All Episodes

July 9, 2024 46 mins

At first glance, the Vatican's security service makes no sense. The Swiss Guard is an elite force from, well, Switzerland. So what the heck are these guys from a notoriously neutral nation doing so far down south? In today's episode, Ben, Noel and Max explore the origin and evolution of the world-famous Swiss Guard.

See for privacy information.

Mark as Played

Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
Ridiculous History is a production of iHeartRadio. Welcome back to

the show, Ridiculous Historians. Thank you, as always so much
for tuning in. Let's hear for a super producer, mister
Max Williams.

Speaker 2 (00:34):
Huzzah, huzza.

Speaker 3 (00:36):
Is that what the Swiss say? Did they invent hazza?
That'd be pretty cool.

Speaker 2 (00:40):
Have a story for y'all.

Speaker 1 (00:43):
And before we get into the story, I've been bullying
you're an old brown?

Speaker 3 (00:46):
Is that it's true? So?

Speaker 2 (00:48):
Is this the first time I'm Yeah, this is the
first time I'm in air since my vacation and the.

Speaker 3 (00:53):
First time in New York.

Speaker 2 (00:54):
Yeah, yeah, so yeah, I guess now that like I'm back,
I can say more details. I don't dox myself. I
went to the NBA, guys, I'm a big sports Fanily,
the lilne of Hawks were drafting number one overall. That
is not the cool story I have to tell. So
at the number eight overall pick, this guy named Rob
Dillingham got drafted by San Antonio Sports. I really liked
Rob Dillingham and he's gonna be great pro And I
was so I was celebrating, like that's a great big

of love that I didn't realize the guy in front
of me was celebrating like so much harder than I was,
because I was, you know, so self absorbing in myself.
So I'm just standing there. I'm talking about buddy Mike.
My buddy Mike had been talking to the guy in
front of him and then ook at my phone and like, oh, Mike,
Rob Dillingham got traded in Minnesota Timberwolves, and my buddy
Mike's like, hey, hey, happening a dude in front of me.
I tell that dude there. I told that dude. Long

story short. I broke the news of Rob Dillingham being
traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves to Rob Dillingham's older brother, Oh,
I can die happy? His response, Oh yeah, I didn't
want to go to San Antonio, Minnesota.

Speaker 3 (01:49):
Way better. Was he Swiss?

Speaker 2 (01:53):
He was not Swiss, and he was nothing with this
episodeh this is this is.

Speaker 1 (01:57):
To show us that he had a fantastic time in
New York. Are you and Dillingham's younger brother gonna hang out?

Speaker 2 (02:06):
I did not get his number.

Speaker 1 (02:08):
I was hoping you were gonna be like his number
one trusted news source. Now like he calls Max to
see what's what's really breaking down, both in the US
and in Switzerland. Swazah, we are. We are finally doing it, folks.
It wasn't too too long ago that we did a
fantastic little episode on Vatican City, which I think we

all still want to travel to at some point, right.

Speaker 3 (02:35):
Yeah, it's I don't know. It seems a little scary
for some weird vibes in Vatican City.

Speaker 1 (02:41):
Yeah, we don't want to live there because we would
have to convert to we have to become part of
the priesthook.

Speaker 3 (02:49):
Right do they receive tourists? Do you have to be
doesn't necessarily We could say it's a religious pilgrimage, you know,
just to kind of tick the boxes, but I don't know,
I think probably secular tourism is also okay, it is
in fact a historical site.

Speaker 1 (03:06):
Yeah, Or we could try to join the Swiss Guard.
This is what we were talking about in part of
the Vatican City episode, right, I believe that was the
episode and we all got so fascinated with this that
we said we should do an entire show on the
Swiss Guard, And thanks to our research associate mister Max Williams,
we are doing so to day.

Speaker 3 (03:34):
Oh, the Swiss Guard they have they dress eerily similar,
maybe not exactly, but like it reminds me of those
what are those guards called that kind of look like
the dudes that guarded the wicked Witch of the West
Palace and the yeah, the Beefeaters. They look kind of
beefeater esque. But they also their helmets have this cute

little little plume versus the weird giant like you know,
and play kind of hat.

Speaker 1 (04:02):
Yes, yeah, this is uh, this is from that kind
that school of very specific military uniforms that are uh,
much less homogeneous than the uniforms that you'll see in
a lot of modern militaries today.

Speaker 3 (04:18):
Fancy looking, they got a rough you know, they've got
the kind of peaked helmet. Uh, I mean, I know,
I know that like legitimate Swiss Guard. Probably this is
more of like a traditional kind of ceremonial outfit or whatever.
But it doesn't look like it would be very conducive
to to do in war. But neither is Switzerland. Yeah, Uh,

it's the It's complicated, right, It's.

Speaker 1 (04:43):
The country that is legendary for its banking.

