Jean Froissart and his Chronicle of England

BORN about 1338, Jean Froissart was only twenty when he began his famous Chronicle of England, France, Spain and the Adjoining Lands. Throughout his life he was dominated by the passion for inquiry. The Chronicle forms a vivid and graphic history of events in France, Britain and the other countries of Western Europe during the period from 1326 to 1400. It is not always reliable as historical fact, yet from the point of view of colour, spirit and living human interest the Chronicle is worth more than many a dry though accurate record of fact. As a picture of the life and manners of the later feudal period it is unrivalled.

[THE BATTLE OF CRECY]

That the honourable enterprises, noble adventures and deeds of arms performed in the wars between England and France may be properly related and held in perpetual remembrance, to the end that brave men, taking example from them, may be encouraged in their well-doing, I sit down to record a history deserving great praise: but before I begin, I request of the Saviour of the world, Who from nothing created all things, that He will have the goodness to inspire me with sense and sound understanding to persevere in such manner that all those who shall read may derive pleasure and instruction from my work.

The true reason of my undertaking this book was for my amusement, to which I have ever been inclined, and for which I have frequented the company of many noblemen and gentlemen, as well in France as in England and Scotland, and in other countries, from whose acquaintance I have always requested accounts of battles and adventures, especially since the mighty battle of Poictiers, where the noble King John of France was taken prisoner, but before that time I was young in years and understanding; however, on quitting school, I boldly undertook to write and relate the wars abovementioned, which compilation, such as it was, I carried to England and presented to my lady Phillippa of Hainault, Queen of England, who most graciously received it from me, to my great profit.

And perhaps as this book is neither so exactly nor so well written as such feats of arms require, I have undertaken this present work, at the prayer and request of my dear lord and master, Sir Robert de Namur, knight, Lord of Beaufort, to whom I owe all love and obedience, and God give me grace to do always according to his pleasure.

THE King of England was encamped, on Friday, near Crecy, in Ponthieu. He, who had been informed that the King of France was following him in order to give him battle, said to his people: "Let us post ourselves here, for we will not go farther before we have seen our enemies. I have good reason to wait on them on this spot, as I am now upon the lawful inheritance of my lady mother, which was given to her as her marriage portion, and I am resolved to defend it against my adversary, Philippe de Valois."

That evening the army set about furbishing and repairing their armour; and the king gave a supper to the earls and barons of his army, where they made good cheer. On their taking leave, the king remained alone with the lords of his bed-chamber; he retired into his oratory and, falling on his knees before the altar, prayed to God that, if he should combat his enemies on the morrow, he might come off with honour. About midnight he went to his bed, and, rising early the next day, he and the Prince of Wales heard mass and communicated. The greater part of his army did the same, confessed and made proper preparations.

The king ordered that his army should be divided into three battalions. In the first he placed the young Prince of Wales, with many lords, knights and squires whom I cannot name. In the second battalion were the Earl of Northampton, the Earl of Arundel and many others; and the third battalion was commanded by the king.

The king then mounted a small palfrey, having a white wand in his hand, and attended by his two marshals on each side of him; he rode at a foot's pace through all the ranks, encouraging and entreating the army that they would guard his honour and defend his right. He spoke this so sweetly, and with such a cheerful countenance, that all who had been dispirited were directly comforted by seeing and hearing him.

When he had thus visited all the battalions, it was near ten o'clock; he retired to his own division and ordered them all to eat heartily and to drink a glass after. They ate and drank at their ease, and then seated themselves upon the ground, placing their helmets and bows before them, that they might be the fresher when their enemies should arrive.

This, when the lords whom the King of France had sent to reconnoitre saw, they counselled that the battle should be delayed until the morrow, for, said they, 'before we can fight to-night your men will be tired and in disorder, while the enemy is fresh and proper arrayed.'

The king commanded that the army should be halted there, and the two marshals rode, the one to the front and the other to the rear, crying out: 'Halt, banners, in the name of God and St. Denis!'

Those that were in front halted, but those behind said they would not halt until they were as forward as the front. As soon as the foremost rank saw them advancing, they fell back in great disorder, which alarmed those behind, who thought they had been fighting.

The English, on seeing their enemies advance, rose undauntedly up and fell into their ranks. You must know that these kings, earls, barons and lords of France did not advance in any regular order, but one after the other, or any way most pleasing to themselves. As soon as the King of France came in sight of the English he cried out to his marshals, 'Order the Genoese forward, and begin the battle, in the name of God and St. Denis!'

There were about fifteen thousand Genoese cross-bowmen, but they were quite fatigued, having marched that day six leagues, completely armed, and with their cross-bows. They told the constable they were not in a condition to do any great things that day in battle. The Earl of Alencon, hearing this, said, 'This is what one gets by employing such scoundrels, who fall off when there is any need for them.'

As the Genoese advanced, they set up three times a loud shout in order to frighten the English; but they remained quite still, and did not seem to attend to' it. Then, advancing with their cross-bows presented, they began to shoot. The English archers then advanced one step forward, and shot their arrows with such force and quickness that it seemed as if it snowed. When the Genoese felt these arrows, which pierced their arms, heads and through their armour, they all turned about and retreated quite discomfited.

The King of France, seeing them thus fall back, cried out: 'Kill me those scoundrels, for they stop up our road without any reason!' You would then have seen the men-at-arms lay about them, killing all they could of these runaways.

As for the prince's battalion, early in the day some French, Germans and Savoyards had broken through the archers and had engaged with the men-at-arms. The first division, seeing the danger they were in, sent a knight in great haste to the King of England, who was posted upon a hill near a windmill.

ON the knight's approach, he said: "Sir, those who are about your son are hard pressed by the French, and they entreat that you would come to their assistance with your battalion, for if they should come in greater number they fear he will have too much to do."

The king replied: "Is my son dead, unhorsed or so badly wounded that he cannot support himself?"

"Nay, thank God," answered the knight, "but he is in so hot an engagement that he has great need of your help."

The king replied: "Now, Sir Thomas, go back to those that sent you, and tell them from me not to send again for me this day, nor expect that I shall come, let what will happen, as long as my son has life; and say that I command them to let the boy win his spurs, for I am determined, if it please God, that all the glory and honour of this day shall be given to him, and to those into whose care I have entrusted him."

The knight returned to his lords and related the king's answer, which mightily encouraged them. The battle, in the main, went hard against the French, and more and more. It was ended at the hour of vespers, and when it was over King Edward came down from his post and with his whole battalion advanced to the Prince of Wales, whom he embraced in his arms and kissed, and said, "Sweet son, God give you good perseverance. You are my son, for most loyally have you acquitted yourself this day. You are worthy to be a sovereign."

The prince bowed down very low and humbled himself, giving all honour to the king his father. The English, during the night, made thanks-givings to the Lord for the happy issue of the day, and without rioting; for the king had forbidden all riot.





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