Telling how Bayard chose to be a knight
In the Province of Dauphiny in France there were in the fifteenth century great and noble families from which had sprung many virtuous and noble knights, and of these families none was more noble than the family of Bayard.
When Lord Bayard, the head of the family, was an old man and knew that he must soon go the way of his fathers, he called to him his four sons and asked each to tell him what he desired to be. The eldest chose to dwell at home on the estates which would come to him by inheritance, and the two youngest were to go into the service of the church; but when it came to the turn of the second son to speak, he told his father that he wanted to be a knight and follow the pursuit of arms. That was Pierre, who was then thirteen years old, and his eyes sparkled and his face glowed with eagerness as he spoke. His father was well pleased that he should choose this noble calling, and thus follow in the line of his brave forefathers, and promised that he would let him carry out his wish.
The father sent one of his serving men the very next day to the Bishop of Grenoble, his brother-in-law, praying him to come at his good pleasure to his castle. The good bishop came immediately, and sat down the next night at a banquet which had been prepared to welcome him. As was the custom of those days, the sons of the house waited upon their elders at table, and so well and gracefully did Pierre serve that he drew praise from all who were present.
When the meal was concluded, Lord Bayard told the company that his second son desired to become a knight.
"I must therefore," he said, "as the first step place him in the household of some prince or lord, that he may learn to behave himself with courtesy, and that when he is older he may be trained in the use of arms. I pray you to advise me where I may best place him."
One guest recommended this house and another that one for the lad, but the bishop counseled that he be sent to the Duke of Savoy.
"You know how friendly the duke is to our house. I believe he will right willingly take the lad as one of his pages. He is now at Chambéry for a visit; to-morrow, if it please thee, I will ride thither with the boy and present him as page to the duke. Be at no expense for him; I myself will equip and mount him."
The counsel of the bishop was approved by all the company, and the aged father led the boy to the bishop and delivered him over to him with tears in his eyes, saying, "Take him, my lord, and I pray God that wherever you may place the boy he may do you honor."
The bishop, true to his promise, sent for his costumer, who worked all night getting an outfit ready for the lad, and on the morrow all was prepared. After breakfast Pierre was shown his new charger, which had been led into the courtyard. All the men of the castle had gathered to bid the boy farewell, and they watched to see him mount. The horse, accustomed to a man's weight, plunged and reared when Pierre leaped into the saddle, and all the company thought he would throw the boy. But Pierre gave him a touch with the spurs, and brought him with a gallop round the courtyard as if he were a man of thirty.
With tears of pride in his eyes the father took an affectionate leave of him and gave him his blessing, and his mother came from the tower window where she had been watching him and gave him wise counsel, saying:
"My child, you are going into the service of a noble prince. I charge you to observe three things, which if you do, be assured you shall prosper. First, before all things, love, fear, and serve God. Again, be gentle and courteous to all men, keeping thyself from pride and being ever loyal in word and deed. And third, be charitable to the poor and needy. And may we always have good report of you, my son."
The good lady drew out of her sleeve a little purse in which there were six crowns of gold and one of silver, and presented it to her son. He took leave of her tenderly and gratefully, and rode away, but for all the sorrow of parting, as he felt the charger under him and rode along the road to Chambéry with his uncle, Pierre Bayard thought himself in Paradise.
Telling how Bayard received his knightly training
When they came to Chambéry, the bishop and his nephew were graciously received by the duke, who pressed them to dine with him. The boy Bayard waited upon his uncle so gracefully at the table that the duke observed it and asked who the lad was.
"He is my nephew, sir, whom I have brought to present to you, if his services would be of use to you," replied the bishop.
"Truly I should be a strange man and hard to please, if I refused such a gift; and if he walks in the steps of his fathers, he will be a brave man,"said the duke, looking at the handsome, yellow-haired child.
So Bayard became a page in the duke's household, and there he remained for the space of half a year. He served the lords and ladies well and with spirit; he jumped and wrestled and exercised with the other lads; and above all he excelled in horsemanship, which is most needful in a knight.
Then the duke determined to go and visit the king of France at Lyons, where he was visiting with his princes and nobles and leading a merry life with jousts and tournaments daily, and he took Bayard with him as one of his attendants. The king, hearing that the Duke of Savoy was coming to Lyons, sent a count of his household to meet him on the road and welcome him. The count and his attendants met the party when they were some two leagues away from Lyons, and as they rode the count spoke of the yellow-haired page who rode before him.