Speaker 3 (04:48):

Speaker 1 (04:48):
You hear a lot about Swiss chocolate and the mountains
and the outrageous cost of living and how expensive it
is to be a tourist. There U better known as
the the Swiss Confederation. It's a small, landlocked country right
in the middle of Europe. It's not super big. It's
about fifteen nine and forty three square miles, making it

not a micro nation, but the thirty first biggest country
in Europe. So it's a small guy amid a land
of small guys.

Speaker 3 (05:22):
That's right. I mentioned the Swiss not being particularly interested
in warring, and that's because around fifteen fifteen, the Swiss
Confederacy lost brutally in a battle against the French, the
Battle of Marignano, and this apparently created a sort of

domino effect of events that led to moves towards neutrality. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (05:50):
This comes to us from Evan Andrews in Wya, Switzerland
and Neutral Country, writing for history dot Com. It was
after this defeat that you were describing that the Swiss
Confederacy says, look, we've got enough land. We're not gonna
try to take over other neighboring kingdoms. And as a
matter of fact, we're not gonna try to start fights

with anybody. We're just for now we're gonna stay like
Switzerland for the Swiss, and we're just gonna watch our
own backs. And then the Napoleonic Wars happened. This is
what made Switzerland a permanently neutral nation because in seventeen
ninety eight France invaded them, even though they didn't do
anything right.

Speaker 3 (06:32):
Switzerland was invaded by France and later on was made
a satellite I guess city state of the Napoleonic Empire,
like a vassal or puttot. That's exactly right, that's what
I was looking for, ben thanks, And this did force
them to compromise their new found neutrality. But after Napoleon

got his gear banded to him, well okay for a minute,
then he lost it. He got his ass handed to
him in Waterloo, as we know, and then the European
powers decided that neutral Switzerland sounds like actually a pretty
good deal. It allows them to be part of the

international community in such a way where they can kind
of weigh in on things without having exactly having skin
in the game, kind of, if that makes sense. Because
during the Congress of Vienna they signed this declaration affirming
the Switzerland would be perpetually neutral within the international community.
And we know things like the International Criminal Court is

a thing that takes place in.

Speaker 1 (07:43):
Switzerland do very much to that neutrality. Yeah, Switzerland's neutrality
made a lot of sense at the time, as this cooler,
this geographical cooler between Austria and France, right, and having
one country that is definitely always going to be peaceful
is pretty helpful in the grand scheme of things. So

the buffer almost right, right, yeah, or the cooler like
that Bartender movie or that Roadhouse movie.

Speaker 3 (08:14):
Roadhouse, Yes, wasn't the cooler just like karate chops and
kicks ass, though the Swiss are a little more, a
little more taciturn.

Speaker 1 (08:23):
Their martial art is neutrality. So this stance here makes
sense at the time, it makes sense now, but it
also makes it even stranger that His Holiness the Pope,
the leader of the Catholic Church, is protected specifically even today,
in twenty twenty four, by the Swiss Guard. So in
today's story, we're gonna look at how this small group

from a neutral country became the personal bodyguards for one
of the most powerful living people on the planet. It
doesn't really click, doesn It's sort of weird. Why don't
they have like Vatican its like again, like the beefeeders
in London, what did the Swiss have to do with
the pope at all? And it turns out it does

go back to that whole neutrality thing in a way
that you might not expect, right, And we have to
answer this by explaining, yes, Switzerland, despite being a neutral country,
does have a military, kind of like how Japan has
a self defense force instead of an army. Switzerland's defense

systems were once upon a time, like many other systems
in feudal Europe, it was up to the local town
right or the local community to raise a bunch of
people who were maybe farmers most of the time threat yeah,
militia esque, and they became an organized army or they

became an ad hoc army.

Speaker 3 (09:52):
For a time, a little more organization got injected in
the proceedings, right.

Speaker 1 (09:56):
Right, seventeen ninety eight, eighteen oh three, the Helvedic era.
Wonder if that has anything to do with the health
I hope there was a war over foughts. That's going
to start a war in and of itself that led
to the first organized party in Switzerland. During during these

decades and the decades following seventeen ninety eight, Switzerland was
into the idea of creating what they would call a
confederate army. In eighteen fifteen, like you were saying earlier,
when Europe's major powers recognized neutrality and independence. For Switzerland,
national defense becomes a huge defining strategic goal for their military.

So maybe not adventuring abroad, but making sure no one
can come in.

Speaker 3 (10:48):
Right, And isn't it fight too, like I sort of
briefly touched on it, But the idea of an expansionist
sort of I guess what's the word I'm looking for,
sort of philosophy. I guess maybe that's not even the
right word. But you know, we might argue in today's
climate that the US is not expansionist in the ways
that we used to think of what that meant, meaning

that we're like always out there seeking other lands to conquer.
We officially don't do that, but we also totally do
do that through like proxy wars and all kinds of
other things, Right, wouldn't you say? Yeah?

Speaker 1 (11:23):
Yeah, it depends on how narrow of a scope we
want to use to define expansion because to your point,
the US has not picked up a fifty first state
in our lifetime, but they've also done a lot of
other things.

