Lesson #3: The Chevalier Bayard (1473–30 April 1524) Pierre Terrail, Seigneur de Bayard
A French soldier, generally known as the Chevalier de Bayard, is considered to be
the last true Knight in Shining Armor, the last flower of the Middle Ages before
the modern world took over. Appropriately enough, he met his death at the hands of
a peasant soldier with a matchlock musket in his hand, the firearm finally triumphing
over the old chivalric ideal.
The descendant of a noble family, nearly every head of which for two centuries had
fallen in battle, he was born at the Chateau Bayard, Dauphine, near Pontcharra).
He served as a page to Charles I of Savoy, until Charles VIII of France, promoted
him to be one of the royal followers under the seigneur (count) de Ligry (1487).
As a youth he was distinguished for his looks, charming manner, and skill in the
In 1494 he accompanied Charles VIII into Italy, and was knighted after the Battle
of Fornovo (1495), where he had captured a standard. Shortly afterwards, entering
Milan alone in pursuit of the enemy, he was taken prisoner, but was set free without
a ransom by Ludovico Sforza. In 1502 he was wounded at Canossa.
Bayard was the hero of a celebrated combat of thirteen French knights against an
equal number of Germans, and his restless energy and valour were conspicuous throughout
the Italian wars of this period. On one occasion it is said that he single-handedly
defended the bridge of the Garigliano against 200 Spaniards, an exploit that brought
him such renown that Pope Julius II tried unsuccessfully to entice him into the papal
service. In 1508 he distinguished himself again at the siege of Genoa by Louis XII,
and early in 1509 the king made him captain of a company of horse and foot.
At the siege of Padua Bayard won further distinction, by his courage and consummate
skill. He continued to serve in the Italian wars until the siege of Brescia in 1512.
Here his boldness in first mounting the rampart resulted in a severe wound, and his
soldiers had to carry him into a neighbouring house, the residence of a nobleman,
whose wife and daughters he protected from threatened insult. Before his wound was
healed, he hurried to join Gaston de Foix, under whom he served in the Battle of
In 1513, when Henry VIII of England routed the French at the Battle of the Spurs
(Guinegate, where Bayard's father had received a lifelong injury in a battle of 1479),
Bayard, trying to rally his countrymen, found his escape cut off. Unwilling to surrender,
he rode suddenly up to an English officer who was resting unarmed, and summoned him
to yield; the knight complying, Bayard in turn gave himself up to his prisoner. He
was taken into the English camp, but his gallantry impressed Henry as it had impressed
Ludovico, and the king released him without ransom, merely exacting his parole not
to serve for six weeks.
On the accession of Francis I in 1515 Bayard was made lieutenant-general of Dauphine
and after the victory of Marignan, to which his valour largely contributed, he had
the honour of conferring knighthood on his youthful sovereign. When war again broke
out between Francis I and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, Bayard, with 1,000 men,
held Montvillars, which had been declared untenable, against an army of 35,000, and
after six weeks compelled the imperial generals to raise the siege. This stubborn
resistance saved central France from invasion, as the king had not then sufficient
forces to withstand the imperialists.
All France celebrated the achievement, and Francis gained time to collect the royal
army, which drove out the invaders (1521). The parliament thanked Bayard as the saviour
of his country; the king made him a knight of the order of St. Michael, and commander
in his own name of 100 gens d'armes, an honour till then reserved for princes of
Bayard was sent into Italy with Admiral Bonnivet, who, being defeated at Robecco
and wounded in a combat during his retreat, implored Bayard to assume command and
save the army. He repulsed the foremost pursuers, but in guarding the rear at the
passage of the Sesia was mortally wounded by an arquebus ball (April 30, 1524) which
pierced his armor. He died in the midst of the enemy, attended by Pescara, the Spanish
commander, and by his old comrade, Charles, Duc de Bourbon. His body was restored
to his friends and interred at Grenoble.
As a soldier, Bayard was considered the epitome of chivalry and one of the most skilful
commanders of the age. He was noted for the exactitude and completeness of his information
on the enemy's movements, which he obtained by careful reconnaissance and a well-arranged
system of espionage. In the midst of mercenary armies Bayard remained absolutely
disinterested, and to his contemporaries and his successors he was, with his romantic
heroism, piety and magnanimity, the fearless and faultless knight, le chevalier sans
peur et sans reproche. His gaiety and kindness won him, even more frequently, another
name bestowed by his contemporaries, le bon chevalier.