One of the greatest heroes of France in the sixteenth century, was the Chevalier Bayard, or, as we may translate his title, Bayard the Knight. His real name was Pierre du Terrail; and he came of a famous family of warriors who had done excellent service for their country. He was born in the year 1476, at Bayard Castle, near the town of Grenoble, in France; and it was from the family estate that he took the name of Bayard.
He is often called "the knight without fear and without reproach." He was so brave that he never feared a foe; so good that no one ever reproached him for doing wrong. His father and grandfather were warriors, and no other life than that of a soldier was thought of for young Pierre.
The first step in the education of a knight was to become a page. When fourteen years old Pierre began his military training as a page to a famous warrior of that time, Duke Charles of Savoy.
Mounted upon a pony, and dressed in a suit of silk and velvet, he was a handsome little fellow; but, better than that, he was courteous and obliging. The pages carried messages from the duke and duchess to their friends; and Pierre was such a faithful messenger that he became a general favorite.
He had not been a year at the ducal palace when the duke had to make a visit to his sovereign, King Charles VIII of France. He thought that he could do no better service to the king than to offer him his bright little page.
The king was charmed with him, and for three years Pierre was page to the king. He was then promoted to the rank of gentleman. He was only seventeen years old; but it was not long before he became famous, and everybody at the court was speaking in his praise.
It was the fashion, in those days, for brave men to show their skill as soldiers by fighting with one another in "tournaments" or sham fights. A lady, chosen for the occasion and called the Queen of Beauty, presented prizes to the victors. The knights who wished to fight hung their shields on the boughs of trees near the tournament grounds as a challenge. Whoever wished to accept the challenge struck the hanging shield with his lance or sword.
A tournament was to be held in honor of King Charles and the ladies of his court; and Sir Claude de Vaudre (vo' dray), who was the champion of France, hung up his shield. Among those who struck it was young Pierre; and when the tournament was held, he won the prize. He had vanquished Sir Claude.
Not long after this, he held a tournament himself, and was the challenger. Forty-eight warriors struck the shield that he hung up; and one by one they were defeated by him in the tournament.
But it was real war for which the young soldier longed, and very soon it came. The French king invaded Italy, and the Italian states formed a league against him. In a battle which was fought, although the Italians were more than five times as numerous as the French, King Charles won the day.
The champion of the fight was Bayard. Two horses were killed under him, his sword was hacked, and his coat of mail was battered; but in spite of all, he captured the royal standard of Naples. He was brought before the sovereign holding this trophy in his hand; and then and there, on the battlefield, the king made him a knight.
Charles soon afterwards died, but under the new king, Louis VII, the French again fought in Italy. Marching across the Alps, they captured the province of Milan and held it; but the city of Milan was won back from them by the Italian Prince Sforza.
Three hundred of Sforza's horsemen were one day encamped near the city, when Bayard, with only fifty comrades, made an assault on them. The fight was wild, but at length the Italians fled and galloped swiftly through the gates into Milan.
Bayard, supposing that his comrades were close behind him, dashed after the flying Italians into the great square of the city. A fierce attack was now made on him, while he on his part slashed right and left with his battle-axe, killing or wounding many of his assailants. At length however he was overpowered, and taken prisoner. The din of this conflict was heard by Sforza, and he ordered the knight to be brought before him.
When Sforza had heard his story, he said, "Lord Bayard, I set you free. I ask no ransom. I will grant whatever favor you ask."
"Prince," replied Bayard, "I thank you. I ask but my horse and my armor."
Then bidding his generous foe adieu, the knight rode out of the city, and soon reached the camp of his friends.
Some time after this there was war between France and Spain. Both claimed certain parts of Italy, and so the fighting was done on Italian soil.
Once the French and Spanish were on opposite sides of the river. There was a bridge between them which the French held and could easily defend.
The Spanish commander knew of a ford some distance down the stream. He proposed to draw the French away from the bridge, so that his men might capture it.
Accordingly, taking a body of troops, he went to the ford, as if he were intending to cross it. The French, on seeing him move, abandoned their post at the bridge and marched toward the ford.
The bridge being thus left undefended, a body of two hundred Spaniards suddenly appeared and marched directly toward it. Bayard saw that not a moment was to be lost. Putting on his armor, he leaped to the saddle, and spurring his horse, was on the bridge before the Spaniards could reach it.
The Spaniards quickly arrived; but Bayard stood upon the defensive and, swinging his heavy broadsword, he slew an enemy with every blow. The Spaniards thought him some demon, and checked their furious charge. Meanwhile, a band of French horsemen rushed like a whirlwind to the bridge, and drove the Spaniards back to the farther side.
After this exploit men said of Bayard, "Single, he has the might of an army."
Once, at the siege of a castle, he was crossing the ramparts at the head of a storming party, when he received his first wound. He was struck by a pike, and the sharp-pointed head remained fixed in his thigh.
Bayard defending the bridge.
He was taken to a house near by, where a mother and her daughters had shut themselves in in dread of their lives. The mother timidly opened the door, and the wounded knight was taken in; and there for six long weeks he lay, and was nursed as carefully as if he had been a member of the family. And he on his part was their protection, for a band of his soldiers guarded the house until all danger was past.
On the day of Bayard's departure, the mother begged him to accept a little steel box as a remembrance. It contained twenty-five hundred ducats in gold, which would be more than a thousand dollars of our money.
"Give five hundred for me," said Bayard, "to the nuns whose convent near your house has been pillaged; and as for the rest, young ladies, I beg you each to accept a thousand ducats from me; for I owe you much for your care."
War was still raging in North Italy. Francis I had become sovereign of France; and like the king who reigned before him claimed part of Italy for his domain.
The French army lay encamped about the town of Marignano (ma reen ya no). The king was about to take his supper, when suddenly the enemy marched in full force from the gates and assaulted his camp. The French were instantly in arms, and the battle raged as long as there was light to see a foe. Both armies lay under arms all night, and before the sun rose, the fighting had begun again.
The contest has been called the "Battle of the Giants." The French performed marvelous exploits and won the day, but Bayard outshone all his comrades still.
The evening after the victory, King Francis knighted many brave men on the field of battle. But a wonderful honor was chosen for Bayard. The king made proclamation that he himself would receive the rank of knight from his champion.
Accordingly he knelt before the Chevalier, and Bayard, striking the shoulder of Francis with his sword, said, "Rise, Sir Francis;" and thus gave him knighthood.
When, in 1520, Francis I met Henry VIII of England near Calais upon the celebrated "Field of the Cloth of Gold," the knights of both countries vied with each other in what were, perhaps, the grandest tournaments ever held; and Bayard again won the greatest renown.
It had always been the Knight's wish that he might die in battle. And so he did.
In 1524 he was fighting under the French commander, Lord Bonnivet. Want of supplies and sickness compelled Bonnivet to retreat. The Spaniards placed men in ambush along the road which the French had to take. From one of these hidden foes the chevalier received his death wound. A comrade helped him from his horse, and laid him under the shadow of a tree.
Bayard felt that he was dying. He charged his friend to turn his face toward the foe, and then to care for his own safety. When the Spaniards reached the spot, they found him still breathing.
The Spanish general, Lord Pescara, showed him every care, and a priest was brought to console him in his last moments. And thus, loved by friends and admired by foes, the "knight without fear and without reproach" ended his wonderful life.