

The Swiss constitution, as amended in 1874, forbade all military capitulations and recruitment of Swiss by foreign powers,[11] although volunteering in foreign armies continued until prohibited outright in 1927. The Papal Swiss Guard (see below) remains an exception to this prohibition, reflecting the unique political status of the Vatican and the bodyguard-like role of the unit.

Pontifical Swiss Guard[edit]

The Pope's Doortender.
Pontifical Swiss Guard
Banner of the Pontifical Swiss Guard
Active 22 January 1506 – present (510 years)
Country   Vatican City
Allegiance The Pope
Branch Army
Type Foot Guards
Role Close Protection
Size 110 men - One reinforced company
Garrison/HQ Vatican City
Patron Martin of Tours
Saint Sebastian
Nicholas of Flüe
Motto(s) "Acriter et Fideliter"
Fiercely and Faithfully
Colors Red, Yellow & Blue
Engagements Sack of Rome (1527)
Ceremonial Chief Pope Francis
Commander Christoph Graf
Vice Commander Philippe Morard
Pontifical Swiss Guard in uniform

The Pontifical Swiss Guard (German: Päpstliche Schweizergarde; French: Garde suisse pontificale; Italian: Guardia Svizzera Pontificia; Latin: Pontificia Cohors Helvetica or Cohors Pedestris Helvetiorum a Sacra Custodia Pontificis) is an exception to the Swiss rulings of 1874 and 1927. A small force maintained by the Holy See, it is responsible for the safety of the Pope, including the security of the Apostolic Palace. The Swiss Guard serves as the de facto military of Vatican City.


The Pontifical Swiss Guard has its origins in the 15th century. Pope Sixtus IV (1471–1484) had already made an 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. This was made possible through the financing of the German merchants from Augsburg, Bavaria, Ulrich and Jacob Fugger, who had invested in the Pope and saw it fit to protect their investment.[12]

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 22 January 1506, today given as the official date of the Guard's foundation.[13] "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".[14]

The force has varied greatly in size over the years and has even been disbanded. Its first, and most significant, hostile engagement was on 6 May 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).

The Pontifical Swiss Guard has served the popes since the 16th century. Ceremonially, they shared duties in the Papal household with the Palatine Guard and Noble Guard, both of which were disbanded in 1970 under Paul VI. Today the Papal Swiss Guard have taken over the ceremonial roles of the former units. At the end of 2005, there were 135 members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard. This number consisted of a Commandant (bearing the rank of Oberst or Colonel), a chaplain, three officers, one sergeant major (Feldwebel), 30 NCOs, and 99 halberdiers, the rank equivalent to private (so called because of their traditional halberd).

After the 13 May 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II by Mehmet Ali Ağca, a much stronger emphasis has been placed on the guard's non-ceremonial roles, and has seen enhanced training in unarmed combat and small arms.

On 4 May 1998, the guard experienced one of its greatest scandals in more than 100 years when the commander, Alois Estermann was murdered in unclear circumstances in Vatican City. According to the official version,[15] Estermann and his wife, Gladys Meza Romero, were killed by the young guardsman Cédric Tornay, who later committed suicide. Estermann had been named commander of the unit that same day.

In December 2014, Pope Francis directed that Daniel Anrig's term as commander should end on 31 January 2015, being replaced by his deputy. This followed reports about Anrig's "authoritarian style".[16]

Recruitment and service[edit]

A member of the Pontifical Swiss Guard with Halberd
Members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard in Vatican City

Recruits to the guards must be Catholic, single males with Swiss citizenship who have completed basic training with the Swiss Armed Forces and can obtain certificates of good conduct. Recruits must have a professional degree or high school diploma and must be between 19 and 30 years of age and at least 174 cm (5 ft 8.5 in) tall.[1] In 2009, the Pontifical Swiss Guard commandant, Daniel Anrig, suggested that the Guard might someday be open to recruiting women, but he added that the admission of female recruits remained far in the future.[17]

