Swiss Warrior: From Italian and Burgundian Wars to Papal Guard


In the first video we created on the rise
of Swiss military power in the late Middle-Ages, we went through the very earliest stages of
the confederate resistance to the Holy Roman Empire and how this prompted the development
of Swiss pike square tactics. In this episode we will go over Swiss involvement in the Burgundian
Wars of Charles the Bold, and the final emergence of Swiss warriors into the wider view of Medieval
Europe. Whis would eventually lead to the reislaufer becoming some of the most sought-after
mercenaries in Europe, creating a legacy that would last until the modern age. Shoutout to one of our most cherished partners
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for a free one-month membership trial. Thanks to Magellan for supporting our channel! The Burgundian Wars were a series of conflicts
caused by the reckless Duke of Burgundy’s attempts to enlarge his territories with the
aim of creating a Burgundian Empire which would stretch from France to Italy. It opened
with a brief but crushing encounter at the Battle of Hericourt, where a combined Swiss,
Austrian and Alsatian army drove back a 12,000 strong Burgundian force. In the early months
of 1476, Charles the Bold advanced on Berne as part of his grand plan to cut through the
Confederation. Berne heard about this and reinforced its garrison at the town of Grandson,
which stood on Charles’ line of march. The Burgundians crushed the garrison and captured
Grandson quickly, however, the killing of Swiss prisoners enraged the confederate forces,
a fact which was never good for the recipients of Swiss anger. On March 2nd, both armies
encountered each other at Concise, a hamlet 7.5 kilometres northeast of Grandson. While
the Burgundian vanguard was setting up its tents, Swiss scouting forces surprised them,
leading to Charles becoming alerted. These scouts were 2,500 strong and had contingents
from Schwyz, Lucerne, Zurich, St Gallen, in addition to the towns of Biel and Thun. They
were followed by the main vanguard from Berne, Solothurn and Fribourg, while the ‘gewalthaufen’
abandoned a defensive position in the rear and followed in the rear. The Burgundians made their camp in a pine
forest at the bottom of a slope near Concise, while the Swiss halted their own march at
the top. However, the unruly Schwyzer contingent went forward, skirmishing on the slopes and
firing on Burgundian positions below. Hearing this, the Duke rode to the front of his vanguard
and ordered his own archers to repel the Swiss skirmishes. After regrouping around their
Ensign, the Schwyzer inflicted heavy casualties and repelled the Burgundians. At 11am, some
10,000 Swiss warriors formed up into a giant pike square at the bottom of the slope after
the vanguard was ready. The gewalthaufen was still following up behind. Grandson commenced
with a Burgundian artillery barrage which ripped into the Swiss square and the advance
of the 300 strong confederate ‘forlorn hope’. In a typically fearless manner, the artillery
did not even make the Swiss flinch. Charles then began to launch repeatedly knightly charges
at the hedgehog formation, only to be speared from their steeds en masse, with heavy losses.
It was clear that this wasn’t working, so the Duke ordered a redeployment of his forces
to draw the Swiss square away. When he did so, not realising the square he faced was
not the main Swiss army, the gewalthaufen appeared with warhorns blaring, and frightened
the Burgundians into retreat. Grandson was one of the most significant battles
the Swiss ever fought, because it was the first occasion in which their developed pike
tactics were effectively employed in the typical square formation. The Confederacy defeated
Charles twice at Morat in 1476 and Nancy in 1477, the latter being the decisive clash
in which the Duke was killed and the Burgundian Wars ended. During their battles against Charles,
Swiss armies had proved flexible beyond anything their enemy and even their allies could muster,
and the realisation of this was one of the key military moments of the Late Medieval.
The wars demonstrated how antiquated the mounted knight had become. Essentially, the pike block
was a formation which horses could barely get close to. Finally, it showed the importance
of the long pike as the primary infantry weapon. By the end of the 15th century, over ⅔ of
the infantry was armed with the pike. The victories against Burgundy made the great
powers of Europe take notice, and they began hiring the Swiss mercenaries almost immediately. As early as 1481, around 6,000 Swiss mercenaries
were officially in the service of King Louis XI of France and, in 1497 a core of 100 elite
Swiss formed French king’s personal bodyguard unit – the ‘Garde de Cent Suisses’. Their
main role was the protection of the kings in the royal palace, but the guard often accompanied
the kings in the battle, such as to the Battle of Pavia in 1525. These Swiss guardsmen were
armed with two weapons – a traditional Swiss halberd and a gold-hilted longsword. Though
the pike was lethal when massed in a battlefield phalanx, it was completely useless in individual
combat and was obviously very unwieldy, not fit for protecting a king in the palace. Even
after the golden age of Swiss warfare had come to a close by the mid-sixteenth century,
individual Swiss troops or units were still regarded as incredibly reliable, loyal and
ferocious troops on the battlefield. Louis XIII Bourbon of France founded another Swiss
Guard regiment in 1616. This elite unit possessed the usual unwavering reputation in both peace
and wartime. Their pay was significantly higher for men in this unit than for troops in regular
French units, and far harsher Swiss disciplinary measures were employed. A moment of glory
came on August 10th 1792, during the French Revolution. Of the 900 Swiss Guards which
protected the Tuileries Palace in Paris on that day, around 600 were killed in a stalwart,
but futile stand during which they were vastly outnumbered by the revolutionaries. Two market-like forces came together in this
period and determined the extensive degree to which an average young man from the Swiss
