Swiss mercenaries
Swiss mercenaries were notable for their service in foreign armies, especially the armies of the Kings of France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, throughout the Early Modern period
Early modern Europe
Early modern Europe is the term used by historians to refer to a period in the history of Europe which spanned the centuries between the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, roughly the late 15th century to the late 18th century...

 of European history, from the Later Middle Ages
Late Middle Ages
The Late Middle Ages was the period of European history generally comprising the 14th to the 16th century . The Late Middle Ages followed the High Middle Ages and preceded the onset of the early modern era ....

 into the Age of the European Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

. Their service as mercenaries was at its apogee during the Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

, when their proven battlefield capabilities made them sought-after mercenary troops.

In William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

's Hamlet
The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601...

, Act IV, Scene 5, Swiss mercenaries are called "Switzers".


During the Late Middle Ages, mercenary forces grew in importance in Europe, as veterans from the Hundred Years War and other conflicts came to see soldiering as a profession rather than a temporary activity, and commanders sought long-term professionals rather than temporary feudal levies to fight their wars. Swiss mercenaries (Reisläufer) were valued throughout Late Medieval Europe
Late Middle Ages
The Late Middle Ages was the period of European history generally comprising the 14th to the 16th century . The Late Middle Ages followed the High Middle Ages and preceded the onset of the early modern era ....

 for the power of their determined mass attack in deep columns with the pike
Pike (weapon)
A pike is a pole weapon, a very long thrusting spear used extensively by infantry both for attacks on enemy foot soldiers and as a counter-measure against cavalry assaults. Unlike many similar weapons, the pike is not intended to be thrown. Pikes were used regularly in European warfare from the...

 and halberd
A halberd is a two-handed pole weapon that came to prominent use during the 14th and 15th centuries. Possibly the word halberd comes from the German words Halm , and Barte - in modern-day German, the weapon is called Hellebarde. The halberd consists of an axe blade topped with a spike mounted on...

. Hiring them was made even more attractive because entire ready-made Swiss mercenary contingents could be obtained by simply contracting with their local governments, the various Swiss
Old Swiss Confederacy
The Old Swiss Confederacy was the precursor of modern-day Switzerland....

Cantons of Switzerland
The 26 cantons of Switzerland are the member states of the federal state of Switzerland. Each canton was a fully sovereign state with its own borders, army and currency from the Treaty of Westphalia until the establishment of the Swiss federal state in 1848...

—the cantons had a form of militia system in which the soldiers were bound to serve and were trained and equipped to do so. Some Swiss also hired themselves out individually or in small bands.

The warriors of the Swiss cantons had gradually developed a reputation throughout Europe as skilled soldiers, due to their successful defense of their liberties against their Austrian Habsburg
The House of Habsburg , also found as Hapsburg, and also known as House of Austria is one of the most important royal houses of Europe and is best known for being an origin of all of the formally elected Holy Roman Emperors between 1438 and 1740, as well as rulers of the Austrian Empire and...

 overlords, starting as early as the late thirteenth century, including such remarkable upset victories over heavily armoured knights as Morgarten
Battle of Morgarten
The Battle of Morgarten occurred on November 15, 1315, when a Swiss Confederation force of 1,500 infantry archers ambushed a group of Austrian soldiers of the Holy Roman Empire near the Morgarten Pass...

 and Laupen
Battle of Laupen
The Battle of Laupen in 1339 was fought between the Bern and its allies on one side, and Freiburg together with feudal landholders from the County of Burgundy and Habsburg territories on the other. Bern was victorious, consolidating its position in the region...

. This was furthered by later successful campaigns of regional expansion (mainly into Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

). By the fifteenth century they were greatly valued as mercenary soldiers, particularly following their series of notable victories in the Burgundian Wars in the latter part of the century. As a result, bands of men, sometime acting independently, other times under the banners of their cantons, marched off to foreign lands to fight in the causes of others, for pay. The native term Reisläufer literally means "one who goes to war" and is derived from Middle High German Reise, meaning "military campaign".

The Swiss, with their head-down attack in huge columns with the long pike, refusal to take prisoners, and consistent record of victory, were greatly feared and admired—for instance, Machiavelli addresses their system of combat at length in The Prince
The Prince
The Prince is a political treatise by the Italian diplomat, historian and political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli. From correspondence a version appears to have been distributed in 1513, using a Latin title, De Principatibus . But the printed version was not published until 1532, five years after...

. The Valois
Valois Dynasty
The House of Valois was a cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty, succeeding the House of Capet as kings of France from 1328 to 1589...