Qualified candidates must apply to serve. If accepted, new guards are sworn on 6 May every year in the San Damaso Courtyard (Italian: Cortile di San Damaso) in the Vatican (6 May is the anniversary of the Sack of Rome). The chaplain of the guard reads aloud the oath in the language of the guard (mostly German):[18][19]

(German version) Ich schwöre, treu, redlich und ehrenhaft zu dienen dem regierenden Papst Franziskus 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 Sedisvakanz 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.[20]

(Italian version) Giuro di servire fedelmente, lealmente e onorevolmente il Sommo Pontefice Francesco e i suoi legittimi successori, come pure di dedicarmi a loro con tutte le forze, sacrificando, ove occorra, anche la vita per la loro difesa. Assumo del pari questi impegni riguardo al Sacro Collegio dei Cardinali per la durata della Sede vacante. Prometto inoltre al Capitano Comandante e agli altri miei Superiori rispetto, fedeltà e ubbidienza. Lo giuro. Che Iddio e i nostri Santi Patroni mi assistano.[20]

(French version) Je jure de servir fidèlement, loyalement et de bonne foi, le Souverain Pontife régnant, François, et ses légitimes successeurs; de me dévouer pour eux de toutes mes forces, sacrifiant, si nécessaire, ma vie pour leur défense. J’assume les mêmes devoirs vis-à-vis du Sacré Collège des cardinaux durant la vacance du Siège apostolique. Je promets, en outre, au Commandant et aux autres supérieurs, respect, fidélité et obéissance. Je jure d'observer tout ce que l'honneur exige de mon état.[20]

(English version) I swear I will faithfully, loyally and honourably serve the Supreme Pontiff Francis and his legitimate successors, and also dedicate myself to them with all my strength, sacrificing if necessary also my life to defend them. I assume this same commitment with regard to the Sacred College of Cardinals whenever the see is vacant. Furthermore I promise to the Commanding Captain and my other superiors, respect, fidelity and obedience. This I swear! May God and our Holy Patrons assist me![18]

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

(German version) Ich, [name of the new guard], schwöre, alles das, was mir soeben vorgelesen wurde, gewissenhaft und treu zu halten, so wahr mir Gott und seine Heiligen helfen.[20]

(Italian version) Io, [name of the new guard], giuro di osservare fedelmente, lealmente e onorevolmente tutto ciò che in questo momento mi è stato letto. Che Dio e i suoi santi patroni mi assistano.[20]

(French version) Moi, [name of the new guard], je jure d'observer, loyalement et de bonne foi, tout ce qui vient de m'être lu aussi vrai que Dieu et ses Saints m’assistent.[20]

(English version) I, [name of the new guard], swear diligently and faithfully to abide by all that has just been read out to me, so grant me God and so help me his Saints.[18]

The term of service is between 2 and 25 years.

Conditions of service[edit]

Regular guardsmen (halberdiers) receive a tax-free salary of €1,300 per month plus extra pay for hours worked overtime. In addition, accommodation and boarding are provided.[21]


A Swiss Guardsman in regular duty uniform
Swiss Guardsman on duty and a visitor in the 18th century National Costume of Sweden in 2010.

The official dress uniform is of blue, red, orange and yellow with a distinctly Renaissance appearance. Commandant Jules Repond (fr) (1910–1921) created the current uniforms in 1914.[22] While both Michelangelo and a painting of the Pontifical Swiss Guard bearing Pope Julius II on a litter (by Raphael) are often cited as inspiration for the Pontifical Swiss Guard uniform,[22] the actual uniforms worn by those soldiers included a flaring skirt;[23] a common feature in male clothing during the Renaissance.

