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The True Chronicles of Jean le Bel, 1290 - 1360

The True Chronicles of Jean le Bel, 1290 - 1360

Translated by Nigel Bryant
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 296
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    The True Chronicles of Jean le Bel, 1290 - 1360
    Book Description:

    The chronicles of Jean le Bel, written around 1357-60, are one of the most important sources for the beginning of the Hundred Years' War. They were only rediscovered and published at the beginning of the twentieth century, though Froissart begins his much more famous work by acknowledging his great debt to the 'true chronicles' which Jean le Bel had written. Many of the great pages of Froissart are actually the work of Jean le Bel, and this is the first translation of his book. It introduces English-speaking readers to a vivid text written by a man who, although a canon of the cathedral at Liège, had actually fought with Edward III in Scotland, and who was a great admirer of the English king. He writes directly and clearly, with an admirable grasp of narrative; and he writes very much from the point of view of the knights who fought with Edward. Even as a canon, he lived in princely style, with a retinue of two knights and forty squires, and he wrote at the request of John of Hainault, the uncle of queen Philippa. He was thus able to draw directly on the verbal accounts of the Crécy campaign given to him by soldiers from Hainault who had fought on both sides; and his description of warfare in Scotland is the most realistic account of what it was like to be on campaign that survives from this period. If he succumbs occasionally to a good story from one of the participants in the wars, this helps us to understand the way in which the knights saw themselves; but his underlying objective is to keep 'as close to the truth as I could, according to what I personally have seen and remembered, and also what I have heard from those who were there.' Edward may be his hero, a 'gallant and noble king', but Le Bel tells the notorious story of his supposed rape of the countess of Salisbury because he believed it to be true, puzzled and shocked though he was by his material. It is a text which helps to put the massive work of Jean Froissart in perspective, but its concentrated focus and relatively short time span makes it a much more approachable and highly readable insight into the period.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-986-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-xii)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  4. [Maps]
    (pp. xiv-xxii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    This title is not Le Bel’s own. It’s a quote from the far more famous chronicler Jean Froissart, who in his very first pages acknowledged his debt to Le Bel by declaring:

    I wish to base my work on the example of the true chronicles previously written and assembled by that venerable and astute gentleman Jean le Bel, canon of Saint-Lambert¹ at Liège. He applied great care and diligence to the task, which he continued throughout his life with all the precision that he could. It cost him a good deal to acquire the information, but he neither cared nor...

  6. Prologue
    (pp. 21-22)

    Anyone who wishes to read and hear the true history of the noble and valiant King Edward, presently reigning in England, should read this little book I’ve begun, and ignore the great book written in verse that I’ve seen and read, which some imaginative soul has concocted in rhyme,¹ full of nonsense and wild invention: the first part of it, down to the beginning of the war that the said king undertook against King Philip of France, is littered with errors and lies. Thereafter it’s a mixture of truth and falsehood, with a good deal of contrivance and repetition to...

    (pp. 22-34)

    Before I begin, it should be noted that it’s a commonly held view among the English – and it’s often been seen in England since the days of King Arthur – that between two worthy English kings there has always been one of less wisdom and prowess. Such is the case with the noble King Edward, now reigning, on whose account this history is begun; for the truth is that the good king his grandfather, Edward by name,¹ was wise, worthy, bold, enterprising and most fortunate in war: he had much to do against the Scots and conquered them three or four...

    (pp. 34-52)

    After Sir John of Hainault had left young King Edward and my lady the Queen, the king and lady governed the land with the guidance of the Earl of Kent and Lord Roger Mortimer, who had great estates in England, the revenue from his lands being fully eight thousand pounds (at a penny to the denier).² Both these lords had been in exile with the Queen and the young king as recounted above. They often sought the advice, too, of Sir Thomas Wake and a number of others accounted the wisest in England, though this caused resentment in some quarters....

    (pp. 52-54)

    After the Scots, as you’ve heard, slipped away by night from the mountain where the king and the English lords were besieging them, they rode twentytwo leagues from that wild place without stopping, and crossed the Tyne near Carlisle and returned to their own land next day and all set off for home. Fairly soon after, a number of lords and worthy gentlemen negotiated on behalf of the King of England and his council and the Scottish king, and agreed a truce to last for a term of three years.

    It was in this time of truce that King Robert...

    (pp. 54-59)

    Now you have heard how a truce was soundly established between the kings of England and Scotland, and how the Scottish king passed from this world having commissioned and instructed the worthiest lord of his kingdom to carry his heart to the Holy Sepulchre because his body couldn’t make the journey, and how Sir James Douglas set out on this pilgrimage and how he and all his company were killed. Now I shall turn to another story: that is, of King Charles of France, uncle of the young King Edward of England, for it is relevant to our main theme....

    (pp. 59-65)

    After King Edward, still in his youth, had administered these two most notable executions and confined the Queen his mother as you’ve heard, he formed a new council of the wisest and most respected men in all his land and governed with great distinction, maintaining peace in the realm with their sound guidance. And he arranged frequent jousts and tournaments and assemblies of ladies, and won great respect throughout his kingdom and great renown in every land. He continued this noble rule during the period of truce between himself and the kingdom of Scotland. But when this truce expired, he...

    (pp. 65-95)

    After the noble King Edward of England had won back the fine city of Berwick as you’ve heard, and laid waste all the lowlands of Scotland and posted guards and garrisons everywhere he pleased and joyfully returned to his kingdom, he was so loved and honoured by all his people, great and small alike, for the high nobility of his deeds and words and for his great heart and glorious festivities and assemblies of ladies and damsels, that everyone said he was King Arthur.

