Swiss Guards served as bodyguards, ceremonial guards, and palace guards at foreign European courts since the late 15th century. They have high reputation for discipline and loyalty to their employers. Apart from household and guard units, regular Swiss mercenary regiments have served as line troops in the France, Spain, Portugal, Prussia, Naples, Austria and Netherlands armies. The only Swiss Guard remaining nowadays is the Pontifical Swiss Guard of Vatican City.
The Guardia Svizzera Pontificia is a small force maintained by the Holy See and is responsible for the safety of the Pope, including the security of the Apostolic Palace. It serves as the de facto military of Vatican City since January 22, 1506. Pontifical Swiss Guard of Vatican City is made up of 5 officers, 26 sergeants and corporals and 78 soldiers. It is the only guard in the world where the flag is changed with each new head of state because it contains the personal emblem of the Pope. Recruits to the guards must be Catholic, single males with Swiss citizenship who have completed basic training with the Swiss military and must have certificates of good conduct. Recruits must have also a professional degree or high school diploma and must be between 19 and 30 years of age and at least 174 cm (5 ft, 8.5 in) tall.
The uniform's, the heaviest in use by any standing army today, with a weighs of 3.6 kg ( 8 pounds), design is attributed to Michelangelo and can be seen in both the Vatican and the Papal castle of Avignon, the seat of the papacy in the thirteenth to fourteenth centuries.
In April–May 2006, to celebrate 500 years in the line of duty a group of veteran guards marched from Switzerland to Rome, a month long journey through Italy.
The official language of the Swiss Guard is German and heir motto is "Acriter et Fideliter", "Strenuously and loyally"
The most heroic episode in the history of the Swiss Guards was their defence of the Tuileries Palace and the French Royal Family, in 1792, during the French Revolution. Refusing to surrender, even after the King's direct order to do so, of the nine hundred guards defending the Palace, six hundred were massacred. One group of sixty Swiss were taken as prisoners to the Paris City Hall before being killed by the crowd there. An estimated hundred and sixty more died in prison of their wounds, or were killed during the September Massacres that followed.