A clear expression of the modern Pontifical Swiss Guard uniform can be seen in a 1577 fresco by Jacopo Coppi of the Empress Eudoxia conversing with Pope Sixtus III. It shows the precursor of today's recognizable three-colored uniform with boot covers, white gloves, a high or ruff collar, and either a black beret or a black Comb morion (silver for high occasions). Sergeants wear a black top with crimson leggings, while other officers wear an all-crimson uniform.

The modern regular duty uniform is more functional, consisting of a simpler solid blue version of the more colorful tricolor grand gala uniform, worn with a simple brown belt, a flat white collar and a black beret.[22] For new recruits and rifle practice, a simple light blue overall with a brown belt may be worn. During cold or inclement weather, a dark blue cape is worn over the regular uniform. The original colors (blue and yellow) were issued by Pope Julius II taking his family (Della Rovere) colors. Pope Leo X added the red to reflect his family's Medici colors.

The ordinary guardsmen and the sub-corporals wear the "tricolor" (yellow, blue and red) uniform without any rank distinctions except for a different model of halberd in gala dress. The corporals have red braid insignia on their cuffs and use a different, more spear-like, halberd. All lower ranks have red feathers on their helmets.

The senior non-commissioned and warrant officers have a different type of uniform. All sergeants have essentially the same pattern of dress as ordinary guardsmen, but with black tunics and red breeches. Every sergeant has a red plume on his helmets, except for the Sergeant Major, who displays distinctive white feathers. When the gala uniform is worn, sergeants have a different pattern of armor with a gold cord across the chest.

The commissioned officers (Captains, Major, Vice-Commander and Commander) are distinguished by a completely red uniform with a different style of breeches, and golden embroidery on the sleeves. They have a longer sword, which is used when commanding a group or a squadron of guards. In gala dress all ranks use a bigger purple plume on their helmets, except for the Commander, who has a white one. Usually the Commander and the Chief of Staff (usually the Vice-Commander) use armor when present at gala ceremonies. On such occasions "armor complete" - including sleeve armor, is worn.

Headwear is typically a black beret for daily duties, while a black or silver morion helmet with red, white, yellow and black, and purple ostrich feathers is worn for ceremonial duties, the former for guard duty or drill; the latter for high ceremonial occasions such as the annual swearing in ceremony or reception of foreign heads of state. Historically brightly coloured pheasant or heron feathers were used.[24]

The tailors of the Swiss Guard work inside the Vatican barracks. There the uniform for each guardsman is tailor-made individually.[25] The total set of Renaissance style clothing weighs 8 pounds (3.6 kg), and may be the heaviest and most complicated uniform in use by any standing army today. A single uniform requires 154 pieces and takes nearly 32 hours and 3 fittings to complete.[26]

Members of the guard are eligible for Vatican decorations. The Benemerenti medal is usually awarded after three years of faithful service.


The sword worn by the Pontifical Swiss Guard

Traditional arms[edit]

Modern arms[edit]

SIG P220 pistols
Steyr Tactical Machine Pistol
Previously used weapons[edit]

Less-lethal weapons[edit]


Commissioned officers[edit]

Non-commissioned officers[edit]



Military in Vatican City (Swiss Guard) - officers' rank insignia
Rank (in German) Oberst Oberstleutnant Major Hauptmann Oberleutnant Leutnant
Rank (in English) Colonel1 Lieutenant Colonel2 Major Captain (1st) Lieutenant (2nd) Lieutenant
Insignia of rank Vat-swi-off-06.JPG Vat-swi-off-05.JPG Vat-swi-off-04.JPG Vat-swi-off-03.JPG No 'two-star' rank
is in use.
No 'one-star' rank
is in use.
1 Colonel is the most senior rank in the armed forces of the Holy See, which are situated in Vatican City; there are no General ranks. There is only one Colonel—the Commandant of the Swiss Guard.

2 There are two Lieutenant Colonels—the Vice-Commandant and the Chaplain of the Swiss Guard.

Note: Since the abolition of other units in 1970, the Swiss Guard is the only military unit within Vatican City.

