”Jean Froissart was born in the 1330s and died after 1404. Although he was formally a clergyman and held various eccesiastical posts, he devoted himself to literature. His works include romance, poetry, and history, and could easily have been written by a layman — there is nothing particularly “clerical” in his point of view or method of expression. Indeed, Froissart’s most famous and significant work, his Chronicles, was aimed at a knightly and aristocratic audience, and was devoted to “the honorable enterprises, noble adventures, and deeds of arms, performed in the wars between England and France…to the end that brave men taking example from them may be encouraged in their well-doing.”
Froissart’s historical efforts won him the patronage of the highest nobility during his own lifetime and his works were often copied afterwards. For centuries, Froissart’s Chronicles have been recognized as the chief expression of the chivalric revival, if revival is the word, of fourteenth-century England and France, and as a key to the aristocratic self-image of the time. His history is also one of the most important sources for the first half of the Hundred Years’ War, and certain events of the era, such as the battles of Crecy and Poitiers and the English Peasant Revolt of 1381, are best known to many readers through the his often-reprinted accounts of them.”( Steve Muhlberger )
There is chivalry in action. And Jean Froissart was its poetic witness of deeds and damage done. Jean Froissart was the celebrator of chivalry,the code of knightly conduct; the chronicler of the tormented and brutal late medieval age before it crashed and burned during the Hundred Years War. This code comprises humble faith, fidelity to one’s worldly and spiritual masters, adoration of womanhood, and acceptance of honor as one’s guide to behavior. Chivalry imposed innumerable forms, impressive and symbolic, on action, social behavior, dress and speech. Such manifestations were Froissart’s joy and he described them in loving detail. As a cleric, he could not join the game; he must content himself with watching and recording. One senses the regret; he would have loved to be one of he forty young knights bachelor of his home town, Valenciennes, each of whom wore an eye patch, having vowed to the ladies not to doff it until he should perform some notable deed of valor.
Froissart loved a good show, all recorded for posterity in his ”Chronicles” . He describes with emotion the entry of a new French queen, Isabella of Bavaria, into Paris in 1389. The Porte St. Denis was transformed into a heaven, housing the Virgin and Child; fountains spurted claret and honeyed wine, which were dispensed by beautiful girls. A battle with Saracens was enacted, which, naturally, the Christians won.
Jousts were Froissart’s particular joy. He could never have enough of them; a power and glory fever. Rich nobles would proclaim an open joust to honor a lady, and professional champions would gather from near and far. Or, anardent youth would make a vow to fight, to enhance his lady’s fame, and with perhaps an eye to his own. He must then find an opponent to ”deliver him from his vow”. Such a deliverer would present himself, for his pleasure or with some glimpse of advantage, not from any personal animus. When royalty and noblemen were involved, this resulted in staggering pageantry:
During the English invasion of Spanish Galicia, a herald arrived from the headquarters of the hostile French. He sought out the eminent sportsman Sir John Holland and presented to him a letter from the equally eminent Sir Reginald de Roy. Sir John ” read that Sir Reginald de Roye entreated him , for the love of his mistress, that he would deliver him from his vow , by tilting with him three courses with the lance, three attacks with the sword, three with the battle axe, and three with the dagger”. He proposed to bring an escort, or perhaps a cheering section, of thirty companions. A jolly time was had by all, it all ending in a draw without serious wounds to either champion.
Fortunate, because such games were likely to end in blood. During a lull in the wars, the ”sporting events” and general challenges attracted swarms of contenders and sports enthusiasts. Tourney’s could continue for a month, with much unhelming, shivering of lances,rearing of horses, and whacking of steel against steel. The evenings were spent in critical review of the day’s encounters. When mortality did occur, deep regret was often expressed, underlined in the assurance that these mishaps were the occupational hazards that must endured. But, it was more than ”X-Treme” sports:
”The question I want to pose today is why did people who were normally enemies come together ostensibly in friendship and, using real weapons, hit each other very hard. Make no mistake about it: these were dangerous games, if games is the right word. In friendly confrontations described by Froissart, a knight had a spear thrust through his thigh; another was struck off a charging horse and “lay as if dead;” a third was actually killed by a lance piercing his jugvein. What was at stake and what made the formal “deed of arms” worthwhile?
First, however relevant or irrelevant armored knights and squires or for that matter jousting, were to actual warfare — something we don’t have time to discuss today — all the higher ranks of the noblility still justified their position in society by their willingness and ability to wage war. Any individual who rode out between hostile armies to place a challenge, or who arranged with an erstwhile opponent to meet at a formal deed, was asserting his claim to belong to that high rank, to be one of the brave, dangerous masters of society. He was backing up that claim with his own body. In a formal deed, the risk might be more limited than in other contexts, but it was hardly absent. So central was this kind of armed display in the late fourteenth century that earls, royal chamberlains, half-brothers of sitting kings all took part, not just in “real” battles, but in formal deeds, too.
Second, when armed nobles and their closest followers gathered together to play this dangerous sport, they were also making a claim to collective power, and demonstrating a certain solidarity against the rest of the world. The late fourteenth century was in fact a time when nobles had to defend their privileges against rebellious peasants and unruly townsmen. Noble power could not be taken for granted. When high-ranking warriors met at royal wedding, or a formal deed under the presidency of a king’s son, they were taking part in a select activity, one which only people like them had been trained for, and which required almost as much cooperation as competition. After all, a jouster on horseback could not strike sparks off the helm of his opponent without that opponent’s active cooperation. It is not something likely to take place in an open battle.
Thus the formal deed of arms had an individual aspect and a collective one, and in both aspects something very real was at stake. The individual was there to be tested. Every man entered the contest intending not just to look good, but to survive, and to come away from the field worthy of greater respect. Some inevitably gained more than others. For the group, the formal deed was not so much a test but an act of definition. It was, at least in the eyes of its participants, proof that they were all armed gentlemen and that armed gentlemen deserved the lofty place in society that they in fact enjoyed. The group itself was reaffirmed in a way that was essential to its self-image.( Steven Muhlberger)
Royal Diversion. ( above image ) To amuse the French king at a wedding feast, one of his retainers conceived a fateful ” pleasantry”. The young king, Charles VI, and five other knights were to secretly dress themselves in linen coats covered with flax to resemble a hairy pelt. ”This masquerade pleased the king greatly,” Froissart reports. At midnight the ‘,savages” appeared in a group beofre the wedding guests, but Charles could not resist leaving the others in order to sport with the ladies, ”as was natural to his youth.” Just then the king’s brother, eager to get a better look, approached the inflammable masqueraders with a torch. In an instant, the pranksters went up in flames, four of them burning to death. Only youthful vanity and ”the providence of God” had saved the king’s life.