cantons took part in the wars. Desire for mercenaries in general and high-quality mercenaries
in particular grew in the period due to the sheer number and scale of the wars. This is
especially important given the increasingly conflicted nature of the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries in particular. In short, more wars requires more soldiers. The other force was
one on the supply side of things. The supply of potential mercenaries in the Swiss cantons
rose with changing men to land ratios – meaning that the amount of men that possessed lands
decreased. Farming was a standard occupation in the cantons as it was almost everywhere
else during the pre-industrial age, but herding was gradually beginning to intrude on traditional
land practices, pushing many young men into other professions, foremost among them soldiery.
The supply of mercenaries was then maintained by an increasingly organised recruitment process
among the classes which developed over the course of about ten to twelve generations.
In short, the soldier’s life became a typical Swiss occupation. In the fifteenth century period of Swiss mercenary
service, soldiering was usually a part-time seasonal occupation which essentially served
as an income top-up for idle farmers, who were awaiting the years harvest. However,
the following hundred years changed all of this. Swiss infantry tactics were copied by
rivals such as the German Landsknechts, with whom the confederates had a ferocious rivalry,
and their strategic weaknesses such as lack of artillery and other new ranged weapons
became increasingly revealed. Nevertheless, Swiss troops in particular were believed to
have certain advantages when compared to native soldiers or even mercenaries hired from one’s
own country. English generals hiring Welsh mercenaries, for example, would be considered
inferior in many ways. Use of foreign troops, in contrast, was generally considered to be
‘politically safe’, since they were detached from the factional disputes and conflicts
of interest that might embroil native troops. A French king might have implemented a tax
increase for his gentry, and his knights might therefore be unwilling to serve him as loyally.
In comparison, Swiss mercenaries were both incredibly reliable soldiers and were disconnected
from the larger political situation going on around them. When the French Revolution
broke out, the Swiss knew their loyalties lay with the king, and protected his interests
until the end. More cynically, Swiss mercenaries empowered both the king and the nobility against
the peasants, because as foreigners they often felt little in terms of sympathy to them. We’ll now turn to what might be the most
famous example of Swiss troops serving in a foreign land, In this particular case, they
did so for hundreds of years and still do to this day – the Papal Swiss Guard. Because
of the many natural benefits, it was only natural that Pope Julius II turned to the
Swiss when he began to plan a restoration of papal fortunes within Italy and throughout
all of Europe. Despite his relatively advanced age of 60 by the time he was elected by the
college of cardinals, Julius was nevertheless a military man with an energetic personality.
It’s worth noting that popes during the renaissance were much like their secular counterparts
in the ways that they sought to secure their interests, embarking on marriage alliances,
financial arrangements and the placation of rivals. In essence, the central project of
Julius’ reign was to make the papacy into a powerful, real-world monarchy which served
as the political master of Italy and, through religious authority, the spiritual overlord
of Europe. In addition to the establishment of good government in the Papal States and
the imposition of law and order onto the often lethal streets of Rome, Julius also began
to realise that he would need a corps of personal bodyguards shortly after his accession to
the Roman Catholic throne in 1503. After all, real-world politics can be quite a deadly
game to play. This guard would have to be both loyal and tough – naturally, his gaze
turned north to the Swiss cantons for a few notable reasons. Julius had witnessed the
brutal but awe-inspiring skill of the Swiss in person twice, firstly when he had petitioned
the king of France for 2,000 of his own mercenary troops with which he could subdue his unruly
territories near Genoa in 1495. Secondly was the more reliable evidence of Swiss prowess
in his visit with French king Charles VII to Naples, where he witnessed close-up how
well the Swiss fought in battle. Among mercenaries in this period, Julius regarded
the Swiss as the greatest, as they eschewed the usual non-committal mercenary trait, instead
fighting as a ‘moving wall’. Another factor in Julius II’s decision to employ the Swiss
as his guard was the political neutrality of ‘Switzerland’ itself. It was not ‘neutral’
as we see the modern nation state, but it was not traditionally part of the early modern
great power structure. That is to say, it did not fall naturally into regular alliances
with any of the major European nations at the time: Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, France,
England or the major Italian powers. Because of this, the pope believed that he could create
a select body of men to whom he could entrust his personal safety. As we can see with over
500 years of history behind us since that point, he was correct. One Swiss advisor in
particular was relied on by Julius to bring his plan to fruition – a certain Peter von
Hertenstein, a lesser cleric who had made a name for himself by performing various tasks
for popes since Innocent VIII. When Hertenstein was called to Rome in late 1505 to discuss
the matter with Julius, he suggested the services of a distant relative – Kaspar von Silenen,
a strong military man destined to become the first commander of the Swiss Guard. The Pope eagerly accepted this proposal and
sent Von Hertenstein back to Swiss lands with a latter from Julius, asking for two-hundred
men. The famous Fugger banking family provided funds for the recruitment and transportation
of troops, but several obstacles still arose. The foremost of these issues was the confederation’s
