Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Cent Suisses of William of Orange

Many references on he Glorious Revolution of 1688 mention some details regarding the composition of the expeditionary force of the prince of Orange. Notorious is of course the Wikipedia entry for the Glorious Revolution, which contains many errors and urban legends.

One of the issues that kept the author busy is the mentioning of Swiss regiments in this invasion force. The Dutch history of the Republican Army (Het Staatsche Leger by ten Raa en de Bas) states that no Swiss troops were part of the Dutch Army in 1688, let alone part of the invading army. (Swiss regiments were first recruited in the 1690s.) However, the assumption by other, non Dutch, authors that Swiss regiments formed part of the invasion force must have an origin.

In issue 25 of Armentaria, the magazine of the friends of the Dutch Army Museum, an article is found by Dr. F. G. de Wilde on the Cent Suisses, a Swiss bodyguard in service of the stadhouders of the Dutch Republic. A pdf copy is found here.

Since 1672, stadhouder William of Orange had employed a number of Swiss halberdiers in his personal service. Perhaps their role is comparable to that of the Gentlemen Pensioners, and the Yeomen of the Guard in England. As such, these Swiss were never part of the establishment of the army. After the death in 1702 of William of Orange, the Cent Suisses were disbanded on 1 January 1703, the men being drafted into the Swiss regiment in the Dutch Army.

The number Swiss grew to 190, and it may be very likely that they accompanied William of Orange to England in November 1688. Which may have led in turn to the misunderstanding that Swiss regiments formed part of the invading army.


T.F. Mills said...

According to John McCormack (One Million Mercenaries), the Cent Suisses were with William in the 1688 invasion. By implication no other Swiss corps were. As their title implies, this was a bodyguard company of 100 men.

Swiss loyalty had traditonally been with the French Catholic king ever since Marignan in 1515 when two Swiss armies in the pay of foreign masters slaughtered each other, but this system was cracking at the end of the 17th century.

In 1690 the 5 Protestant cantons signed a defensive alliance with England, and several companies of Swiss served with William at the Boyne. Between 1693 and 1702 the Swiss raised 7 regiments (each of 1600 men in 2 battalions) for Dutch service.

Wienand Drenth said...

Hi Todd,

Thank you for your comment.

Would you happen to have a reference regarding Swiss companies at the Boyne?

It is of interest to note that several of the Dutch Swiss regiments served in England in 1715.

T.F. Mills said...

McCormack mentions only unspecified companies at the Boyne.

Jean René Bory was an expert on Swiss mercenaries, but he died in 2009. You might want to contact his museum (now threatened with closure) for more information: