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Chevalier Bayard, The
Pierre Du Terrail was born in 1476, at Castle Bayard, in Dauphiny. The house of Terrail belonged to the Scarlet of the ancient peers of France. The Lords of Bayard, during many generations, had died under the flags of battle. Poictiers, Agincourt, and Montlhery had taken, in succession, the last three; and in 1479, when Pierre was in his nurse's arms, his father, Aymon du Terrail, was carried from the field of Guinegate with a frightful wound, from the effects of which, although he survived for seventeen years to limp about his castle with the help of sticks, he never again put on his shirt of mail.
Bayard taking Leave of The Ladies of Brescia.
The glory of this exploit was extreme. It quickly spread. Three days later Bayard went to join the garrison at Aire. He found, as he rode into the little town, that the fame of his achievement had arrived before him. Heads were everywhere thrust out of windows, and a band of fifty of his future comrades issued on horseback from the garrison to bid him welcome. A few days after his arrival he held a tilt in his own person, after the example of Sir Claude. The palms were a diamond and a clasp of gold. Forty-eight of his companions struck his shield, and rode into the lists against him. Bayard overthrew the whole band, one by one, and was once more hailed at sunset by the notes of trumpets as the champion of the tourney.
It is not in tournaments and tilts, however, that a knight can win his spurs. Bayard burned for battle. For many months he burned in vain; but at last the banners of the king were given to the wind, and Bayard, to his unspeakable delight, found himself marching under Lord Ligny against Naples.
The two armies faced each other at Fornovo. The odds against the French were six to one, and the fight was long and bloody. When the great victory was at last decided, Bayard was among the first of those called up before the king. That day two horses had dropped dead beneath him; his cuirass and sword were hacked and battered, and a captured standard, blazing with the arms of Naples, was in his hand. At the king's order he knelt down, and received upon the spot the rank of knight. At one bound he had achieved the height of glory--to be knighted by his sovereign on the field of battle.
Bayard was not yet nineteen. His figure at that age was tall and slender; his hair and eyes were black; his complexion was a sunny brown; and his countenance had something of the eagle's.
He was now for some time idle. He was left in garrison in Lombardy. But fiercer fields were soon to call him. Ludovico Sforza took Milan. At Binasco, Lord Bernardino Cazache, one of Sforza's captains, had three hundred horse; and twenty miles from Milan was Bayard's place of garrison. With fifty of his comrades he rode out one morning, bent on assaulting Lord Bernardino's force. The latter, warned by a scout of their approach, armed his party, and rushed fiercely from the fort. The strife was fought with fury; but the Lombards, slowly driven back toward Milan, at length wheeled round their horses and galloped like the wind into the city.
Bayard, darting in his spurs, waving his bare blade, and shouting out his battle-cry of "France," was far ahead of his companions. Before he knew his danger, he had dashed in with the fugitives at the city gates and reached the middle of the square in front of Sforza's palace. He found himself alone in the midst of the fierce enemy--with the white crosses of France emblazoned on his shield.
Sforza, hearing a tremendous uproar in the square, came to a window of the palace and looked down. The square was swarming with the soldiers of Binasco, savage, hacked, and bloody; and in the centre of the yelling tumult, Bayard, still on horseback, was slashing at those who strove to pull him from his seat.
Sforza, in a voice of thunder, bade the knight be brought before him. Bayard, seeing that resistance was mere madness, surrendered to Lord Bernardino, and was led, disarmed, into the palace. Sforza was a soldier more given to the ferocity than to the courtesies of war. But when the young knight stood before him, when he heard his story, when he looked upon his bold yet modest bearing, the fierce and moody prince was moved to admiration. "Lord Bayard," he said, "I will not treat you as a prisoner. I set you free; I will take no ransom; and I will grant you any favor in my power." "My Lord Prince," said Bayard, "I thank you for your courtesy with all my soul. I will ask you only for my horse and armor." The horse was brought; Bayard sprang into the saddle, and an hour later was received by his companions with raptures of surprise and joy, as one who had come alive out of the lion's den.
Milan fell; Sforza was taken; and Bayard went into garrison at Monervino. At Andri, some miles distant, was a Spanish garrison under the command of Don Alonzo de Sotomayor, one of the most famous knights in Spain. Bayard, with fifty men, rode out one morning, in the hope of falling in with some adventure. It happened that he came across Alonzo, with an equal party, abroad on the same quest. Their forces met; both sides flew joyously to battle, and for an hour the victory hung in the balance. But at last Bayard, with his own sword, forced Alonzo to surrender; and his party, carrying with them a large band of prisoners, rode back in triumph to the garrison.
