On August 10, 1792, a contingent of 900 Swiss Guard mercenaries guarding King Louis XVI at the Tuileries Palace in Paris found themselves surrounded by an angry mob of some 30,000 French Revolutionaries.
The mob demanded that the mercenaries step aside; the mercenaries refused. More than 700 of the Guard lost their lives in the battle that followed, willing to die for the man they had been hired to protect, King Louis XVI.
No one bothered to tell the Swiss Guard that they were guarding an empty palace; the king and his family had already snuck out and run away. Their noble sacrifice was pointless.
As an ironic punctuation on the whole matter, King Louis XVI was captured and guillotined a year later.
In 1821, in honor of those who died on that day, the Lion of Luzern monument was carved out of natural rock after a design by Danish artist Bertel Thorvaldsen. The Latin inscription reads "HELVETIORUM FIDEI AC VIRTUTI" -- "To the Loyalty and Courage of the Swiss."
During a visit to Luzern, American writer Mark Twain described the Lion of Luzern as "the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world."