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One of the chief groups of Germanic mercenary regiments in history was the Landsknechts. These were mostly pikemen and achieved the reputation as the universal mercenary of early modern Europe. The first regiments were formed by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Thereafter the Landsknechts fought in just about every European conflict, sometimes on both sides. Their style, both in terms of fighting and image, derived largely from the Swiss mercenaries. In fact, they originally had Swiss instructors.

The landsknechts were quite conspicuous with their elaborate uniforms, which they adopted from the Swiss. Their tunics were deliberately slashed at the front, back and sleeves with shirts pulled through to form puffs of different-colored fabric. Their pants were often multi-colored. They were also known for beret-type hats and helmets with tall and colorful plumes.

Likewise, the Swiss mercenaries of the early modern European period were principally pikemen and halberdiers. Swiss warriors were highly prized across Europe for their martial skills. Like the Landsknechts, they served in many of Europes military conflicts for hundreds of years.

A Landsknecht holding a halberd.

A modern Pontifical Swiss Guard

Some Swiss mercenaries formed into Guard units that served across Europe. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Pontifical Swiss Guard, founded by Pope Julius II in 1506 and still in service protecting the Holy Father and the Vatican City-State to this day.

There were other Swiss Guards, however. They saw service in the Houses of Savoy, Prussia, Saxony, Naples, Austria, Portugal, and others, as well as the Dutch Republic.


Colonel Frischling
Swiss Guards in Holland

In 1874, the Swiss government passed legislation forbidding its citizens from participation in such mercenary forces. The Pontifical Swiss Guard is the sole exception to this role, and the members of that unit to this day still come exclusively from Switzerland.

Other Swiss Guards achieved honors and distinction as well. One of the most interesting is the guard that served Austrian Empress Maria Theresa in the winter palace. There remains to this day a courtyard in that palace called the Swiss Court in honor of their faithful service.




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