Short Reads

John the Blind, count of Luxembourg and king of Bohemia (1296-1346)

Who’s John the Blind, Who Died At Crécy?

John of Luxembourg, father to Charles IV of the Holy Roman Empire, was among the first to make the Prussian crusades a highly fashionable adventure among western knights.

That man had a finger in every pie.

He helped Louis the Bavarian to be elected emperor (before he fought against him once his own son was crowned King of the Romans and got the support of the papacy). He fought the Lombards in Italy. He died at Crécy while assisting his good friend, King Philip VI of France, but first and foremost he married a Bohemian princess and also claimed the throne of Poland, only relinquishing it for a very high tribute in money.

A few months before Crécy, he was yet still in Prussia helping out his good friends the Teutonic knights! John of Luxembourg was highly admired in France and the trend he set, as a knight always beating the road and roaming Europe, was followed by many. He was also among the first to use artillery to win over a siege, which is quite noteworthy.

Though adored by French poets and knights, he was heavily despised by the Bohemian clergy. He didn’t support or helped to finance the church and rather went to Bohemia only to gather the money to finance his international warfare activities while his son was left behind to rule and govern the country (when he wasn’t dragged along on some of his father’s epic quest: Charles IV participated himself to the battle of Crécy!).

One Story to Remember Him By

The Prince of Wales’s feathers

The legend would have that the Prince of Wales’s feathers date back from the Battle of Crécy.

Once the French army had been routed, the Black Prince came across the dead body of John the Blind, King of Bohemia. Froissart do actually state that the Prince of Wales and his father, the King of England, dressed in black to pay their respect to their honourable foe. Yet another tale reports that the Black Prince, to pay tribute to the king of Bohemia, snatched his feathers and even went as far as to adopt his motto: ‘Ich Dien.’

Great scene from Orange is the New Black, season 06 – episode 02, bringing back the Cha-cha slide! From today’s standard, it would be easy to deem John the Blind as mentally unstable as “Crazy Eyes”.

John of Luxembourg, king of Bohemia, charged the English heroically at Crécy, on August 26th, 1346.

Following the Duke of Alençon, he and his men pierced through the fleeing Genoese crossbowmen, maybe trampling a few. A downpour of arrows rained on them. John the Blind couldn’t see anything but he had been advised of the danger. With no regard for his life nor his safety, he charged nonetheless. His horse was tethered to those of his companions, among who sir Henry the Monk of Basel, to help him steer his steed onto the right direction.

‘To the left, Your Majesty! Now, to the right!’ Basel sounded as if he was instructing John the Blind the basic steps of the cha-cha slide. Yet he was telling him when and where to bash his sword on enemy heads. This alleged quote–for which I found no reliable source–is supposed to deride John the Blind’s last moments. He died at Crécy while charging head on an enemy he couldn’t see. Sure! From a modern point of view, it makes no sense. Why would anyone do that?

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2643, f. 165v ~ Depiction of the Battle of Crécy in Froissart’s chronicle. As the Genoese crossbowmen get slaughtered by the English longbowmen, we see French knights charging through while the rest of the army already turns back.

The fact is that the modern rules of warfare don’t apply on a medieval battlefield. It was expected from kings and their commanding officers to step on the frontline and to lead their men from the very front row.

It was up to them to behave the way superheroes do today in movies and honour a long literary tradition of valour, bravery and gallantry. I mean, they had the suit and everything. Who could be more dashing on the battlefield than a knight in shining armour dressed up with the coat of arms of his family? They craved to become the fabric of legend and to get a tenth spot among the the Nine Worthies, alongside Alexander, David and Arthur.

We need to remember that back then, written history was barely anything but tales of war. There was no study of the economical impact of the Cistercian order in eastern Europe. Only tales of Teutonic knights slaying pagans in the name of God. Tales to which John the Blind contributed himself.

Sure, when John the Blind does it it’s stupid. But when Captain America and Black Panther go at it, it’s epic. Double standards much?

John the Blind’s death reminds us that mankind isn’t the most level-headed of species. We do tend to act on impulse rather than reason. However it would be wrong to assume that as he charged at Crécy, John the Blind drowned himself in some ‘collective dream’ fixated on an outdated and nostalgic idea of chivalry.