"My friend," he said, "you have there a page who rides a goodly steed, and what is more, he rides it prettily."
"On my faith," said the duke, "it is scarcely six months since the Bishop of Grenoble made me a present of him, and yet I have never seen a youth of his age disport himself more bravely or with better grace, both on horseback and on foot. He comes from a race of brave and bold gentlemen, whom I believe he will resemble."
Then he said to the boy: Spur, Bayard, spur! Give your horse a gallop!"
The boy, liking nothing better, galloped off instantly, and came back a moment later panting from his swift run.
"Upon my word, my lord," said the count admiringly, "that is indeed a youth who, to my thinking, will make a noble knight if he lives. I advise you to give both horse and page as present to the king, for he will be much pleased thereat, the horse being strong and handsome, and the page, in my eyes, still better."
So it came about that Bayard was transferred to the service of the king, where he remained three years as page, until he was seventeen. Then he exchanged the page's dagger for the sword of the esquire, and was sent into Italy to a garrison of men at arms to gain practice in arms.
Telling how Bayard gave a tournament
The king's last word to Chevalier Bayard (for so he was called from the day when he became an esquire) was this: "You go into a province where there are many fair ladies. Endeavor to find favor in their sight."
When Bayard came to the Italian town he was cordially welcomed, and was given a gay supper by the young esquires of the garrison. As they sat at table one of the company, a merry fellow, said: "Friend, I think it right to tell you that in all Italy there are no more beautiful ladies than those in this town. It is impossible you should have come hither from the court of France without gold. You must on your arrival do something in order to obtain the favor of these ladies. It is long since a prize has been given here, and I pray you therefore to give one before eight days are over. Grant this, I do entreat you," he concluded laughingly, "being my first request to you."
"By my faith," replied the chevalier, "hadst thou asked a far greater thing, I should willingly have granted it. As for this, it is a question whether it will give me or you the greatest pleasure. If to-morrow you will send around the trumpeter, we shall make every preparation."
The next morning the young lord was at Bayard's door with the trumpeter, and the chevalier gave him this proclamation to read.
"Pierre of Bayard, young gentleman and beginner in the use of arms, native of Dauphiny, one of the household of the king of France, hereby proclaims a tournament to be held on the outskirts of the town of Ayre, open to all comers, on the twentieth of July, in the year of our Lord fourteen hundred and ninety-five; this tournament to be of three tilts with unsheathed and blunted lances, in open lists and full armor; and of twelve sword thrusts; the whole on horseback. The victor to receive as prize a golden bracelet enameled with his arms, of the weight of thirty crowns. The next day will be for encounters on foot; a combat of lances, and, after lances are broken, the combat continued with wooden maces at the discretion of the judges. The prize to be a diamond of the value of forty crowns."
"Of a surety," said the young lord, "not Lancelot, nor Tristram, nor Gawain ever did better. Trumpeter, herald this throughout the town; then go to all the garrisons within three days to proclaim it to all our friends."
There were many gentlemen of arms in Picardy in those days, and they got themselves ready without delay. Every day they amused themselves with practice and banquet. Troubadours improvised new songs in honor of the ladies, and of the chevalier Bayard.
At length the longed-for day came, and all those who would take part in the tournament entered the lists. Forty-six gentlemen appeared and were divided into two parties by the judges. This done, the herald published the order of combat and the rules of battle. The galleries about the field were filled with fair ladies, and every knight bore on his shield a sleeve, bow, glove, or scarf given him by the lady whom he would serve by his deeds of arms. By their shields and these tokens only could they be known, for every knight was covered from top to toe with shining armor.
Bayard was the first to present himself on the course, and Aymond of Dauphiny, his cousin, was the first to meet him. This was the combat with blunted lances, and they rode against each other so furiously and aimed so accurately that Aymond snapped his lance in two and Bayard, striking above the elbow, broke his into a dozen pieces. Yet with all the force of the blow neither was unhorsed. The trumpet sounded and all applauded, for that had been a beautiful joust.