Speaker 3 (11:37):
A lot of occupation, which one could argue is in
its own way, sort of an ad hoc form of expansionism,
whereas the Swiss they're not doing that, they're not seeking that,
they're not setting up, you know, military outposts in other
countries because they're not participating in the war. Therefore they're
not getting any of the spoils. And if you go
to the Swiss Info channel, you'll see that they do

have an army. The current army is at one hundred
and forty seven thousand people, whoa way bigger than I
would have thought.

Speaker 1 (12:07):
Yeah, right, it's actually higher than the one allowed by law.
The regular number, according to the Swiss government, should be
one hundred thousand around about ballpark one hundred thousand, with
a maximum of one hundred and forty thousand. And the
Swiss government has said, yeah, we know the law hasn't
caught up, but we need to.

Speaker 3 (12:29):
Have our numbers right around here for right now.

Speaker 1 (12:32):
Because I like this word, because it is this is
a very Swiss thing to say. It is inappropriate to
reduce the current size of the army given the geopolitical
situation highly inappropriate. And then again, you can't really be
fully neutral if you can't protect yourself, right, that's a
big part of this.

Speaker 3 (12:52):
So it's not like they're just hanging out there in
the wind. They definitely can put their money in their
Swiss bank accounts where they're mouth bazar, you know. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (13:01):
And they're also at they're a legit military. They're actively training,
you know what I mean, they're not ceremonial. And the
one important statistic for anybody wondering about that maximum army
size or current army size, that's one hundred and forty
seven thousand people out of a population of around eight.

Speaker 3 (13:22):
Point seven million and eight point six million, I would say,
And do they have like something resembling the draft over there?
Isn't that right? Us? You put a little note in
here about Swiss conscription.

Speaker 1 (13:33):
Yes, Switzerland does have conscription, or it has a mandatory
military service. We should say, once you become an adult,
if you're a male citizen, then you have to serve
in the armed forces of Switzerland. Women may also volunteer
for any position. This was interesting because you know how

people are really divided on the draft here in the
United States. Yeah, right, in twenty thirteen, Switzerland held a
referendum and said, hey, should we get rid of conscription?
Should we abolish it such that every Swiss citizen can
just decide if they want to serve in the military
or not. Seventy three percent of people in Switzerland voted

to keep conscription, so.

Speaker 3 (14:24):
They're on board with it. They're weirdly on board. Very interesting.
You got a wonder too with what did you mention
the population ben of Switzerland?

Speaker 1 (14:33):
Yeah, eight point it's eight point five seven in twenty nineteen.

Speaker 3 (14:39):
One would I mean, you know, I'm just doing some
what you call cocktail math here, but like you know,
with that many people in the population, which obviously isn't massive,
it doesn't seem like it would be that hard to
keep one hundred and forty thousand soldiers voluntarily, you know, enlisted.
But also doesn't it seem like a bit of a
safer army to be enlisted into than say the US
army or you know, the UK. Yeah, and then also

a lot of people without getting two in the weeds
in this. You're absolutely right. I agree with you. That's
a great point.

Speaker 1 (15:09):
About one fifth of the people who get conscripted get
found unfit for military service or civilian service, because if
you don't want to go to the military, right, if
you only go into the military, you could go for
civilian service, like helping the elderly or reconstructing sites of
cultural heritage. If you get exempt from the service, you

have to pay an extra three percent income tax until
you're thirty.

Speaker 3 (15:40):
Seven, I could add up.

Speaker 1 (15:42):
See, so they've got they've got a system of carrots
and sticks.

Speaker 3 (15:45):
Here, they've got their Swiss hooks and you. So the
law of neutrality, which is what we're talking about here,
was codified in the Hey Conventions of October eighteenth, nineteen
oh seven as part of international customary law. And I

believe this is from the Yeah, Federal Department of Foreign
Affairs of Switzerland's official website. So, yeah, they have something
called customary law. And this defines the rights and obligations
of a neutral state. Reading directly from the resource, the
most important of these rights is the inviolability of a

neutral states territory.

Speaker 1 (16:32):
Yeah, this is FAFO. This is legitimate FAFO. They're very
careful to say, with this doctrine of our neutrality that
we are not going to go out to Hungary or
whatever and wreck a town. But if the Hungarians or
anyone comes in or threatens the sanctity of our state

and our sovereignty, then we are going to react swiftly
and with overwhelming force. Again, it's a trained force. As
a trained military, they're not just you know, skipping about
in their furry plumed caps like. They can definitely defend
their territory. There are some other ones, the actual obligations

of the neutral state themselves, sort of the flip side
of it, which includes not allowing belligerent.

Speaker 3 (17:27):
States to use its territory. Yeah, so a lot of
this is international community type stuff, refraining from engaging in
war and not supplying mercenary troops to belligerent states and
against belligerent states. Is that defined clearly? Is it like
if you're not in the UN? Or like, what is

a belligerent? It could change depending on the climate. I
imagine it could.