 Kings of France, in fact, considered it a virtual impossibility to take the field of battle without Swiss pikemen as the infantry core of their armies. (Although often referred to as "pikemen", the Swiss mercenary units also contained halberd
A halberd is a two-handed pole weapon that came to prominent use during the 14th and 15th centuries. Possibly the word halberd comes from the German words Halm , and Barte - in modern-day German, the weapon is called Hellebarde. The halberd consists of an axe blade topped with a spike mounted on...

iers as well until several decades into the sixteenth century, as well as a small number of skirmishers armed with crossbows or crude firearms to precede the rapid advance of the attack column.)

The young men who went off to fight, and sometimes die, in foreign service had several incentives—limited economic options in the still largely rural cantons; adventure; pride in the reputation of the Swiss as soldiers; and finally what military historian Sir Charles Oman describes as a pure love of combat and warfighting in and of itself, forged by two centuries of conflict.

Landsknechts and the Italian Wars

Until roughly 1490, the Swiss had a virtual monopoly on pike-armed mercenary service. However, after that date, the Swiss mercenaries were increasingly supplemented by imitators, chiefly the Landsknecht
Landsknechte were European, predominantly German mercenary pikemen and supporting foot soldiers from the late 15th to the late 16th century, and achieved the reputation for being the universal mercenary of Early modern Europe.-Etymology:The term is from German, Land "land, country" + Knecht...

. Landsknechts were Germans (at first largely from Swabia
Swabia is a cultural, historic and linguistic region in southwestern Germany.-Geography:Like many cultural regions of Europe, Swabia's borders are not clearly defined...

) and became proficient at Swiss tactics to produce a force that filled the ranks of Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

an armies with mercenary regiments for decades. Although the Landsknechts were never quite as redoubtable as the Swiss, they were much more readily available for hire, as after 1515 the Swiss pledged themselves to neutrality, other than regarding Swiss soldiers serving in the ranks of the Royal French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 army. The Landsknecht, however, would serve any paymaster, even, at times, enemies of the Holy Roman Emperor (and Landsknechts at times even fought each other on the battlefield, something the Swiss flatly refused to do in mercenary service). The Landsknecht assumed the bright, garish soldier's outfits of the Swiss, and in fact soon outdid the Swiss in the flamboyance of their military dress.

The Swiss were not flattered by the imitation, and the two bodies of mercenaries immediately became bitter rivals over employment and on the battlefield, where they were often opposed during the major European conflict of the early sixteenth century, the Great Italian Wars
Italian Wars
The Italian Wars, often referred to as the Great Italian Wars or the Great Wars of Italy and sometimes as the Habsburg–Valois Wars, were a series of conflicts from 1494 to 1559 that involved, at various times, most of the city-states of Italy, the Papal States, most of the major states of Western...

. Although the Swiss generally had a significant edge in a simple "push of pike
Push of pike
The push of pike was a particular feature of late medieval and Early Modern warfare that occurred when two opposing columns of pikemen collided and became locked in position along a front of interleaved pikes...

", the resulting combat was nonetheless quite savage, and known to Italian onlookers as "bad war". Period artists such as Hans Holbein
Hans Holbein the Younger
Hans Holbein the Younger was a German artist and printmaker who worked in a Northern Renaissance style. He is best known as one of the greatest portraitists of the 16th century. He also produced religious art, satire and Reformation propaganda, and made a significant contribution to the history...

 attest to the fact that two such huge pike columns crashing into each other could result in a maelstrom of battle, and ghastly casualties on both sides.

Despite the competition from the Landsknechts, and imitation by other armies (most notably the Spanish, which adopted pike-handling as one element of its famed tercio
The tercio was a Renaissance era military formation made up of a mixed infantry formation of about 3,000 pikemen, swordsmen and arquebusiers or musketeers in a mutually supportive formation. It was also sometimes referred to as the Spanish Square...

infantry formations), the Swiss fighting reputation reached its zenith between 1480 and 1525, and indeed the Battle of Novara
Battle of Novara (1513)
The Battle of Novara was a battle of the War of the League of Cambrai fought on June 6, 1513, near Novara, in Northern Italy.The French had been victorious at Ravenna the previous year. Nevertheless, the French under King Louis XII were driven out of the city of Milan the following month by the...

