Pierre Stoppa, Helvetian in the service of the King

Pierre Stoppa, Helvetian in the service of the King

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Pierre Stoppa Nicknamed "Stuppa" by Saint Simon, was a very important figure in the king's military household. Switzerland of the canton of Graubünden, he was able to integrate perfectly into his adopted homeland and hold his place with the king, by reaching the prestigious rank of Colonel of the regiment of Swiss Guards, without denying its origins.

The Swiss Guards

Charles VII is at the origin of the employment of the Swiss to increase the regiments. In 1453 he negotiated the first perpetual alliance; Charles VIII formed in 1497 the company of the Hundred Swiss, becoming his personal guard. This perpetual alliance was definitively signed in 1515 after the battle of Marignan. In 1616, the infantry regiment of the Swiss Guards was created and Marshal Bassompierre was its first Colonel General of the Swiss and Graubünden three years later with eight companies of 160 men each. Made up of men from the 13 Swiss cantons, it is the only regiment permanently assigned to the king's military house that can be considered the elite of the guards.

The man

Pierre Stoppa was not the first Swiss to join this regiment, several officers of this family distinguished themselves there before him, but it was the most important for Louis XIV. Originally from Graubünden and Protestant, he stood out in several battles from 1648 (Casal, the Dunes, capture of Dunkirk, conquest of France Comté) when he belonged to the free half-companies. He succeeded in joining these half-companies to make a single one under his name, a company that he kept until his death.

Despite all these military campaigns, he succeeded in marrying Anne Charlotte de Gondy in 1661. This cousin of the Retz family brought a beautiful dowry; discreet and yet influential, she was well appreciated by Madame de Maintenon. The couple could not have children and fell in love with Anne de la Bretonnière, known as Madame de Saint Ange, appointed prioress of the Hôtel Dieu de Château-Thierry in 1682 by the king.

The negotiating officer

In 1668, for lack of financial means, Louis XIV had to separate from several companies of Swiss. Stoppa understood that this would be a big loss for the Swiss cantons and intervened with Louvois, Secretary of State for War, to recruit additional Frankish troops. The king granted him this charge, but specifying that the soldiers would be paid much less. With his Swiss nationality, Stoppa succeeded in recruiting four regiments, considered as mercenaries by their compatriots (since their salaries would be lower). Satisfied with his work, the king appointed him brigadier in the rank of colonel in 1672, of one of the new regiments called "Old Stuppa". His military career and that of courtier had just been launched.

During the Dutch war, he distinguished himself again, becoming governor of Utrecht, receiving personal praise from Louis XIV during the battle of Seneffe in 1674; he also contributed to the capture of many towns until 1678, became marshal of the camp in 1676 and finally lieutenant general of the king's armies in 1678.

The King's Reward

Despite his new officer ranks, his greatest reward was when the king let him play a role by appointing him "responsible for all the functions of Colonel General of the Swiss and Graubünden during the infancy of the Duke of Maine". He had about 40,000 men under his command.
In 1685, during a great ceremony and in front of everyone thus stirring up jealousy, he became Colonel General of the Swiss Guards and could keep his infantry regiment as well as his Frankish company. Having become the most important Swiss officer (after the young Duke of Maine), he no longer left as a companion, but made fundamental reforms within the Swiss Guards. He devoted himself to the allocation of accommodation for the Swiss, had a new red uniform made with lapels and facings allowing to distinguish the regiments, took care of the instruction, drew up a regulation of the maneuvers, lingered on the distribution the work of the king's guard, in particular at the access posts to the castle, at the entrance gates, the main function of the guards being the security of the royal person.

The king: a distinguished ally

When the Duke of Maine was old enough to take office at 18, he could not decide anything on his own during Stoppa's lifetime. The Colonel was always kept up to date, the young duke asking him for advice before making any decisions, so important was this man. Likewise, during the conflicts during the War of the League of Augsburg in 1689, Pierre Stoppa smoothed the tensions between Switzerland and France in order to perpetuate the original alliance. In 1698, Louis XIV called on him again: the king intended to reform 16,000 Swiss, while the alliance provided that France had to maintain 25,000 permanently. Stoppa succeeds, by dint of discussions and persuasion, in maintaining the rules of the alliance. At the same time, and following the very great problems with the Swiss cantons since 1673, which accused him of complacency with France to the detriment of Switzerland, the king himself called in his ambassador to obtain an end to the trial against this officer of very great value.

His fortune

With his ranks of grand officer and possessing his infantry regiment without forgetting his frank company, he had amassed an immense fortune. He had an apartment in the north wing of the ministers as well as a luxury mansion with private chapel in Paris. But when he died in 1701, he left almost nothing to his heirs: it was to the Hôtel Dieu that most of his property went. He made significant donations and the prioress was able to expand the land, bring together all the awkwardnesses, transform the spaces for the sick, create chapels, buy furniture, organs and welcome new nuns ... They also received food supplies. , medicines and clothes.
The couple were buried in the Church of the Religious Ladies of the Hôtel Dieu; Mme de Saint Ange had a mausoleum erected in their honor.

The honor of the Swiss Guards

On the eve of the Revolution in 1789, around 14,000 Swiss were serving the King of France under the perpetual alliance.
Between 400 and 600 men were massacred on August 10, 1792 at the Tuileries. In their honor, a monument was erected in 1821 in Lucerne. The Lion of Lucerne, embedded in the rock, lying down, wounded to death, holds in its paws a fleur-de-lys, symbol of the French monarchy.

For further

In the service of the King - behind the scenes of Versailles, by Mathieu da Vinha. Tallandier, 2015.

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