top of page
Schweizer Garde der Generalstaaten 1752.

Swiss Troops in Dutch Service


From 1568 to 1829, 31 Swiss troops were in Dutch service, estimated at a total of about 80,000 men. They were deployed in three periods of the history of the Netherlands: first from the 16th to the 18th century in the army of the Republic of the United Netherlands, also called the States General, in the 18th century in Africa and Asia for the Dutch East India Company, and in the 19th century in the army of the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, which came into being after the Congress of Vienna in 1815. 


The disarmament of the peasantry by the nobility began in Europe in the 12th century. Only in the Alpine region did the peasants retain the right to carry personal weapons. Through gelmässige practice a warlike spirit remained in the whole people. Since in the 14th century peasants in countries outside the Alpine region had been largely exempted from military service by their landlords, the demand for mercenaries increased. The Italian city states also needed soldiers for hire. Here, since the 13th century, a peculiar form of mercenaryism developed, based on a kind of free enterprise that we later encounter in the Netherlands as well. The leader, then called a condottiere, used his own funds to gather a troop of soldiers, whom he tried to hire out to warring parties with the intention of making a profit. Since the condottiere had invested his capital in these mercenaries, it was extremely important for him to avoid losses. Therefore, battles between mercenary armies often ended without too much bloodshed at that time.


It is known that in the 13th and 14th centuries Swiss mercenaries were in the service of the kings of France and Spain, the princes of Savoy and the Palatinate, the abbot of St. Gall and the cities of Milan, Strasbourg and Nuremberg. This soldier service was very popular and before 1500 had nothing to do with bad economic conditions at home. This became an important motive only in the 18th century. At that time, the main motives were a sense of adventure, the search for booty and the attainment of fame. It is not known exactly how many Swiss went abroad as mercenaries in the late Middle Ages. However, it was they who, through their loyalty, determination and steadfastness, carried the fame from country to country.


It is estimated that from the 15th to the 18th century between 850,000 and one million Swiss, including 70,000 officers and 700 generals, were in foreign service, of whom between 250,000 and 300,000 men lost their lives in the 17th century alone.


After the Swiss had crushed Charles the Bold of Burgundy in their own country at Murten in 1476, every prince or state in Europe wanted to enlist Swiss soldiers. The governments of the independent cantons, however, tried more and more to prevent war undertakings being conducted at home and abroad on private account. For this purpose, agreements (so-called capitulations) were concluded with foreign princes and states, thus obtaining political and economic advantages for Switzerland. The unregulated and direct service of soldiers, the so-called "rice running", was then prohibited.


As early as 1480, King Louis XI brought 6,000 Swiss to France as instructors, who then formed the first French infantry corps. In 1483, King Ferdinand of Aragon recruited 10,000 Swiss to train the Spanish infantry. The armies of Hungary, Savoy and Venice also enlisted Swiss as instructors. Pope Julius II founded the Papal Guard in 1505, which still exists today and is the oldest military unit in Europe. 


The war against Burgundy and the campaigns into Italy had made the Confederation a military power of the first rank in Europe. The Swiss infantry dethroned the knightly cavalry army and brought new honor to the movements in closed formation (cohorts) and the discipline in rank and file, which had not been known since the time of Rome. The tactics of the Swiss spearmen also set a precedent and served as a model for the infantry of all European countries. The Swiss soldiers were known for the courage and determination they showed during battle and, above all, for their loyalty to their commanders and brother officers. Many mercenaries were recruited for European armies especially from poor and overpopulated areas, such as Southern Germany, the Swiss mountain cantons, Eastern Europe and the Balkans.



Swiss Troops in the Republic of the United Provinces (States General)


By this we mean the republic that existed in Holland from 1581 to 1795. Long before 1693 there were Swiss in the service of Holland. In 1598 the States General decided to form four companies with Swiss who had resigned in France. Until 1797 there were always Swiss companies in the army of the States General. Since 1672 Prince William III of Orange had a number of Swiss halberdiers in his personal service. Their number gradually grew to 100 men. They mostly came from the canton of Bern. 


The Swiss soldiers in Dutch service had to be at least 15 years old and confirmed, and most of them came from the cantons of Bern, Zurich, Grisons, Neuchâtel, Vaud and Schaffhausen. The cantons of Basel, Glarus and Appenzell-Ausserrhoden supplied only a few soldiers. 


In the 16th century, France had close relations with individual Swiss cantons and paid generous "pensions" (yearly money) to influential families. In the canton of Bern in particular, this enabled the French to recruit a large number of Swiss companies for their army. 


