"Jean Froissart: Medieval War Correspondent...."

Well, maybe an exaggeration, but nevertheless the idea does hold some validity based on what we know of the man’s life. I imagine that if he had lived in our century that he would have been the intrepid reporter sent to sweat it out in Vietnam, the journalist watching those heat-seeking missiles zooming through populated streets. What we can say for certain is that he was a medieval chronicler, an historian, a poet and journalist of some of the most important events of the 14th Century. His travels around Europe placed him at many Royal courts and as a result allowed him access to the political intrigue of the day and more importantly, with regards to his masterwork "Les Chroniques", gave him a unique insight into the Hundred Years War.

His Life

"Oftentimes the adventures of amours and of war are more fortunate and marvellous than any man can think or wish." (from the Chronicles)

Jean Froissart was born at Valenciennes in France circa 1333, his family lineage is uncertain. He was educated for a career in the Church but by the age of 19 had already begun to write prose accounts of the wars at that time. In 1360, he was summoned to England to present an account of the battle of Poitiers to Queen Philippa of Hainault, wife of Edward III. He remained at the English court until 1367, and during this time, the Queen herself encouraged Froissart to begin his Chronicles – the work for which he is remembered today. Throughout his life, he became the short-term companion of many famous names – Royal or otherwise. During his stay at the court of Edward III, he had also visited Scotland where he was the guest of King David Bruce and the Earl of Douglas. On leaving the British Isles around 1366/67, he travelled to Aquitaine with the Black Prince.

In 1368 he accompanied the Duke of Clarence to Milan where the duke was to marry the daughter of Galeazzo Visconti. After Italy, in 1939, he returned to his home Valenciennes and it was here that he learnt of the death of Queen Philippa who had been so kind and welcoming to him in his early career. He found a new patron – the Duke Wenceslaus of Brabant and remained with him until 1381. He accompanied his next patron - Comte Guy de Blois who was seigneur of the parish Lestines-au-Mont – into Flanders and then Blois. During the Spanish wars, in an effort to obtain information, he visited the court of Gaston Phebus, Count of Foix. During 1390-91, he put his chronicles down on paper and in 1392 travelled once again to England to visit the court of the new King, Richard III. His later years were spent under the patronage of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy and it is assumed that he spent his final years at Chimay where he passed away circa 1404.

His Work

The chronicles were devoted to "the honorable enterprises, noble adventures, and deeds of arms, performed in the wars between England and France...to the end that brave men taking example from them may be encouraged in their well-doing."(Preface to the Chronicles)

Froissart wrote mainly poetry early on in life – the best known example being the "Méliador" which based much of its style on Arthurian Romance and also "L'Épinette amoureuse" written in 1394. His early historical chronicles were also written in verse but this form was soon abandoned, probably encouraged by his then mentor Jean le Bel, in favour of the more gritty, truthful, journalistic style that simple prose provided. The resulting work which actually contains his mentor's own preliminary writings was the "Chroniques de France, d'Angleterre, d'Ecosse, de Bretagne, de Gascogne, de Flandre et lieux circonvoisins" which recounted the wars of Europe from 1328 to 1400.

It is regarded by scholars today as the most evocative (if not always entirely accurate) account of the first half of the Hundred Years War, and many of the battle descriptions remain the primary source of information on the events that occurred during that time. Froissart’s travels took him all over Europe and his acceptance within the Royal courts gave him privileged access to political information; for example - his sojourn at the court of Edward III, saw him conversing with the highest of military officers.

The Chronicles were composed in four volumes between 1370 and 1400 and the author seemed to constantly revise his writing. The work was held in very high esteem during Froissart’s lifetime and it’s immediate popularity as a "chronicle of the times" endured long after his death. The Chronicles are seen as a prime example of medieval chivalry during the fourteenth century and as an expression of the aristocratic image of the time.

Around one hundred vellum and paper manuscripts of the Chronicles still exist today and are held at European and American research centres. The earliest versions of Book I show the preliminary work of Jean Le Bel almost as he himself had written it and recount events between 1325 and 1372. Froissart revised these early manuscripts and finished another version of Book I around 1376 – he revised it further resulting in the third version issued circa 1390. Finally, he revisited it around 1399 and re-wrote the introductory passages.

