Long ago, in the 14th century A.D., there was once a Christian king of Bohemia and Poland named John, the comte (count) of Luxembourg and a son of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII. He became the king of Bohemia after the death of his wife’s brother, King Wenesclaus III. He was known to be an ambitious and dashing knight who love to travel all over Europe on some campaigns. While on a crusading mission to Lithuania with the Teutonic Order around 1340, John lost his eyesight as result of ophthalmia and became blind, his eyesight gradually deteriorating until his death in 1346. This did not stop him from his duties being the king of Bohemia (where a large part of the Czech Republic is now located) and the titular king of Poland nor being one of the most valiant and chivalrous knights of the Middle Ages.
In the early summer of 1346, the English forces of King Edward III landed at Normandy, France and sacked Caen, on a crusade to permanently end the repeated French invasions and coastal attacks of England. The old French king, Philip VI, called upon his allies from the Low Countries, Navarre, Genoa, Brittany and Bohemia to aid him against the English invaders. When some knights came back from a reconnaissance mission and gave the bad news, Philip counted on the counsel of King John the Blind, of which he conferred to the King of France how the order of battle should be established to the French advantage over the English, hopefully counting on the superior manpower and weaponry of France against England and the timing of that order of battle. They were expecting the English force to arrive near the town of Crecy, where it would become the most significant battle in the human history of warfare.
And John’s advice was eagerly accepted by King Philip but the advice fell on deaf ears among the French nobles and allies. Confusion and miscommunication ensued, as the forces of the French’s allies were vexed by the misalignment of supplies’ transportations to the French front line, squeezed by bad geographic and river locations outside Crecy, with the 6000-strong Genoese mercenaries carrying their heavy crossbows but without the heavy shields they needed for protection. The French forced the Genoese mercenaries to the front line with only their crossbows and no shields, with no regard to their lives being at the mercy of the famed English longbowmen.
John the Blind’s Bohemian-Luxembourgian forces were positioned behind the left flank of the Genoese mercenaries, facing the young Black Prince of Wales, Edward of Woodstock, the son of King Edward III. John have a son, Charles of Luxembourg, by his side at the Battle of Crecy but he was actually behind the Genoese mercenaries, commanding Bohemian foot-soldiers. By 4:00 pm, the battle began and the arrows of the English longbowmen were wiping out much of the Genoese mercenaries and men-at-arms within few hours, according to John Froissart the chronicler, the English arrows filled up the sky and came down like snow. Charles of Luxembourg was wounded in the middle of it but escaped alive.
As the battle progressed, King John the Blind, being unable to see the gory battle and the retreat of the mercenaries clearly, was already suited up in his knightly armor, his sword drawn and mounted on his horse, was ready to do battle as soon as he hears the order being given by the French king to the other knights and men-at-arms to charge down the field, trample over the retreating Genoeses and head for the English front line. However, since John was blind, he needed the eyesights of his knights mounted on their horses to guide John in a charge and fight the English. How could they pull it off with him being blind and not able to see fighting the enemy?
What they did was to strap the bridles from their horses to John’s horse so that the blind King of Bohemia would have each mounted knight on his sides to ride him into the battle and fight! Yep, he and his knights at his sides just did that.
Talk about trying to duck the swinging of your blind king’s sword while leading him and his horse into the battle. Couldn’t pick any other worst duty of your life, eh?
Once again, according to the Froissart’s Chronicles:
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.
Sadly, King John the Blind and the knights he was strapped to were killed toward the end of the battle, presumably by the arrows of the English longbowmen or against the force of young Prince Edward. At the end of the battle of Crecy, the French lost and retreated. The English force gave no mercy to the survivors of the battle laying about the field, knight, noble and commoner, since the French originally called upon their forces and allies to give no mercy to the English and take no prisoner. On the French side, only 30,000 were killed, including a large score of kings, chivalrous nobles and finest knights of Europe as well as few archbishops. On the English side, less than 300.
King Philip escaped the carnage at midnight and the victorious King Edward III, with his son the Black Prince of Wales at his side, stood with grim displeasure of the aftermath, the result of an unfortunate tactile decision made by the French king. He had hope for a truce should the French realized that they were losing as the battle coming to a close. His employment of longbowmen and the first usage of cannon artillery, which only fire a barrage of arrows in one shot, provided the turning point of history in the Battle of Crecy and modern warfare was changed ever since, ending the age of chivalry.
On Edward’s truce order after the battle, King John the Blind‘s body, like all other dead lords and knights, was taken to Montreuil for holy burial. Charles, his son, became the king of Bohemia and eventually the Holy Roman Emperor as Charles IV.
For some, John the Blind’s decision to fight in that battle while being blind was either dumb or just really courageous. I would say courageous but foolhardy but he had shown to himself that not even being blinded would stop him from doing what he really excelled at on his own terms.
For an expanded history of the battle of Crecy, go here.