New Swiss Guard Recruits Swear To Serve And Protect The Pope

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On May 6 every year, new recruits in the Pontifical Swiss Guard take the oath of loyalty in the Vatican City State. Soldiers and officers with Swiss citizenship have protected the Pope for more than 500 years. The Guard’s banner reflect the history of this Swiss corps in the service of the Pope as head of state and head of the Roman Catholic Church. 

The Pontifical Swiss Guard consists of between 100 and 200 men, all recruited among Catholic, unmarried, Swiss citizens. Since the middle ages, soldiers from Switzerland have served with distinction in the armed forces of other nations. The most famous of such Swiss contingents in the service of foreign heads of state is the Pontifical Swiss Guard in Rome. 

Traditionally, May 6 is the day for the swearing-in because, in 1527, the Sack of Rome by the mutinous Spanish and Imperial troops of Emperor Charles V happened on that date. Of the 189 men strong Pontifical Swiss Guard 147 died in the close vicinity of Saint Peter’s Basilica defending Pope Clement VII’s escape to the Castel Sant’Angelo.

The solemn occasion of the swearing-in usually takes place in the Saint Damaso Courtyard at the centre of the Apostolic Palace. However, in case of bad weather, the ceremony has been held indoors in the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall. That happened in 2010 and 2013 for example.

The Pontifical Swiss Guard is dressed in 16th Century dress, plate armour, morion helmets and is armed with halberds and smallswords. The main part of the ceremony is when all new halberdiers of the Guard take the oath of loyalty, fidelity and obedience to the Pope and the Commanding Captain. 

One by one, the recruits are called forward. Each takes hold of the Guard’s banner with his left hand and confirms the oath which has been read by the Guard’s chaplain. At the same time, each raises his right hand pointing three fingers upwards as a symbol of the Holy Trinity. The halberdiers take the oath in any of the official languages of Switzerland, most of them in German and French.

The banner of the Pontifical Swiss Guard

The banner of the Guard plays an important role when the halberdiers take the oath of loyalty to the Pope and the Commanding Captain. On it are the personal coats of arms of both. Thus, the banner must be redesigned and renewed every time there is a new pope as well as every time a new Swiss Guard officer is appointed as Commanding Captain.

The banner is a large, square standard; a white cross divides it in four quarters. In the first, on red, are the arms of the present pope, Francis, adopted in 2013. In the fourth, also on red, are the arms of Julius II. He was of the della Rovere family and when he became pope in 1503 he established the first constant corps of Swiss mercenaries at the papal court. Note the papal tiara in the arms of Pope Julius II and the bishop’s mitre in the arms of Pope Francis. 

In the second and third quarter are the red, blue and golden stripes, the colours also seen in the renaissance style dress uniform of the Pontifical Swiss Guard.

In the middle of the white cross are the coat of arms of the Commanding Captain. The present Commanding Captain is colonel Christoph Graf. He was born in Pfaffnau in the Swiss canton of Lucerne and joined the Guard in 1987. In 2015 he was appointed to his present role by Pope Francis.

The gold antler and the silver plowshare on red in his shield symbolize the traditions of hunting and farming in the Graf family of Pfaffnau. The coat of arms rest on a background of silver and blue. These colours represent the Commanding Captain’s home canton of Lucerne; the flag of Lucerne is a horisontal bicolour of white and blue. 

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The Prince of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg dies at 82

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Prince Richard, brother-in-law of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and head of the Sayn-Wittgenstein family, passed away on Monday 13 March 2017. His funeral service will be held on Tuesday 21 March, in the Evangelische Stadtkirche Bad Berleburg. 

Richard zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg was the third son-in-law of King Frederik IX of Denmark. He married Princess Benedikte in 1968 at Fredensborg Palace, Denmark. Her younger sister Anne-Marie had married Constantine II, King of the Hellenes, in 1964 in Athens, Greece. In 1967, the older sister Margrethe, heiress to the Danish throne, married Henri de Laborde de Monpezat who became Prince Henrik of Denmark.

Richard was a man of humour, and of temper, totally devoid of the stiff upper lip and the jetset lifestyle so often associated with royalty. He met his future wife at the wedding of Princess Beatrix and Prince Claus in the Netherlands in 1966. “In the royal corner,” as he once explained. From birth, Prince Richard belonged to that inner circle of closely related princely houses of Europe, but he never liked the pomp and circumstance and would rather wake up early to a day of hard work in the forest.

His main occupation in life was the Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg inheritance, one of the largest private estates in Germany. Prince Richard took that responsibility seriously. “One would hate to be the weakest link in a long chain,” he said. The Prince has been praised for his work in wildlife conservation. He was an accomplished hunter and angler. And he was a central figure in local life in the town of Bad Berleburg. His family’s presence in the area goes back 800 years.