Commander (Oberst) Vice Commander (Oberstleutnant) Major (Major) Captain (Hauptmann) Sergeant Major (Feldweibel) Sergeant (Wachtmeister) Corporal (Korporal) Vice Corporal (Vizekorporal)
1 1 + (Kaplan)* 1 2 1 5 10 10
Vice Corporal GSP Insignia.png

500th anniversary[edit]

Group of Pontifical Swiss Guard inside St. Peter's Basilica.

In April–May 2006, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Swiss Guard, 80 former guardsmen marched from Bellinzona in southern Switzerland to Rome. This month-long journey was intended to recall the march of the original 200 Swiss guards to take up Papal service, in 1505. The march had been preceded by other celebrations in Lucerne, including a rally of veterans of the Guard and a mass.[27]

In a public ceremony on 6 May 2006, 33 new guards were sworn in on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica instead of the traditional venue in the San Damaso Courtyard. The date chosen marked the anniversary of the Sack of Rome when the Swiss Guard had been nearly destroyed. Present at this event were representatives of the Company of Pikemen and Musketeers of the Honourable Artillery Company of London and the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts.

The Pontifical Swiss Guard is one of the oldest active military units presently in existence.[28] 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.[29] The 1st King's Immemorial Infantry Regiment of AHQ of the Spanish Army (Regimiento de Infantería "Inmemorial del Rey" nº 1) traces its origins back to the tercio infantry of 1530 and possibly even earlier to bands of medieval men-at-arms in royal service dating from 1248. While there was broken continuity during the Spanish Civil War, this could mean that the Spanish regiment predated the Pontifical Swiss Guard by up to 257 years.[30]


The Pontifical Swiss Guard banner is a square divided by a white cross into quarters. In the lower right corner is Pope Julius II's coat-of-arms; in the upper left, that of the reigning Pope. The other two quarters display the Pontifical Swiss Guard's colours, and in the middle of the cross is the commander's own coat-of-arms. Even though the banner is carried out during ceremonies and the Urbi et Orbi address and blessing twice a year, during the current term of Pope Francis, only the Flag of Vatican City is used instead of the banner during ceremonial occasions as a sort of National Colour whenever the Pope is present.


  1. Kaspar von Silenen, Uri (1506–1517)
  2. Markus Röist, Zürich (1518–1524)
  3. Kaspar Röist, Zürich (1524–1527)
  4. Jost von Meggen, Luzern (1548–1559)
  5. Kaspar Leo von Silenen, Luzern (1559–1564)
  6. Jost Segesser von Brunegg, Luzern (1566–1592)
  7. Stephan Alexander Segesser von Brunegg, Luzern (1592–1629)
  8. Nikolaus Fleckenstein, Luzern (1629–1640)
  9. Jost Fleckenstein, Luzern (1640–1652)
  10. Johann Rudolf Pfyffer von Altishofen, Luzern (1652–1657)
  11. Ludwig Pfyffer von Altishofen, Luzern (1658–1686)
  12. Franz Pfyffer von Altishofen, Luzern (1686–1696)
  13. Johann Kaspar Mayr von Baldegg, Luzern (1696–1704)
  14. Johann Konrad Pfyffer von Altishofen, Luzern (1712–1727)
  15. Franz Ludwig Pfyffer von Altishofen, Luzern (1727–1754)
  16. Jost Ignaz Pfyffer von Altishofen, Luzern (1754–1782)
  17. Franz Alois Pfyffer von Altishofen, Luzern (1783–1798)
  18. Karl Leodegar Pfyffer von Altishofen, Luzern (1800–1834)
  19. Martin Pfyffer von Altishofen, Luzern (1835–1847)
  20. Franz Xaver Leopold Meyer von Schauensee, Luzern (1847–1860)
  21. Alfred von Sonnenberg, Luzern (1860–1878)
  22. Louis-Martin de Courten, Wallis (1878–1901)
  23. Leopold Meyer von Schauensee, Luzern (1901–1910)
  24. Jules Repond, Freiburg (1910–1921)
  25. Alois Hirschbühl, Graubünden (1921–1935)
  26. Georg von Sury d'Aspremont, Solothurn (1935–1942)
  27. Heinrich Pfyffer von Altishofen, Luzern (1942–1957)
  28. Robert Nünlis, Luzern (1957–1972)
  29. Franz Pfyffer von Altishofen, Luzern (1972–1982)
  30. Roland Buchs, Freiburg (1982–1997, 1998)
  31. Alois Estermann, Luzern (1998)
  32. Pius Segmüller, St. Gallen (1998–2002)
  33. Elmar Theodor Mäder, St. Gallen (2002–2008)
  34. Daniel Rudolf Anrig, St. Gallen (2008–2015)
  35. Christoph Graf, Pfaffnau (since 2015)

