Jean Froissart Compiles His Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Jean Froissart compiled his Chronicles, offering a vivid panorama of an age in transition that relied for its inspiration on waning codes of chivalry and a growing spirit of secular humanism.

Summary of Event

Jean Froissart entered the service of Margaret of Hainaut sometime between 1350 and her death in 1356. This was the first of many court appointments that enabled Froissart to establish a network of contacts in aristocratic circles. In 1362, he went to England to serve as secretary to Philippa of Hainaut Philippa of Hainaut , wife of Edward III Edward III . Froissart remained in Phillipa’s entourage until her death in 1369. Travel by land;Jean Froissart[Froissart, Jean] During these years of service, Froissart traveled to Scotland, France, Spain, and Italy. While in England, he presented to the court a verse chronicle of the Battle of Poitiers (1356) and continued to write traditional poetry. Under the patronage of Wenceslas I of Luxembourg, duke of Brabant, Froissart received a position as rector of a small parish from 1373 to 1384. There, he began to formulate his principal literary and historical accomplishment: the four books entitled Chroniques de France, d’Engleterre, d’Éscose, de Bretaigne, d’Espaigne, d’Italie, de Flandres et d’Alemaigne Chronicles (Froissart) (1373-1410; The Chronycles of Englande, Fraunce, Spayne . . . , 1523-1525, better known as Chronicles). Historiography;France [kw]Jean Froissart Compiles His Chronicles (1373-1410) [kw]Froissart Compiles His Chronicles, Jean (1373-1410) Froissart, Jean Chronicles (Froissart) England;1373-1410: Jean Froissart Compiles His Chronicles[2910] France;1373-1410: Jean Froissart Compiles His Chronicles[2910] Flanders;1373-1410: Jean Froissart Compiles His Chronicles[2910] Historiography;1373-1410: Jean Froissart Compiles His Chronicles[2910] Literature;1373-1410: Jean Froissart Compiles His Chronicles[2910] Cultural and intellectual history;1373-1410: Jean Froissart Compiles His Chronicles[2910] Government and politics;1373-1410: Jean Froissart Compiles His Chronicles[2910] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1373-1410: Jean Froissart Compiles His Chronicles[2910] Froissart, Jean Philippa of Hainaut Edward III

Froissart contributed to the formation of French historiography that began with the Crusades. In this tradition, the difference between a chronicle and a history depended on the amount of information supplied. Chronicles in general, particularly those following the thirteenth century annalist method developed at the monastery of Saint-Denis, present a simplified narrative, whereas a historical approach demands greater depth and detailed descriptions. (Chroniclers are also called annalists.) Thus, Froissart relied not only on original documents but also on eyewitness accounts and interviews. Once Froissart’s reputation was established, members of the aristocracy sought to provide him with the financial resources and protection necessary to gather data. Even though he was a priest, Froissart was at ease in sophisticated society, and Chronicles reflects the mannerisms, speech, dress, and value systems that characterize the period.

Chronicles covers significant events in European history from 1326 until 1400. Book 1, completed before 1371, begins with the coronation of Edward III in England and the accession of Philip VI Philip VI (king of France)[Philip 06 (king of France)] of Valois to the crown of France in 1328, thus setting the stage for the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) . This first volume was later revised to include events up to 1379 and serves as a valuable indicator of Froissart’s methodic development as a historian. Book 2, written between 1385 and 1388, recapitulates the events of the last years of the preceding volume, with new information added, and concludes with the peace treaty of Tournai (December, 1385) between Ghent and Philip the Bold Philip II the Bold (duke of Burgundy) , duke of Burgundy.

Book 3, finished in 1392, recites events that had occurred since 1382, but gives a fuller account of them. This volume ends in 1389 with a three-year truce concluded between France and England. In his study of the political events in Portugal between 1383 and 1385 that led to the invasion launched by John of Gaunt John of Gaunt , duke of Lancaster, Froissart made considerable use of Portuguese narrative and anecdotal information provided by the Gascon knights who served under Edmund Cambridge, duke of York.

The first fifty chapters of book 4 follow closely on the material of book 3 as Froissart reexamined the political machinery of France under Charles VI Charles VI (king of France) . In 1392, a series of truces between England and France was announced, and Froissart took advantage of this opportunity to visit England for three months under the patronage of William, count of Ostrevant, cousin to Richard II Richard II . Froissart was well received by Richard, but felt uncomfortable in what he sensed was a highly unstable environment. Thus, book 4 recounts the confusion in England leading to the deposition of Richard in 1399 and his death the following year.

Chronicles does not constitute a formal history of the aristocracy, yet Froissart used a process of selection in order to demonstrate significant acts of gallantry, diplomacy, and heroism. Hence, he overlooked issues that attracted the attention of other chroniclers—administration of estates, enactment of laws, and collection of taxes. Nevertheless, Froissart commented openly on French policy during the reign of Charles V Charles V (king of France) , on the relationship between the French monarchy and the vassals of Brittany and Flanders, and on the Papal schism. These brief personal judgments reveal the techniques of composition and variations found in the different manuscripts of Chronicles. The mobility evident in these texts is most likely the result of collaboration with other compilers who may have played a considerable role in the elaboration of certain episodes. Thus, the Chronicles’s form is derivative of the Arthurian romances, which usually included a fair number of overlapping accounts.