Sotomayor behaved in most unknightly fashion, and after being ransomed, accused Bayard of ill-treating him. Bayard sent him the lie, and challenging him to a duel to the death, slew him. A few days later, the Spaniards, panting for reprisal, proposed to meet a party of the French in combat, for the glory of their nations. Bayard received the challenge with delight. On the appointed day, thirteen knights of either side, glittering in full harness, armed with sword and battle-axe, and prepared for a contest to the death, rode forth into the lists.
By the laws of such a tilt a knight unhorsed, or forced across the boundary, became a prisoner, and could fight no longer. The Spaniards, with great cunning, set themselves to maim the horses; and by these tactics, eleven of the French were soon dismounted. Two alone were left to carry on the contest, Bayard and Lord Orose.
Then followed such a feat of arms as struck the gazers dumb. For four hours these two held good their ground against the whole thirteen. The Spaniards, stung with rage and shame, spurred till their heels dripped blood. In vain. Night fell; the bugles sounded; and still the unconquerable pair rode round the ring.
But great as this feat was, it was soon to be succeeded by a greater. A few weeks afterward the French and Spanish camps were posted on opposite sides of the river Gargliano. Between them was a bridge, in the possession of the French; and some way farther down the river was a ford, known only to the Spanish general, Pedro de Paez. He proposed to lure the French guards from the bridge, and then to seize it. And his stratagem was ready.
Early in the morning the French soldiers at the bridge were startled to perceive a party of the enemy, each horseman bearing a foot-soldier on his crupper, approach the river at the ford and begin to move across it. Instantly, as Paez had intended, they left the bridge and rushed toward the spot. Bayard, attended by Le Basque, was in the act of putting on his armor. He sprang into the saddle, and was about to spur after his companions, when he perceived, across the river, a party of two hundred Spaniards making for the bridge. The danger was extreme; for if the bridge were taken the camp itself would be in the most deadly peril. Bayard bade Le Basque gallop for his life to bring assistance. And he himself rode forward to the bridge, alone.
The Spaniards, on seeing a solitary knight advance against them, laughed loudly at his folly. Their foremost horsemen were already half-way over when Bayard, with his lance in rest, came flying down upon them. His onset swept the first three off the bridge into the river, and instantly the rest, with cries of vengeance, rushed furiously upon him. Bayard, not to be surrounded, backed his horse against the railing of the bridge, rose up in his stirrups, swung his falchion with both hands above his head, and lashed out with such fury that, with every blow a bloody Spaniard fell into the river, and the whole troop recoiled in wonder and dismay, as if before a demon. While they still stood, half-dazed, two hundred glaring at one man, a shout was heard, and Le Basque, with a band of horsemen, was seen approaching like a whirlwind. In two minutes the Spaniards were swept back upon the land in hopeless rout--and the French camp was saved.
Bayard received for this great feat the blazon of a porcupine, with this inscription, Unus agminis vires habet--"One man has the might of armies."
And still came exploit after exploit in succession--exploits of every kind of fiery daring. At Genoa, when the town revolted, Bayard stormed the fort of the insurgents, quelled the riot, forced the city to surrender, and hanged the leader on a pole. At Agnadello, against the troops of Venice, he waded with his men through fens and ditches, took the picked bands of Lord d'Alvicino on the flank, scattered them to the winds, and won the day. At Padua, during the long siege, he scoured the country with his band of horse, and frequently rode back to camp at nightfall with more prisoners than armed men. At Mirandola, where he faced the papal armies, he laid a scheme to take the Pope himself. A snowstorm kept the fiery Julius in his tent, and Bayard lost him. A few days afterward the pontiff's life was in his hands. A traitor offered, for a purse of gold, to poison the Pope's wine. But it is not the Bayards of the world who fight with pots of poison; and the slippery Judas had to fly in terror from the camp, or Bayard would infallibly have hanged him.
So far, amid his life of perils, Bayard had escaped without a wound. But now his time had come.
Brescia was taken by the troops of Venice. Gaston de Foix, the thunderbolt of Italy, marched with 12,000 men to its relief. Bayard was among them. At the head of the storming-party he was first across the ramparts, and was turning round to cheer his men to victory when a pike struck him in the thigh. The shaft broke off, and the iron head remained embedded in the wound.
