One of the reasons for me to visit Rome was to see these Swiss guards at Vatican City. Why would a country’s guards watch another country’s men unless it is a war time ? And how would they defend in their colourful fancy costumes ? I used to wonder.
The Swiss have always been politically neutral for centuries and have honoured their agreements. So anybody who was protected by Swiss Guards could be confident that his guards wouldn’t turn on him when the political winds shifted direction.
The Swiss mercenary soldiers were recruited, equipped and sent to the service of French kings and Italian dukes and it was big business for patrician families in central Switzerland.
Later, the liberal Swiss constitution declared mercenary services in favor of foreign powers a criminal offense with the sole exception of the Swiss Guard at the Vatican City.
The Swiss Guards’ honor was put to the test when after trying to escape the French Revolution, King Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and family were hauled back to the Tuileries Palace in Paris. A mob of Parisians stormed the palace in search of aristocratic blood. More than 700 Swiss soldiers died while defending the palace without knowing that their royal employers had already left the building.
Somehow these guards looked very monotonic and had neither expressions nor reservations for shutterbugs.
Later a Lion Monument was made in Lucerne in their honour. More on this next week.