Speaker 1 (17:52):
Belligerent states don't usually see themselves as belligerent, you know,
things like Department of the Offense. But so o wait,
now I'm imagining the Swiss has the Swiss government has
something like that, but it's in a Brooklyn accident and
they're like Department of Defense and it's just like a fence.

Speaker 3 (18:13):
I'm loving the idea of their borders are just guarded
by like a single white picket fence. It's very well
maintained and it's governed by the Department of Defence.

Speaker 1 (18:22):
Yes, Defense, So the there are some tricky things here.
Belligerent or nation would be defined by a nation that
violates agreements of the international.

Speaker 3 (18:34):
Community, so change yeah.

Speaker 1 (18:38):
And the other thing though, is the banking, because are
you not helping a belligerent state?

Speaker 3 (18:47):
Are you not?

Speaker 1 (18:48):
If you're moving money, are you not in some way
supplying troops for a belligerent state?

Speaker 3 (18:54):
You are at the very least a conduit to the
funds that are paying for and supplying troops to I'd
love to take a minute here just to talk. I
know we've probably talked about this in the past, just
to somewhat demystify Swiss banking. It's not dissimilar to the
way their tax loopholes in Delaware here in the United States,

but this is on a much more international kind of stage.
And what exactly are the benefits of a Swiss bank account?
And it almost seems like that time maybe has passed
a little bit, Like I feel as though I've been
reading that. It's no longer what it used to be
in terms of like the James bondness of it all.

Speaker 1 (19:35):
Yeah, now you want to have something more like a
freeport if you can swing that, or banks in different countries,
maybe closer to the stereotype of a Swiss bank account.
So back in the day, they were associated with money
laundering writ large right, stolen Nazi gold artifacts stolen during

World War Two, drug lords and cartels and business tycoons
swirling away their money to avoid paying taxes, and they
were the idea was like in the world of fiction
and film, the idea was, no matter who you were,
you just had to have this number, the banking number,

and then a couple of other codes, and you could
go in and play with ungodly amounts of money without
necessarily verifying your identity. And the Swiss banking institutions would
never give you up upon pain of death. That is
no longer true. They have to verify your identity.

Speaker 3 (20:36):
Now this is where you see like the Jason Bournes
of the world going in and doing a retinal scan
and getting a suitcase full of like different identity passports,
handgun and like currency from different countries but it does
appear though. While Swiss banking is still considered of the
highest level of client confidentiality possible in the world, there

is something called the Financial Secrecy Index of twenty twenty two.
It is no longer what it used to be in
the fact that they use. It's not used as a
tax shelter as much. Apparently today there's practically no untaxed
money left in Switzerland and the days of that complete
anonymity that you're talking about are long gone.

Speaker 1 (21:20):
Yeah, you can still sort of do it setting up
an account by number only, but it's more expensive. It's
pretty much the same process of verification, and the only
difference is a couple of folks in upper management will
know your identity, but there are still records of ownership.
Swiss law is still it still forbids you to accept

money as a banker if you are if you have
suspicion that it might be the result of a crime.
And also it's still like it's still against the law
for a banker to just come out and reveal your information.
Privacy still is a big deal. If we were Swiss
bankers and say Max came out and said Jonathan Strickland

has secreted to weigh money and he's avoiding paid tax
or whatever. If if Max came out and said that
our bank would be in trouble and Max himself would
risk prison time. So they do take it seriously. But
it has changed and I would argue for the better.
And one thing we didn't answer. So we've busted some

myths about Switzerland. Yes there's a military, there is conscription.
Yes there's more to the banks than James Bond would
have you believe. But even if they have a military, note,
we haven't answered the question yet. How did some of
these folks end up in the Vatican.

Speaker 3 (22:47):
Yeah, so, you know, Switzerland definitely not what you would
consider an imperialistic power. They certainly have gotten beefed up
with some people over the years. However, especially around the
sixteenth century CE, a lot of their military force was
exerted through these those I guess those groups you were

talking about, those sort of like disparate little almost militias,
mercenary groups, which is also why that mercenary language is
used in their neutrality code. Mm hmm. Yeah. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (23:23):
And according to Britannica and the Swiss Guards are a
group of Swiss soldiers who are entirely responsible for the
safety of the Pope. They're sometimes called the world's smallest
army because calling them the world's littlest army would have
been too cute and would have made it sound like

the Swiss Guards were a bunch of children, which.

Speaker 3 (23:45):
They are not.

Speaker 1 (23:46):
Now they are independent of the overall Swiss armed forces.
They are employed by the Roman Catholic Church directly under
the Pope's leadership, and they swear fealty to the Pope.
Is a big to do in a big ceremony of
Belvidere or court.

Speaker 3 (24:04):
The competition just.

Speaker 1 (24:05):
Like any elite force, because believe it or not, these
guys are like special forces kind of. It's very there's
a very intense competition. To be included in the Guards.
You have to be Roman Catholic surprise. You have to
be single, you have to be a male with Swiss citizenship.
You can be anywhere between nineteen to thirty years old.