Two of his archers caught him as he fell, bore him out of the rush of battle, and partly stanched the wound by stripping up the linen of their shirts. They then bore him to a mansion close at hand. The master of the house, who seems to have been a person of more wealth than valor, had disappeared, and was thought to be hiding somewhere in a convent, leaving his wife and his two daughters to themselves. The girls had fled into a hay-loft, and plunged themselves beneath the hay; but, on the thunderous knocking of the archers, the lady of the house came trembling to the door. Bayard was carried in, a surgeon was luckily discovered close at hand, and the pike-head was extracted. The wound was pronounced to be not dangerous. But Bayard, to his great vexation, found he was doomed to lie in idleness for several weeks.
According to the laws of war, the house was his, and all the inmates were his prisoners. And the fact was well for them. Outside the house existed such a scene of horror as, even in that age, was rare. Ten thousand men lay dead in the great square; the city was given up to pillage, and it is said that the conquerors gorged themselves that day with booty worth three million crowns. The troops were drunk with victory and rapine. No man's life, no woman's honor, was in safety for an instant.
Bayard set his archers at the door-way. His name was a talisman against the boldest; and in the midst of the fierce tumult that raged all round it, the house in which he lay remained a sanctuary of peace.
The ladies of the house were soon reassured. Bayard refused to regard them as his prisoners or to take a coin of ransom. The daughters, two lovely and accomplished girls, were delighted to attend the wounded knight. They talked and sang to him, they touched the mandolin, they woke the music of the virginals. In such society the hours flew lightly by. The wound healed, and in six weeks Bayard was himself again.
On the day of his departure the lady of the house came into his apartment, and besought him, as their preserver, to accept a certain little box of steel. The box contained two thousand five hundred golden ducats. Bayard took it. "But five hundred ducats," he said, "I desire you to divide for me among the nuns whose convents have been pillaged." Then, turning to her daughters, "Ladies," he said, "I owe you more than thanks for your kind care of me. Soldiers do not carry with them pretty things for ladies; but I pray each of you to accept from me a thousand ducats, to aid your marriage portions." And with that he poured the coins into their aprons.
His horse was brought, and he was about to mount, when the girls came stealing down the steps into the castle court, each with a little present, worked by their own hands, which they desired him to accept. One brought a pair of armlets, made of gold and silver thread; the other, a purse of crimson satin. And this was all the spoil that Bayard carried from the inestimable wealth of Brescia--the little keepsakes of two girls whom he had saved.
The scenes of Bayard's life at which we have been glancing have been chiefly those of his great feats of arms. And so it must be still; for it is these of which the details have survived in history. And yet it was such incidents as these at Brescia which made the fame of Bayard what it was and what it is. To his foes, he was the flower of chivalry; but to his friends, he was, besides, the most adored of men. It is said that in his native province of Dauphiny, at his death, more than a hundred ancient soldiers owed to him the roof that covered their old age; that more than a hundred orphan girls had received their marriage portions from his bounty. But of such acts the vast majority are unrecorded; for these are not the deeds which shine in the world's eye.
Gaston de Foix was now before Ravenna. Bayard rode thither with all speed; he was just in time. Two days after his arrival came the battle. Weak though he still was from his long illness, Bayard on that day was seen, as ever, "shining above his fellow-men." He turned the tide of victory; he tore two standards from the foe with his own hand; and he was first in the pursuit.
Two months after, Bayard was at Pavia. The little troop with which he was then serving had there sought refuge under Louis d'Ars. The armies of the Swiss burst in upon them. Bayard, with a handful of soldiers in the market-place, held, for two hours, their whole force at bay, while his companions were retreating from the town across a bridge of boats. As he himself was crossing, last of all, a shot struck him in the shoulder, and stripped it to the bone. No surgeon was at hand. The wound, roughly stanched with moss, brought on a fever, and for some time he lay in danger of his life.
And now Bayard was to follow a new master. Louis XII. died; Francis I. received the crown; and Bayard, with the young king, marched to Milan, which the Swiss had seized and held.
On Thursday, September 13, 1515, King Francis pitched his camp at Marignano, before the city of the spires. No danger of attack was apprehended; the king sat calmly down to supper in his tent; when all at once the Swiss, aroused to madness by the fiery eloquence of Cardinal de Sion, broke like a tempest from the city, and fell upon the camp. The French, by the red light of sunset, flew to arms, and fought with fury till night fell. Both armies sat all night on horseback, waiting for the dawn; and with the first streaks of morning, flew again to battle. It was noon before the bitter contest ended, and the Swiss, still fighting every inch of ground, drew slowly back toward the city. It had been, indeed, as Trevulzio called it, a Battle of the Giants. And the greatest of the giants had been Bayard and the king.
