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The Good Knight - Harper's


In the lovely country of Dauphiné had lived for generations the lords of Terrail, and there in the old castle of Bayard was born, in 1475, Pierre, our "good knight." When a lad of thirteen, his father, finding his health failing, and desirous of providing for his children's future, asked each what he would like to be; and on Pierre's answering that he was determined to be a soldier, told him he would try, through the influence of his uncle, the Bishop of Grenoble, to place him as page in the household of Charles, Duke of Savoy, where he could be properly instructed. The request was granted, and Pierre was made ready to start. His father gave him his blessing, and exhorted him to be valiant; but his mother wept at parting with her young son, and, among other advice, told him there were three things she commanded him always to do. "The first is, you love and serve God, without offending Him in any way, if it be possible to you. The second is, be mild and courteous to all; keep yourself temperate in eating and drinking; avoid envy; be loyal in word and deed; keep your promises; succor poor widows and orphans. The third is, be bountiful of the goods that God shall give you to the poor and needy, for to give for His honor's sake never made any man poor." Pierre promised to remember his mother's advice (and his life shows that he did); and giving him a little purse she had made for him, with some pieces of gold in it, she kissed him, and they parted, never to see each other again.

Charles, Duke of Savoy, was charmed with his page, and would have been glad to keep him; but King Charles of France was so pleased with him, when on a visit to the Duke, that he took him into his own service, and when only seventeen Pierre accompanied the King in his expedition into Italy. Here he gained great fame, and was ever after called "Bayard, the good knight, without fear, and without reproach."

It would be impossible to tell of all his deeds, for "the loyal servant" who wrote his life says of him, "The good knight was a very register of battles, so that on account of his great experience every one deferred to him," and until his death, save times, when laid up with wounds, he was constantly battling for his King and country. Twice was he captured; but so great was his fame both for prowess and goodness that both times his enemies released him without ransom. Once he defended a bridge single-handed against the enemy, and enabled the French army to retreat. So great was his valor at the battle of Marignano that Francis I. of France, after the field was won, craved the accolade at his hand. But never, either in victory or defeat, did he forget the promise he made his dear mother.

"Was he in possession of a crown, all shared it; the first thing he did when he rose was to serve God; he was a great giver of alms; and there was no man during his life who could say he had refused him anything within his power to grant."

Once, when assaulting Brescia, he was severely wounded, and after the town was taken was carried to the house of a nobleman who had fled, leaving his wife and daughters, and Bayard protected them from pillage and insult. When his wound was cured, for his kindness to them the mother besought his acceptance of 2500 ducats, but bidding her ask her daughters to come to him, he said to them: "You must know that military men are not usually furnished with pretty toys to give to ladies. The good lady, your mother, has given me this money, and I present each of you one thousand ducats to aid you in marrying." Then, to the mother, "Madam, I accept these five hundred ducats, to be distributed among the poor nuns of the convents that have been pillaged; I give it to you in charge for me."

When he was ready to mount his horse, the daughters each gave him a present, one "a pair of bracelets delicately composed of fine gold and silver threads, the other a purse of crimson satin most curiously wrought." He told them the presents came from such good hands, he should value them at ten thousand crowns. "He then put the bracelets on his arms and the purse in his sleeve, declaring he would wear them as long as they lasted for their sakes."

In the year 1524 he was sent to reduce Genoa; but the French were unsuccessful, and were forced to retreat; and while passing the river Sesia (April 30), Bayard was covering the rear of the army, when a stone from an arquebuse shattered his spine. "Mon Dieu!" he cried, "I am a dead man," and fell heavily from his horse.

His esquire, by his orders, set him against a tree, with his face to the Spaniards, and taking hold of his sword by the cross-hilt, he kissed it, confessed his sins, and then swooned away. His enemies, when they came up and found him thus, were full of pity, and when he came out of his swoon he found they had erected a pavilion over him, and placed him on a bed. They mourned for him as sincerely as the French, their chief, the Marquis of Pescara, declaring, "Never have I seen or heard tell of any knight who could compare with you in all admirable qualities." He had Bayard's body embalmed, and returned it to his friends, after having solemn service for him two days; and the dead hero was carried home to Grenoble. Half a league from the city the bier was met by all the dignitaries of the place. He was buried in the convent of Minims, and France mourned publicly for him for a month. Of all the vast sums he had obtained from his prisoners by way of ransom he left none behind, having dowered over one hundred orphan maidens, and succored the many widows who appealed to him for aid.