, fought by Swiss mercenaries, is seen by some as the perfect Swiss battle. Even the close defeat at the terrible Battle of Marignano
Battle of Marignano
The Battle of Marignano was fought during the phase of the Italian Wars called the War of the League of Cambrai, between France and the Old Swiss Confederacy. It took place on September 13 and 15, 1515, near the town today called Melegnano, 16 km southeast of Milan...

 in 1515, the "Battle of Giants", was seen as a victory of sorts for Swiss arms due to the ferocity of the fighting and the good order of their withdrawal.

Nonetheless, the repulse at Marignano presaged the decline of the Swiss form of pike warfare
Pike square
The pike square was a military tactic developed by the Swiss Confederacy during the 15th century for use by its infantry.- History :The pike square was used to devastating effect at the Battle of Nancy against Charles the Bold of Burgundy in 1477, when the Swiss defeated a smaller but more...

—eventually, the two-century run of Swiss victories ended in 1522 with complete disaster at the Battle of Bicocca
Battle of Bicocca
The Battle of Bicocca or La Bicocca was fought on April 27, 1522, during the Italian War of 1521–26. A combined French and Venetian force under Odet de Foix, Vicomte de Lautrec, was decisively defeated by a Spanish-Imperial and Papal army under the overall command of Prospero Colonna...

 when combined Spanish tercio
The tercio was a Renaissance era military formation made up of a mixed infantry formation of about 3,000 pikemen, swordsmen and arquebusiers or musketeers in a mutually supportive formation. It was also sometimes referred to as the Spanish Square...

and Landsknecht forces decisively defeated them using fortifications and new technology (i.e. handguns
The arquebus , or "hook tube", is an early muzzle-loaded firearm used in the 15th to 17th centuries. The word was originally modeled on the German hakenbüchse; this produced haquebute...

). It can be argued that it was arrogance—overconfidence in their own supposed invincibility—which defeated the Swiss as much as the armed forces of their enemies, for at Bicocca, the Swiss mercenaries, serving the French king, attempted repeatedly to frontally storm an impregnable defensive position, only to be mown down by small-arms and artillery fire. Never had the Swiss suffered such awful casualties while being unable to inflict much damage upon their foe. Arrogance and overconfidence were at play here, but another consideration was economic—many of the Swiss mercenaries were still farmers, and needed to return home from campaign quickly in order to work the fields. This meant they often rushed, unthinking, into ill-advised battles in the hopes they would crush the enemy of their employer, collect booty, get paid, and march home to work their fields .

Organization and tactics

The early contingents of Swiss mercenary pikemen organized themselves rather differently than the cantonal forces. In the cantonal forces, their armies were usually divided into the Vorhut (vanguard), Gewalthut (center) and Nachhut (rearguard
Rearguard may refer to:* A military detachment protecting the rear of a larger military formation, especially when retreating from a pursuing enemy force. * Rear Guard , a computer game released in 1982...

), generally of different sizes and often echeloned back with respect to each other. In mercenary contingents, although they could conceivably draw up in three similar columns if their force was of sufficient size, more often they simply drew up in one or two huge columns which deployed side by side, forming the center of the army in which they served. Likewise, their tactics were not very similar to those used by the Swiss cantons in their brilliant tactical victories of the Burgundian Wars
Burgundian Wars
The Burgundian Wars were a conflict between the Dukes of Burgundy and the Kings of France, later involving the Old Swiss Confederacy, which would play a decisive role. Open war broke out in 1474, and in the following years the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, was defeated three times on the...

 and Swabian War
Swabian War
The Swabian War of 1499 was the last major armed conflict between the Old Swiss Confederacy and the House of Habsburg...

, in which they relied on maneuver at least as much as the brute force of the attack columns. In mercenary service they became much less likely to resort to outmaneuvering the enemy and relied more on a straightforward steamroller assault.

Such deep pike columns could crush lesser infantry in close combat and were invulnerable to the effects of a cavalry charge, but they were vulnerable to firearms if they could be immobilized (as seen in the Battle of Marignano
Battle of Marignano
The Battle of Marignano was fought during the phase of the Italian Wars called the War of the League of Cambrai, between France and the Old Swiss Confederacy. It took place on September 13 and 15, 1515, near the town today called Melegnano, 16 km southeast of Milan...

). The Swiss mercenaries did deploy crossbows, handguns and artillery of their own, however these always remained very subsidiary to the pike and halberd square. Despite the proven armour-penetration capability of firearms, they were also very inaccurate, slow-loading, and susceptible to damp conditions, and did not fit well with the fast-paced attack tactics used by the Swiss mercenary pike forces.