That evening Francis held, before his tent, the ceremony of creating knights of valor. But before the ceremony began, a proclamation by the heralds startled and delighted all the camp. Francis had determined to receive the rank in his own person. Bayard was to knight the king!
In the days of the primeval chivalry, when even princes were compelled to win their spurs, such a spectacle was not uncommon. But not for ages had a king been knighted by a subject on a field of battle. Nor was any splendor wanting that could make the spectacle impressive. Nowhere in Ariosto is a picture of more gorgeous details than is presented by this scene of history; the great crimson silk pavilion, the seat spread with cloth of gold, the blazoned banners, the heralds with their silver trumpets, the multitude all hushed in wonder, the plumed and glittering company of knights and men-at-arms. Such were the surroundings amid which Francis knelt, and Bayard, with his drawn sword, gave the accolade.
The sword with which he had performed the ceremony Bayard kept religiously until his death. It was then mislaid, and never rediscovered. The loss is a misfortune. For few relics could exist of more romantic interest than the sword with which the noblest of all knights did honor to the most magnificent of kings.
Bayard's glory had long been at such a height that hardly any exploit could increase it. And yet an exploit was at hand at which, even when Bayard was the actor of it, all France and Germany were to stand in wonder.
The German emperor, marching with a mighty army on Champagne, took Monson by surprise, and advanced against Mezieres. If Mezieres were taken, the whole province would be in the most deadly peril. And yet defence seemed hopeless; the place had no artillery, and the ramparts were in ruins. At this crisis Bayard volunteered to hold the crazy city. "No walls are weak," he said, in his own noble style, "which are defended by brave men."
With a small but chosen band he hastened to Mezieres. Two days after his arrival the Count of Nassau, with a vast array of men and cannon, appeared before the walls. The siege began--a siege which seemed impossible to last twelve hours.
But day after day went by, and still the town was standing. Every day the ramparts gaped with cannon-shot; but every night, as if by miracle, they rose again. The defenders suffered from wounds, pestilence, and famine; but Bayard had put every man on oath to eat his horse, and then his boots, before he would surrender. Three weeks passed; and when at last the king arrived with forces to relieve the town, he found a few gaunt spectres still glaring defiance from the battered ramparts against a hundred cannon and more than forty thousand men.
Nothing can more strikingly describe the part of Bayard than the testimony of his enemies themselves. Some time after, Mary of Hungary asked the Count of Nassau in disdain how it came to pass that with a host of troops and guns he could not take a crazy pigeon-house. "Because," replied the count, "there was an eagle in it."
It was Bayard's last great exploit. It had been his lifelong wish that he might fall upon the field of battle. And so it was to be.
Early in the spring of 1524, the French camp was posted at Biagrasso. Lord Bonnivet, who was in command, found himself, after a prolonged resistance, at last compelled by famine and sickness to retire before the Spaniards. It was Bayard's constant custom to be first in an advance and last in retreat, and that day he was, as usual, in the post of danger. It was for the last time. Friends and enemies were to hear, before night fell, the thrilling tidings that Bayard was no more.
On both sides of the road which the retreating army had to traverse the Spaniards had placed in ambush a large force of arquebusiers. It was a weapon which Bayard held in detestation; for while skill and courage were required to wield a spear or sword, any skulking wretch could pull a trigger from behind a stone. From one of these hated weapons he received his death. As he was retreating slowly with his face toward the foe, a stone from a cross-arquebus struck him on the side. He instantly sank forward on his saddle-bow, exclaiming in a faint voice, "Great God! I am killed."
His squire helped him from his horse, and he was laid beneath a tree. His spine was broken in two places; and he felt within himself that he was dying. He took his sword, and kissed the cross-hilt, murmuring aloud the Latin prayer, "Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam."
The Spaniards were approaching. His friends made some attempt to raise him and to bear him from the field. But the least movement made him faint with agony; and he felt that all was vain. He charged his companions, as they loved him, to turn his face toward the enemy, and to retire into a place of safety; and he sent, with his last breath, his salutation to the king. With breaking hearts they did as he desired, and he was left alone.
When the Spaniards reached the spot, they found him still alive, but sinking fast. The conduct of Lord Pescara, the Spanish general, toward his dying foe, was worthy of a great and noble knight. He bade his own pavilion to be spread above him; cushions were placed beneath his head; and a friar was brought, to whom he breathed his last confession. As he was uttering the final words, his voice faltered, and his head fell. The friar looked upon his face--and saw that all was over.
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