Former Pontifical Guard Corps[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

  • When writing Hamlet, Shakespeare assumed (perhaps relying on his sources) that the royal house of Denmark employed a Swiss Guard: In Act IV, Scene v (line 98) he has King Claudius exclaim "Where are my Switzers? Let them guard the door".[31] However, it may also be due to the word "Swiss" having become a generic term for a royal guard in popular European usage. Coincidentally, the present-day gatekeepers of the royal palace of Copenhagen are known as schweizere, "Swiss".[32]
  • The Pontifical Swiss Guard is featured in the video game Medieval II: Total War.[33][34]
  • The French Gardes Suisses and the Dutch Swiss Guard are featured in the video game Empire: Total War.
  • The Pontifical Swiss Guard is featured in the video game Civilization III: Conquests.[35]
  • The Pontifical Swiss Guard is featured as an enemy faction in the video game Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, and a form of the Swiss Guard is an enemy in Assassin's Creed Unity.
  • A small detachment of The Pontifical Swiss Guard is featured in central subplot particularly near the ending climax in the book by John Ringo The Tuloriad.
  • The Swiss Gaurd are featured in the Dan Brown novel Angels & Demons, and consequently in its film adaptation.
  • In the episode "The Papal Chase" of the animated TV show Archer, a cardinal plots to assassinate the Pope using men disguised as the Pontifical Swiss Guard. The show's title character does not bring weapons on the mission, as he mistakenly believes that the Swiss Guard are only armed with halberds.
  • The Stand of the Swiss Guard is the topic of the song "The Last Stand" in the 2016 album The Last Stand by Swedish power metal band Sabaton.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Admission requirements Official Vatican web page, Roman Curia, Swiss Guards, retrieved 7 August 2006
  2. ^ Rene Chartrand: Louis XV's Army – Foreign Infantry p.3; ISBN 1-85532-623-X
  3. ^ Liliane et Fred Funcken: "L'Uniforme et les Armes des Soldats de La Guerre en Dentelle"; ISBN 2-203-14315-0
  4. ^ M.J Sydenham, page 111, "The French Revolution", B. T. Batsford Ltd, 1965
  5. ^ Jerome Bodin, page 259, "Les Suisses au Service de la France", ISBN 2-226-03334-3
  6. ^ Jerome Bodin, page 259, "Les Suisses au Service de la France", ISBN 2-226-03334-3
  7. ^ Jerome Bodin, page 259, "Les Suisses au Service de la France", ISBN 2-226-03334-3
  8. ^ M.J Sydenham, page 111, "The French Revolution", B. T. Batsford Ltd, 1965
  9. ^ "Lion Monument Inscriptions". Glacier Garden, Lucerne. Retrieved 2008-08-08. 
  10. ^ Porch, Douglas. The French Foreign Legion. A complete History. pp. 3, 4, 14. ISBN 0-333-58500-3. 
  11. ^ Bundesverfassung, Constitution fédérale, 29 May 1874, AS 1, RO 1 [BV 1874, Cst 1874] art. 11 (Switz.).
  12. ^ Jakob Fugger - Gotz Von Polnitz
  13. ^ McCormack, John (1 September 1993). One Million Mercernaries: Swiss Soldiers in the Armies of the World. Pen and Sword. ISBN 9781473816909. Retrieved 21 January 2016. 
