As the children of Charles viii. had all died before their father, Louis, Duke of Orleans, was now heir to the throne of France. This was the same Louis whom Madame la Grande had shut up in the tower of Bourges.
Louis xii. was of too generous a nature to bear a grudge against his cousin. He was no sooner crowned, in 1498, than he invited her and her husband to court, receiving them on their arrival with royal graciousness.
The ministers of Charles viii., and above all the officer who had taken the Duke of Orleans to prison in the tower of Bourges, expected to be dismissed, but Louis said, "It would but ill become the King of France to avenge the wrongs of the Duke of Orleans."
And Louis meant the words he said, for the ministers of Charles viii. still kept their posts, while the officer became one of the most trusted servants of Louis xii.
The king loved his people and wished to rule them well. Guided by his chief minister, George of Amboise, the heavy taxes were reduced, and public money was used, not for the king's pleasure, but for the public good.
In these ways, and by the real care he showed for his subjects, Louis gained for himself the title "Father of his People." Tears streamed down his cheeks, tears of joy, when some years later, in 1506, a deputation from the city of Tours addressed him thus.
France prospered under the care of George of Amboise. Unfortunately, owing to the influence of Anne of Brittany, whom Louis had married soon after the death of her husband, Charles viii., the king went to war with Italy, as his predecessor had done. His Italian expeditions brought little fame either to Louis or his people.
To gain the town of Milan for France was Louis's great ambition. He therefore marched into Italy with an army, meaning to besiege the city.
Milan was ruled by its prince, Lodovico. When the French army appeared before the gates of the town, the nobles forsook their prince, and the citizens took up arms against him. Lodovico was forced to flee, while the gates of Milan were thrown open to Louis, who entered the city in triumph, without striking a single blow.
While the French king stayed in Milan, he ruled so wisely and so well, that there, as at home, he was loved by the people. When, however, Louis went back to France, the governor to whom he entrusted the city was so harsh in his treatment of the people that they revolted, drove out the French, and once again made Lodovico Prince of Milan.
But a few French soldiers, among whom was the knight Bayard, still held one castle. Leaving their fortress, they tried to slip quietly out of the city.
But the Milanese were watching, and as they sallied out, the French soldiers found themselves followed and attacked.
Bayard, the knight without fear and without reproach, at the head of a few men, turned and repulsed the citizens.
As they fled back towards the city, Bayard followed, far outstripping his companions, until he found himself alone in Milan in the midst of the enemy. He was taken prisoner and brought before Lodovico.
The knight looked so young that Lodovico, gazing at him in surprise, asked how it was that he was alone.
"By my faith, my lord," answered the knight, "I never imagined I was entirely all alone, and thought surely I was being followed by my comrades, who knew more about war than I, for, if they had done as I did, they would like me be prisoners."
"By your faith," said Lodovico, "tell me how large is the army of the King of France."
"On my soul, my lord," answered Bayard, "so far as I can hear, there are fourteen or fifteen thousand men-at-arms, and sixteen or eighteen thousand foot; but they are all picked men, who are resolved to busy themselves so well this bout, that they will assure the state of Milan to the king our master. And meseems, my lord," continued the young knight fearlessly, "that you would surely be in as great safety in Germany as you are here, for your folks are not the sort to fight us."
Instead of being angry with Bayard for speaking so frankly, Lodovico, to the surprise of the courtiers, seemed pleased with the young chevalier. He bade his soldiers set the knight free, then bade Bayard ask for whatever he wished.
Bending his knee, the knight begged that he might be given back his horse and arms, and then be sent away to the French camp, which was about twenty miles away.
Prince Lodovico bade his servants bring Bayard his armour and his steed.
Then gaily the knight donned his armour and leaped upon his horse "without putting foot to stirrups." Asking next for a lance, which was at once handed to him, Bayard said to Lodovico, "My lord, I thank you for the courtesy you have done me; please God to pay it back to you."
Riding out into a large courtyard, Bayard then put spurs to his horse, "which gave four or five jumps, so gaily that it could not be better done; then the young knight gave him a little run, in the which he broke the lance against the ground into five or six pieces; whereat Lord Lodovico was not over pleased, and said out loud, 'If all the men-at-arms of France were like him yonder I should have a bad chance.' "
Nevertheless, Lodovico sent one of his trumpeters to show Bayard the way to the French camp.
Let me tell you now how Bayard, the knight without fear and without reproach, came to be in the French army.
From the time that he was only a little lad, Peter Bayard had longed to be a soldier. An uncle, who had influence at court, persuaded his parents to send their boy to be a page to a certain duke, by whom he was sent or 'given' to Charles VIII. Then to his heart's delight he went to the wars with the king, and fought, you remember, at the battle of Fornovo.
When Charles VIII. died Bayard stayed at court in the service of Louis XII.
It was a sad day in the quiet castle of Bayard when its young master went out into the world, but the boy, "finding himself astride his well-bred roan, deemed that he was in Paradise."
His mother, poor lady, was in a tower of the castle, weeping at the thought of losing her son. Yet when she heard that he was on horseback, ready to go away, she dried her tears, and came to say farewell.
"Peter," she said, "as much as a mother can command her child, I do command you three things, which, if you do, rest assured they will enable you to pass through this present life with honour.
"The first is, that above all things you love and serve God, without offending Him in any way, if it be possible to you. Recommend yourself to Him every morning and evening, and He will give you aid.
"The second is, that you be mild and courteous to all gentlemen, casting away pride. . . . Be loyal in word and deed. Keep your promises. . . . Succour poor widows and orphans.
"The third is, that you be bountiful of the goods that God shall give you, to the poor and needy; for to give for His honour's sake never made any man poor."
Peter thanked his mother, answering her with these wise and gentle words. "With His favour into whose keeping you command me, I hope to follow your counsels, that you shall be fully satisfied."
Then his good mother took from her sleeve a little purse, containing six crowns in gold and one in small money, and gave it to her son, as well as a little trunk that held his linen.
And so, with a kiss upon his brow, his lady-mother went back to the castle to weep and pray for her noble boy.
Little wonder was it that with such a mother Bayard was soon known as the knight without fear and without reproach.
King Louis, you remember, had gone back to France after taking Milan. When he heard that it was again in the hands of Lodovico, he sent a large army to attack him, not at Milan, but at Novara, which town he had also taken from the French.
Both Lodovico and the French had hired Swiss soldiers to fight for them. When the day of battle came, these sturdy mountaineers refused to fight against one another. Those in Lodovico's army agreed to betray him to the French. Accordingly, they sallied out of the town as though they were going to fight, but instead of striking a blow they surrendered to the French army.
Lodovico, who was among them, disguised as an ordinary soldier, was captured and taken to France. Louis treated him with great severity, and finally sent him to prison, where he was kept for ten years, until indeed death set him free.
If Louis had now, in 1500, been content to fight no more in Italy, all might have been well. But he was still deter-mined to possess Naples.
He therefore arranged with Ferdinand of Spain that together they should take possession of the kingdom of Naples, and divide it between them. But, as Ferdinand had until now been a friend of Frederick, King of Naples, his alliance with Louis was to be kept secret.
So it was the French king alone who attacked Frederick. He at once turned to Ferdinand of Spain, expecting the king to help him, as was his custom.
Apparently Ferdinand was as ready as ever to befriend Frederick. He sent his Spanish troops to Naples, and only when the kingdom was in their hands did Frederick find out that Ferdinand had sent his soldiers to help Louis and to ruin him.
King Frederick knew that it was useless to attempt to fight against two such great countries as France and Spain, so he gave himself up to Louis, who took him to France, where he died.