The Swiss remained primarily pikemen throughout the sixteenth century, but after that period they adopted similar infantry formations and tactics to other units in the armies in which they served. Accordingly, their tactics became less unique, and they took a normal place in the battle line amongst the other infantry units.

End of military ascendancy

In the end, as proven at Marignano and Bicocca, the pike attack of the Swiss mercenaries proved to be too vulnerable to firearms wielded by Spanish and Landsknecht arquebusiers and the earthworks and artillery of the French. These arquebusiers and heavy cannons scythed down the close-packed ranks of the Swiss squares in bloody heaps—at least, as long as the Swiss attack could be bogged down by earthworks or cavalry charges, and the shooters were backed up by Spanish and/or Landsknecht pikemen to defend them if necessary from the Swiss in close combat.

Other stratagems could also take the Swiss pikemen at a disadvantage. For instance, the Spanish rodeleros
Rodeleros , also called espadachines colloquially known as "Sword and Buckler Men" were Spanish troops in the early 16th century, equipped with steel shields or bucklers known as rodela and swords .Originally conceived as an Italian attempt to revive the legionary swordsman,...

, also known as Sword and Buckler Men, armed with steel rodelas and side-sword
The spada da lato or "side-sword" is the Italian term for the type of sword popular during the late 16th century, corresponding to the Spanish espada ropera....

s, often wearing a helmet and a breastplate, were much better armed and armoured for man-to-man close combat than the Swiss. Accordingly, they could heavily defeat the Swiss if their pike column could be disorganized so that the rodeleros could dash under the unwieldy pikes of the Swiss and stab the lightly armoured, shieldless Swiss infantry. Landsknechts, using a formation similar to that of the Swiss, were defeated with terrible slaughter by the Spanish rodeleros at the Battle of Ravenna
Battle of Ravenna (1512)
The Battle of Ravenna, fought on 11 April 1512, by forces of the Holy League and France, was a major battle of the War of the League of Cambrai in the Italian Wars...

. It should be noted, however, that this required disorganization of the pike column, and Swiss pike columns which retained good formation were able to heavily defeat Spanish rodeleros formations in battles such as at the Battle of Seminara
Battle of Seminara
The Battle of Seminara, part of the First Italian War, was fought in Calabria on June 28, 1495 between a French garrison in recently conquered southern Italy and the allied forces of Spain and Naples which were attempting to reconquer these territories...


After the Battle of Pavia

Despite the end of their supremacy circa 1525, the Swiss pike-armed mercenaries soon bounced back, and thereafter continued to be among the most capable close combat infantry in Europe throughout the sixteenth century, as demonstrated by their battlefield performances serving the King of France in the French Wars of Religion
French Wars of Religion
The French Wars of Religion is the name given to a period of civil infighting and military operations, primarily fought between French Catholics and Protestants . The conflict involved the factional disputes between the aristocratic houses of France, such as the House of Bourbon and House of Guise...

, particularly at the Battle of Dreux
Battle of Dreux
The Battle of Dreux was fought on 19 December 1562 between Catholics and Huguenots. The Catholics were led by Anne de Montmorency while Louis I, Prince of Condé led the Huguenots....

, where the block of Royal Swiss pikemen singlehandedly resisted virtually the entire Huguenot
The Huguenots were members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France during the 16th and 17th centuries. Since the 17th century, people who formerly would have been called Huguenots have instead simply been called French Protestants, a title suggested by their German co-religionists, the...

 army, allowing the Catholic cavalry to eventually counterattack.

Service in the French army

Swiss soldiers continued to serve as mercenaries with many nations from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. The most famous employer of these mercenaries was the French army, and the Swiss were an intrinsic, elite part of the French infantry forces. The famed Swiss Guard regiment, the most senior of the thirteen Swiss mercenary regiments in French service, was essentially identical to the French Guards in organization and equipment other than wearing a red uniform as opposed to the blue uniforms of the French Guards. The Swiss similarly adopted the musket in increasingly large numbers as the seventeenth century wore on, and abandoned the pike, their ancient trademark, altogether at around the same time as other troops in the French army, circa 1700. They also served in the New World: Samuel De Champlain's map of the Île Sainte-Croix (Saint Croix Island) settlement shows a barracks for the Swiss.

