Bayard Holds the Bridge Alone
Naples was now in the hands of Louis and Ferdinand, and before long the two kings began to quarrel over the division of the kingdom. As Ferdinand had never meant to share it with Louis, war soon broke out between France and Spain.
A battle was fought on the banks of the river Garigliano where the French were defeated, and, but for the bravery of Bayard, would have been utterly destroyed.
Here is the brave knight's story.
Hour after hour the Spanish troops had tried to cross a bridge over the river Garigliano, which was gallantly defended by the French. But all their efforts were in vain.
One of the Spanish captains then made up his mind, that if he could not take the bridge by force he would take it by a trick.
Ordering his men to withdraw from the river, he, with about a hundred horsemen, succeeded in crossing the Garigliano by a ford. Then, stealing into the French camp, the Spanish captain and his men raised a great shout.
The French heard the enemy in their camp, and, thinking that the Spaniards no longer meant to attempt to take the bridge, they forsook their post by the river, and rushed to the camp, thinking to save it from the Spaniards.
Only the good knight Bayard, with a soldier named La Basque, glanced across the bridge, and there in the distance was a body of about two hundred Spanish soldiers, riding gaily toward the river. It would be easy, they thought, to take the bridge, now that the French had gone to defend their camp. Bayard saw what the Spanish soldiers meant to do, and, turning to La Basque, he said, "Go quickly and seek some of our men to guard the bridge, or we are all ruined. I will endeavour to hold the bridge until you come back, but make haste."
So La Basque, leaving Bayard alone, galloped off to bring the French soldiers back to the bridge.
Then the knight grasped his spear, and rode quickly to the end of the bridge, to which the Spaniards had already drawn near.
"Like a furious lion he charged the troop which was in the very act of crossing, so that three or four staggered, whereof two fell into the water and never rose more, the stream being large and deep. That done, much work was cut out for him, he being so fiercely assaulted, that without exceeding good horsemanship he could not have resisted.
"But, like a chafed tiger, he threw himself against the rail of the bridge, that the enemy might not get behind him, and defended himself so well with the sword, that the Spaniards were confounded and thought that he must be a fiend, not a man."
In this way Bayard by himself actually held the bridge until La Basque returned with a troop of soldiers, who forced the enemy from the bridge, and chased them for more than a mile.
From this chase Bayard, as you will easily believe, was the last to turn back. He was weary now and rode but slowly, whereupon twenty or thirty Spanish soldiers, seeing his condition, hastened back and surrounded the knight, crying, "Surrender! surrender!" There being nothing else to do, Bayard surrendered.
The French soldiers, riding quickly back to the bridge, did not at first notice that Bayard had been left behind. No sooner, however, did they miss him than, without a moment's delay, they turned, and set out in pursuit of the enemy, who were carrying off their good knight, "the flower and perfection of all gentility."
Soon, so fiercely did they ride, they overtook the Spaniards. Shouting, "France, France! Turn, Spaniards, turn! you shall not thus carry off the flower of knighthood," they fell upon the Spanish troop and threw many of them to the ground.
Bayard was still fully armed and needed only a steed, his own being exhausted. Seeing La Basque had dismounted, the knight was quickly astride his horse, saying, "France, France! Bayard, Bayard, whom you have let go!"Now the Spanish soldiers who had captured Bayard had not known that their prisoner was the noble knight without fear and without reproach. His name struck terror to their hearts, and those who were still mounted put spurs to their horses and galloped off.
"The French," says the servitor who wrote the good knight's life, "returned in high glee to their camp, where for a full week they never ceased talking of their fine adventure, in particular of the prowess of the good knight."
So far King Louis had gained little from his Italian wars. In 1508, however, France, Austria and Spain, the three great powers of Europe, formed a league called the League of Cambrai. The object of the league was to crush the Venetians and plunder their rich city. Venice was so rich and proud that she was called the "Queen of the Adriatic," the Adriatic being the sea on which she stands.
The Pope, too, was on the side of the league, and to help it to do its cruel work he pronounced an interdict against the republic of Venice and her inhabitants.
Louis was the first of the great powers to invade Venice. In fifteen days he had done all he had hoped to do, having in May 1509 defeated the Venetians with terrible slaughter, near a village called Agnadello. After this victory many towns opened their gates to the French, and the proud Venetians were left with little save Venice itself.
Spain soon followed France, and took her share of the spoil, while Austria and the Pope claimed some important cities which they had long coveted.
Louis now went back to France, leaving troops to hold the towns he had won. The following year his great minister, George of Amboise, died, and Louis missed his wise guidance in the days to come.
Meanwhile, the League of Cambrai came to an end. The Pope, having won from Venice the towns he wished, was pleased again to become her friend, and removed the interdict which had helped to ruin her. He then joined the Swiss, Ferdinand of Spain, Venice, and Henry viii. of England, in the Holy League, the object of which was to turn the French out of Italy.
Undaunted by the great powers now arrayed against him, King Louis at once sent his nephew Gaston de Foix, whom he dearly loved, to take command of the French troops in Milan.
Led by this gallant prince, the French troops defeated the soldiers of the Holy League again and again, and at last won the great battle of Ravenna, on Easter Sunday 1512.
At the moment of victory, however, Gaston de Foix, seeing two companies of Spanish soldiers marching off the battlefield in good order, could not resist falling upon them, with a mere handful of men, and he and his followers were slain.
His soldiers loved their brave young captain, and when they found that Gaston was dead they sobbed aloud, caring little now for their success.
Louis, when he heard of his nephew's death, cried, "I would fain have no longer an inch of land in Italy, and be able at that price to bring back to life my nephew Gaston, and all the gallants who perished with him. God keep us from often gaining such victories."
After the death of Gaston de Foix the French were defeated again and again, until at length the Holy League had accomplished its object and driven them out of Italy.
The Italian wars were for the time ended, but Louis was now threatened with danger nearer home; for in 1513 Henry viii. of England invaded France, landing at Calais with twenty thousand men.
Louis gathered an army together, but in autumn he was surprised by the English near Guinegate. The French fled almost without striking a blow, and because they used their spurs more than their swords, this battle was named the "Day of Spurs." Among the prisoners was the valiant Bayard.
In the following year Louis's wife. Queen Anne, died, and the king, weary of war, made peace with Henry viii.
But before the English king would sign a treaty of peace, he made Louis promise to marry his sister, Mary Tudor, a young and beautiful princess.
King Louis was now fifty-two years old, and for years he had lived a simple life, eating plain food, and, when it was possible, going early to bed. But after he married the English princess, to please his young bride he began to live more gaily, to sit up late, to go to dances, banquets, tournaments.
His doctors warned the king that he was not strong enough to enjoy such gaieties, but he would not listen. Before he had been married to Mary three months he took ill, and died on New Year's Day 1515.
That was a cold and dreary New Year's Day in France. The ringers wandered through the streets of Paris, ringing their bells and crying slow and sad, "The good King Louis, Father of his People, is dead." And as they listened to the words of the bell-ringers, the people wept.