You have to be at least five foot eight, and
you have to have a high school degree or professional diploma,
and then you have to complete basic training with the
Swiss military. So I guess they're not like necessarily Navy
seals or army rangers, but they do have very specific criteria.
And of course you can imagine if you grow up

and you're a Catholic kid getting the job protecting the pope.
Is that you know, that's like a spiritual calling.

Speaker 3 (24:55):
Absolutely, no, I get it. I'm sorry, man, I gotta
ask the question everyone's asking in their minds. At least,
at what point do they get issued the knives? You know,
the Swiss Army ones. I know, I mean, it's gotta
you know, there has to be some connection. They call
it a Swiss Army knife, and I know we're not
talking about the Swiss Army anymore, but I had to
just take a tiny little derailment and ask about the knives.

Speaker 1 (25:18):
Yeah, I associated with my times in boy Scouts. By
the time I was an Eagle Scout, I had I
had too many Swiss Army knives. It was invented by
an American soldier or the The idea of the Swiss
army knife was coined by American soldiers in World War

Two because they couldn't say the word of a messer
meaning armors officers knife.

Speaker 3 (25:47):
You know, it's funny too. The standard issue military Victory
Victor and Knox soldiers standard issue zero eight Swiss Army knife.
Not the little red guy with all the attachments. Only
has the regular knife, the bottle opener, the serrated saw,

the tiny knife, and the Phillips said screwdriver. It's a
little more abbreviated, but Victoria Knox does make all the
one hundred percent. But this one is actually issuing knife. Yeah,
it is actually issued standard issue knife and it's got
a bigger grip. It's a little more ergonomic. You know,
those little kind of weird round ones, elliptical ones probably
wouldn't be so good in the you know and probably

gottleness type situation. But back super useful. Car.

Speaker 1 (26:36):
I have them in my go bags and stuff. They're
just good to have.

Speaker 3 (26:39):
They're good to have. Yeah, I actually I got I
got myself a multi tool recently. Ben. It's not a
Swiss Army knife, but it's a leather Yeah, it'd be
a bit of a leatherman. Yeah, I'm a bit of
a I've become a bit of a leatherman. But back
to the Swiss Guard in the Vatican. Historically, these new
recruits had to prove that they didn't have any physical deformities.

This is good, don't like ugly. Well, well, that's that's right.
This is more than not having you know, bone spurs
or you know, fallen arches or something or something that
would impair your ability to fight. Of course, yeah, that's true,
but it does there does seem to be an implication
of we want our boys to be hotties, to be

an Abercrombie and fished feel it does feel that way.

Speaker 1 (27:27):
I don't know, and honestly that wasn't uncommon in a
lot of high level like personal guard militaries in European history.

Speaker 3 (27:39):
No, yeah, it's we have to get.

Speaker 1 (27:42):
Oh man, there were some aristocrats that were so ridiculous
about this even goes into the history of the necktie and.

Speaker 3 (27:50):
How people had to be decorated anyway you had a
weird accessory. Can we just take a minute to point out.

Speaker 1 (27:56):
I have done multiple things about how I've talked on
this show and stuff.

Speaker 3 (28:00):
They want you to know the necktie is so weird.
Why to what end? It does nothing? It's the most
absolutely useless accessory one could poss I guess you could
use it as roping in an emergency situation. Originally, the
idea was similar to a handkerchief to wipe one's face.
Check out.

Speaker 1 (28:19):
I did a brain stuff video on there that should
be still on YouTube, which is why do we have neckties?
That answers the questions so far as current research allows
us to know.

Speaker 3 (28:31):
In addition to the proving that no physical deformities exist,
Commanding officers or officers in the higher ranks typically would
come from noble blood.

Speaker 1 (28:43):
Right, because nepotism was the primary door in. And imagine
if you become Swiss guard, right, and you're from a
noble family. This is a huge opportunity for your family
because now you kind of have eyes behind the curtain
and you can learn all all kinds of things in
the great Game of Thrones. And here is the answer

for how these guys ended up at the Vatican. We
do have the answer. It's the fifteen hundreds Swiss mercenaries
are getting this reputation as the best soldiers in the world.
Because remember this is before they said we're not going
to send mercenary troops out Willie Hilly, So they were

called the Helvetians. And Roman scholar Tacitus, from whom we
get the phrase tactics famously Talkie wouldn't shut up. Yeah,
Taciturn there's a going he said. The Helvedians are a
people of warriors, famous for the valor of their soldiers,
and they served all these rulers through all these different

European countries, France, Spain, you name it. In the fourteenth
fifteenth century they started some of these mercenaries started serving
the papal states. This was not unusual at the time.

Speaker 3 (30:02):
So now, while modern Swiss guard might only kind of
have what would be considered basic training, they certainly at
this point had a reputation for being high quality you
know operatives.

