It’s summer. I have reading time. I’m reading about the Middle Ages. One piece is a classic modern history of the Late Middle Ages, written by famous Dutch historian Johan Huizinga. Another is a contemporary history, written by a man named Jean Friossart. He was a writer attached to several aristocratic courts in England and France, most famous for his history of the 14th century wars between the French and English. He functioned as something like official chronicler later in his life.
I’m as interested in the biographies of writers as much as I am about their writings. Froissart’s writings tell me what happened in the 14th century. His biography – what there is of it – tells me how a writer would live in the 14th century. He chose early in life to try to make it as a writer. What that looks like in the 1300s is writing poems for prominent ladies and hoping for gifts and recognition. Eventually, one hoped for some sort of benefice or appointment that would provide regular income.
Apparently, his service as chronicler or historian were most valuable to his patrons. He produced four volumes about the second half of the 14th century, and the wars that became known later as the Hundred Year’s War. He brought significant craft to the work, and it made his name for centuries afterward. He’s one of the great medieval historians. It isn’t what he imagined for himself, as he wrote his courtly poems for Philippa of Hainault, (Hainault being his homeland), Philippa, also Queen of England. But this is the value of knowing biography, understanding how works of literature are the meeting of imagination and circumstance.