government itself, which was trying to control the sheer number of its citizens who took
up service with foreign princes in military occupations. Moreover, the whole idea of mercenary
service was becoming controversial in the cantons. This was because in the year 1500,
two groups of Swiss – one each fighting for the King of France and Ludovico il Moro of
Milan, fought eachother and shed much fraternal blood. The Swiss diet as a whole attempted
to prohibit recruitment, but individual cantons found the temptation of mercenary work too
hard to resist due to its profitability. Serving the Cathlic Holy Father might seem like a
prestigious and honourable job, but the Pope’s representatives actually had to compete with
other buyers, especially France with all its wealth, luxuries and possibility of offensive
warfare and booty. In contrast, Papal service mostly involved dull guard duty in Rome, shielding
the Pope from his many enemies. This competitive climate had its impact, and the prelate was
only able to sign up 150 troops instead of the requested 200. They marched south to Rome
in the winter of 1505, travelling over the Gotthard Pass and eventually arriving on January
22nd 1506. Stylishly clad in their special uniforms, the Swiss unit marched to the great
Campo de’ Fiori and then through to the Vatican itself, where they took residence
and began their service. The most notable of all military engagements
which the Papal Guard took part in was the devastating Sack of Rome in 1527, perpetrated
by mutinous Imperial troops of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. On May 6th 1527 an initial
assault on Rome was launched by this army’s commander – the Duke of Bourbon, at Santo
Spirito, but it was repelled by disciplined artillery fire from Swiss Guard positions
on the Castel Sant’Angelo. In the vicious fighting, five imperial banners were captured
by the defenders, and the Duke was even killed by arquebus fire. With their general killed,
it briefly semed that the defenders might gain a victory, but this was overly optimistic.
The Roman defenders were massively outnumbered and arrayed against them were competent military
minds. When the city walls were finally breached, the militia fled for their homes and it was
essentially only the Swiss Guard which retained its discipline and stayed at their post. The
Papal Swiss Guard – 189 men strong, held its position at the Campo Santo – a cemetery inside
the walls of the Vatican. They were led by their faithful commander – Caspar Roist, who
intended to give Pope Clement time to escape. Vastly outnumbered by the imperial army, the
Swiss fought valiantly and managed to delay the enemy’s advance. In this ‘last stand
of the Swiss Guard’, 147 of the 189 perished protecting their liege, killing 900 attackers
as they did. Commander Roist was injured and then executed by Spanish mercenaries in full
view of his wife, while the remaining Guard escaped with the Pope, and were eventually
integrated into the reconstituted guard. Today, the conditions for service in the Swiss
Guard are quite strict and selective, partly due to tradition and partly due to the need
to maintain good standards. Applicants must be Swiss citizens who are Roman Catholic in
faith, be of good moral and ethical background and must have attended military school in
Switzerland. The age requirement for the Pope’s guard was between 19 and 30 years of age.
In addition, aspiring Swiss Guards must be at least 174 centimetres – or 5 feet 7 inches
tall, must not be married and must have a professional diploma or high school degree.
If a candidate meets all of these requirements and possesses all of these traits, they must
go to the Guard’s recruiting office in Neuhausen – a small town north of Zurich close to the
highest waterfall in all of Europe. Having passed the application process and subsequent
interviews, recruits arrive in Rome by train three times per year, a far cry from the initial
footmarch over the Alps 500 years ago. New arrivals begin a training regime immediately,
learning practical military affairs such as the Swiss Guard traditions, including proper
maintenance of military uniform, appropriate behavior in the various areas of the Vatican
and other oddities of Papal service. They also continuously drill with halberds in the
courtyards and gardens of the Vatican both individually and in groups, under the supervision
of an officer given the nickname of ‘Sergeant Barbetta’. In a more modern sense, the Swiss Guard become
trained in the use of modern firearms, frequently taking trips to a nearby Italian Police gun
range, where they learn to aim and care for their weapons. Such emphasis on non-ceremonial
duties and modern military equipment was placed after the attempted assassination of Pope
John Paul II in 1981. The Guard takes part in physical training at a gym located in their
barracks as well as studying various martial arts. Theoretically, all Guards pass through
a recruit school instructing them about the nature of the Vatican and its personnel, teaching
them about Rome and Italy, and learning Italian. The guardsmen have increasing learned English
due to its common usage. Younger men in the service generally consider Papal training
not as difficult as regular Swiss army training, but also consider unexpected parts of the
job harder than it seems at first. For example, wearing the ancient military dress consumes
a large amount of energy by itself, such as the metal stereotypical metal helmet – which
weighs 9 pounds, and the ceremonial armour, weighing almost 50 pounds. Standing perfectly
still in the Italian sun wearing this heavy equipment is incredibly straining, but Swiss
Guard officers claim they have even perfected psychological techniques that make even an
itch go away. We are planning to release more videos on
the elite troops of the past, so make sure you are subscribed to our channel and pressed
the bell button. We would like to express our gratitude to our Patreon supporters and
channel members, who make the creation of our videos possible. Now, you can also support
us by buying our merchandise via the link in the description. This is the Kings and
Generals channel, and we will catch you on the next one.