Speaker 1 (30:14):
Right, Yeah, for sure, especially you know, working as a
mercenary then and now can have a pretty high attrition rate.
So if you are looking to hire some muscle and
you see mercenaries that have a lot of experience, you're
going to realize that they have survived for reason. So

these guys were considered for time, I would say, one
of the gold standards in higher guns. It wasn't until
fifteen oh five when a bishop, a Swiss bishop, acting
on behalf of Pope Julius the second, said hey, what
about this, Julie, Why don't we just have a Swiss

contingent that's permanent and operates you know, not through a
weird system of paying mercenaries, but under your direct control.
And Pope Julius the second looked around and said, right, hu,
because that's how he talked exactly.

Speaker 3 (31:14):
Yeah he did. He's modern day yes, surfirst length. So
on January twenty second of fifteen oh six, the first
contingent of one hundred and fifty Swiss Guardsman under the
leadership of Captain Casper von Silentin, showed up in the
Vatican to do their PayPal duty. Yes, that sounds a

papal duty. What sounds to euphemistic. It does a little bit.
But we're we're a techy meat shower. We'll get to
that one later, sure will. I'm glad you brought that out.
We were just talking about that, all right, Max, We'll
be with us something that would do.

Speaker 1 (31:53):
So they Everything was going well, jolly good win win
situation for the first cup of decades, but within those
like by fifteen twenty seven, their heroism and their actual
valor was testing. It's one of the darkest most heroic

events in Swiss Guard history in fifteen twenty seven, the
Sack of Rome. It's the sixth of May and according
to folks like Thomas Weibel, the professor of media engineering
in Burn. The unrestrained looting and pillaging by Lutheran mercenaries
of Charles the Fifth, the elected but still uncrowned Holy

Roman Emperor, was a long time in the making. Long
story short. A bunch of wars, Charles five is beefed
with a guide named Francois the First. Charles wins, Clement
the Pope said no, no, dude, not right on. You
didn't really win and didn't support Charles. So at the

same time, there's this other guy, Henrietta of England, you
know who we're talking about, and he went cold on
Charles the fifth. And now Charles the Fifth has this huge,
huge army and he owes every single person in that
army money, so he has no way to pay for
his troops. And the army said, look, we have to

do something right because now the army is risking starvation,
let alone missing their wages. So they look round to
try to find a place that has money.

Speaker 3 (33:32):
That's right, and somebody says, you know who's got money,
the Italians in Florence. Let's go hit up Florence. They've
got money, right, Surely they'd be willing to part with them.
So they go to Florence. It was not an easy journey.
And while they were besieging Florence is apparently a lovely city.

I've never been, but I would like to go. I
have my editors in Florence right now.

Speaker 2 (34:01):
They two takes place like a lot of and I
mean they've used historical maps and so, like I always have.
That's the most use.

Speaker 3 (34:10):
He's basically been there. Yeah, it's the same. It's like Washington,
DC and the fallout too or Fallout three, whichever one
that one is. So while they're besieging Florence, they noticed
that no one is really looking after Rome, which is
a little odd. So a lot of soldiers rebel and
they decide to run off and do their own thing

and take down Rome, sack it as it were. So
in the view of what looked to be a gnarly catastrophe,
the Pope decided to try to bribe the imperial commander,
Charles the third, the Duke of Bourbon, with a big
old chunk of change. But Bourbon could not be bought

right he wanted. He just wanted the spoils.

Speaker 1 (34:56):
Well, and also at this point, adding to the cannery,
the problem with mercenaries is that they're very effective. But
even now, mercenaries are a gun that can sometimes shoot you,
right they go to the high well, yeah, but then
also they might just quit, they might.

Speaker 3 (35:17):
Cower it out.

Speaker 1 (35:18):
They're not as reliable as a trained army, or they're
not as reliable as a state level army. But anyway,
the mercenaries at this point are totally mutenous. They don't care,
and so they're just out now to become reavers, to ravage,
to pillage for personal gains. So they attack Rome on
the morning in May sixth and there are hardly any

other soldiers in a defensive position, so they run over
it like a plague locust or like a tsunami wave.
And there were forty two Swiss guards who bring the
pope to safety. Is incredibly cinematic, using an underground tunnel,
while the remaining one hundred forty seven men take up

essentially suicide positions on Saint Peter's Square to protect the
Vatican and the Basilica. They are one hundred and forty
seven men against twenty thousand attackers. This is like their
Alamo moment. They're overwhelmed. Every single one of those one
hundred and forty seven people die, and the next day
the city falls into the hands of not a rival power,

not a rival theocracy, nor a rival king, but a
group of mercenaries land pirates basically.

Speaker 3 (36:33):
And by the way, I just have to say the
name of this guy that we're referring to here, Thomas Viiebel.
He has an incredible I guess title. He is the
professor of media engineering at the fach fash hook Shula
Graubunden and the hoch Shula de Kunsta in Baden. Sorry,
the mony python I mean has had to say that.

