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THE LIFE OF MONSTRELET ;
AN ESSAY ON HIS CHRONICLES,
BY M. DACIER.
MATERIALS for the biography of Monstrelet are still more scanty than for that of Froissart. The most satisfactory account both of his life and of the continuators of his history is contained in the “ Mémoires de l'Académie de Belles-Lettres," vol. xliii. p. 535, by M. Dacier :
“We are ignorant of the birthplace of Enguerrand de Monstrelet, and of the period when he was born, as well as of the names of his parents. All we know is, that he sprang from a noble family, which he takes care to tell us himself, in his introduction to the first volum e of the Chronicles ; ad his testimony is confirmed by a variety of original deeds, in which his vame is always accompanied with the distinction of 'noble man,' or 'esquire*:
“ According to the historian of the Cambresis, Monstrelet was descended from a noble fainily settled in Ponthieu from the beginning of the twelfth century, where one of his ancestors, named Enguerrand, possessed the estate of Monstrelet in the year 1125,-but Carpentier does not name his authority for this. A contemporary historian (Matthieu de Couci, of whom I shall have occasion to speak in the course of this essay), who lived at Peronne, and who seems to have been personally acquainted with Monstrelet, positively asserts that this historian was a native of the county of the Boulonnois, without precisely mentioning the place of his birth. This authority ought to weigh much : besides, Ponthien and the Boulonnois are so near to each other that a mistake on this point might easily have happened. It results from what these two writers say, that we may fix, his birthplace in Picardy.
"M. l'abbé Carlier, however, in his ‘History of the Duchy of Valois,' claims this honour for his province, wherein he has discovered an ancient family of the same name,-a branch of which, he pretends, settled in the Cambresis, and he believes that from this branch sprung Enguerrand de Monstrelet. This opinion is advanced without proof, and the work of Monstrelet itself is sufficient to destroy it. He shows so great an affection for Picardy, in
• These deeds, and the greater part of others quoted M. Mutte, dean of Cambray, to M. do Funcemagne, who in theso memoirs, are preserved in the Chartulary of lent them to M. Dacier. Cambray. Extracts from them were communicated by
divers parts of his Chronicle, that we cannot doubt of his being strongly attached to it: he is better acquainted with it than with any other parts of the realm : he enters into the fullest details concerning it: he frequently gives the names of such Picard gentlemen, whether knights or esquires, as had been engaged in any battle, which he omits to do in regard to the nobility of other countries,-in the latter case naming only the chief commanders. It is almost always from the bailiff of Amiens that he reports the royal edicts, letters missive, and ordinances, &c., which abound in the two first volumes. In short, he speaks of the Picards with so much interest, and relates their gallant actions with such pleasure, that it clearly appears that he treats them like countrymen.
“Monstrelet was a nobleman then, and a nobleman of Picardy; but we have good reason to suspect that his birth was not spotless. John le Robert, abbot of St. Aubert in Cambray from the year 1432 to that of 1469, and author of an exact journal of everything that passed during his time in the town of Cambray and its environs, under the title of 'Mémoriaux*,' says plainly, ' qu'il fut né de bas,'-—which term, according to the glossary of Du Cange, and in the opinion of learned genealogists, constantly means a natural son ; for at this period bastards were acknowledged according to the rank of their fathers. Monstrelet, therefore, was not the less noble ; and the same John le Robert qualifies him, two lines higher, with the titles of noble man' and 'esquire,' to which he adds a eulogium, which I shall hereafter mention ;-because, at the same time that it does honour to Monstrelet, it confirms the opinion I had formed of his character when attentively reading his work.
“My researches to discover the precise year of his birth have been fruitless. I believe, however, it may bo safely placed prior to the close of the fourteenth century; for, besides speaking of events at the beginning of the fifteenth as having happened in his time, he states positively, in his Introduction, that he had been told of the early events in his book (namely, from the year 1400), by persons worthy of credit, who had been eye-witnesses of them. To this proof, or to this deduction, I shall add, that under the year 1415, he says, that he heard (at the time) of the anger of the count de Charolois, afterwards Philippe le bon, duko of Burgundy, because his governors would not permit him to take part in the battle of Azincourt. I shall also add, that under the year 1420, he speaks of the homage which John duke of Burgundy paid the king of the Romans for the counties of Burgundy and of Alost. It cannot be supposed that he would have inquired into such particulars, or that any one would have taken the trouble to inform him of them if he had not been of a certain age, such as twenty or twenty-five years old, which would fix the date of his birth about 1390 or 1395.