A portrait of Jean Froissart based on a chalk drawing in the Arras Town Library.

(Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.)

Froissart was an insightful observer of strategic warfare. One of his intentions was to give a faithful account of siege warfare and pitched battles. He commanded a wide military vocabulary, which he used to document changes in fourteenth century combat. He observed that warriors were motivated less by nationalism than by personal honor or monetary gain. One-to-one encounters on horseback no longer had the advantage over the use of well-disciplined archers. Froissart’s saga of military exploits stresses individual action, yet his accounts make it clear that in large engagements, the victor was usually the side that managed some degree of coordinated tactics. Froissart’s astute analysis of tactical warfare and individual heroics lends extraordinary depth to the narrations of the most famous battles of the fourteenth century. Military;Europe

Froissart observed the decline of chivalry Chivalry;decline of as the concept of courtesy often degenerated into greed and meaningless pageantry. His description of the tournament held at Smithfield in 1390 under the aegis of Richard II implies that courtesy had become a code of etiquette observed by members of the upper class in dealing with one another; it was rarely associated with the protection of the weak by the strong. Froissart did not openly take sides in the conflicts of knights, although in the evolution of Chronicles there are shifts in partisanship from the English to the French, and, in book 4, to the Burgundian side. He consistently chose to accentuate moderation as an ideal, exemplified by the conduct of Philip the Bold. Although Edward the Black Prince Edward the Black Prince was the hero of the Battle of Poitiers, Froissart criticized the massacre of civilians at Limoges (1370), just as he condemned the brutality of Edward III’s treatment of the burghers of Calais in 1347. In general, Froissart was concerned with deeds and actions, not with biography. Because of his accomplished literary talent, the portraits of the protagonists of Chronicles are imbued with a legendary quality.

Froissart often invoked divine Providence to justify the outcome of events. His philosophical observations reveal a trust in social order controlled by a just prince who watches over the commonweal. His accounts of the Jacquerie movement Jacquerie movement (1358) (a peasants’ revolt) in France (1358) and the English Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 Peasants’ Revolt (England, 1381) clearly indicate that urban disintegration was a threat to national stability. Nevertheless, his portrayal of John Ball, the vagrant priest who incited the English revolt, conveys a well-intentioned sympathy for lower-class misery. Froissart’s ability to synthesize epic conflicts, like the struggle for dominance in Europe between the Plantagenet and Valois dynasties, gives Chronicles its distinctive pedigree. The comparison of the last Crusade, which ended in the defeat of the French at Nicopolis, to the French epic La Chanson de Roland (twelfth century; Song of Roland, 1880) implies that the history of Europe was irrevocably determined.

Significance

Froissart often repeated his contention that the purpose of Chronicles was to illustrate “les grans merveilles et les beaux faits d’armes” (heroic exploits and military prowess). He accomplished this aim with astonishing regularity despite errors in topology (regional history) and inconsistencies in dating. There was no attempt to outline historical patterns; instead, a strong emphasis on human factors, along with Froissart’s objectivity, political acumen, variety, and poetic effects, gives Chronicles a dramatic flair that is not always evident in historical works produced by his contemporaries. The scope and dynamism of Froissart’s observations and his effort to create a social tableau of fourteenth century culture have contributed to his reputation as a narrative historian who compares favorably with Herodotus.

Chronicles benefited greatly from the advent of the printing press, and in the hundred years after Froissart’s death, at least ten editions appeared, including a Latin abridgment in 1537—which was, in turn, translated into English, French, and Dutch. This transmission made the work available to Humanist scholars and aristocratic readers across Europe, who considered it prestigious to own a copy. By the mid-sixteenth century, Chronicles emerged as the most widely read account of the first half of the Hundred Years’ War.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ainsworth, Peter F. Jean Froissart and the Fabric of History: Truth, Myth, and Fiction in the “Chroniques.” New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. An impressive, comprehensive account of Froissart’s ability to weave an intricate narrative out of such diverse strands of information.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Archambault, Paul. Seven French Chroniclers: Witnesses to History. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1974. This work contains an instructive essay on Froissart that places him within the context of the French annalist tradition and delineates the trajectory of French chronicle writing from 1200 to 1500.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dahmus, Joseph. Seven Medieval Historians. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1982. A well-researched, fairly comprehensive study of the way in which Froissart conceived of history as a conflict of interests among individuals of prominent rank and prestige. The chapter on Froissart includes generous quotations from Chronicles.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">De Looze, Laurence. Pseudo-autobiography in the Fourteenth Century: Juan Ruiz, Guillaume de Machaut, Jean Froissart, and Geoffrey Chaucer. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997. Looks at Froissart’s work in the context of other autobiographical writings of the Middle Ages.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Figg, Kristen M., ed. and trans. Jean Froissart: An Anthology of Narrative and Lyric Poetry. New York: Routledge, 2001. Translated selections of Froissart’s poetry and prose writings.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Palmer, J. J. N., ed. Froissart: Historian. Totowa, N.J.: Boydell Press, 1981. An appraisal of Froissart’s technique in light of modern historical scholarship.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tuchman, Barbara. A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978. A spirited and kaleidoscopic re-creation of European culture during the Hundred Years’ War.

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