Froissart's Chronicles

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The execution of Hugh the younger Despenser, a miniature from one of the better-known manuscripts of the Chronicles.

Froissart's Chronicles (or Chroniques) is a prose chronicle of the Hundred Years' War from the reign of Edward III until 1400. For centuries the Chronicles have been recognized as the chief expression of the chivalric culture of 14th-century England and France.


Jean Froissart first wrote a rhyming chronicle for the English queen Philippa of Hainault, which he offered to her in 1361 or 1362.[1] The text of this earliest historical work, which Froissart himself mentioned in the prologue of his Chronicles, is usually considered to have been completely lost, but some scholars have argued that a 14th-century manuscript containing a rhyme chronicle, of which fragments are now kept in libraries in Paris and Berlin, may be identified as this so-called 'lost chronicle'.[2]

Writing and manuscripts[edit]

Froissart began writing Book I of the surviving prose chronicle sometime after 1370, possibly at the request of Robert de Namur, to whom the earliest version was dedicated.[3] In the prologue of this version of the prose text, Froissart justified his new enterprise by his desire to improve on his first attempts to write a historical account of the early years of the Hundred Year's War. In particular he denounced his earlier rhyme chronicle, whose accuracy, he admitted, had not always been as good as such important matters as war and knightly prowess require. In order to improve the quality and overall accuracy of his work, Froissart declared his intention to follow now as his main source the Vrayes Chroniques of Jean Le Bel. Le Bel had written his chronicle for Jean, lord of Beaumont, uncle of Philippa of Hainault, who had been a supporter of Queen Isabella and the rebellion which led to the deposition of Edward II in 1326. He had also taken part in several of the early battles of the Hundred Year's War, first on the English side, then on the French. Jean's grandson, Guy II, Count of Blois later became the main patron of Froissart's Chronicles. Jean Le Bel himself had fought in Edward III's 1327 expedition against the Scots. For all these reasons Froissart must have highly valued Le Bel as a source for reliable information about the events which led to the outbreak of the war between France and England and about the early phases of the Hundred Year's War. Comparison of Froissart's Book I with Le Bel's work shows that for the early parts of the Chronicles (up to c.1360) Froissart often directly copied and developed very large parts of Le Bel's text.

Froissart seems to have written new drafts of Book I, which covers the period up to 1378/1379, at different points in time. Several of these variant versions are now known to scholars by the main manuscripts which have transmitted their texts (such as the 'Amiens', 'Valenciennes', and 'Rome' versions of Book I). The so-called 'Rome' version of Book I, of which only less than half has survived (covering the period up to c.1350), is undoubtedly the youngest version: it was written towards the end of Froissart's life, at the earliest in late 1404.[4] It was preceded by the 'C' version of Book I, written sometime after 1395, which was long considered lost; the 'C' version actually survives in a single manuscript now in the Newberry Library in Chicago.[5] The order of the other versions has been discussed extensively by scholars.[6] There is as yet no consensus which covers all the versions and their relationships, although most specialists now seem to think that the 'Amiens' version is earlier than the so-called 'B' redaction.[7] The 'B' redaction is the version of Book I that was edited by S. Luce for the Société d'Histoire de France and that represents what is often seen as the 'standard' version of Book I.[8] Luce himself, however, was convinced that the 'B' version represented the earliest completed state of Book I and that it was therefore earlier than the 'Amiens' text.

A first version of the second book of Froissart's Chronicles, which covers the period 1378-1385, was probably completed in the late 1380s. It does not seem to have been based on other pre-existing chronicles and is therefore entirely Froissart's own work. Book II, however, includes an extended account of the Flemish revolt against the count in the years 1379-1385, which Froissart had earlier composed as a separate text and which is known as his Chronicle of Flanders. Like Book I, Froissart also seems to have rewritten the later books of his Chronicles. Apart from the Chronicle of Flanders, at least three versions of Book II survive. Most manuscripts of Book II contain one of the two earlier versions, which have an almost identical text, except for a small number of chapters in which there are substantial differences. The manuscripts of these two earlier versions have provided the basis for all the modern editions. There is also a later version, which dates from after 1395 and survives only in the Newberry manuscript.[9] The Newberry version is substantially different from the other known versions and is undoubtedly the result of an extensive authorial reworking of the text, which included the addition of quite extensive material that does not appear in the other versions. The Newberry text has not yet been fully edited but it has been partly transcribed for the Online Froissart.