Initially, no attention was paid to the denomination of the officers and soldiers. However, after Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, which had guaranteed freedom of religion to Protestants in France, great uncertainty arose in many parts of the Swiss population and a large number of Swiss officers left the French service with their companies. As a result, and especially after William III succeeded James II as king in England, the Reformed cantons, namely in Bern, Zurich and Graubünden, adjusted to the new situation. The French war against the Dutch Republic began to be understood more and more as a religious war. William III (King of England and Scotland and still governor of the Dutch Republic) became a role model and champion of the righteous cause, and thus the motive was involuntarily created with which the cantonal governments could later be persuaded to also authorize the recruitment of soldiers for service in Holland.


An important group of forerunners of the later Swiss regiments in Holland, were the so-called Freikompanien, which were formed in 1692. One of these free companies was that of Paravicini, a native of Glarus, who later joined the 3rd Swiss Regiment (Regiment Tscharner).


In 1693, the first battalions and regiments recognized by the cantonal governments came into being. This was the real beginning of the great influx of Swiss soldiers into the Dutch Republic, which was to continue until 1796/97. These regiments were disbanded at the fall of the Republic and after the expiration of their contracts and payment of back pay, and most of them returned to Switzerland in 1796/97.


After the fall of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 created the constitutional monarchy of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands from the Kingdom of Holland together with the former Austrian Netherlands (now Belgium). William VI, Prince of Orange, the son of William V who had fled to England in 1795, was installed as King William I of the Netherlands. With the aim of quickly rebuilding a Dutch army, the latter also concluded contracts with federal cantons for four Swiss regiments as early as 1814. The federal treaty of 1815, which was not yet in force, allowed the cantons to conclude military contracts with foreign states on their own. Glarner served during this period (1814-1829) mainly in the regiment of Jakob Sprecher von Bernegg from Maienfeld and Jakob Schmid from Glarus. The regiment was disbanded in 1819.



Family Research on Swiss Mercenaries in Holland


For the period 1648-1811 there are extracts of military marriages about most of the Dutch garrison towns of that time, the so-called "Wolters collection" and J.G.H. Manie has picked out the marriages of Swiss mercenaries in 's-Hertogenbosch, Breda and Bergen-op-Zoom and his extracts are in the town archives of these towns. In Bergen-op-Zoom, these marriages begin in 1677 and continue until 1734. Of the marriages there, the place or canton of their origin was mentioned for one-third of the soldiers, while for two-thirds of the soldiers it only says "from Switzerland." However, it is almost always mentioned with which company or regiment the soldier served, which gives the possibility to find him so in the corresponding directories. Therefore, it is important to know the name of the company commander, regimental commander or general of the Swiss regiment in which the soldier had served. In Holland, officers' books ("Naem-register van de Officieren") have been published, most of which have survived from 1725 to 1808. They contain the names of the officers and thus also those of the company commanders and the garrison towns in which they were stationed. The regiments and companies kept meticulous records of their manpower. In order to keep informed about their subjects abroad, the cantonal governments in Switzerland also required annual lists, some of which have been preserved.


Glarus soldiers mostly served in the 4th regiment of Graubünden (1693-1797). In 1693/94, Graubünden had recalled its troop contingents from French service and had refused to renew the treaty with France in 1695. Thus the troops were committed to Dutch service from 1693. About half of the soldiers came from Graubünden, otherwise from Bern, Zurich, Glarus and Appenzell-Ausserrhoden. The regiment consisted of 1,600 men in 1696 with 2 battalions of 4 companies of 200 men each and 2,400 men in 1748. The Graubünden regiment perished together with the Dutch army and was disbanded in 1797.


The following commanders served as colonel and owner of this regiment, each of whom also gave the regiment its name:


1693 Hercules von Capol (1642-1706) from Flims 

1706 Christoffel Schmid von Grüneck (1671-1730) from Illanz

1730 David Reydt

1735 Rudolf Anton von Salis

1745 Johann Baptista von Planta (1685-1757) from Zuoz

1759 Heinrich Sprecher von Bernegg

1763 Johann Christoph Friedrich Schmidt


In the national archives of Glarus there is a manuscript by Hans Thürer with the title "Glarner Offiziere in fremden Kriegsdienste" which lists the names of about 970 Glarner officers, many of whom were in other than Dutch service.


Especially those soldiers who married a Dutch woman during their service in Holland stayed in the Netherlands and often founded a numerous offspring there. Of the Dutch women who married Swiss soldiers, about 80% came from the garrison towns themselves and the rest came from nearby villages. Of some couples, children were baptized in no less than 7 different places, evidence that the wives went along with their husbands.