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100 thoughts on “Swiss Warrior: From Italian and Burgundian Wars to Papal Guard

  1. Nice to have a video to link people foolishly acting like Swiss history before napoleon didn't happen and they were always neutral.

  2. The knights were not "obsolete", but the tactics they use. Frontal charge by only knights no longer works, but the french made swiss pikes square mere target practice when French knights gendarme in Battle of Marignano cooperated with artillery devastated the swiss.
    Besides, one must know the difference between the Fall of Knight as a class , and the fall of Knight as heavy shock lance cavalry/ elite warriors.

  3. There are a few minor mistakes I noticed, nothing important, but shows how difficult it is to make good accurate videos. Yours are well done in any case.
    – The flag of St.Gallen is not the one shown which instead is from neighbouring Appenzell.
    – The waterfall near Neuhausen is one of Europe's greatest (Rheinfall), but not the tallest.
    – The new Morion helmet is not heavy anymore as it is not made of metal and were adopted in January 2019.
    However, I was puzzled about the picture of the castle in Neuhausen.There is no such castle there and as far as I know the Swiss Guard recruitment center is in canton Glarus, not Schaffhausen, where Neuhausen is. Maybe you were confused by the fact that the Swiss handgun manufacturer SIG has the head office there.
    In any case an interesting video and it would have been nice to show the beautiful Lucerne lion monument which remembers the Swiss guards killed during the French revolution.

  4. Most amazing series ever, gotta love Switzerland, can't get enough of them and I need a videogame that focuses entirely on them, EUIV and CKII are not enough, Vicky is still meh.

  5. 189 Pontifical Swiss Guard held their ground against 10,000 Protestant Germany mercenaries. Despite having only halberds and swords, while their foes boasted arquebusiers in addition to zwie-handlers, they killed an estimated 1-2,000 of them before being overwhelmed. You can still see the holes in the wall from where the arquebusiers were taking pot-shots at the Pope along the escape route between the Vatican and Castel Sant'Angelo. What an incredible story.

  6. Great documentary again!You guys are you planning to make similar video for the janissaries as there is too much false information about them?

  7. "Point n’est besoin d’espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer."
    "There is no need to hope to undertake, nor to succeed to persevere."

    Charles le Téméraire, Duc des deux Bourgognes, Comte de Flandres de Brabant et Luxembourg.

