Froissart, Jean

Froissart, Jean

(zhäN frəwäsär`), c.1337–1410?, French chronicler, poet, and courtier, b. Valenciennes. Although ordained as a priest, he led a worldly life. He became a protégé of Queen Philippa of England, visited the court of David II of Scotland, and accompanied (1366) Edward the Black Prince on the campaign in Gascony. He also traveled widely in the Low Countries and in Italy. In the south of France he saw the brilliant court of Gaston III of Foix, and he later described it in a famous passage. Nothing is known of his life after 1404: his death date is traditionally 1410. His chronicle, continuing that of Jean le Bel, canon of Liège, covers the history of Western Europe from the early 14th cent. to 1400, roughly the first half of the Hundred Years War. In literary merit Froissart's chronicle far surpasses similar efforts in any European language. He described events with brilliance and gusto, and his sympathy was with the established order—or disorder—of his time. His highly partisan spirit and disregard for accuracy limit the value of his chronicle as pure history, yet few historians have so successfully brought an era to life. The chronicle remains a superb portrait of contemporary society. Apart from a tedious romance, Méliador, Froissart's poetry is charming and light; it somewhat influenced Chaucer, whom Froissart probably knew personally. The standard English translation (1523–25) of the chronicles by John Bourchier, Lord Berners, is available in many editions.

Bibliography

See study by R. M. Smith (1965).

Froissart, Jean

 

Born circa 1337, in Valenciennes, Flanders (now in France); died after 1404, in Chimay, Hainaut Department. French chronicler and poet.

The son of a burgher, Froissart served at the court of the king of England and later at the courts of some great feudal lords of France. From his youth he composed verses and poems in the vein of chivalric courtly poetry, but he gained fame as a historian of the military campaigns of English and French knights and for his accounts of their tournaments, feasts, and plunderings. In his Chronicles he described the events of the period 1327–1400, particularly the Hundred Years’ War. In order to collect information, Froissart undertook journeys through England, France, Spain, and Italy. In explaining events prior to 1361, he used the chronicles of the Liège chronicler J. le Bel.

Faithful to those who were paying him, Froissart more than once changed his political orientation to conform to the interests of his patrons. The first edition of the Chronicles reflected his pro-English orientation; however, after Froissart went over to the French in 1370, he reworked the text, so that the second and especially the third editions had a pro-French bias. (Initially Froissart had drawn on the testimony of England’s allies; for the new editions he employed that of England’s enemies.) While celebrating the exploits of the knights of any nationality, Froissan was hostile to, and scornful of, the common people. The Paris uprising of 1357–58, the Jacquerie, and other popular movements were either condemned by him or were passed over in silence.

The Chronicles enjoyed enormous success among Froissart’s contemporaries and among later generations because of its picturesque use of language, lively dialogue, vivid portraits of knights, and artful description of nature, as well as for its abundance of facts, which were gathered from eyewitnesses and participants in the events described. Since the end of the 15th century the Chronicles has been published many times; it has been translated from French into Latin and the modern European languages. The work exerted a great influence on chronicle writing (especially English) during the 15th and 16th centuries.

WORKS

Oeuvres, vols. 1–28. Brussels, 1867–77.
Chroniques, vols. 1–13. Paris, 1869–1958.

O. L. VAINSHTEIN

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The present volume provides a convenient reminder of the significant historiographical production of writers like George Chastelain, Philippe de Commynes, Jean Froissart, Jean Lemaire de Belges, and Jean Molinet.