    He now held frequent discussions with his closest advisers, deciding how to respond to the great...

  13. 1340–58
    (pp. 95-108)

    As it would be wrong to forget the adventures that took place in distant lands while these wars were being waged, I don’t want to overlook the great adventure and good fortune that befell the King of Spain² in his battle in Castile against the Saracens, and all Christendom should forever thank Our Lord for the wondrous power He manifested then. Know, then, that in the year of grace 1340, in the month of September, three Saracen kings were besieging a fine and mighty city in the kingdom of Castile named Tarifa, which stood beside the sea or very near....

    (pp. 108-118)

    I’ve taken a little break from my main theme; now I’ll return to the noble history of the worthy King Edward of England and continue where I left off, at the raising of the siege of Tournai in the month of August¹ in the year of grace 1340. The siege was ended thanks to a truce agreed between the two kings; but it wasn’t well observed, especially by those in distant parts such as gascony and Saintonge and the Toulousain, where supporters of the King of France and the King of England kept fighting and winning cities and strongholds from...

    (pp. 118-128)

    Now I shall return to the noble history of the valiant King Edward of England, to tell what befell him after the siege of Tournai, for I’ve said nothing about him for a long while. You earlier heard, if you remember, how he conquered all Scotland as far as the great forest called Jedburgh,² the refuge of the wild Scots because the forest is so bewildering and full of vast bogs that no one dares venture in unless he knows the ways and tracks. Then, before beginning his war with King Philip of France, he continued his conquest, leaving no...

    (pp. 128-153)

    As you’ve heard, the Duke of Normandy, the Duke of Bourbon, the Duke of Burgundy, the Count of Blois, Lord Louis of Spain, the Constable of France¹ and the other French lords had left Brittany after they’d taken the mighty castle of Champtoceaux and then the city of Nantes and captured the Count of Montfort and delivered him to King Philip of France, who had imprisoned him in the Louvre at Paris; and Lord Charles of Blois had stayed quietly at Nantes and in the surrounding country which was now obedient to him, waiting for the summer, a better season...

    (pp. 153-156)

    Now I shall relate, if I can, the adventures and deeds of arms that took place in Gascony, Saintonge and Poitou, for they are no less admirable than those I’ve recounted thus far. But first I shall speak of the great King Edward, who was filled with all noble qualities: I never heard a base thing said of him – except one, of which I shall speak now, to which he was driven by the power of Love.

    You have earlier heard how he left Brittany and returned to England after agreeing a truce – it was to last for two years...

    (pp. 157-167)

    Now I’ll return to the great feast at Windsor. It was a magnificent affair with splendid jousting, attended by a vast host of ladies and damsels and lords and knights and squires. And it witnessed the creation and establishment of a noble company of knights deemed truly worthy;¹ it was modelled upon the Round Table, but I can’t describe it in detail so I’ll leave it at that.

    To this feast at Windsor came new embassies to the king from the city of Bordeaux and the lords of Gascony, requesting help and reinforcements. So before the feast was done he...

    (pp. 167-208)

    Some people, when they hear this story read, may wonder why I call the King of England ‘the noble King Edward’ but the French king simply ‘King Philip of France’; they might well imagine I’m biased or partisan. Saving the grace of all listeners, it’s not a question of taking sides; I do this to honour the one who behaved most nobly in this story, and that’s King Edward, who cannot be honoured too highly, for in all his deeds he always followed sound advice, and loved his men and knights and squires, and honoured each man according to his...

    (pp. 209-222)

    Not long after the adventure in which King Edward saved the castle at Calais from treachery, the Queen of France – King Philip’s wife and sister to the Duke of Burgundy – passed from this world. So too did the lady Bonne, wife of the Duke of Normandy and daughter of the most worthy and noble-hearted king who ever lived, the King of Bohemia. I don’t know which of these two ladies died first, though many people say it was lady Bonne – I’m not sure why or if they’re right.¹ In any event, the father and son were both widowed fairly soon...

    (pp. 222-231)

    It’s only right that I should tell you how the Prince of Wales fared in Gascony and Languedoc, where his father King Edward had sent him. He gathered to him so many Gascon knights and squires that he had a force of two thousand heavy cavalry, including those he’d brought with him from England, and ten thousand brigandines³ on foot. He set out from Bordeaux, entered that part of Gascony that supported the French, and advanced right across it, burning and destroying a swathe five leagues wide, until he was almost at the city of Toulouse. He waited there for...

    (pp. 231-247)

    At the very same time, a knight known as ‘the Archpriest’ gathered together a great company of men-at-arms from all countries who realised they would have no more pay and wages now that King John was a prisoner. They didn’t know where to go to make money in France, so they headed for the county of Provence, where they seized castles and well-fortified towns and plundered far and wide right down to Avignon and beyond, led only by the aforementioned knight.¹ The Pope and all the cardinals residing then in Avignon were in such alarm that they didn’t know what...

    (pp. 247-262)

    It’s high time I returned to the story of the noble King Edward, of whom I’ve said nothing for a good while. He had King John of France and the greatest of the French nobility as his prisoners, and was letting the brigands terrorise and wreck the whole kingdom as you’ve heard, in the hope that it would either bring the war to a successful end or peace on his terms.

    Now, around Pentecost in the year 1359, the two cardinals sent to England by the Pope to broker peace between the kings, from whose conflict the whole of Christendom...

  24. Index
    (pp. 263-272)
  25. Back Matter
    (pp. 273-273)