Family Names emigrated from Glarus

Today's Dutch surnames often differ greatly from the original Swiss surname. For example, Bäbler became Bebelaar, Glarner Klarenaar, Hösli Hosli, Schuler Schuller, Trümpy Trumpie and Wirth Weert. 


To date, I have been able to identify the following Glarus soldiers who remained in Holland and became the progenitors of the Dutch lines there (list to be continuously updated):


Bäbler Jakob (1762-1811), married in 1787 to Jacoba van Antwerpen (1767-1839) in Veere. He emigrated to Holland as a soldier in 1795.


Beglinger Johannes (1729-1798), married 1749 with Marija Commeseel (1722-1804) in s'Gravenhage 

Figi Melchior (1835-), emigrated around 1855-1860 to Amsterdam. He was a pastry chef (banketbakker). His surname became spelled Fijgi in Holland. He was twice married to Dutch wives who gave birth to several children. Several descendants are still living today in The Netherlands - among others the famous jazz singer Laura Fygi - and also the US - the retired Assistant General Counsel in the Energy Department Eric Jan Fygi.


Glarner Franz (1745-1795), married to Dorothea Visser (1750-). Between 1765 and 1776 he went to Holland alone or with a group of soldiers. Via Nijmegen he probably landed in Grave.


Hösli Hans Balthasar (1808-1861), married ca. 1844 with Maria Catharina Vaarten (1809-1870) in Alphen aan den Rijn. He was enlisted on 18.6.1827 for 6 years as a soldier to Holland.


Knobel Fridolin (1807-1872), married in 1839 to Petronella Mol (1814-1848) in Rucphen. He was enlisted on 19.11.1825 for 6 years as a soldier to Holland.


Kubli Rudolf (1799-1872), Dutch military ordinance, married in 1847 to Jantien Siebers (1813-1896) in s'Gravenhage


Luchsinger Johann Kaspar (1729-1809), married 1770 with Greetje Cuypers (1739-1827) in s'Gravenhage

Kaspar Schindler (1766-1826) Captain in General Johann Friedrich Stockar de Neuform's Swiss regiment in Dutch service, married Katharina Petronella Schirmer (1776-1842) in Sambeek in 1796. They lived thereafter in Vierlingsbeek and had 6 children. Kaspar and Konrad (below) were brothers.

Konrad Schindler (1772-1857) Captain in Dutch service, married Elisabeth Wehrli (1780-1819) in 1807. They lived temporarily in Maestricht and Leuven. After the death of his wife, Konrad returned to Switzerland, where he died in 1857. 


Hans Heinrich (Hendrik) Schuler (1719-1767), court messenger and guard master, married Johanna Hendrina Colemans (1721-1801) in Breda in 1747. He came to Holland as a guard master in the Swiss regiment of Colonel Jean Baptiste von Planta in about 1743.


Trümpy Jakob (1737-1782), Herbergie in Rijswijk, verheiratet 1766 mit Cornelia Koster (1737-1782) in s'Gravenhage


Wirth Wolfgang (1790-1855), married Mechtilde Muhlenberg (1794-1836) in Maastricht in 1826 and Aatjen Helmich (1814-1866) in 1837. He was enlisted as a soldier to Holland on Dec. 15, 1819.






Erismann Otto, Schweizer in holländischen Diensten, in: Blatter für bernische Geschichte, Kunst und Altertumskunde, 1916, 41ff.

Mania J.G.H., Kwartierstatenboek

Murray Bakker Albach Robert, Die Schweizer Regimenter in holländischen Diensten 1693-1797, in: Jahrbuch der Schweizerischen Gesellschaft für Familienforschung, 1989, 57ff.

Street George and van Overmeire Karim, Dutch Troops of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars 1793-1810, Nottingham 2012

Wikipedia, Swiss troops in Dutch service, retrieved Jan. 28, 2021:


Wolters H.J.. , Wolters Collection, Extracts of Military Persons from the Marriage Registers of Dutch Garrison Towns from 1648-1811, with Alphabetical Index.



Bebelaar - Descendants of Meinrad Bäbler resp. Descendents of Dutch soldier Jakob Bäbler, Website of Ronald David Bebelaar

Swiss Troops in Dutch Services
Family Research on Swiss Mercenaries
Family Names emigrated from Glarus
Swiss Troops in States General
Grenandieroffizier der holländischen Sch
Oberst mit Sponton, Grenadier und Füsili
bottom of page