Froissart, Jean

Froissart, Jean
(ca. 1337–ca. 1404)
   Jean Froissart was a courtier and poet in the tradition of Guillaume de MACHAUT, but is best known as perhaps the most important prose writer in 14th-century Europe.His Chroniques, or Chronicles, present a vivid and detailed narrative of, roughly, the first half of the Hundred Years’ War, and the 100 extant manuscripts of the text, some expensively illuminated, testify to the Chronicles’ popularity among the aristocratic patrons and audience for which Froissart intended them. The text remains popular today, and Froissart’s descriptions of some of the contemporary events—the Battles of Crécy and Poitiers, for example, and the PEASANTS’ REVOLT of 1381—are the best-known images we have of those monumental events.
   Froissart was born in Valenciennes in the independent county of Hainault in the Low Countries. He seems to have come from a family of businessmen, whose primary interest was moneylending, but Froissart’s talent for poetry enabled him to garner a position in the noble house of John of Hainault, the count’s uncle. At some point he drew the attention of his countrywoman Philippa of Hainault, queen of EDWARD III, who invited him to be a part of the English court in 1361. He says in Book IV of the Chronicles that he entertained the queen with love poetry in the courtly fashion of the time, some of which has survived. In the queen’s court he became acquainted with some of England’s most important military officers as well as captive French nobility, awaiting ransom after England’s decisive victory at the Battle of Poitiers five years earlier. He also traveled extensively as a part of Queen Philippa’s court. He visited Scotland and the court of David II, and toured the Welsh marches. In 1366, he was with Edward the Black Prince in his campaign in Gascony.With the Black Prince in Bordeaux in 1367, Froissart was in his service at the birth of the prince’s son, the future King RICHARD II. In 1368, he was with the large retinue that attended Prince Lionel, second son of the king, on his journey to Italy to marry Violante Visconti of Milan. In the same entourage was another young English poet named Geoffrey CHAUCER.
   Returning from Milan in 1369 by way of Brussels, Froissart received word that Queen Philippa had died. Assuming there would be nothing for him if he returned to England, Froissart entered the service of Robert de Namur of the royal family of Flanders. It was for Sir Robert that Froissart began his Chronicles.
   The Hundred Years’War had begun the year of Froissart’s birth. Thus, while he was able to write much of the history based on his own observations and the eyewitness reports of people he knew, he had to base the first part of the Chronicles on an earlier source: a chronicle composed by the knight Jean Le Bel, who had served in the war under John of Hainault. Froissart based the first version of his Book I almost word-for-word on Le Bel. Later he revised his first book at least twice before he died, but in his earliest version, only a few passages—like the description of the Battle of Poitiers—are truly Froissart’s composition.
   Le Bel’s text ends with events of about 1360, and here Froissart takes up the narrative on his own. By this time Froissart had taken holy orders and been made a parish priest at Estinnes-au-Mont in Brabant, an appointment he owed to a new patron, Guy de Châtillon, count of Blois. Under the patronage of Guy and of Wenceslaus of Luxemburg, Froissart labored on Book II of his Chronicles, but with a new point of view:Whereas Robert de Namur had been pro-English concerning the war, both Guy and Wenceslaus were pro-French. This may have prompted Froissart’s revision of his first book, which may have appeared partisan as it stood.
   For Wenceslaus, Froissart also wrote a verse ROMANCE called Méliador, in which Froissart embedded a number of Wenceslaus’s own lyric poems. That work has not impressed scholars. After Wenceslaus’s death, Froissart continued to work on the Chronicles, and with Guy of Blois as his sole patron, he was appointed canon of Chimay, near Liege. In his later years, Froissart traveled to the court of Gaston Phoebus of Foix, the brilliance of which he describes in Book III of the Chronicles. Later, in the mid-1390s, he made a visit to England, where he met Richard II. Five years later he was to write of Richard’s deposition in Book IV of the Chronicles. Froissart’s Chronicles end in the year 1400. Of Froissart’s own end, nothing definite is known.He is said to have survived until at least 1404, possibly as late as 1410, and to have been buried at Chimay.He left a body of lyric poetry that, to some extent, influenced Chaucer’s own lyric production, but he is best remembered for his vivid recreation of 14thcentury life in his lively and entertaining Chronicles.
   Bibliography
   ■ Ainsworth, Peter F. Jean Froissart and the Fabric of History: Truth, Myth, and Fiction in the Chroniques. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990.
   ■ Brereton, Geoffrey, ed. and trans. Froissart: Chronicles. New York: Viking, 1978.
   ■ Figg, Kristen Mossler. The Short Lyric Poems of Jean Froissart: Fixed Forms and the Expression of the Courtly Ideal. New York: Garland, 1994.
   ■ Wimsatt, James I. Chaucer and His French Contemporaries: Natural Music in the Fourteenth Century. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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