Friday, December 09, 2005

King John The Blind of Bohemia (1296 – 1346)

A Great Dickhead of History

Back in the 1960s, when values were real values, teachers were real teachers and school principals were all called headmasters and kept a Education Department approved strap in the office for special occasions (and made damn sure that word got around that it was there, too) there probably wasn't a school library anywhere that didn't have a copy of Paul Brickhill's Reach for the Sky, the story of Douglas Bader and how he became an ce fighter pilot, despite the loss of both legs. Compared to John of Bohemia, Bader had it easy.

Born a mere Count of Luxembourg on August 10, 1296, John became King of Bohemia on his marriage to Elizabeth of Bohemia in 1310. Between 1312 and 1322 he knocked her up a total of seven times, begetting 4 daughters and 3 sons. After her death in 1330 Beatrix of Bourbon and had one son by her, which balanced up the family quite nicely.

But getting his end away wasn't John's only major passion in life. His major hobby was going the biff:

He loved fighting for its own sake, not caring whether the conflict was important. He missed hardly a quarrel in Europe and entered tournaments in between, allegedly receiving in one of them the wound that blinded him. Hissubjects on the other hand said the cause was Divine punishment - not because he dug up the old synagogue of Prague, which he did, but because, on finding money beneath the pavement, he was moved by greed and the advice of German knights to dig up the tomb of St Adalbert in the Prague cathedral and was stricken blind by the desecrated saint.
(Tuchman, A Distant Mirror)

Regardless of the opinion of his subjects, John was widely regarded by his peers - the peers - as one of Europe's most chivalrous knights. The last quarrel he decided to involve himself in was the Edward III's second campaign against France, which culminated in the Battle of Crecy on August 26, 1346. John fought on the French side:

The valiant king of Bohemia called Charles of Luxembourg, son to the noble emperor Henry of Luxembourg, for all that he was nigh blind, when he understood the order of the battle, he said to them about him: 'Where is the lord Charles my son?' His men said: 'Sir, we cannot tell; we think he be fighting.' Then he said: 'Sirs, ye are my men, my companions and friends in this journey: I require you bring me so far forward, that I may strike one stroke with my sword.' They said they would do his commandment, and to the intent that they should not lose him in the press, they tied all their reins of their bridles each to other and set the king before to accomplish his desire, and so they went on their enemies. The lord Charles of Bohemia his son, who wrote himself king of Almaine and bare the arms, he came in good order to the battle; but when he saw that the matter went awry on their party, he departed, I cannot tell you which way. The king his father was so far forward that he strake a stroke with his sword, yea and more than four, and fought valiantly and so did his company; and they adventured themselves so forward, that they were there all slain, and the next day they were found in the place about the king, and all their horses tied each to other.

(Froissart, Chronicles)

We can only speculate as to what his son Charles had to say when "he saw that the matter went awry" and departed the field. As for John, Froissart makes it clear that he died bravely, valiantly hewing at the foe with the mighty thews of his sword arm, his ears filled with the clangour of battle, the screams of the enemy and the voices of his friends spurring him on with a special war-cry "I'm on your side you stupid blind prick!"

No comments: