ROME — The man characterized as a dictator by his employees has been removed as commander of the Swiss Guard, the small army that historically protects the pope, at the request of Pope Francis.

Colonel Daniel Rudolf Anrig, who served in the position for eight years, will leave his post Jan. 31.

French media reports attributed the decision to the commander’s strictness, quoting one Swiss Guard as calling his removal “the end of a dictatorship.” The Vatican and the Guard have declined to provide any official explanation.

The move was first reported by the Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

“The Holy Father has ordered that Colonel Daniel Rudolf Anrig end his term on 31 January, at the conclusion of the extension granted after the end of his five-year mandate,” the brief notice said.

According to the French news agency I.Media, some of the Swiss Guards considered Anrig overly strict in his approach, with one of them saying that the removal of the colonel is “the end of a dictatorship.”

The 110-man army has served popes since 1506, but in the past century, they have assumed a mostly ceremonial role. Their official dress uniform of blue, red, orange, and yellow stripes and two-handed halberd weapons are familiar sights to tourists to Vatican City.

The official website of the Pontifical Swiss Guard had not made any reference to Anrig’s removal as of Thursday.

A statement from the commander, dating from before his exit, asserts that under the Guard’s traditional renaissance uniform, there’s a “state-of-the-art trained Swiss security professional.”

“Just like the Swiss mercenaries of the 16th century,” Anrig said in that statement, today’s Swiss Guard member is convinced that the Church and the pope have to be defended.

“If called for, even by giving one’s own life,” he said.

In addition to the Swiss Guard, the Vatican also has a 130-member corps of gendarmes who are responsible for order and security in the Vatican City State and other Vatican properties, and who wear modern blue police uniforms.

The Swiss Guard’s loyalty is directly to the reigning pope, which is why they symbolically withdrew from the papal summer residence of Castelgandolfo on Feb. 28, 2013, when Benedict XVI resigned and moved there. The gendarmes took over responsibility for his security.