Swiss soldiers were watching over the Bastille
The Bastille was a fortress in Paris, known formally as the Bastille Saint-Antoine. It played an important role in the internal conflicts of France and for most of its history was used as a state prison by the kings of France. The Bastille was built in response to the English threat to the city of...

 prison in 1789 when it was besieged by the mob
Storming of the Bastille
The storming of the Bastille occurred in Paris on the morning of 14 July 1789. The medieval fortress and prison in Paris known as the Bastille represented royal authority in the centre of Paris. While the prison only contained seven inmates at the time of its storming, its fall was the flashpoint...

 on the outbreak of the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

. Loyal to the last, the Swiss Guard was massacred on August 10, 1792, dying to protect Louis XVI when the mob attacked the Tuileries Palace
Tuileries Palace
The Tuileries Palace was a royal palace in Paris which stood on the right bank of the River Seine until 1871, when it was destroyed in the upheaval during the suppression of the Paris Commune...

, although the king had already fled.

Napoleon's army also included Swiss troops, who fought well, and were allowed to keep their distinctive red uniforms (distinguishing them from the French troops, who wore blue), although this caused some confusion on the battlefield—it was the same color worn by Napoleon's enemies in the Spanish campaigns, the British infantry
Red coat (British army)
Red coat or Redcoat is a historical term used to refer to soldiers of the British Army because of the red uniforms formerly worn by the majority of regiments. From the late 17th century to the early 20th century, the uniform of most British soldiers, , included a madder red coat or coatee...


Service in the Spanish Army

Another prime employer of Swiss mercenaries from the later 16th century on was Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

. After the Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

, Switzerland was split along religious lines between Protestant and Catholic
The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase , meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words meaning "about" and meaning "whole"...

 cantons. Swiss mercenaries from the Catholic cantons were thereafter increasingly likely to be hired for service in the armies of the Spanish Habsburg superpower in the later sixteenth century. The first regularly embodied Swiss regiment in the Spanish army was that of Walter Roll of Uri
Canton of Uri
Uri is one of the 26 cantons of Switzerland and a founding member of the Swiss Confederation. It is located in Central Switzerland. The canton's territory covers the valley of the Reuss River between Lake Lucerne and the St. Gotthard Pass. German is the primary language spoken in Uri...

 (a Catholic canton) in 1574, for service in the Spanish Netherlands, and by the middle of the seventeenth century there were a dozen Swiss regiments fighting for the Spanish army. From the latter part of the seventeenth century these could be found serving in Spain itself or in its possessions, and fought against Portugal, against rebellions in Catalonia, in the War of the Spanish Succession
War of the Spanish Succession
The War of the Spanish Succession was fought among several European powers, including a divided Spain, over the possible unification of the Kingdoms of Spain and France under one Bourbon monarch. As France and Spain were among the most powerful states of Europe, such a unification would have...

, War of the Polish Succession
War of the Polish Succession
The War of the Polish Succession was a major European war for princes' possessions sparked by a Polish civil war over the succession to Augustus II, King of Poland that other European powers widened in pursuit of their own national interests...

, War of the Austrian Succession
War of the Austrian Succession
The War of the Austrian Succession  – including King George's War in North America, the Anglo-Spanish War of Jenkins' Ear, and two of the three Silesian wars – involved most of the powers of Europe over the question of Maria Theresa's succession to the realms of the House of Habsburg.The...

 (in the fighting in Italy), and against Britain in the American Revolutionary War
Spain in the American Revolutionary War
Spain actively supported the Thirteen Colonies throughout the American Revolutionary War, beginning in 1776 by jointly funding Roderigue Hortalez and Company, a trading company that provided critical military supplies, through financing the final Siege of Yorktown in 1781 with a collection of gold...

. Their final role in Spanish service was against the French in the Peninsular War
Peninsular War
The Peninsular War was a war between France and the allied powers of Spain, the United Kingdom, and Portugal for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. The war began when French and Spanish armies crossed Spain and invaded Portugal in 1807. Then, in 1808, France turned on its...

, in which the six Swiss regiments in the Spanish army mostly stayed loyal to the Spanish—at the Battle of Bailén
Battle of Bailén
The Battle of Bailén was contested in 1808 between the Spanish Army of Andalusia, led by Generals Francisco Castaños and Theodor von Reding, and the Imperial French Army's II corps d'observation de la Gironde under General Pierre Dupont de l'Étang...

, the Swiss regiments pressed into French service defected back to the Spanish Army Swiss
3rd Swiss Regiment Reding
The 3rd Swiss Regiment Reding was a unit of Swiss soldiers in the Spanish Army and one of several Swiss regiments serving the Spanish Crown in the 18th century. The regiment was founded by a royal proclamation of Philip V in 1742 and recruited from the Canton of Schwyz in central...

 under Reding
Theodor von Reding
Theodor von Reding was a Swiss general of the Napoleonic Wars most notable for his career in the service of Spain.He was born in Schwyz, the son of the aristocrat Josef Rudolf Reding von Biberegg...

