The death of Bayard, the Chevalier sans peur et sans reproche

April 30, 2012

When the news was spread abroad through the two armies that the good Chevalier had been killed, or at least wounded to death (even in the camp of the Spanish, although he was the one man in the world of whom they had the greatest fear), all men, both gentlemen and soldiers, were exceedingly grieved thereat for many reason. For whenever during his life he made forays and took any prisoners therein, he treated them with wondrous humanity, and so gently in regard to ransom, that every man was contented with him. They knew that by his death nobility was greatly weakened; for, without blame to others, he had been a perfect Chevalier in this world; and by serving along with him, their young gentlemen formed themselves.

Thus, one of their principal captains, named the Marquis of Pescara, who came to see him before he gave up his ghost, uttered a lofty speech in his praise, which in his own language was such as this: “Would to God, noble Lord of Bayard, though it had cost me a quart of my blood without meeting death, that I were not to eat flesh for two years, and could hold you my prisoner in good health. For by the treatment I would give you, you would know at what rate I have esteemed the high prowess that was in you. The great praise which my nation gave to you, when they said, Muchos grisones y pocos Bayardos was not granted you wrongly; for since I have had knowledge of arms, I have not seen nor heard speak of a knight who hath approached you in all virtues. And although I ought to be well pleased to see you thus (being assured that the Emperor my master in his wars had not a greater or more stubborn foe), nevertheless, when I consider the great loss which all chivalry doth suffer this day, may God never bear me aid if I would not have given the half of my worth, so that it were otherwise. But since against death there is no remedy, I pray Him who hath created us all in His likeness that he will take your soul to His close keeping.”

Such piteous and sorrowful regrets did the noble Marquis of Pescara and many other captains make over the body of the good Chevalier sans peur et sans reproche. And I believe that there were not six men of all the army of the Spanish who did not come to look upon him one after another.[1]

Statue of Chevalier de Bayard in Sainte-Anne-d'Auray, Brittany

Now since it is thus that the enemy so mightily bewailed his death, can one rightly measure the great sorrow which arose on account thereof through all the camp of the French, as well the captains and men-at-arms as the footmen? For by every man, in his condition, had he made himself marvelously beloved. You would not have said that there was not a person who had not lost his father or mother; in like manner the poor gentlemen of his company made lament beyond measure.

“Alas! perfidious Fury,” cried they, addressing Death, “what harm had this so perfect and virtuous Chevalier done unto thee? Thou hast not avenged thyself upon him alone, but all of us hast thou cast into grief, until thou shalt have wrought thy last stroke upon us as upon him. Under what shepherd shall we henceforth go to the field? What guide can God hereafter give us, with whom we could be in such safety as when we were with him? For there was not a man who was not as confident in his presence as in the strongest fortress of the world. Where in the future shall we find a captain to redeem us when we shall be prisoners, to remount us when we shall be dismounted, and to cherish us as he did? It is impossible. Ah, cruel Death! It is ever thy fashion, that the more perfect a man is, the more dost thou take thy recreation in destroying and undoing him. But thou couldst not play so well but that, in despite of thee, although thou hast deprived him of life in this world, renown and glory undying shall abide with him so long as the world shall last. For so virtuous hath been his life, that it will leave a memorial to all the gallant and virtuous knights who shall come after him.”

So piteous was the demeanor of these poor gentlemen, that if the hardest heart in the world had been present, they would have constrained him to take part in their mourning. His poor domestic serving men were all benumbed with grief among whom was his poor steward, who never left him. To him the good Chevalier confessed himself, for want of a priest.

The poor gentleman burst into tears when he saw his master so mortally wounded that there was no cure in life. But so gently did the good Chevalier encourage him, saying to him, “Jacques, my friend, leave thy sorrow. It is the will of God to take me from this world. I have by His grace remained therein a long while, and have received there more goods and honors than belong to me. All the regret I have to die is this, that I have not done my devoir so well as I ought; and indeed it was my hope, if I had longer lived, to amend my past faults. But since it is thus, I pray my Creator, by His infinite mercy, to have pity on my poor soul; and I have hope that He will so do, and that, by His great and incomprehensible goodness, He will not use toward me the rigor of justice. I beg of thee, Jacques, my friend, to let no one remove me from this place; for, when I stir, I fell all the pains which it is possible to feel, save death, which will seize me soon.”

Shortly before the Spanish arrived at the place where the good Chevalier had been wounded, the Lord of Alègre, Provost of Paris, spoke to him, and he had declared to him something of his testament. There came also a captain of Swiss, named Jean Diesbach, who had desired to carry him off upon some pikes, with five or six of his men, to seek to save him; but the good Chevalier, who knew well how it was with him, prayed him to leave him awhile to think upon his conscience; for to remove him thence would be but an abridgment of his life.

The two gentlemen were forced, with much weeping and lamentation, to leave him in the hands of their enemies. However, you may believe that it was not without making great regret, for by no means would they abandon him. But he said to them, “My lords, I pray you, depart. Otherwise you will fall into the hands of the enemy, and that will profit me nothing, for it is all over with me. To God I commend you, my good lords and friends. To you I recommend my poor soul, praying you besides (addressing his words to the Lord of Alègre), that you salute me the King our master, and say that I am ill-pleased that I can no longer do him service, for I had good will thereunto. Commend me also to my lords the princes of France, and to all the lords my companions, and generally to all the gentlemen of the right-honored realm of France, when you shall see them.”

