Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Guarding the Kings of France

by J. M. Hochstetler

For my current work-in-progress, Refiner’s Fire, Book 6 of my American Patriot Series, I’ve had to recreate the French court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. I’m finding a lot of interesting—and scandalous—details of daily life in a palace, but today, I’m going to focus on a relatively mundane concern they shared with our modern-day leaders: security. You can be sure that between the Royal Bodyguard and the famed Swiss Guards, the French monarchs had the situation well in hand, at least until the French Revolution broke out.

Royal Bodyguards

Garde du corps, era of Louis XVI
In 1418 Charles VII of France founded an elite Scottish military unit called the Garde Écossaise to serve as his personal bodyguards. They later formed the first company of what became the Royal Bodyguard (Garde du Corps du Roi), which continued as the senior Scottish Company until the Bourbon monarchy ended with the French Revolution.

The Royal Bodyguard consisted of four companies, and a detachment accompanied the French king wherever he went. They guarded where he slept and even escorted his food from the kitchen to his table. A special detachment of 24 “Guards of the Sleeve” (Gardes de la Manche) stood so close to the king during court ceremonies that his sleeves actually brushed them. They wore embroidered white and gold cassocks over their blue, red, and silver uniforms. From the 16th century onward, Frenchmen primarily made up this unit, but it kept the name and certain Scottish commands.

Swiss Guards

Soldier and officer of Gardes Suisses in French
 service in 1757: Marbot, Alfred de, 1854

Beginning in the late 15th century units of Swiss soldiers called Swiss Guards served at various European courts. The earliest permanent unit was the Hundred Swiss (Cent Suisses), created in 1480 when France’s Louis XI retained a Swiss company for his personal guard. They served at the French court until 1817 as bodyguards and ceremonial troops, sharing guard duties inside the palace with the king’s Royal Bodyguard. The Swiss Guards (Gardes Suisses), guarded the palace’s entrances and outer perimeter as well as serving in the field as a fighting regiment in wartime.

The Guards and their officers were all recruited from Switzerland. They maintained a high reputation for discipline, which followed the Swiss codes of conduct, which were significantly harsher than those of the regular French Army. Accordingly they received considerably higher pay than did French soldiers. Their uniform consisted of red coats with dark blue lapels and cuffs edged in white embroidery, with the grenadier company wearing bearskins, while the rests of the companies wore the same three-cornered hats as those of the French infantry. The Hundred Swiss were armed with halberds with the royal arms in gold on the blade and gold-hilted swords.

Swiss Guards During July Revolution,
Jean Louis Bezard, c. 1832
The most famous, and tragic, episode in the history of the Swiss Guards was their defense of the Tuileries Palace in central Paris on August 10, 1792, during the French Revolution. Of the 900 Swiss Guards stationed there, about six hundred were killed during the fighting or were massacred after they surrendered. Sixty taken as prisoners to the Paris City Hall were killed there by the crowd. An estimated 160 more died of their wounds while in prison or were killed during the September Massacres that followed. Apart from fewere than 100 Swiss who escaped from the Tuileries, some of whom were hidden by sympathetic Parisians, the regiment’s only survivors were a detachment of 300 that had been sent to Normandy a few days earlier.

The Hundred Swiss had been disbanded when Louis XVI was taken from Versailles to the Tuileries in October 1789. Reformed in 1814, they accompanied Louis XVIII into exile in Belgium the following year. After the Battle of Waterloo they returned with him to Paris, where they resumed their traditional role of palace guards at the Tuileries until a new French guard company replaced them in 1817.
Book 6, American Patriot
J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She is also an author, editor, and publisher. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. Book 6, Refiner’s Fire, releases in April 2019. Northkill, Book 1 of the Northkill Amish Series coauthored with Bob Hostetler, won Foreword Magazine’s 2014 Indie Book of the Year Bronze Award for historical fiction. Book 2, The Return, received the 2017 Interviews and Reviews Silver Award for Historical Fiction and was named one of Shelf Unbound’s 2018 Notable Indie Books. One Holy Night, a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story, was the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year and a finalist in the Carol Award.


  1. It's always fascinating to find out where your imaginations lead you!!! Thanks, and hope your Christmas was blessed.

    1. Storywriting tends to take you in strange directions, Connie. lol! I did indeed have a blessed Christmas. I hope yours was too and wish you a very happy New Year!

  2. Interesting! I always enjoy reading what you find in your research. So many men killed, but I guess that happens all through the ages. The loss of so many men at any time during war is always so tragic no matter what side you're on.

    1. You're right about that, Bev. It is a tragedy for sure. Praise God that we can look forward to a new home where there will be no war or death or sorrow forevermore!

  3. Thanks for your very interesting post. Happy New Year!!