Ideals and values in Jean Froissart’s Chroniques
By Kristel Mari Skorge
PhD Dissertation, University of Bergen, 2006
Introduction: In the evening [after the battle of Poitiers] the Prince of Wales gave a supper for the King of France, Lord Philippe, his son, Lord Jakeme de Bourbon and most of the captured counts and barons of France. The Prince seated the King and his son . . . at a high table well provided, and the rest of the nobles at other tables. The whole time, the Prince served at both the King’s and other tables as humbly as he could. He refused to sit at the King’s table, insisting that he was not yet worthy to sit at the table of so mighty a prince and so brave a soldier as he [the King of France] had proved himself to be on that day. He constantly kneeled before him, saying: “Dear sir, . . . My father will certainly show you every mark of honour and friendship in his power, and will come to such a reasonable understanding with you that you will always remain firm friends. In my opinion, you have good cause to be joyful, although the battle did not go in your favour, for today you have won the highest renown of prowess, excelling the best of your knights. I do not say this to flatter you, for everyone on our side, having seen how each man fought, unanimously agrees with this and awards you the prize and the chaplet, if you will consent to wear them’. At these words all those present murmured their approval, French and English remarking to each other that the Prince had spoken nobly and to the point. Their esteem for him increased and it was generally agreed that in him they would have a most chivalrous lord and master if he was granted life and to persevere in such good fortune.
The passage quoted above is taken from the Chroniques, a historical narrative, more than a million words in length, written in Middle French prose in the last half of the 14th century by Jean Froissart, a poet and chronicler from Valenciennes in Hainault. Froissart left a large range of writings: numerous poems, and Méliador, an Arthurian roman. However, the most widely read work is his chronicles, which amongst other things recount the events of the Hundred Years War between France and England and their respective allies, the dealings and life at the court of the Count de Foix, popular uprisings in England, Flanders and France, and the downfall of the English King, Richard II. The passage quoted deals with Edward the Black Prince’s treatment of the French king, John the Good, after the battle of Poitiers in 1356, where the English destroyed the French army while raiding out of Bordeaux, and it is often referred to as a prime example of chivalrous behaviour and aristocratic mentality in the Middle Ages. Although Froissart claims that somewhere close to 6,000 men died that day together with ‘the finest flower of French chivalry’, he is seemingly more preoccupied with the gallant behaviour of the young Prince than with the horrible tragedy that just had taken place. The description of the Black Prince, not only entertaining his defeated opponent courteously, but serving King John in what Froissart describes as a humble manner, praising the defeated opponent’s prowess and martial skills, bears witness to a society where people adhered to different ideals and were motivated by other values than modern men. Thus, the passage brings us to the theme of this thesis, namely the ideals and values described and propagated by Froissart in his Chroniques.
Since the publication in 1930 of F. S. Shear’s monograph Froissart, Chronicler and Poet, very few scholars have analyzed Froissart’s historical narratives until the beginning of the eighties when J. J. N. Palmer edited the symposium Froissart. Historian. In 1981 Georg Jäger published Aspekte des Krieges und der Chevalerie im XIV. Jahrhundert. Untersuchungen zu Jean Froissart´s Chroniques. The chivalry depicted in Froissart´s historical narrative was further dealt with in the 1985 monograph by George T. Diller; Attitudes chevaleresques et Réalités politiques chez Froissart. In the past ten years or so three important full – length works on Froissart have been published; Peter Ainsworth’s Jean Froissart and the Fabric of History from 1994, Michel Zink’s Froissart et le temps from 1998 10 and Marie-Thérèse de Medeiros Hommes, terres et histoire de confins: les marges mériodionales et orientales de la chretienté dans les ‘Chroniques’ de Froissart, from 2003. A collection of essays resulting from a symposium at Amherst, edited by Donald Maddox and Sara Sturm-Maddox was published in 1998.