    Good video as usual, but Charles le Téméraire or the Bold do not try to create an "empire", he tried to (for some historians) to recreate the Kingdom of Lotharingia, and also to assert his postion, by expanding and joining the Holy Roman Empire (both failed) and against Louis XI of France his cousin who paid swiss to wage war against Charles. And I am quasi sure it was Charles VIII not Charles VII, beacause Charles VIII conquered Naples. But like I said good video as asual.

  8. Then the One hundred Eighty-Nine,
    In the service of heaven,
    They're protecting the holy line,
    it was Fifteen-Twenty-Seven,
    Gave their lives on the steps to heaven,
    Thy Will Be Done!

  9. I hope you do a video about the Parthians Immortals as well.
    Love to know that historie how they suppposedly were immortal.

  10. Good to know that Neuhausen has even more to often than its swords, bayonets- good old Waffenfabrik- and nowadays guns if I'm correct. Quite handy when you're established near such a training centre! No, no I'm not obsessed with antique blades, at all…
    Learned a LOT to say the least. Great job guys, amazing one!

  11. Serious question, why do we see generals send their cavalry against already formed up pike time and time again? I mean the conclusion of horsemen getting butchered by the hundreds when they charge the pointy sticks should be A) an easy one, B) a quick one and C) one as old as the pointy stick.

  12. 9lb headwear?!? -would literally kill me. I got a broken neck and back in 2014. The end of 3 months in a neck collar is shocking reality. Just the weight of one's head is truly difficult to manage if you lose the constant conditioning of holding it up. Nine pound headwear seems insane.

  13. For the grace, for the might of our lord
    In the name of his glory
    For the faith, for the way of the sword
    Come and tell their story
    Gave their lives so boldly
    Come and tell the Swiss Guards' story again

  14. Great video Fellas! One of my favorite times to learn about was Swiss protection of the Pope during the 16th century. Was it 168 men who stood their post? Unfortunately, I'm not sure if Allah makes men like that any more?!?

  15. European Kings probably said the same thing I do when I play medieval total war and see Swiss Guards. It starts with the word Oh and ends with a rather obnoxious curse word.

  16. Years ago, a close friend of mine was involved in the security for the Pope visiting the US. They said they HATED working with the swiss guard, as they always came off as arrogant and were pushing agents out of positions they were assigned to. They described their attitudes as "how dare someone else try to provide security for OUR Pope".

  17. Just curious, how much would it cost to sponsor a video? Probably way out of my budget but just wondering if an average joe can

  18. Would it be possible to compare the Swiss, Spanish, Macedonian & Greek phalanx tactics? They overall appear to be the same to me?

  19. After those prerequisites, I can see why the Swiss Guard is such a small, elite body of troops; be a Roman Catholic AND of good moral background? And for a military job, no less… 😉

  20. Please lower the background audio, specially the shouting interrupts Devin around 05:30 and the bird sound around 08:05. A tad too loud.

  21. Great video and cool story regarding the rise of swiss fighters, but, man… fuck swiss people!! Bunch of stuck-up, overly-critical ass holes. I work in hospitality and they are consistently just the worst.

  22. So my wife started complaining that i dont pay attention to her tonight….
    Well , it is hard to explain that the KaG video about Swiss mercs is more interesting that her new hairstyle , but i managed , but she is now upset 😀

  23. Mutinous Troops of Charles V: We surrounded Rome and outnumbered you. I smell the fear coming from you

    Swiss Guards: Why should we fear people who are obviously weaker than ourselves? We only pity you.

  24. OK der Papst war ein korrupter Kriegsherr wie jeder andere in dieser Zeit und um von der ganzen Eidgenossenschaft zu sprechen bei der Papstgarde der vergisst blendet die Spaltung durch die Reformation aus ca. 300 Jahren Bürgerkrieg mit kalten und warmen Phasen in diesem inner Eidgenössischen Konflikt das war die Realität die erst 1848 ein Ende fand so wie das Söldner Geschäft der Obrigkeit.

  25. Another amazing video. I hope you make a video about the Winged Hussars at some point cough cough maybe before the Battle of Vienna cough

  26. Jeniçaires next please! I never understood why were they so feared ! I mean, that shit they wear in the head? no helmet? How could you possibly be feared wearing a dress and a funny hat. There must be an explanation hahaha

  27. I initially read "papal" as "paypal" before the video started rolling and did not know what to expect. Swiss Banks connected to Paypal? Is it a conspiracy!? Kinda disappointed that this is not the case lol.

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