—and were eventually ground down by years of fighting. The year 1823 finally saw the end of Swiss mercenary service with the Spanish army.

As in French service, the Swiss fighting in the ranks of the Spanish army generally followed its organization, tactics and dress.

Modern times

Military alliances were banned under the Swiss constitution of 1848, though troops still served abroad when obliged by treaties. One such example were the Swiss serving under Francis II of the Two Sicilies
Francis II of the Two Sicilies
Francis II , was King of the Two Sicilies from 1859 to 1861. He was the last King of the Two Sicilies, as successive invasions by Giuseppe Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia ultimately brought an end to his rule, and marked the first major event of Italian unification...

 who defended Gaeta in 1860
Siege of Gaeta (1860)
The Siege of Gaeta was the concluding event of the war between the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. It started on November 5, 1860 and ended February 13, 1861, and took place in Gaeta, in today's Southern Lazio .-Background:...

 during the Italian War of Unification
Expedition of the Thousand
The Expedition of the Thousand was a military campaign led by the revolutionary general Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1860. A force of volunteers defeated the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, leading to its dissolution and annexation by the Kingdom of Sardinia, an important step in the creation of a newly...

. This marked the end of an era.

Since 1859, only one mercenary unit has been permitted: the Vatican's Swiss Guard, which has been protecting the Pope for the last five centuries, dressed in colorful uniforms, supposedly drawn by Michelangelo, reminiscent of the Swiss mercenary's heyday. Despite it being prohibited, individual Swiss citizens carried on the tradition of foreign military service into the twentieth century, including participation in the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

, usually on the Republican
Second Spanish Republic
The Second Spanish Republic was the government of Spain between April 14 1931, and its destruction by a military rebellion, led by General Francisco Franco....


Popular image

Because of their good reputation in military history, Swiss Pikemen feature as prominent special military units in various strategy games, including Medieval: Total War
Medieval: Total War
Medieval: Total War is a turn-based strategy and real-time tactics computer game developed by The Creative Assembly and published by Activision. Set in the Middle Ages, it is the second game in the Total War series, following on from the 2000 title Shogun: Total War...

and Age of Empires III
Age of Empires III
Age of Empires III is a real-time strategy game developed by Microsoft Corporation's Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft Game Studios. The Mac version was ported over and developed by Destineer's MacSoft Games and published by Destineer and MacSoft Games...


See also

  • Military history of the Old Swiss Confederacy
  • Beresinalied
    The Beresinalied, originally known as Unser Leben gleicht der Reise is a Lied composed by Friedrich Wilke after the 1792 poem die Nachtreise by Ludwig Giseke....

  • mal du Suisse
  • Swiss army


  • Führer, H. R., and Eyer, R. P. (eds.), Schweizer in "Fremden Diensten", 2006. In German.
  • Lienert, Meinrad, Schweizer Sagen und Heldengeschichten, 1915. In German.
  • Miller, Douglas, The Swiss at War, 1979.
  • Oman, Sir Charles, A History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century, 1937.
  • Oman, Sir Charles, A History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages, rev. ed. 1960.
  • Richards, John, Landsknecht Soldier 1486–1550, 2002.
  • Schaufelberger, Walter, Der Alte Schweizer und Sein Krieg: Studien Zur Kriegführung Vornehmlich im 15. Jahrhundert, 1987 (in German).
  • Singer, P.W. "Corporate Warriors" 2003.
  • Taylor, Frederick Lewis, The Art of War in Italy, 1494–1529, 1921.
  • Wood, James B., The King's Army: Warfare, Soldiers and Society during the Wars of Religion in France, 1562–76, 1996.


  • Schweizer im Spanischen Bürgerkrieg (The Swiss in the Spanish Civil War), Director Richard Dindo
    Richard Dindo
    Richard Dindo is a Swiss documentary film director. He made his first film in 1970.-Filmography:*The Marsdreamers *Gauguin à Tahiti et aux Marquises *Wer war Franz Kafka?...

    , 1974 (English-language release 1982). In Swiss German
    Swiss German
    Swiss German is any of the Alemannic dialects spoken in Switzerland and in some Alpine communities in Northern Italy. Occasionally, the Alemannic dialects spoken in other countries are grouped together with Swiss German as well, especially the dialects of Liechtenstein and Austrian Vorarlberg...

    with English sub-titles.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.