As he said these words, the noble Lord of Alègre wept exceeding piteously, and in this state took leave of him.

The Death of Pierre Terrail, Seigneur de Bayard (1473 – 1524).

He remained alive for two or three hours more; and a fine pavilion was pitched for him by the enemy, and a camp-bed, upon which he was laid. A priest also was brought to him, to whom he devoutly confessed himself, and said these very words: “My God! Being assured that Thou hast said that he who of good heart shall turn towards Thee, whatever sinner he may have been, Thou art ever ready to receive him with mercy and to pardon him (alas! My God, Creator and Redeemer, I have grievously offended Thee during my life, whereof I am distressed with all my heart), I know well that, though I should be in the desert a thousand years on bread and water, still that is not enough to gain entrance into Thy realm of Paradise, if of Thy great and infinite goodness it pleased Thee not to receive me therein; for no creature in this world can merit so high reward. My Father and Savior, I pray Thee that it may please Thee to have no regard to the faults committed by me, and that Thy great pity may rather be given me than the rigor of Thy justice.”

Upon the end of these words, the good Chevalier sans peur et san reproche gave up his soul to God, whereat all the enemy felt sorrow beyond belief.

Certain gentlemen were appointed by the leaders of the army of the Spanish to bear him to the church, where a solemn service was made for him during two days. Then he was brought by his serving men into Dauphiné, and in passing through the lands of the Duke of Savoy, in the place where his body rested, the Duke caused as much honor to be paid to him as if he had been his brother.

When the news of the death of the good Chevalier was known in Dauphiné, there is no need particularly to describe the mourning that was there made; for the prelates, churchmen, nobles, and people made it equally. And I believe that for a thousand years there has not died a gentleman of that country in such wise lamented. Men went before the body right to the foot of the mountain, and it was brought from church to church with great honor, until they came close unto Grenoble, where to meet the body, at half a league distance, stood my lords of the Court of Parliament of Dauphiné, my lords of the Exchequer, almost all the nobles of the country, and the greater part of the burgesses, people, and inhabitants of Grenoble, who conveyed the deceased as far as the church of Our Lady in the said Grenoble, where the body reposed a day and a night, and with great solemnity service was performed for him.

Armor of Chevalier Bayard, Musée de l'Armée, Hôtel des Invalides (Paris)

On the morrow, with the same honor with which they had brought him into Grenoble, he was conducted as far as a monastery of the Minims, half a league from the town (which his good uncle, the Bishop of the said Grenoble, Laurent Alleman, had formerly founded), where he was honorably interred. Then every man returned to his own house.

But for the space of a month you would have said that the people of Dauphiné were expecting immediate ruin; for they did nought save lament and weep; and feasts, dances, banquets, and all other pastimes ceased. Alas! They were right indeed, for a greater loss could not happen for the country; and every man soever was grieved to the heart thereby. Be assured that it touched right closely the poor gentlemen, gentlewomen, widows, and poor orphans, to whom he secretly gave and distributed of his goods. But with time all things pass away, save the love of God. The good Chevalier sans peur et sans reproche had feared and loved Him during his life; after his death, may his renown abide, according as he hath lived in this world, among all conditions of men.


Loyal Serviteur, History of Bayard: The Good Chevalier sans peur et sans reproche, trans. Loredan Larchey (London: Chapman & Hall, Limited, 1883), pp. 417-424.


[1] Here perhaps we may insert the visit of the Constable de Bourbon, which the Loyal Serviteur, no doubt intentionally, has passed over in silence. Champier has narrated the incident, but without rendering it as the severe and patriotic lesson for which it has been so often told. The moral is, as it were, gilded. “When the Lord of Bourbon, who at that time was in command of the enemy, heard that Bayard was wounded to death, he came to him and said, ‘Bayard, my friend, I am sorry for your mishap; you must have patience. Do not give yourself to melancholy. I will send for the best physicians of this country, and, with the aid of God, you will soon be cured.’ When Bayard had heard these words, and had recognized him, he said to him: ‘My lord, it is not the time for me to seek the physicians of the body, but those of the soul; I know that I am wounded unto death and beyond cure. But I pray God to give me grace to know Him at the end of my life;….for all my life I have followed war, and have done many wicked and sinful things…..I have no displeasure or regret to die, save that I can do no service in the future for the king my sovereign, and I must leave him, whereat I am exceedingly grieved and mournful. I pray to God the Sovereign, that after my death he may have such servants as I would be.’ Again, after many words, he said to him, ‘My lord, I beg of you, leave me to pray to God my Redeemer, and to bewail and lament my sins, for I am ready to yield to Him my soul.’ Whereupon the said lord departed with tears in his eyes.” Du Bellay is far more outspoken than Champier, for he makes Bayard answer to the tokens of interest shewn by the Constable: “My lord, there is no need of pity for me, for I die an honest man; but I have pity for you, to see you serve against your prince and your country and your oath.” The testimony of Du Bellay ought apparently to outweigh that of Champier, and yet it is not probable that Bayard would have been so stern in the presence of a prince whom he loved.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 173


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