Prince Richard was a male line descendant of the medieval Counts of Sponheim. The chequered arms of the House of Sponheim were however not used by that branch which inherited the County of Sayn in the 13th Century. In stead, the arms of Sayn (Gules, a lion guardant Or) became the central element of the family’s heraldic achievements.

The County of Wittgenstein, where Bad Berleburg is located, was added in the 14th Century. Its arms (Argent, two pallets Sable) are the same as those of the medieval Counts of Battenberg and, in modern times, the Mountbatten family: the Marquesses of Milford Haven, the Marquess of Carisbrooke, the Earls Mountbatten of Burma and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

In 1792, the reigning count in Berleburg was raised to princely rank by the Holy Roman Emperor. The Principality of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg in the Rothaar Mountains on the border between Westphalia and Hesse was one of the many tiny German states that didn’t survive the Napoleonic Wars. Until the fall of the monarchy in 1918, the head of the family sat in the Prussian House of Lords.

The arms of Sayn and Wittgenstein can be seen together with the arms of the lordships of Homburg (Gules, a castle twice towered Argent, windows and port Sable) and Freusburg (Sable, on a bend sinister Argent three boar’s heads Sable) on the family’s armorial banner which was lowered to half mast on Berleburg Castle at the news of the Prince’s death.

Prince Richard’s only son, Gustav, is the new Prince of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg. Prince Gustav is named after his paternal grandfather Prince Gustav Albrecht who was reported missing in action in Russia in 1944 during World War II. In the 1960s the prospect of the Danish king getting a German son-in-law was disliked by many Danes. It was decided that any children of Prince Richard and Princess Benedikte would only succeed to the throne on the condition that they were raised in Denmark and became Danish citizens.

It is one of Prince Richard’s achievements that his nationality became a non-issue. As a young child he had lived in Sweden with his widowed mother who was a member of the Fouché d’Otrante family, Swedish nobles descended from Napoleon’s Minister of Police. So, Prince Richard had learned Swedish. Later in life he also spoke Danish, albeit in his own charming, “mixed Scandinavian” version. He was the German prince who put a friendly face on Germany at a time when it was needed.

Heraldic Banners of U.S. Presidents

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Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, etc. More than a third of America’s presidents have had their own personal coat of arms. But almost none of them have been displayed in public. This is how they would look in flag form, as banners of arms.

The American Heraldry Society must be commended for having collected and made public all available knowledge on the heraldry of U.S. Presidents and other historic figures in American history. Their research shows that about half of the presidential arms are family arms inherited by a President. The other half are arms created for a President, inspired by his ancestry, his family name or the symbols of office.

Except for the arms of the 1st President of the United States, presidential arms are virtually unknown. In only two cases, banners of these arms have been used in public. The illustration shows how heraldic banners of six U.S. Presidents would look together.

Top row, from left to right:

George Washington (1789-1797) proudly and consistently used his family arms. Without doubt, the Washington arms are the best known of any U.S. president. In 1938, his arms were used to create the flag of Washington, D.C. Therefore, the capital’s flag with the proportions 1:2 is a variant of the heraldic banner in the illustration above.

Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809), the 3rd President of the United States, scorned the snobbery of people who used coats of arms. But at the same time he was a gentleman of his time and made use of his family arms in his personal seal and on silverware, not least while being the American minister to France in the 1780s.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945), 32nd President, was a fifth cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President. The Roosevelt arms spell out the family’s name in Dutch (literally, rose field): “upon a grassy mound a rose bush proper bearing three roses”. These arms were used by Teddy Roosevelt; FDR used a modified version with three cut roses criss-crossing each other.

Bottom row, from left to right:

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) was not only the 34th President of the United States, he was also a highly decorated WWII general. In 1945, King Christian X of Denmark conferred on him the Order of the Elephant. However, Eisenhower didn’t show a great deal of interest and it took more than a decade for him to live up to what is required of a Knight of the Elephant: to provide the Chapter of the Royal Danish Orders with a drawing of his personal coat of arms. In the end, he had help from Denmark. The anvil plays on the German roots of the family name Eisenhower/Eisenhauer (literally, iron miner).

John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) was of Irish descent. On Saint Patrick’s Day 1961, the President and his family were presented with arms granted by the Chief Herald of Ireland at the behest of the Irish government. After the President’s assassination, his brother Robert F. Kennedy led an expedition to the summit of Mount Kennedy in Canada, named in honor of the 35th U.S. President. Here, he planted a heraldic banner with the Kennedy arms.

Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) accepted a grant of arms from the now defunct American College of Heraldry and Arms in 1968. However, according to the research of the American Heraldry Society, the 36th President never made use of his arms. Since LBJ, only three U.S. Presidents are known to have used arms: Reagan, Clinton and Trump.

 

Read more about presidential coats of arms in the USA on the website of the American Heraldry Society: https://www.americanheraldry.org/heraldry-in-the-usa/arms-of-famous-americans/presidents-of-the-united-states.