The second and third combats went as well. Then they drew out their swords, the points of which were covered so that no injury should be done, and contested with them, fighting as before in pairs. It was agreed by the judges, as well as by all who watched, that better tilting with the lance or clashing with the sword had never been seen. In the evening they all repaired to the dwelling of Bayard, who had provided a magnificent supper, which was graced by the presence of many fair ladies. Although it was very late when they separated after the feasting and dancing, there was not a single gentleman who did not pay his respects to Bayard at his home early the next morning, and thank him courteously for his gracious hospitality.
The next day the program was carried through, and for seven hours the valiant gentlemen contested. When all was over they went once more to the house of the good chevalier, and after the supper the judges with one voice pronounced that, while it was no detriment to the others to so report, yet Bayard had shown himself, of all the knights that had contested, the best. Then they asked the good Bayard to whom they should give the prize, for he would not take it because he was host; and he declared they should give it to those who each day were deemed the best beside himself. Many praises were given to Chevalier Bayard for this tourney which he gave.
Telling of an adventure that he had
Bayard's life in Italy was not made up entirely of playing the game of war on the field of tourney. Before he had been many months in the garrison, certain towns near by rose in revolt against the king of France. This was but one part of a widespread warfare in which Germany was trying to send an army into Italy and win that country away from France. The king sent an army to hold his unruly subjects in submission, and while they were yet on the way Chevalier Bayard heard that there were within a neighboring garrison three hundred horsemen of the enemy. He begged his companions to go with him to surprise them, which they did most gladly.
When the captain of those Italian horsemen heard through his spies that the French had ridden forth to meet him, he would not tarry inside the walls of the fort to be taken as a bird in the nest, but rode without the wall and there awaited his assailants.
The French advanced with a mighty charge, crying, "For France! For France!" and many on both sides were brought to the ground. The combat lasted a full hour, during which none knew which side would be successful. This made the chevalier angry, so that he called out to his companions, saying: "Ho, my lords! shall we be held here all the livelong day by these few men? To hand! Be of good courage! Throw them to earth!"
At his words his companions, exerting themselves afresh, rushed with new force upon the Italians, who, beginning to lose ground, retreated a little, still defending themselves manfully. The French drove the little band back four or five miles along the road to Milan, although they could not overcome them. When, however, the Italians found themselves nearing Milan, they turned and fled at a rapid pace towards the town. The French pursued until quite close to the gates; then some of the older men called aloud, "Turn, turn, men of arms!" All heard save Bayard, who was so absorbed in the combat that he paid no heed to where he was, but dashed on after his antagonist, with whom he was then exchanging blows. He did not notice the city gates or the houses, so eager was he, but galloped pell-mell after the enemy, until of a sudden he found himself in the square in front of the palace, surrounded on all sides by shouting Italians. The captain of the band which he had followed took him prisoner and led him within the palace, where presently the lord of the castle, hearing that he was a wondrous valiant and bold gentleman, desired to see him.
Bayard was presented to Lord Ludovic, who was the head of all the German army, and the lord marveled that this Bayard of whom he had heard so much was so young.
"Come hither, good sir!" he said to him; "what brought you to this town?"
"By my good faith, my lord," replied the good chevalier, in no wise abashed, "I did not intend to come thus alone, but thought that I was accompanied by my companions, who are better acquainted with the usages of warfare than I; for had they done as I, they would now be your prisoners. Nevertheless, in spite of my adventure, I am thankful for my good fortune in having fallen into the hands of so good a master as the captain who took me prisoner, for he is a gallant knight."
Lord Ludovic asked him to tell on his knightly honor how many men the king of France had in his army.
Bayard told him frankly that there were but fourteen or fifteen hundred knights and esquires, and eighteen thousand men on foot. "But they are all picked men," he added, "who are resolved to conquer Milan. It seems to me, my lord, that you would be safer in Germany than here, for I assure you that your men are not able to contend with us."
Lord Ludovic was pleased with the young man's boldness, and answered him, saying: "Upon my faith, young sir, I would that the king's army and mine might meet in battle to determine who is best. I see no other way."
"Provided I were out of prison," replied Bayard, "I would it were to-morrow."
"That shall not stand in the way," said Ludovic, "for I set you free from this moment; but first ask what you wish, and I will grant it."
