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The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor

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THE DEATH OF BAYARD

[266] THE constable of France at this time was Charles, Duke of Bourbon, one of the proudest and wealthiest of the French nobles. He had been at the "Field of the Cloth of Gold" with Francis; and Henry, seeing his greatness and his riches had said in his rough way, that if he had such a subject in England, he would not long leave his head on his shoulders

Louise of Savoy, the king's mother, who had no love for the constable, quarrelled with him, and then persuaded Francis to take from him all his wealth and estates.

Bourbon was indignant with the king for treating him so harshly, and left his service, offering to fight for the Emperor Charles. The emperor was too wise to refuse Bourbon's offer, and soon the constable found himself commander of part of Charles's troops in Italy, and forced to fight against his king and his country. For Francis had again sent an army to Italy to lay siege to Milan.

The siege was not successful, Bourbon forcing the French to raise it, and so harassing the army that it broke its ranks and seemed as though it would flee in utter confusion.

Bayard, although not commander of the French, rallied the troops, and charged the emperor's troops. The brave knight, however, was wounded, his reins falling from his hands as he cried, "Jesus, my Lord, I am dead."

Then lifting the sword to his lips, he kissed the handle as though it were a cross, saying as he did so, "Have pity on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy."

One of his servants helped the wounded knight to dis- [267] mount, and placed him under a tree, his face to the enemy. Then weeping bitterly, for he saw that his master was nigh to death, the servant refused to leave his side.

As Bayard lay beneath the tree. Bourbon rode past in hot pursuit of the French. But seeing the good knight, he drew up, and dismounting came near to him and said, "Bayard, my friend, I am sore distressed at your mishap; there is nothing for it but patience. Give not way to melancholy. I will send in search of the best surgeons in the country, and by God's help you will soon be healed."

"My lord," answered the knight without fear and without reproach, "there is no pity for me. I die, having done my duty; but I have pity for you to see you serving against your king, your country, and your oath."

Then Bourbon, silent and ashamed, turned and left the brave knight alone with his faithful servant. A few hours later Bayard died, a captive in the enemy's camp. And bitterly was he missed by all who loved him.

A loyal servant, or servitor as he was called, in after days wrote the life of the good knight Bayard, and he tells us that "among all sorts of men Bayard was the most gracious person imaginable. Of worldly pelf he took no thought at all, as he clearly proved, being at his death little richer than he was at his birth-hour. It was his creed that riches ennoble not the heart." Soon after Bayard's death the king's army returned to France.

Bourbon, you remember, was silent and ashamed when Bayard reproached him for his disloyalty, but he did not alter his conduct. In 1525, one year after Bayard's death, Bourbon actually led the army of the emperor into France and besieged Marseilles, boasting that he would soon dethrone Francis.

But so angry were the French with the constable for daring to lead a foreign foe into France, that they fought with unconquerable determination, until the siege was given up. Bourbon was pursued for a long way by his [268] angry fellow-countrymen, and he found it wise to retreat as quickly as he was able toward Italy.

Francis was so pleased that the enemy had been forced to retreat, that, against the advice of his counsellors, he resolved himself to carry the war into Italy and besiege the town of Pavia.

Thinking that he could easily hold the town, Francis, again refusing to listen to his advisers, sent a body of his soldiers away from Pavia to seize Naples.

But soon the French king found that he had been foolish to weaken his forces. For Pescara, leader of the emperor's forces, as well as Bourbon, with a large band of German mercenaries, were advancing upon the town.

Francis might still have raised the siege and withdrawn to a place of safety, but again he refused to listen to his older counsellors, while his favourites swayed him as they pleased.

"A French king does not change his plans for his enemies," they said to him more than once, and Francis was soon ready to echo their words. Believing them, he would not raise the siege of Pavia, but waited beneath her walls for Pescara and the constable.

It was February 1525 when the emperor's troops reached the French camp, and even got inside the entrenchments.

They were fiercely attacked by the French artillery, and, being exposed on every side, the cannonade was so deadly that "you could see nothing but heads and arms flying in the air."

To escape from this terrific fire, the emperor's troops turned to find shelter; but Francis, thinking that they had taken to flight, at once left his entrenchments to follow them.

Unfortunately the king and those who were with him now placed themselves between the enemy and their own soldiers, who were no longer able to let their cannon play on the foe, lest they should strike their king.

Pescara, seeing what had happened, led his troops on, [269] and soon he had completely cut Francis off from his camp and the main body of his army.

The French king, hemmed in by the Spanish, fought bravely. Even when he was wounded in his face, arms, legs, he still fought on.

Erelong his horse fell, mortally wounded, dragging his rider with him to the ground. In a moment, however, Francis was on his feet, fighting as fiercely as before.

The Spanish soldiers crowded round this knight who was so tall, so strong, so brave. They did not know it was the king, yet they knew that to capture this gallant prince would be to win a prize. Golden buttons studded his coat of mail, which also bore upon it the royal lilies of France, while long thick plumes waved upon his helmet. It seemed that the soldiers did not notice the royal lilies. As the soldiers pressed ever more closely upon him, a friend of Bourbon rode along, and, seeing the king, defenceless now amid the rough soldiers, he drove them away, begging Francis to surrender to the constable, who was not far away.

"No, by my faith," answered the king, "rather would I die than surrender to a traitor." And as Francis spoke those words he was every inch a king.

At this moment a Spanish officer arrived, and kneeling before Francis received from him his sword.

The battle of Pavia was over, the French king being a prisoner in the hands of the emperor, while half the nobles of France lay slain upon the battlefield. Francis wrote sadly to his mother to tell her of the great disaster. "There is nothing in the world left to me," he told her, "but honour and my life, which is safe."

Charles meanwhile ordered his royal prisoner to be taken to Spain, where he was shut up in a gloomy tower in Madrid. Poor pleasure-loving Francis!

The loneliness and dullness of the days soon made the king long to make terms with the emperor, which at [270] first he had declared he would never do, not if he remained a prisoner all his life.

So in 1526, that he might gain his freedom, Francis signed the Treaty of Madrid, and agreed to send his two little sons as hostages to Spain. The king was then free to return to France. When he reached French soil he sprang gaily upon a fine Arab horse that awaited him, and galloped off to his mother and sister, who were ready to welcome him. As he rode away he cried to his courtiers, "So now I am once more a king." But that Francis might be free his two little sons were banished from their home.


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