Chronicles of England: Jean Froissart

It fell out, most happily, that on my journey thither, at the city of Pamiers, I met a knight attached to the Count de Foix, called Sir Espaign du Lyon. He was a prudent and valiant knight, handsome in person, and about fifty years of age. I introduced myself to his company, as he had a great desire to know what was doing in France. We were six days on the road travelling to Orthez.

As we journeyed, the knight, after saying his orisons, conversed the greater part of the day with me, asking for news; and when I put any questions to him, he very willingly answered them. Moreover, as we passed castles and towns, he related to me the feats of arms that he knew had been the means of their capture by one lord from another, or by the French from the English, and again how the English had had the better hap.

Indeed, all the histories of Sir Espaign du Lyon gave me such satisfaction and delight I thought the road was much too short. And each night, as soon as we dismounted at our inns, I wrote all down, whether it was late or early, that posterity might have the advantage of it, for there is nothing like writing for the preservation of events. So, therefore, often riding at our leisure so that we might the better entertain ourselves with talk, we came at last to Orthez.

The knight informed the Count de Foix of my arrival, and I was instantly sent for; for he is a lord above all others who delights to see strangers in order to hear news. On my entering he received me handsomely, and retained me of his household, where I staid upwards of twelve weeks well entertained, as were my horses.

Our acquaintance was strengthened by my having brought with me a book which I had made at the desire of Wenceslaus of Bohemia, Duke of Luxembourg and Brabant. In this book, called Le Meliador, are contained all the songs, ballads, roundelays and virelays which that gentle duke had composed, and of them I had made this collection. Every night after supper I read out to him parts, during which time neither he nor anyone else spoke, for he was desirous I should be well heard, and took much delight in it.

I shall relate to you several things respecting him and his household, for I tarried there as long as I could gain any information. Count Gaston Phoebus de Foix, of whom I am now speaking, was at that time fifty-nine years old; and I must say that, though I have seen very many knights, kings, princes and others, I have never seen any so handsome, either in the form of his limbs or in countenance.

He was so perfectly formed one could not praise him too much. He loved earnestly the things he ought to love, and hated those which it was becoming him so to hate. He was a prudent knight, full of enterprise and wisdom. He had never any men of abandoned character with him, reigned prudently, and was constant in his devotions. He had every day distributed as alms, at his gate, five florins in small coin to all comers. He was liberal and courteous in his gifts; and well knew how to take when it was proper and to give back where he had confidence. He was easy of access to all, and entered very freely into discourse, though laconic in his advice and in his answers.

In such manner did the Count de Foix live. When he quitted his chamber at midnight for supper, twelve servants bore each a large lighted torch before him, which were placed near his table and gave a brilliant light to the apartment. The hall was full of knights and squires, and there were plenty of tables laid out for any person who chose to sup.

In short, everything considered, though I had been in several courts, I was never at one which pleased me more, nor was I ever more delighted with feats of arms than at this of the Count de Foix. There were knights and squires to be seen in every chamber, hall and court, going backwards and forwards, and conversing on arms and amours. Everything honourable was there to be found. All intelligence from distant countries was there to be learnt, for the gallantry of the count had brought visitors from all parts.

It was there I was informed of the greater part of those events which had happened in Spain, Portugal, Arragon, Navarre, England, Scotland and on the borders of Languedoc; for I saw, during my residence, knights and squires arrive from every nation. I therefore made inquiries from them, or from the count himself, who cheerfully conversed with me. Thus to my great pleasure, and mightly to the profit of this history, I abode there a while.


IN truth I, Sir John Froissart, treasurer and canon of Chimay, had now a great desire to go and see the kingdom of England: more especially since a truce had been concluded for four years, on sea and land, between France, England and their allies.

Several reasons urged me to make this journey, but principally because in my youth I had been educated at the court of King Edward, of happy memory, and that good lady, Phillippa, his queen, with their children, and others of the barons of those times, and was treated by them with all honour, courtesy and liberality. I was anxious, therefore, to visit that country, for it ran in my imagination that if I once saw it again, I should live the longer.

I had taken care to form a collection of all the poetry on love and morality that I had composed during the last twenty-four years, which I had caused to be fairly written and illuminated.

And being desirous to pay my respects to King Richard of England and his uncles, I had provided myself with my book of poesy, finely ornamented, bound in velvet, and decorated with silver-gilt clasps and studs, as a present for the king.

Thus, in the year of grace 1395, I crossed into England. There I found friends who, after a time, were able to introduce me to the king, and I presented the book to him in his chamber. He opened and looked into it with much pleasure. He then asked me what the book treated of; I replied, "Of love!" He was pleased with the answer, and dipped into several places, reading parts aloud, for he read and spoke French perfectly well, and then gave me many acknowledgements for it.

It happened this same Sunday, after the king had received my book so handsomely, that an English squire, called Henry Castide, a man of prudence and character, made acquaintance with me, having learnt that I was a historian. He asked me if I had chanced to hear an account of the late expedition to Ireland; and since I had not, was willing to tell it me, that I might insert it in my history.

Henry Castide thus began.

"It is not in the memory of man that any king of England ever led so large an armament of men-at-arms and archers, to make war on the Irish, as the present king. He remained upwards of nine months in Ireland, at great expense, which, however, was cheerfully defrayed by his kingdom; for his subjects thought it was well laid out when they saw their king return home with honour.

"To tell you the truth, Ireland is one of the worst countries to make war in, or to conquer; for there are such impenetrable and extensive forests, lakes and bogs, there is no knowing how to carry on war advantageously. The Irish are a very hardy race, of great subtlety, and of various tempers, paying no attention to any gentleman, although their country is governed by kings, but desires to remain in the savage state they have been brought up in.

"True it is that four of the most potent kings have submitted to the King of England, but more through love and good humour than by battle or force. This was considered by everyone as a great acquisition, and the object of the armament accomplished; for during the whole of King Edward's reign, of happy memory, he never had such success as King Richard. The honour is great, but the advantage little, for with such savages nothing can be done."

He further related to me matters concerning Ireland, so that I was moved to speak thus.

"Sir Henry, I readily believe you. But I should like to ask you one thing, which has much surprised me: I should like to know how these four Irish kings have so readily submitted to King Richard. You have said it was brought about by a treaty and the grace of God: the grace of God is good, and of infinite value to those who can obtain it; but we see few lords nowadays augment their territories otherwise than by force."

To this he answered: "In truth, I cannot more fully explain how it was brought about, but it is generally believed that the Irish were greatly frightened at the large force the king landed in Ireland, being much greater than any force that King Edward had ever sent there, because his armies were ever engaged in other wars. Moreover, the Irish had great reverence for Saint Edward, King of England and lord of Ireland and of Aquitaine; and when our king went thither, he bore the arms of Saint Edward on his banners. This, we heard, was very pleasing to the Irish, and inclined them more to submission, for their ancestors had done homage to Saint Edward.

"Thus I have related to you how our king accomplished the object of his expedition to Ireland, so that when you have returned home you may insert it in your chronicle."

"Henry," said I, "you have well spoken, and it shall be done."

All these things, therefore, I retained in my memory, and put on paper, so that they are now written in my history, which, I know well, shall be read by posterity.

Return to Outline of Great Books Volume I