Froissart, John

, an eminent and ancient French historian and poet, was born in Valenciennes, about 1337. Of his parents we know only that his father, Thomas Froissart, was a painter of arms, and although our historian is titled knight, at the beginning of a manuscript in the abbey of St. Germain des Prez, it is thought that the copyist had given it to him of his own authority. His infancy announced what he would one day be: he early manifested that eager and inquisitive mind, which during the course of his life never allowed him to remain long attached to the same occupations, and in the same place; and the different games suitable to that age, of which he gives us a picture equally curious and amusing, kept up in his mind a fund of natural dissipation, which during his early studies tried the patience and exercised the severity of his masters. He loved hunting, music, assemblies, feasts, dancing, dress, good living, wine and women; these tastes, which almost all shewed themselves from twelve years of age, being confirmed by habit, were continued even to his old age, and perhaps never left him. The mind and heart of Froissart being not yet sufficiently occupied, his love for history filled up that void, which | his passion for pleasure left; and became to him an inexhaustible source of amusement.

He had but just left school, and was scarcely twenty years ol i, when at the intreaty of “his dear lord and master sir Robert de Namur, lord of Beaufort,” he undertook to write the history of the wars of his own time, more particularly of those which ensued after the battle of Poitiers. Four years afterwards, having gone to England, he presented a part of this history to queen Philippa of Hainault, the wife of Edward III. However young he might then be, he had already travelled into the most distant provinces of France. The object of his visit to England was to tear himself from the pains of an attachment which had tormented him for a long time. This passion took possession of his heart from his infancy; it lasted ten years, and sparks of it were again rekindled in a more advanced age. The history of this attachment may be seen in our authority. It appears to have been first childish, and then romantic, and for his feelings in either state, we have only poetical evidence, and from that we learn that he had more mistresses than one. He had made two journies to England, but on which occasion he presented his history to queen Philippa is not certain. It was well received, however, and probably gained him the title of Clerk (secretary or writer) of the chamber to that princess, which he was in possession of from 1361. She is said frequently to have amused herself, in that age of romantic gallantry, by making Froissart compose amorous ditties; but this occupation must be considered solely as a relaxation that no way impeded more serious works, since during the five years he was attached to the service of queen Philippa, he travelled at her expence to various parts of Europe, the object of which seems to be a research after whatever might enrich his history.

Of all the particulars of Froissart’s life during his residence in England, we only know that he was present at the separation of the king and queen in 1361, with their son the prince of Wales and the princess his lady, who were going to take possession of the government of Acquitaine; and that he was between Eltham and Westminster in 1363, when king John passed on his return to England. There is in his poems a pastoral which seems to allude only to that event. With regard to his travels during the time he was attached to the service of the | queen, he‘ employed six months in Scotland, and penetrated as far as the Highlands. He travelled on horseback with his portmanteau behind him, and followed by a greyhound. The king of Scotland, and many lords whose names he has preserved to us, treated him so handsomely, that he could have wished tq have returned thither. William earl of Douglas lodged him during fifteen days in his castle of Dalkeith, near Edinburgh; but we are ignorant of the date of this journey, and of another which he made into North Wales. It may be inferred, however, that he was at this time no ordinary character, and that he must have possessed talents and accomplishments to entitle him, to so much respect.

He was in France, at Melun sur Seine, about April 20, 1366; perhaps private reasons might have induced him to take that road to Bourdeaux, where he was on All Saints* day of that year, when the princess of Wales was brought to bed of a son, who was afterwards Richard II. The prince of Wales setting out a few days afterwards for the war in Spain, Froissart accompanied him to Dax, where the prince resided some time. He had expected to have attended him during the continuance of this grand expedition; but the prince would not permit him to go farther; and shortly after his arrival, sent him back to the queen his mother. Froissart could not have made any long stay in England, since in the following year, 1368," he was at different Italian courts. It was this same year, that Lionel duke of Clarence, son of the king of England, espoused Joland, daughter of Galeas II. duke of Milan. Froissart, who probably was in his suite, was present at the magnificent reeeption which Amadeus count of Savoy, surnamed the count Verd, gave him on his return: he describes the feasts on this occasion, which lasted three days; and does not forget to tell us that they danced a virelay of his composition. From the court of Savoy he returned to Milan, where the same count Amadeus gave him a good cotardie, a sort of coat, with twenty florins of gold; and from thence to Bologna and Ferrara, where he Feceived f forty ducats from the king of Cyprus, and then to Rome. Instead of the modest equipage he travelled with into Scotland, he was now like a man of importance, travelling on a handsome horse attended by a hackney.