Speaker 1 (36:55):
And according to viible here, this event, this month long
disaster that we call the sack of Rome today was
reframed as an act of religious war rather than an
act of desperate mercenaries. Yeah, and it went down in
history as an unprecedented war crime. We're talking in tens

of thousands of victims. Easily ninety percent of Rome's art
treasures are stolen or vandalized or completely destroyed. The Pope
is held prisoner in Castel sant Angelo for six months.
He has released only in exchange for the surrender of
extensive territories. The city of Medina Parma, a couple other cities,

four hundred thousand ducats. It's crazy. All the Swiss Guards
who managed to get the Pope to safety in that castle,
they were killed. The Swiss Guards didn't really become a
thing again until Clement's successor, Paul Third, reformed them in
fifteen forty eight. So the Sack of Rome is a

real horror story. That is a dark time in the
history of the Swiss Guard. But worry not, they did
make it. They are still around in the modern day.
You know, after that nearly complete annihilation, and things have
been a lot more you know, positive since then.

Speaker 3 (38:20):
It doesn't mean it's been in four now, yeah, it does,
just right. It doesn't mean it's been entirely without conflict.
There was a early, nearly similar event that happened during
World War Two. Britannica writes that the Swiss Guards prepared
for similar self sacrificing during World War Two when the
vastly outnumbered guardsmen took up defensive positions as German forces

rolled into Rome. However, Hitler chose to spare the Vaticans.
So they were ready to do it. They were gonna
throw their lives on the line for ill Papa, but
they did not have to do.

Speaker 1 (38:52):
So it's another four now situation, right because Adolf Hitler,
going back to the original points about expansionist powers, Adolf
Hitler's Germany was very much an expanse of power, expansions
of power. So the Vatican would have been in the
menu at some point, and probably right then at that moment.
The only reason he didn't attack the Vatican is because

Italy was naxis power with Mussolini.

Speaker 3 (39:17):
Oh that's a really good point, Ben, because I mean,
taking down the Vatican is a symbolic act in a
lot of ways too, right. I mean it's sort of like,
you know, we are flexing on your religion, on your culture,
and you know we are owning you entirely. But since
Mussolini was an ally of Hitler, it probably made sense
that he let it give him a past.

Speaker 1 (39:38):
They were also, you know, even Musolini aside, there are
a lot of Catholics in the world in positions of power, right,
So this is a great way to make your own
empire go extinct. In the modern day, the Swiss Guard
today has a hybrid role because they're seen often as
serving in a ceremonial fashion. They definitely dressed the part.

The uniforms were probably not designed by Michelangelo, but they've
still got the hal birds and the swords and doublets
and berets dooms. Yeah, but they still served their original purpose.
In nineteen eighty one, they helped Oh there's a crazy story.
They helped prevent an assassination attempt against John Paul the
Second in Saint Peter's Square and one of the guys

who rushed to the Pope's aid. He was Swiss Guard,
but he wasn't dressed the part. He was playing clothes
so he could blend in with the crowd. He became
a hero this playing clothes guardsman.

Speaker 3 (40:36):
He became.

Speaker 1 (40:36):
He got named Commandant of the Swiss Guards, the leader
the Swiss Guards, in nineteen ninety eight, and he served
in that role until he was murdered by the second
highest ranking officer. Because the competition never stops.

Speaker 3 (40:52):
Oh he was just like jealous of what he Oh
my god, that's surely there's more to that story. But yeah,
I think for now, well, I think we'll jump to
that particular conclusion. And we got some modern stats from
the website and wanted in Rome. Currently, the Swiss Guard
is led by Commander Christophe Graff. They are one hundred

and thirty five members strong, members soldiers, what have you.
And they wear the full what is it in full
compliment that means in the full uniform, right, the regalia
of the.

Speaker 1 (41:25):
Oh, the full compliment that means the full Yeah.

Speaker 3 (41:29):
Yes, if all the positions are filled, they got one
hundred and thirty five I see, got it, including thirty
four new recruits that are sworn in or going to
be sworn in. No, we're just torn in on May
sixth of twenty twenty four. Congratulations you guys. Was a job, yes,
was hod And then you know you mentioned the plane
clothes guy. Surely there's a bunch of those, because I mean,

they give themselves away pretty hardcore. And it does seem
like the ones that are wearing the you know, the
the plumes and the rough and the halbirds aren't exactly
batt already. I guess they could. Can they deflect a
bullet with those swords? Like? Do they have firearms? Like?
Or are we just looking to the plane closed ones
to actually do the dirty work.

Speaker 2 (42:14):
So from my research, what it was is that there's
like a number of them who are up in the
get up but many of them, like all of them,
are trained to actually fight modern stuff. They have modern weapons.

Speaker 3 (42:24):
Yeah, like the petry.

Speaker 2 (42:26):
They're kind of part of the terrorism.

Speaker 1 (42:29):
Yeah much like yeah, exactly, Well they're also I would say, yeah,
it's important to know that these guys are competent military operators.
You know, some of them rotate in and out. I'm
sure of the more pomp aspects of the gig, right,
it's not always your turn to wear the costume.

Speaker 3 (42:48):
But what have a circumstance been? What of the circumstance?

