Saturday, July 15, 2017

Faith and Virtue

The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff — for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. His head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder, his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of France. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind, and a clear stream trickles from above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored, among the water-lilies.

Around about are green trees and grass. The place is a sheltered, reposeful woodland nook, remote from noise and stir and confusion — and all this is fitting, for lions do die in such places, and not on granite pedestals in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings. The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is.

    — Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, 1880
After yesterday's somewhat fanciful post concerning the history of France leading up to the storming of the Bastille I wanted to do a more serious historical post. At first I thought that a post on the French Foreign Legion (La Légion Étrangère) might be appropriate. But the subject of the Legion reminded me that other nations have had (or still have) their own version of a foreign legion.

For instance Spain has its own Legión Española (Spanish Legion) which has varied over time from admitting foreigners, to only admitting Spaniards, then admitting Spanish speakers, now, from what I understand, recruits (male and female) from Spanish-speaking areas of South America are admitted, but Spaniards are preferred. I shall post about them someday. A fascinating, and effective, military force.

One interesting tidbit is that the Spanish Legion has a very fast marching pace, as compared to the French Foreign Legion's slow marching pace. Normal marching pace is roughly 120-steps per minute, the French Foreign Legion's pace is very slow at 88-steps per minute whereas the Spanish Legion moves right along at 180-paces per minute. (Which in the U.S. Army is called double time and which in the Air Force is called "are you kidding me?") You can see for yourself in this video -

I think that would wear me out in pretty short order, those guys can sustain that pace! Truth be told though, the Italian Bersaglieri would run them into the ground...

Not sure who would get the nod in a fight though, but I digress.

So I was researching foreign units in the service of other countries. One might say mercenaries, which can be individuals fighting in the pay of a foreign nation, or entire units rented out to other countries (think the "Hessians" of our own Revolution). The Swiss have a long tradition of hiring out entire units to other countries, like these fellows (though not exactly a Swiss unit, they are Swiss in the pay of a foreign nation, and yes, the Vatican is a nation) -

Papal Guard
Now this post does tie back into the French Revolution. An episode of which is commemorated by the monument in that opening photo, the Lion of Lucerne.
From the early 17th century, a regiment of Swiss Guards had served as part of the Royal Household of France. On 6 October 1789, King Louis XVI had been forced to move with his family from the Palace of Versailles to the Tuileries Palace in Paris. In June 1791 he tried to flee to Montmédy near the frontier, where troops under royalist officers were concentrated. In the 1792 10th of August Insurrection, revolutionaries stormed the palace. Fighting broke out spontaneously after the Royal Family had been escorted from the Tuileries to take refuge with the Legislative Assembly. The Swiss Guards ran low on ammunition and were overwhelmed by superior numbers. A note written by the King half an hour after firing had commenced has survived, ordering the Swiss to retire and return to their barracks. Delivered in the middle of the fighting, this was only acted on after their position had become untenable.

Of the Swiss Guards defending the Tuileries, more than six hundred were killed during the fighting or massacred after surrender. An estimated two hundred more died in prison of their wounds or were killed during the September Massacres that followed. Apart from about a hundred Swiss who escaped from the Tuileries, the only survivors of the regiment were a 300 strong detachment which, with the King's authorization, had been sent to Normandy to escort grain convoys a few days before August 10. The Swiss officers were mostly amongst those massacred, although Major Karl Josef von Bachmann — in command at the Tuileries —was formally tried and guillotined in September, still wearing his red uniform coat. Two surviving Swiss officers achieved senior rank under Napoleon. (Source)
La Prise des Tuileries (10 août 1792) - Henri-Paul Motte
The Swiss are wearing red uniforms in that painting, traditional for them in that era.

The Swiss have produced tough soldiers for centuries now. The Swiss pikemen in the late Middle Ages were known for their ferocity and discipline in battle. You can read a very colorful account of them (language alert, very salty) here. Tough bastards those Swiss, even today.

When Switzerland is mentioned, many of us think of the beautiful mountains and lakes, Swiss Army knives, clocks, bankers, and chocolate. I remember a time when Swiss soldiers made Europe tremble. That monument in Lucerne tells me all I need to know about the Swiss...
The heroic but futile stand of the Swiss is commemorated by Bertel Thorvaldsen's Lion Monument in Lucerne, dedicated in 1821, which shows a dying lion collapsed upon broken symbols of the French monarchy. An inscription on the monument lists the twenty-six Swiss officers who died on 10 August and 2–3 September 1792, and records that approximately 760 Swiss Guardsmen were killed on those days. (Source)
Prise du palais des Tuileries - Jacques Duplessis-Bertaux
Leonidas' Spartans would have recognized Louis XVI's Swiss Guards as kindred souls.

Faithful unto Death.


  1. An interesting post... watching the Spaniards tired me out, then watching the Italians I had to go take a nap...sheesh.

  2. Neat stuff. Loved the goat with the Spanish Legion. Wife and I lived in Italy (courtesy of Uncle Sam) for five years, and saw several parades. The Bersaglieri were featured in several. Of note the Bersaglieri emeriti are also part of the parade--and they run too--not as far and not for as long, but some of those guys had to be pushing 80 (WW II medals etc.). The crowds (and we) loved it.

    1. I did see one YouTube clip where they band ran by, then a bunch of older fellows, all with the Bersaglieri hat. That's when I realized who the older fellows were, former Bersaglieri. Pretty cool.

      And yes, the Spanish Legion has a goat for a mascot, the goat used to wear the cap, don't know why this one wasn't.

  3. And then there are the Suomalaiset, a surly, melancholy, silent lot in a perpetual state of Salmiakki poisoning. What they lack in faith and virtue they make up for in savagery and dyspepsia. They hire out to no one and lose every war, but they are the stuff of nightmare for the invaders.

    1. Ah yes, the Finns. Gliding out of the mist on their skis, salmiakki on their breath. Truly a nightmare for an opposing force.

      (I had no ideer there were so many videos of non-Finns trying salmiakki. The Japanese seemed particularly "fond" of it.)

  4. First thing I noticed about the Italians is they sound like a kazoo band.

    1. Figure you can't play much beyond that level when "marching" at that pace!


  5. Thanks for the post. Many nations produce brave people. Many different kinds of bravery too.

    Paul L. Quandt


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