Jean Froissart was born in Valenciennes in c.1337. His chronicles are an important source for information on his life, of which little is known otherwise. When he was 24, he became court poet and historian to Philippa of Hainault, the wife of the English king Edward III. He traveled around Great Britain, Flanders, France and Spain. After Philippa’s death he returned to Valenciennes, where he was employed by Johanna of Brabant. He died around 1405.
Froissart’s chronicles roughly describe the events of the first half of the Hundred Years’ War, beginning with Edward III’s coronation in London in 1326. Froissart took Jehan le Bel’s earlier chronicle on the beginning of the war as a basis for his own. Like its example, Froissart’s chronicle is in prose; Jehan le Bel had scornfully remarked that poets would every now and then violate the truth in favour of a good rhyme. Book I of the chronicles was finished in 1373. The KB manuscript contains the second version (‘redaction’) of that first book. The books II, III and IV contain the events up to 1385, 1388 and 1400 respectively. The KB also has a Dutch translation of Book III from c.1450 (131 B 21).
The manuscript was produced in Paris in the first decade of the fifteenth century. Its illuminations were made by the Virgil Master, whose name derives from two manuscript containing works by Virgil that he illuminated. On the first leaf of the actual text of the chronicles, a frame has been painted in which the four most important European rulers have been portrayed: Edward III, king of England, Alfonso XI, king of Leon and Castilia, Philippe VI, king of France and Willem III, count of Holland and Hainault. In the margin decorations, savages hold the coats of arms of the kings; their helmets are shown by the four women in the corners. The large coat of arms at the bottom of the page was added almost a century after the manuscript was produced: it is that of the then owner, Philips of Cleve.
This manuscript of Froissart’s Chronicles stems from the Stadtholders’ Library, which in 1798 was the founding collection of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek. The last Stadtholder, Willem V, had inherited the book from his father who had bought it at the auction of the Frisian Orange library in 1749. It had been in the Orange-Nassau library since Henry of Nassau had bought it from the estate of Philips of Cleve in 1531. When the KB was founded in 1798, the manuscript was not in the Netherlands; the French had taken it to Paris in 1795. In 1816 it was returned, and it has been in The Hague ever since.
A digital edition of Froissart’s Chronicles is being produced at the universities of Sheffield and Liverpool, based on a large number of manuscripts. The Online Froissart project shows digitized manuscripts next to transcriptions of the French text and an English translation.