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"The purpose of this blog is to generate discussions about historical issues. Students, enthusiasts, and friends are all welcome to join by reading and participating with comments. I hope to generate interest in history and offer help to the perplexed." Caleb Johnson

Friday, November 11, 2011

Swiss Pikemen

Switzerland is a small, mountainous country that is hard to access and has been avoided by many conquerors in history. It is for this reason that little is mentioned about this country's past until about the 14th century.  At that time, the Holy Roman Emperors held control of the regions south and north of Switzerland. As trade and traffic grew, it became worthwhile to build roads through the mountain passes and tax those who used the roads. However, when the Emperors tried to levy taxes on their Swiss subjects, the Swiss revolted. The leaders of the Swiss knew that their armies could never match imperial forces on the field since the Swiss had no mounted knights among them. However, they knew that if they could force the knights into a narrow valley where the knights couldn't out-maneuver them, they might have a chance. There wasn't a lot of steel for swords in Switzerland, but one thing they did have was trees for pikes. When the imperial knights came to punish their recalcitrant subjects, the Swiss defeated them at the feet of their mountains and drove them off.

Holy Roman Empire with Switzerland in Brown

This began a new era of Swiss independence. No one could conquer the Swiss and their pikemen were undefeated in battle. So fierce were they, in fact, that it became common for the princes of Europe to hire them as mercenaries. The major battles of the 16th and 17th centuries were dominated by Swiss Pikemen. It even came to the point that the princes made an agreement that no one should hire the Swiss anymore and that they should partake in no more wars. The Swiss acquiesced and Switzerland has been neutral ever since. However, Swiss Pikemen continued to serve as bodyguards to the King of France and to the Pope. The guarding of the King ended during the French Revolution when the guards died defending Louis XVI from a mob. In the Vatican, the Swiss continue to guard the Pontifix Maximus in their traditional garb, though their weapons are as modern as those of the US Secret Service. It is through honors such as the Papal Guard that the heritage and valor of Swiss Pikemen endure.

Papal Guard at Vatican Hill

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a fascinating post. Didn't know some of this about the Swiss.