The Chronicler of European Chivalry

The Chronicler of European Chivalry

The Chronicler of European Chivalry

The Chronicler of European Chivalry

Excerpt

The ordinary man will take his History, in common with much else, largely on trust: and this for two reasons. He must begin to learn it long before he is equipped to question it; and, thereafter, he may quite possibly remember or forget it without ever discovering the inclination, or the need, to examine the evidence for what was never allowed to seem in doubt. For, History is the memory of mankind, and the desire to be remembered has more in common with an ambition to be believed, than with a devotion to accuracy. After all, men do not remember and record things because they are true, but because they are memorable.

As a civilisation develops, becomes more elaborate and feels itself to be more secure, its attitude towards the past develops with it and undergoes a transformation so radical as to seem completely revolutionary. In times of great hazard, the vital necessity is to recall to those generations in whose keeping the future lies, what stature their ancestors were of, and what manner of blood is in their own veins. The historic past is the weight behind the cutting edge of the present. In periods of greater security, however, there flourish the scientific historians, whose concern it is to establish the truth, however fatal to the heroic figures of the past, however uninspiring to their descendants.

Froissart, himself, stands at a point of history which might well have seemed a prelude to disaster. Medieval Christendom had always existed under a menace. The wave of Islam had already engulfed the Holy Places, and was, in the end, to break over the Capital of the East and spend itself at the very gates of Vienna. Nor was it finally turned back from Spain into Africa, until the Middle Ages were at an end. More than that, in Froissart's own lifetime, the Black Death had devastated the world, and Feudal institutions were cracking under the resulting strain. Peasants were in revolt and were crushed back into serfdom. Whole country-sides were laid waste in the wars, cities were sacked and their inhabitants given to the sword. The Western Church was rent in twain: there was a Pope at Avignon and a Pope at Rome, and doctrines held necessary to salvation by them both were beginning to be called in question in England and in Bohemia. He saw mad kings and boy kings on the thrones of England and France, and faction attended, in both countries, by treachery and murder. The Renaissance was on its way.

In such times Froissart set himself to write the Chronicles to the end that no notable exploit of a man's doing should remain unchronicled, if he could hear of it. He writes, it is true, to recommend himself to a patron; but he writes, also, to 'praise famous men.' This is the heart of the matter. Froissart is concerned with the greatness of men in times of stress, with marvels and . . .

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