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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 tilt-yard.

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 Ravenna (1512).

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 the blood.

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.