Briefing - The Death of Bayard
The last and greatest representative of the Age of Chivalry, Pierre Terrail, the Seigneur de Bayard (c. 1473-1524), was the most notable man-at-arms of his age. The chevalier sans peur et sans reproche, Bayard served heroically in the long Italian wars, gaining a remarkable reputation for courage, daring, and skill with sword, lance, and horse, in battle, skirmish, and siege.
On December 28, 1503, during the general disaster that resulted for the French in the aftermath of Gonzalo de Cordoba’s brilliant mid-winter offensive at the Battle of the Garigliano, Bayard personally held a bridge over the river against the vanguard of the Spanish-Neapolitan army, aided by just fifteen knights supported by a few pikemen and archers, an action recounted in lively fashion by his biographer Samuel Shellabarger,
. . . in charge after charge, a plyìng of lance, ax, and sword, they checked the Spanish advance. Bayard's horse went down. He swung himself clear, and landed on foot surrounded by enemies, but refused surrender, continuing the fight. The Bâtard de Sandricourt charged, cut him free, and gave him another mount. The battle went on. Behind them the hurrying columns struggled forward encumbered with baggage and artillery, and reached at length the bridge of Mola di Gaeta, a choked torrent of men striving to pass and in utter rout. Here the mélée rose to its fiercest, the tenuous rear-guard alone standing between this disorganized mass and the driving pressure of the enemy. Once more Bayard's horse was killed, and once more he swung to another saddle. Others of the fifteen were taken or slain. Bellabre, at his side, hurled a Spanish knight from the bridge into the river. Around the artillery bedded in mud and blocked by the swarm of fugitives, the royal Swiss guard fought to the last, but vainly. Threatened by a detachment of Spaniards, who had crossed below and strove to cut off retreat, the guns had to be abandoned and the bridge-head surrendered. Another wave of attack swept against what remained of the fifteen defenders, but they still held firm. Bayard's third horse, mortally wounded, managed to stagger with him to the doors of Gaeta before collapsing.
Bayard went on to fight again, and again, and again. Henry VIII of England, an enemy, accorded him honors almost as great as those the King of France sovereign conferred. And Francois I was lavish with honors, even refusing to accept the accolade of knighthood from anyone save Bayard.
The perfect knight, chivalrous, generous, courageous, loyal, honorable, in late April 1524, Bayard assumed command of a defeated French army as it retreated across the River Sesia in Northern Italy. While standing under a tree directing the operation a Spanish arquebus ball struck him in the spine. In a sense this was but poetic justice, for the gallant Bayard had been in the habit of mutilating and even executing arquebusiers whenever he captured them, considering them violators of the knightly code; commoners had no right to deal death to their betters.
Seriously wounded, Bayard was captured by the Spanish, who treated him remarkably well, considering the treatment that he had regularly meted to their arquebusiers. After days of agony he died in Spanish hands on April 30, so mourned by his captors that they called a truce to return his body to his people for a decent burial. Francois I gave the fallen hero an elaborate funeral. Though his contemporaries knew it not, Bayard's funeral was also the funeral of the Feudal Age, for the cause of his death, gunpowder, was, in large measure, the cause of the death of chivalry.