Book I listing – The Campaign of Crecy

  • How the King of England Came over the Sea Again, to Rescue Them in Aiguillon
  • How the King of England Rode in Three Battles through Normandy
  • Of the Great Assembly That the French King Made to Resist the King of England
  • Of the Battle of Caen, and How the Englishmen Took the Town
  • How Sir Godfrey of Harcourt Fought with Them of Amiens before Paris
  • How the French King Followed the King of England in Beauvoisinois
  • Of the Battle of Blanche-Taque between the King of England and Sir Godemar Du Fay
  • Of the Order of the Englishmen at Cressy, and How They Made Three Battles Afoot
  • The Order of the Frenchmen at Cressy, and How They Beheld the Demeanour of the Englishmen
  • Of the Battle of Cressy between the King of England and the French King
  • How the Next Day after the Battle the Englishmen Discomfited Divers Frenchmen
  • How the Next Day after the Battle of Cressy They That Were Dead Were Numbered by the Englishmen

Book II is based purely on Froissart’s own work and focuses on events in the Low Countries between 1379 and 1385. The Great Peasants Revolt of 1381 is also recounted in this volume.

Book II listing - The Battle of Poitiers

  • Of the Great Host That the French King Brought to the Battle of Poitiers
  • Of the Order of the Frenchmen before the Battle of Poitiers
  • How the Cardinal of Perigord Treated to Make Agreement between the French King and the Prince before the Battle of Poitiers
  • Of the Battle of Poitiers between the Prince of Wales and the French King
  • Of Two Frenchmen That Fled from the Battle of Poitiers and Two Englishmen That Followed Them
  • How King John Was Taken Prisoner at the Battle of Poitiers
  • Of the Gift That the Prince Gave to the Lord Audley after the Battle of Poitiers
  • How the Englishman Won Greatly at the Battle of Poitiers
  • How the Lord James Audley Gave to His Four Squires the Five Hundred Marks of Revenues That the Prince Had Given Him
  • How the Prince Made a Supper to the French King the Same Day of the Battle
  • How the Prince Returned to Bordeaux after the Battle of Poitiers

Book III is quite different in style, blending history, travelogue, autobiography, gossip and tragedy. Froissart wrote it around 1389-90.

Book III listing - Wat Tyler’s Rebellion

  • How the Commons of England Rebelled against the Noblemen
  • The Evil Deeds That These Commons of England Did to the King’s Officers, and How They Sent a Knight to Speak with the King
  • How the Commons of England Entered into London, and of the Great Evil That They Did, and of the Death of the Bishop of Canterbury and Divers Other
  • How the Nobles of England Were in Great Peril to Have Been Destroyed, and How These Rebels Were Punished and Sent Home to Their Own Houses

Book IV discusses the final years of Richard III’s reign and the accession of Henry IV.

Book IV listing - The Battle of Otterburn

  • How the Earl Douglas Won the Pennon of Sir Henry Percy at the Barriers before Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, and How the Scots Brent the Castle of Pontland, and How Sir Henry Percy and Sir Ralph His Brother Took Advice to Follow the Scots to Conquer Again the Pennon That Was Lost at the Scrimmish
  • How Sir Henry Percy and His Brother with a Good Number of Men of Arms and Archers Went after the Scots, to Win Again His Pennon That the Earl Douglas Had Won before Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, and How They Assailed the Scots before Otterburn in Their Lodgings
  • How the Earl James Douglas by His Valiantness Encouraged His Men, Who Were Reculed and in a Manner Discomfited, and in His So Doing He Was Wounded to Death
  • How in This Battle Sir Ralph Percy Was Sore Hurt and Taken Prisoner by a Scottish Knight
  • How the Scots Won the Battle against the Englishmen Beside Otterburn, and There Was Taken Prisoners Sir Henry and Sir Ralph Percy, and How an English Squire Would Not Yield Him, No More Would a Scottish Suire, and So Died Both; and How the Bishop of Durham and His Company Were Discomfited among Themselves
  • How Sir Matthew Redmen Departed from the Battle to Save Himself; and How Sir James Lindsay Was Taken Prisoner by the Bishop of Durham; and How after the Battle Scurrers Were Sent Forth to Discover the Country
  • How the Scots Departed and Carried with Them the Earl Douglas Dead, and Buried Him in the Abbey of Melrose; and How Sir Archambault Douglas and His Company Departed from before Carlisle and Returned into Scotland

A Personal Note

I had the opportunity to study "Les Chroniques" during my degree and found them completely fascinating. You do get the sense that this is a format in the process of being invented - the documentation of history - and it gives a unique insight into the thoughts, attitudes and life of the upper-classes of the medieval age. I have not come across a hard copy in English translation, but you can read excerpts of the Chronicles on the web at http://www.nipissingu.ca/department/history/muhlberger/froissart/tales.htm. This site provides some of the main stories from the Chronicles and gives the reader a good idea of the vast period of history that is covered.

A further site of interest is http://www.shef.ac.uk/hri/froissart.htm - which documents a research project currently taking place – headed by one of my former lecturers.

Other sources:

Header quote is my own.
The book listings are the original translations into Old English from Medieval French - therefore the deviance from modern day English is intentional
Second quote - amours = love or courtly love

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