Jean Froissart

The French priest, poet, and itinerate reporter Jean Froissart (c. 1337-c.1404) is known primarily as a chronicler. During his wide travels, lodging in castles from Scotland to Italy, he recorded what he observed, leaving the best picture of 14th-century feudal life.

Jean Froissart was born in Valenciennes. Educated by and for the Church, he was later received into the priest-hood, but his natural inclinations were somewhat opposed to the austerity of religious life, even though he was canon of the collegial church of Chimay and chaplain to the Count of Blois. After his arrival in England in 1361 he entered the service of Queen Philippa (she too a native of Valenciennes), wife of Edward III. His early poems and his heroic stories pleased the English court, but after the death of his protectress in 1369 he returned to Valenciennes.

Four years later Froissart was received by Wenceslas of Luxembourg, Duke of Brabant, a congenial poet who was his patron until 1384. His last patron on the Continent was the Count of Blois. From 1389 he was generally at Valenciennes or Chimay until he again left for England in 1394, where he was well received by Richard II but did not stay. Froissart was living in 1404, but the date of his death is unknown.

The poetry of Froissart fills three sizable volumes and ranges from pastourelles, to narrative and didactic poems, to courtly poetry. The best are The Paradise of Love, The Pretty Buzzard of Youth, and the long Thornlet of Love, on disappointments in love, and the bitter Tale of the Florin. His Méliador, in which are inserted 81 short poems of Wenceslas, contains over 30,000 lines; it is an attempt to revive the old Arthurian romance.

Froissart's Chroniques de France, d'Engleterre et des paīs voisins (Chronicles) begins in 1327 and ends in 1400. His written source up to 1361 was Jean le Bel, whom he often copied directly. His main source derived from his art of getting people to tell him all they knew; no news correspondent ever equaled this medieval information magnet. Unlike Geffroi de Villehardouin and Jean de Joinville, Froissart was never involved in public affairs or military action, but he traveled and interviewed endlessly. He knew everyone and was at his best in describing the coronation of John II and the visit of Philip VI of France to Pope Benedict XII at Avignon. Indeed, the index to his chronicle constitutes a veritable "who's who" of western Europe for more than half a century, and yet Froissart was much more of a historian than a social reporter.


Further Reading on Jean Froissart

The only work of Froissart in English is the Chronicles, the classic translation is Lord Berner's, edited by William P. Ker (6 vols., 1901-1903). Two good studies in English are G. G. Coulton, The Chronicler of European Chivalry (1976; 1977), and F. S. Shears Froissart, Chronicler and Poet (1974).