269. Chronicles by Jean Froissart (c.1390-1405)

“Now, lords, consider well, kings, dukes, counts, prelates, all men of noble lineage and power, how fickle are the chances of this world”  (page 469)

The history of Western Europe between 1322 and 1400, and in particular the events of the early years of the Hundred Years War, between England and France, and border skirmishes between England and Scotland.

Source :  I read the Penguin Classics edition, a selection of the full Chronicles, translated by Geoffrey Brereton.

Thoughts :  Back to the history books, and while Froissart is not believed to be comprehensively reliable on all his dates and place names, he certainly provides a reasonable and very readable account of the major people and events and the feel of the period. Notably, he is neither pro-English nor pro-French, appreciating the knightly honour and valour over nationality or politics (he had travelled extensively throughout what is now England, Scotland, Wales, France, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Portugal) and been a member of court of King Edward III of England. He interviewed witnesses to the battles where he wasn’t present himself, and used the writings of Jean Le Bel, a knight in the service of John of Hainault.

Where Froissart does show some personal bias is his reportage of the rise of the commoners, both in France (the Jaqueries) and England (the Peasant’s Revolt of John Ball and Wat Tyler), which he sees as chaos over the established order.

The Chronicles finish with the downfall and abdication of King Richard II of England and the coronation of Henry IV. Public opinion particularly in London turned against Richard with his exile and execution of popular noblemen, the seizure of their lands, and his wedding Isabella of Valois, the 6 year old daughter of the King of France when England was still howling for a continuance of the war and their fears of losing Calais, their foothold on the Continent.

While covering the battles of Crecy and Poitiers, the Chronicles stop short of the most famous battle of Agincourt. Quite serendipitously, my son and I watched a movie on Henry IV and Agincourt at the time of reading this book, so that fills the gap nicely until Shakespeare gets his turn in a few months’ time.

Favourite quotes/scenes: The French plan to invade England and there is a huge list of things they take on board ship (page 305), from foodstuffs including onions, garlic, olives, peas and beans; to clothes, tools, kitchenware, furniture, and of course weapons, that “..it can be said that the interest and fascination of seeing all this were so great that a man suffering from fever or tooth-ache would have forgotten all his pains”

Personal rating:  7/10

Kimmy’s comment: Richard II had a favourite greyhound called Math, who constantly greeted him with affection, putting his paws on the King’s shoulders and licking his face. Upon the surrender of Richard to Henry, as they stood talking in the courtyard of Flint Castle, the dog ignored Richard and treated Henry as his beloved master. Traitorous dog indeed!


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