Last Stand of the Swiss Guard

The Swiss like to talk about their neutrality like it has always been that way. The truth is, until they realized that they could stay out of wars by giving money to the bigger side, they were a country of ravenous mongrels. Not entirely true, but for a very long time, before they were making watches, one of Switzerland’s chief exports was mercenaries.

If you go to the Vatican now, you will see a bunch of dudes wearing garish outfits wielding halberds. Don’t laugh. Those guys are dangerous. I once saw him eviscerate a German tourist because the guy asked for change. Regardless, those guys are a remnant of a tradition that goes back to the 1400’s. In fact, these guys are credited with saving the life of multiple Pope’s including one of the most overmatched battles in history.

In 1527, it was basically the Holy Roman Empire vs the Pope (and others). The Holy Roman Emperor ran over a city with 34,000 guys, and then did not pay them. They mutinied, and then went towards Rome, to kill the Pope (Clement VII). They tried to lay siege to the city, but when Duke Charles, the last real authority figure left alive in the army, was killed, all hell broke loose, and the Imperial Army descended on the city.

800px-Sack_of_Rome_of_1527_by_Johannes_Lingelbach_17th_century

A painting depicting the Sack of Rome

189 Swiss Guard lined up in St. Peters Basilica, and held off the army so that Clement could escape through a secret tunnel. Only 42 survived. Pope Clement made it to safety and grew a beard out of mourning of the sack of Rome.

So next time the Swiss start jabbering on about neutrality, remind them cautiously that at one point their country was a factory for the halberd wieldin’est mercenaries this side of the Rhine.

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Published in: on October 1, 2009 at 3:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

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