A first version of Book III, which covers the years 1385 to 1390, but also which includes extensive flashback to the earlier periods, was possibly completed in 1390 or 1391 and is the one found in nearly all the surviving manuscripts. A second version exists in a single manuscript (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS fr. 2650).[10] This second version is probably a later reworking by Froissart himself: it follows the pattern that can be seen in the different authorial versions of Book II, with many chapters remaining the same and some chapters having been extensively rewritten.[11]

Book IV, whose text goes up to the year 1400, remains incomplete and was probably, like the 'Rome' version of Book I, written after 1404. It is likely that the abrupt ending of Book IV is to be explained by Froissart's death, which may have occured while he was writing this part of the Chronicles. Book IV has been transmitted in 21 manuscripts, all representing a single authorial version.[12] The text shows traces of having been worked over by a 'copy editor', who was not the author but someone who seems to have prepared a text, possibly autograph, for reproduction. Unlike the other three books of the Chronicles, Book IV seems to have remained unknown for a long time, until it was discovered in the second half of the 15th century, when the first manuscript copies of the text were made and the text started to circulate in the court circles of the Dukes of Burgundy.[13]

For Book I Froissart used a number of written sources. His main source was obviously Jean Le Bel's Chronicle, which he mentioned explicitly, but he also used other texts, including the Life of the Black Prince by Chandos Herald, in particular for the Black Prince's campaign in Spain in 1366-1367.[14] Froissart's own experiences, combined with those of interviewed witnesses, supply much of the detail of the later books. Although Froissart may never have been in a battle, he visited Sluys in 1386 to see the preparations for an invasion of England. He was present at other significant events such as the baptism of Richard II in Bordeaux in 1367, the coronation of King Charles V of France in Rheims in 1380, and the joyous entry of the French queen Isabeau of Bavaria in Paris in 1390. In Books I and II Froissart also included some official documents, such as the act of hommage by King Edward III to the French King Philip VI of Valois (1331), the English version of the Peace Treaty of Calais (1360), and the Treaty of Tournai (1385), which re-established peace between the Flemish cities and their count.


Some of the important events recorded in Froissart's Chronicles:

Book I 1322–1377

The Battle of Sluys in the Gruuthuse MS.

Book II 1376–1385

Book III 1386–1388

Book IV 1389–1400


Froissart's work is perceived as being of vital importance to modern understandings of the European 14th century, particularly of the Hundred Year's War. However, modern historians also recognize that his Chronicles contain many shortcomings: erroneous dates, misplaced geography, inaccurate estimations of casualties of war, and potential biases in favor of his patrons. Froissart is sometimes repetitive or covers seemingly insignificant subjects. Nevertheless, his battle descriptions are lively and engaging.

Sir Walter Scott once remarked that Froissart had "marvelous little sympathy" for the "villain churls."[15] While it is true that Froissart often omits to talk about the common people of the time, it is also the case that his Book II focuses extensively on popular revolts in different parts of western Europe (France, England and Flanders). In this part of the Chronicles the author often demonstrates good understanding of the factors that influenced local economies; he also seems to have a lot of sympathy in particular for the plight of the poorer strata of the urban populations of Flanders.[16]

The Chronicles are a very extensive work: with their almost 1.5 million words, they are amongst the longest works written in French prose in the late Middle Ages.[17] Few modern complete editions have been published, but the text was printed from the late 15th century onwards. Enguerrand de Monstrelet continued the chronicle to 1440.