Bayard thanked him and said, "My lord, I ask for naught save of thy courtesy to return my horse and arms and to allow me to depart."
"Of a truth that shall be granted thee,"said the German, "and at once."
When the serving men had finished arming the chevalier, he leaped to his saddle without putting foot in the stirrup, and rode away after thanking them all for their courtesy. As he rode forth, Lord Ludovic exclaimed aloud, "If all the men of France are such as he, it will fare ill with me and my men."
When Bayard reached camp his companions flocked about him, congratulating him on his escape. The head of the garrison, seeing him, said: "Hallo, Bayard! what brought you out of prison? I was about to send one of my trumpeters to pay your ransom."
"My lord, I thank you," replied Bayard, "but Lord Ludovic has liberated me out of his great courtesy and generosity."
Telling how Bayard won for himself great honor
When Bayard was twenty-one years old, he received the degree of knight, and he rendered service during his life to three kings of France, and won for each of them great victories on the field of battle. And in all the realms where he fought there was no knight who kept his life more pure or his knightly honor more unstained than he. So great was his fame that he was known in all the nations as the good Chevalier Bayard, the knight "without fear and without reproach."
Well might they say that he was without fear, for he carried the banner of France in more battles and sieges and assaults than could possibly be written down, and never shrank from any danger. It was said that the Spaniards and Germans and Italians feared him more than any man in the French army, and that the news that he was in a battle made the stoutest hearts to quail.
Yet it was not for his skill in war that Bayard was most famous, but for the blameless and gentle life that he lived. Those were times when knighthood was not so high a calling as in the days of Arthur and Charlemagne and Godfrey. Already there were men who sold their swords to the highest bidder, and spent their lives in useless strife, that brought no honor nor good to any one; and already there were wise men who said that in those civilized times, when there was no need to fight against the Moors and Saracens or to protect the land against the northern barbarians, knightly men could lead better and braver lives at home than abroad. Those were days when many knights became less noble, but Bayard was ever true to his vows. He would never fight in any service save that of his king and country, although other rulers offered him rich rewards. He treated his prisoners with wonderful humanity and gentleness. He never boasted of his victories, although pride was the besetting sin of his comrades. In every way he so carried himself as to win the title by which he has been known ever since, "the good knight, without fear and without reproach."
It was Bayard's fame and loyalty to his king that brought him the greatest honor that could come to any knight. Soon after his coronation, Francis I, who was the third king under whom Bayard had served, was summoned from his court by the news of a great revolt in the south. He sent Bayard in all haste with the vanguard of the army, and himself followed quickly. A mighty battle was fought, which lasted two days, and in which many hundreds of men were killed.
In those two days the chevalier won new laurels by his bravery, and King Francis was pleased to greatly honor him. The young king wished to bestow on those who had served him well the honor of knighthood. But he was not himself a knight, and could not therefore give others that degree. He sent for Bayard and told him that he desired to be knighted by him, as the knight of greatest renown there.
"Sire," said Bayard, "he who is crowned and consecrated and anointed king of so noble a realm is already a knight above all other knights."
"Come, Bayard," replied the king. "Hasten! Tell me not laws and rules, but obey my will and command, else are you not so faithful as my poorest subject."
"Surely, sire, I will do it not once, but one hundred times at your command,"replied Bayard, and he took sword and laying it upon the king's shoulder as he knelt before him, said, "Sire, may you be as renowned as Roland or Oliver or Godfrey; and God grant that you may never turn your back in war!"
Then in a merry manner he held up his sword and spoke to it, saying: "Most fortunate art thou to have this day conferred knighthood on so distinguished and powerful a king. Truly, my good sword, I shall keep thee as a sacred relic honored above all others, and will never use thee save against the Moors or Saracens or other heathen peoples."
So saying, he returned it to its scabbard.
The day came when Bayard was mortally wounded in battle, and died upon the field. Then there was deep mourning, not only in France but in all the countries of those against whom he had fought, for all deemed him a noble knight. And there are some who say that he was the last perfect knight that ever lived, but that can hardly be true.
Here endeth the very joyous and pleasant and refreshing history of the noble Lord Bayard (may his renown abide), and here endeth likewise this little book which treateth of the noble acts and deeds of chivalry, of prowess and hardiness, of love and friendship, and of gentleness and courtesy.