| Naples: Life, Death & Miracles
| link to a Google search page HERE
main index © Jeff Matthews entry Nov 2003, rev. Oct 2010
Everything is related to Naples
Number 50 in this series. Link to all items here
even the Swiss
the 1949 thriller, The Third Man,
Orson Welles' character, Harry Lime, delivers a
short monologue on Switzerland:
With all due respect to
Welles (he wrote that part of the script, himself),
the idea that the Swiss are a peaceful race of
bankers, yodelers, and clock makers is wrong. In
modern-day Switzerland, every male who is upright
and breathing is in the army until the age of 50.
They all keep their military-issue weapons at home,
and, I suspect, rank high in the world on the
The contracts were typically between a canton and a particular monarch, whom the Swiss were then expected to serve faithfully, no matter what. For that reason, you always have Swiss Guards on the side of established order and never on the side of revolution. One famous episode was during the defence (Aug. 10, 1792) of the Tuileries palace in Paris during the French Revolution. Louis XVI ordered the Swiss Guard not to fire on the crowd, which, at the goading of George Danton, stormed the palace and massacred 600 of them, anyway.
The Swiss were very active in Naples from the beginning of the Bourbon rule in the 1730s right up until the final defence of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies at the siege of Gaeta in 1860. Their first contract with Naples was in 1731 with Charles III of Bourbon and by the mid-1800s there were four regiments (about 7,500 men) of Swiss on constant service in the Kingdom of Naples.
The Swiss were important in the Kingdom of Naples in the turbulent year of 1848, when calls for reform and revolution swept virtually all of Europe. In January of that year, there was an uprising in Sicily, and a call for the restitution of their constitution of 1812. (In that year, the mainland portion of the Kingdom of Naples was in French hands, under Murat, while the Bourbon monarchy with their royalist troops and Swiss Guard were holed up on Sicily, protected by the British fleet. The Bourbons granted, with British encouragement, a constitution to their subjects on Sicily. That constitution extended to the rest of the Kingdom when it was retaken in 1814, but it was revoked by Ferdinand I after the riots of 1821.) In 1848, Sicily also declared its independence from the Kingdom of Naples. Ferdinand II of Naples—by any account an absolutist and becoming more and more so the longer this talk of a "united Italy" continued—obviously wouldn't buy the part about independence, but he did feel compelled to grant another constitution of sorts.
That put the situation in limbo for a few months. Then, in April, Ferdinand declared war on Austria, a move—had things gone differently in the "what-if" school of history—that would have put him on the same side as the Savoys of Piedmont—a united Italian army. That was not to be. Banal events in Naples the next month involving the form of a parliamentary oath of office led to Ferdinand closing the parliament, revoking the constitution, and recalling his troops from the north. In May an uprising took place in the city of Naples, and Ferdinand relied heavily on his Swiss Guards to suppress it. The four Swiss regiments in the city lost a total of 205 troops in the single day of combat in the city and came under severe criticism for their brutality, investigations of which were conducted even by the respective cantonal governments back in Switzerland. Sicily, by that time, was in full revolt, and later in the year, the Swiss sent their Neapolitan regiments as an expeditionary force to help quell the revolt on the island. That took until early 1849. The Sicilian episode included the infamous bombardment of Messina, an act that earned Ferdinand II of Naples the nickname of "la bomba" for the rest of his life.
Throughout the 1850s, the
Swiss Guards helped to prop up the Bourbon monarchy.
They stood by their contract even at the end—the
hopeless defence of Gaeta
in late 1860 and early 1861 in the face of the
overwhelming forces of Victor Emmanuel II.
Those that survived accompanied the defeated Bourbon
king, Francis II, into exile.
After the unification of
Italy, the Swiss maintained for well over a century
a cultural presence in Naples in the form of the
so-called "Swiss school," a combined elementary and
middle school. It was one of a chain of such schools
in the world run by the Swiss government for the
children of Swiss diplomats and businessmen abroad
in the world. With the passage of time, the Swiss
school in Naples no longer really served that
purpose and became, essentially, just another
Italian school with, at best, tenuous connections to
Switzerland. I taught there for a while and was at
the meeting when the bean counters from Bern (and a
couple of gnomes from the banks in Zurich) came down
and closed our Swiss School some years ago, saying
that Switzerland couldn't afford to keep it open. No
kidding, they really said that.