  14. ^ History of the Pontifical Swiss Guards Official Vatican web page, Roman Curia, Swiss Guards, retrieved on 7 August 2006.
  15. ^ Simpson, Victor L. (28 February 2013). "Swiss Guards in central role in papal retirement". Vatican City: Associated Press. Retrieved 1 March 2013. 
  16. ^ "Pope Francis dismisses 'authoritarian' Swiss Guard commander". BBC News. Retrieved 3 December 2014. 
  17. ^ "Pope thanks Pontifical Swiss Guard for dedicated, loyal service", Catholic News Service, 7 May 2009
  18. ^ a b c "May 6th: The Recruits Take their Oath of Loyalty". Vatican - The Holy See. Retrieved 26 April 2012. 
  19. ^ "Swearing-in". Holy See. 
  20. ^ a b c d e f "Formula del Giuramento (Oath of Loyalty)" (in German, French, and Italian). Vatican - The Holy See. Retrieved 4 January 2013. 
  21. ^ "Interview with a Papal Swiss Guard". Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  22. ^ a b c "The Pontifical Swiss Guard – Uniforms". The Vatican. Retrieved 2011-04-17. 
  23. ^ Preben Kannik, plate 1 "Military Uniforms of the World", SBN 71370482 9
  24. ^ "The Swiss Guard - The Uniform of the Swiss Guards". Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  25. ^
  26. ^ National Geographic: Inside the Vatican,2001
  27. ^ BBC News, Sunday 22 January 2006
  28. ^ "Spotlight on the Swiss Guard". Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  29. ^ Preben Kannik, page 145 "Military Uniforms of the World", SBN 71370482 9
  30. ^ "Regimiento de Infantería "Inmemorial del Rey" nº 1". Ejército de Tierra - Ministerio de Defensa - España. Retrieved 6 December 2014. 
  31. ^ Philip Haythornthwaite, page 85 "The French Revolutionary Wars 1789–1802", ISBN 0-7137-0936-7
  32. ^ "Obituary of former "Swiss" Henry A. Ulstrup". Kristeligt Dagblad (in Danish). 28 July 2009. Retrieved 4 January 2013. The Swiss (Schweizeren) were at that time doormen at the royal palaces and thus the first to receive the royal family's private and official guests. 
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^ "Civilization III: The Dutch - CivFanatics". Retrieved 8 February 2015. 


  • Alvarez, David. The Pope's Soldiers: A Military History of the Modern Vatican. University Press of Kansas, 2011.
  • Richard, Christian-Roland Marcel. La Guardia Svizzera Pontificia nel corso dei secoli. Leonardo International, 2005.
  • Royal, Robert. The Pope's Army: 500 Years of the Papal Swiss Guard. Crossroads Publishing Co, 2006.
  • Roland Beck-von Büren: Päpstliche Schweizergarde in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland, 2005-08-29.
  • Henry, P.: Gardes suisses in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland, 2005-06-08.
  • Bodin, J.: Les Suisses au Service de la France; Editions Albion Michael, 1988. ISBN 2-226-03334-3.
  • Bertin, P.: Le Fantassin de France; Service Historique de L'Armee de Terre, 1988.
  • Serrano, Antonio. Die Schweizergarde der Päpste. Verlagsanstalt, Bayerland, 1992.
  • National Geographic: Inside the Vatican, 2001.
  • Philip Mansel, Pillars of Monarchy: An Outline of the Political and Social History of Royal Guards 1400–1984, ISBN 0-7043-2424-5

External links[edit]