John (or Jean) the Blind, Count of Luxembourg from 1313 and King of Bohemia from 1310, heroically fell in the Battle of Crécy at the age of 50. He commanded the left wing of the French forces together with Count Jean d’Aumale, Count Guy de Saint-Pol, and Jean de Hainault. In spite of having been blind for a decade, John answered to the call to arms from King Philippe VI of France; actually, he already lived in France serving as governor of Languedoc from 1338. John lost his eyesight at the age of 39 or 40 from ophthalmia in 1336 while on Crusade in Lithuania. A man, king or not, must have a heroic soul if he joined an army despite his illness!
The chronicler Jean Froissart left the following account of John’s last actions at Crécy:
“…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.”
John was married first to Elizabeth of Bohemia (died 1330) and then to Beatrice de Bourbon (m. 1334). Froissart portrays John’s eldest son Charles a selfish and practical man who perhaps lacked courage unlike his father and left the battlefield to save his own life upon the realization that the French were not on the winning side. Yet, according to other sources, Charles was wounded and barely escaped from the field alive after losing his best warriors. Later John’s eldest son would become Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV from the House of Luxembourg. John had 8 children in total from his 2 marriages, but only 5 of his children survived into adulthood.
John was the eldest son of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII and Margaret of Brabant. As he was brought up in Paris, he was French by education and culture, but in adulthood he was involved in German politics. His attempts to become the King of the Romans were unsuccessful: Louis IV of Bavaria was elected on this position in 1314. Although his first marriage brought him the throne of Bohemia, he was intensely disliked by most of the Czech nobility because he was too French for them. As a result, soon John gave up the administration of the country, separated from with his wife, and left the country to be governed by the barons. He began to travel actively and spent a lot of time in Luxembourg and at the French court. He visited Silesia, Lithuania, Tyrol, Poland, Northern Italy, and Papal Avignon. Quite an unusual life for a medieval man, right?
At Crecy, John could escape, but he did not. We learn from the Cronica ecclesiae Pragensis Benesii Krabice de Weitmile, written by a Cistercian monk, that John the Blind responded:
“Far be it that the King of Bohemia should run away. Instead, take me to the place where the noise of the battle is the loudest. The Lord will be with us. Nothing to fear. Just take good care of my son.”
A restless man in life, John seemed to be unable to find eternal rest in one tomb. At first, he was buried in Kloster Altmünster, or Old-Minster Abbey, in Luxembourg. After the monastery’s destruction in 1543, his remains were moved to the ‘New Abbey’ built nearby. During the First French Revolution, his remains were preserved by the Boch family as they hid them in an attic in Mettlach. In 1833, King Frederick William IV of Prussia, who was John the Blind’s descendant, ordered the Prussian architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel to construct a magnificent funeral chapel and a black marble sarcophagus, where John was interred in a public and lavish ceremony. A century later, in 1945, his remains were transferred to the crypt of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Luxembourg, where John is considered a national hero and a founder of the Schueberfouer – the annual city funfair held on the Glacis square. It is where John finally found his peace.
All images are in the public domain.
Text © 2020 Olivia Longueville