Speaker 1 (42:53):
And they also, like I think it blew my mind too,
knowing that they're trained to use rifles, because when you
look at you just think maybe what you were kind
of originally thinking as well, Like these guys are hopefully
Jedi level with halbirds, you know what I mean, like
knocking bullets out of the air.

Speaker 3 (43:11):
It's a big blame. It's a big old it's a
big old sword. But yeah, but you never bring a
halbird to a rifle fight. So thankfully they also have.

Speaker 1 (43:19):
Maybe I think it's a cane sword thing. Maybe the
halbirds are really long rifles.

Speaker 3 (43:24):
Maybe that'd be kind of cool. A gun knife. I
guess that's what a bandet is, but we accidentally reinvented
it and maybe yeah, yeah, we're gonna take full credit
for it. I think I maybe mentioned on this or
maybe stuff that I once, you know, I once, I don't.
We'll never forget this. I went to like kind of
a trashy flea market when I was a kid, and
they have those like kind of like I don't know,

probably not fully legal, like weapons type stands, or you
can get a taser or like a big old knife
or in this occasion, a taser knife for when stabbing
or tasing just isn't enough you need you gotta have
both in one and one.

Speaker 1 (43:59):
You Yeah, I see those. I don't personally have one
in essay, if you're listening. But we do have so
many other things we want to explore with you folks
who've got a great, great bunch of odd facts about Switzerland.

Speaker 3 (44:15):
Some of which were actually new to me. But I'm
on the fence.

Speaker 1 (44:19):
Would we save these for an episode on Switzerland itself?

Speaker 3 (44:23):
I think so. I will just quickly say that I
think it's crazy that Switzerland has seven thousand legs, just
to give you a little taste, and it doesn't to
your point earlier ben fall under our micro nation category,
So yeah, I think one hundred percent. There's a lot
to talk about their craftsmanship. Max. We were talking off
air about just their attention to detail and machining and

manufacturing of like military implements as well.

Speaker 1 (44:50):
And watches of course, the Swiss watches. I'm gonna write
an episode on that. Man.

Speaker 2 (44:55):
I gotta talk about the fact that they have four
national languages.

Speaker 3 (44:58):
That's always getting to what language are we going to
record the Switzerland.

Speaker 2 (45:02):
We got to do Romance, which is which is like
the Swiss language that no one speaks, but it's still
an official language, just.

Speaker 3 (45:09):
Like a town in the mountains. Well, we'll learn about
I think we have several Switzerland episodes ahead. I'm gonna
go with English if that's okay. All right.

Speaker 2 (45:19):
By the way, their their website, their their website from
the government like auto translates to a bunch of different languages.

Speaker 3 (45:26):
Yeah, we're good.

Speaker 1 (45:27):
Also they have a lot of international customers. We're gonna
leave that one there, but it did change that much.
So uh, No, you'll do your part of our Switzerland
podcast in English, Max, and I will do it in
romani Ish. Uh And then we should get the overall vibe,
the general gist in the meet Yeah, thanks so much
for tuning in Ridiculous Historians. Thanks to our super producer

mister Max Williams, our composer Alex Williams and.

Speaker 3 (45:53):
Oh yeah, Eve Chef Coats and Christo raciotis here in
spirit a J. Mohammas Jacobs, the Puzzler, Jonathan Strickland, the
quizt got some really fun crossover episodes coming up in
the very near future. Gonna get back up with our
buddies Zaraon and Elizabeth over on Ridiculous Crime, as well
as something we've sort of teased. I'm just gonna say,

Smithsonian's put that out there.

Speaker 1 (46:18):
Thanks all suits, Rachel, Doctor, Rachel Big Spinach, Lance, shout
out to the good people Zurich and Geneva. Can't wait
to explore on the podcast and on the ground.

Speaker 3 (46:30):
We'll see you next time, folks. For more podcasts from iHeartRadio,
visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen
to your favorite shows.

Ridiculous History News

Advertise With Us

Follow Us On

Hosts And Creators

Ben Bowlin

Ben Bowlin

Noel Brown

Noel Brown

Show Links


Popular Podcasts

Let's Be Clear with Shannen Doherty

Let's Be Clear with Shannen Doherty

Let’s Be Clear… a new podcast from Shannen Doherty. The actress will open up like never before in a live memoir. She will cover everything from her TV and film credits, to her Stage IV cancer battle, friendships, divorces and more. She will share her own personal stories, how she manages the lows all while celebrating the highs, and her hopes and dreams for the future. As Shannen says, it doesn’t matter how many times you fall, it’s about how you get back up. So, LET’S BE CLEAR… this is the truth and nothing but. Join Shannen Doherty each week. Let’s Be Clear, an iHeartRadio podcast.

The Dan Bongino Show

The Dan Bongino Show

He’s a former Secret Service Agent, former NYPD officer, and New York Times best-selling author. Join Dan Bongino each weekday as he tackles the hottest political issues, debunking both liberal and Republican establishment rhetoric.

Music, radio and podcasts, all free. Listen online or download the iHeart App.


© 2024 iHeartMedia, Inc.