The text of Froissart's Chronicles is preserved in more than 150 manuscripts, many of which are illustrated by a variety of miniaturists.[18] One of the most lavishly illuminated copies was commissioned by Louis of Gruuthuse, a Flemish nobleman, in the 1470s. The four volumes of this copy (BNF, Fr 2643-6) contain 112 miniatures painted by the best Brugeois artists of the day. Among them is Loiset Lyédet, to whom the miniatures in the first two volumes are attributed. The illustrations here come from this copy.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Normand R. Cartier, 'The lost chronicle', Speculum. A journal of mediaeval studies 36 (1961), 424-434; Jean Devaux, 'From the court of Hainault to the court of England: the example of Jean Froissart', in Christopher Allmand (ed.), War, Government and Power in Late Medieval France (Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2000), 1-20.
  2. ^ Dominique Stutzmann, 'Un deuxième fragment du poème historique de Froissart', Bibliothèque de l'Ecole des Chartes, 164 (2006), 573-580.
  3. ^ Jean-Marie Moeglin, 'Froissart, le métier d'historien et l'invention de la Guerre de Cent Ans', Romania 124 (2006), 429-470.
  4. ^ George T. Diller, 'La dernière rédaction du premier livre des Chroniques de Froissart. Une étude du Reg. lat. 869', Le Moyen Âge, 76 (1970), 91-125
  5. ^ Godfried Croenen, 'A 'refound' manuscript of Froissart revisited: Newberry MS f.37', French Studies Bulletin, 31 (2010), 56-60.
  6. ^ J.J.N. Palmer, 'Book I (1325-78) and its sources', in J.J.N. Palmer (ed.), Froissart: Historian (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1981), 7-24.
  7. ^ George T. Diller (ed.), Froissart. Chroniques. Livre I. Le manuscrit d'Amiens. Bibliothèque municipale n° 486, 5 vols. (Geneva: Droz, 1991-1998); Jean-Marie Moeglin, 'Froissart, le métier d'historien et l'invention de la Guerre de Cent Ans', Romania 124 (2006), 429-470.
  8. ^ Siméon Luce (ed.), Chroniques de J. Froissart [Book I] 8 vols. (Paris: Société de l'histoire de France, 1869-1888).
  9. ^ Godfried Croenen, 'A 'refound' manuscript of Froissart revisited: Newberry MS f.37', French Studies Bulletin, 31 (2010), 56-60.
  10. ^ Godfried Croenen, 'La tradition manuscrite du Troisième Livre des Chroniques de Froissart', in Valérie Fasseur (ed.), Froissart à la cour de Béarn: l'écrivain, les arts et le pouvoir (Turnhout: Brepols, 2009), 15-59.
  11. ^ Godfried Croenen, 'Stemmata, philology and textual history: a response to Alberto Varvaro', Medioevo Romanzo, 34 (2010), 398-402.
  12. ^ Alberto Varvaro, 'Problèmes philologiques du Livre IV des Chronique de Jean Froissart', in Godfried Croenen & Peter Ainsworth (eds.), Patrons, Authors and Workshops: Books and Book Production in Paris around 1400 (Leuven: Peeters, 2006), 255-277.
  13. ^ Alberto Varvaro, La tragédie de l'histoire. La dernière œuvre de Jean Froissart (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2011).
  14. ^ J.J.N. Palmer, 'Book I (1325-78) and its sources', in J.J.N. Palmer (ed.), Froissart: Historian (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1981), 7-24; Peter F. Ainsworth, 'Collationnement, montage et jeu parti: le début de la campagne espagnole du Prince Noir (1366-67) dans les Chroniques de Jean Froissart, Le Moyen Âge, 100 (1994), 369-411.
  15. ^ Sir Walter Scott: Tales of my landlord
  16. ^ Peter Ainsworth, 'Froissardian perspectives on late-fourteenth-century society', in Jeffrey Denton and Brian Pullan (eds.), Orders and Hierarchies in Late Medieval and Renaissance Europe (Basingstoke / London: Macmillan Press, 1999), 56-73.
  17. ^ Croenen, Godfried. "Online Froissart". HRIOnline. Retrieved 26 December 2013. 
  18. ^ Godfried Croenen, 'Froissart illustration cycles', in Graeme Dunphy (ed.), The Encyclopedia of the Medieval Chronicle (Leiden: Brill, 2010), I, 645-650.

External links and literature[edit]