It was about this time that Froissart experienced a loss which nothing could recompense, the death of | Philippa, which took place in 1369. He composed a lay on this melancholy event, of which, however, he was not a witness; for he says, in another place, that in 1395 it was twenty-seven years since he had seen England. According to Vossius and Bullart he wrote the life of queen Philippa; but this assertion is not founded on any proofs. Independently of the employment of clerk of the chamber to the queen of England, which Froissart had held, he had been also of the household of Edward III. and even of that of John, king of France. Having, however, lost his patroness, he did not return to England, but went into his own country, where he obtained the living of Lestines. Of all that he performed during the time he exercised this ministry, he tells us nothing moiv than that the tavernkeepers of Lestines had live hundred francs of his money in ike short space of liuwj he was their rector. It is mentioned in a ms journal of the bishop of Chartres, chunceHor to the duke of Anjou, that according to letters sealed Dec. 12, 138 >, this prince caused to be seized fifty-six quires of the Chronicle of Froissart, rector of the parish church of Lestines, which the historian had sent to be illuminated, and then to be forwarded to the king of England., the enemy of France. Froissart attached himself afterwards to Winceslaus of Luxembourg, duke of Brabant, perhaps in quality of secretary. This prince had a taste for poetry; he had made by Froissart a collection of his songs, rondeaus, and virrlays, and Froissart adding s-nne of his own pieces to those of the prince, formed a soft of romance, under the title of “Meliador, or the Kujght of the Sun;” hut the duke did not live to see the completion of the work, for he died in 1334.

Almost immediately after this event Froissart found another patron in Guy count de 3lojis, who made him clerk oJ’ his chapel; and he testified his gratitude by a pastoral, and epithalamium on a marriage in the family. He passed the years 1385, 1386, and 1387, sometimes in the Blaisois, sometimes in Touraine; but the count de Blois having engaged him to continue his history, which he left unfinished, he determined in 1388 to take advantage of the peace which was just concluded, to visit the court of Gaston Phoebus count de Foix, in order to gain full information in whatever related to foreign countries, and the more distant provinces of the kingdom-. His health and age still allowed him to bear great fatigue; his memory was | suifrciently strong to retain whatever he should hear; and his judgment clear enough, to point out to him the use he should make of it. In his journey to the count de Foix, he met on the road with sir Espaing du Lyon, a gallant knight who had served in the wars, and was able to give him much information. At length they arrived at Ortez in Beam, the ordinary residence of the count de Foix, where Froissart met with a society suited to. his views, composed of brave captains who had distinguished themselves in combats or tournaments. Here Froissart used to entertain Gaston, after supper, by reading to him the ro* mance of “Meliador,” which he had brought with him. After a considerable residence at this court, he left it in the suite of the young duchess of Berry, whom he accorupanied to Avignon. His stay here, however, was unfortunate, as he was robbed; which incident he made the subject of a long poem, representing his loss, and his expensive turn. Among other things he says that the composition of his works had cost him 700 francs, but he regretted, not this expence, for he adds, “I have composed many a, history which will be spoken of by posterity.

After a series of travels into different countries, for the. sake of obtaining information, we find him in 1390 in his. own country, solely occupied in the completion of his. history, at least until 1392, when he was again at Paris. From the year 1378 he had obtained from pope Clement VII. the reversion of a canonry at Lille, and in the collection of his poetry, which was completed in 1393, and elsewhere, he calls himself canon of Lille; but pope Clement dying in 1394, he gave up his expectations of the. reversion, and began to qualify himself as canon and treasurer of the collegiate church of Chirnay, which he probably owedi to the friendship of the count de Blois. In 1395, after an absence of twenty-seven years, he returned to England, where he was received with marks of high favour and affection by Richard II. and the royal family; and here he went on collecting information for his history, and had the honour to present his “Meliador” to the king, who was much delighted with it. After a residence of three mouths, he was dismissed with marks of princely favour, which he endeavoured to return by his affectionate and grateful' lamentation on the death of his royal patron, at the end of the fourth volume of his history.

The time of the death of Froissart has not been decided | by his biographers. He relates some events of the year 1400, and by some is thought to have lived considerably beyond that period, but nothing certain can be affirmed. He probably ended his days ii> his own chapter, and was interred in tlje chapel of St. Anne in the coHegiate church. Although he was the author of 30,000 verses, his poetical character is forgotten, and he is now celebrated, and most justly, as a historian. His Chronicle, which is divided into four books, comprehends the period between 1326 and 1400, and relates the events which took place not only hi France, btrt in Flanders, Scotland, and Ireland, with numerous details respecting the papal courts of Rome and Avignon, and collateral particulars of the transactions in the rest of Europe, in Turkey, and even in Africa. His reputation stands high as a faithful and diligent narrator of what he saw and heard. By the French he has been charged with gross partiality towards the English; they bring against him the crime of making Edward, and his son, the Black Prince, the heroes of his history. But it tfannot be denied that they were the heroes of the age in which they flourished, and therefore an impartial historian was obliged to represent them in their true colours, and to make them the teading characters of the day. Mr. Johnes-, to whom the public is indebted for an admirable edition of Froissart’s Chronicles, has successfully vindicated the character of the historian from the charge of partiaFrty: throughout the whole work, he says, there is an evident disposition to give praise to valour on whatever side it was employed. The historian mourns over the death of each valiant knight, exults in the success of every hardy enterprize, and seems carried away almost by his chivalrous feelings, independently of party considerations. Till the publication of Mr. Johnes’s translation, the best edition of the “Chronicles” was that of Lyons in four volumes folio, 1559; and Mr. Johnes has since gratified the public wish by an equally accurate and well illustrated edition of Froissart’s continuator, Monstrelet. 1

1 Life of Froissart, by St. Palaye, translated and edited by Thomas Johne esq. M. P. 1801, 8vo, a work which supersedes the neccssity of referring to any other authority.