“No particulars of his early years are known, except that he evinced, when young, a love for application, and a dislike to indolence. The quotations from Sallust, Livy, Vegetius, and other ancient authors, that occur in his Chronicles, show that he must have made some progress in Latin literature. Whether his love for study was superior to his desire of military glory, or whether a weakly constitution, or some other reason, prevented him from following the profession of arms, I do not find that he yielded to the reigning passion of his age, when the names of gentleman and of soldier were almost synonymous.
“ Tho wish to avoid indolence by collecting the events of his time, which he testifies in the introduction to his Chronicles, proves, I think, that he was but a tranquil spectator of then. Had he been an Armagnac or a Burgundian, he would not have had occasion to seek for solitary occupations; but what proves more strongly that Monstrelet was not of
* They are preserved in Ms. by the regular canons of St. Aubert in Cambray.
either faction is the care he takes to inform his readers of the rank, quality, and often of the names of the persons from whose report he writes, without ever boasting of his own testimony. In his whole work he speaks but once from his own knowledge, when he relates the manner in which the Pucelle d'Orléans was made prisoner before Compiégne ; but he does not say, that he was present at the skirmish when this unfortunate heroine was taken: he gives us to understand the contrary, and that he was only present at the conversation of the prisoner with the duke of Burgundy,--for he had accompanied Philip on this expedition, perhaps in quality of historian. And why may not we presume that he may have done so on other occasions, to be nearer at hand to collect the real state of facts which he intended to relate ?
“ However this may be, it is certain that he was resident in Cambray when he composed his history, and passed there the remainder of his life. He was indeed fixed there, as I shall hereafter state, by different important employments, each of whicli required the resi. dence of him who enjoyed them. From his living in Cambray, La Croix du Maine has concluded, without further examination, that he was born there; and this mistake has been copied by other writers.
“Monstrelet was married to Jeanne de Valbuon, or Valhuon, and had several children by her, although only two of them were known,-a daughter called Bona, married to Martin de Beulaincourt, a gentleman of that country, surnamed the Bold, and a son of the name of Pierre. It is probable that Bona was married, or of age, prior to the year 1438 ; for in the register of the officiality of Cambray, towards the end of that year, is an entry, that Enguerrand de Monstrelet was appointed guardian to his young son Pierre, without any mention of his daughter Bona. It follows, therefore, that Monstrelet was a widower at that period.
“In the year 1436, Monstrelet was nominated to the office of Lieutenant du Gavenier of the Cambresis, conjointly with Le Bon de Saveuses, master of the horse to the duke of Burgundy, as appears from the letters patent to this effect, addressed by the duke to his nephew the count d’Estampes, of the date of the 13th May in this year, and which are preserved in the chartulary of the church of Cambray.
" It is even supposed that Monstrelet had for some time enjoyed thig office ; for it is therein declared, that he shall continue in the receipt of the Gavène, as he has heretofore done, until this present time. “Gave,' or 'Gavène' (I speak from the papers I have just quoted), signifies in Flemish, a gift or a present. It was an annual due payable to the duke of Burgundy, by the subjects of the churches in the Cambresis, for his protection of them as earl of Flanders. From the name of the tribute was formed that of Gavènier, which was often given to the duke of Burgundy, and the nobleman he appointed his deputy was styled Lieutenant du Gavènier. I have said the nobleman whom he appointed,' because in the list of those lieutenants, which the historian of Cambray has published, there is not one who has not shown sufficient proofs of nobility. Such was, therefore, the employment with which Monstrelet was invested; and shortly after, another office was added to it, that of bailiff to the chapter of Cambray, for which he took the oaths on the 20th of June, 1436, and entered that day on its duties. He kept this place until the beginning of January, in the year 1440, when another was appointed.
“I have mentioned Pierre de Monstrelet, his son ; and it is probable that he is the person who was a made a knight of St. John of Jerusalem in the month of July, in 1444, although the acts of the chapter of Cambray do not confirm this opinion, nor specify the Christian name of the new knight by that of Pierre. It is only declared in the register, that the canons, as an especial favour, on the 6th of July, permitted Enguerrand de Monstrelet, esquire, to have his son invested with the order of St. John of Jerusalem, on Sunday the 19th of the same month, in the choir of their church.
“The respect and consideration which he had now acquired, gained him the dignity of governor of Cambray, for which he took the usual oath on the 9th of November; and on the 12th of March, in the following year, he was nominated bailiff of Wallaincourt. He retained both of these places until his death, which happened about the middle of July, in the year 1453. This date cannot be disputed : it was discovered in the seventeenth century by John le Carpentier, who has inserted it in his ‘History of the Cambresis. But in consequence of little attention being paid to this work, or because the common opinion has been blindly followed, that Monstrelet had continued his history to the death of the duke of Burgundy in 1467, this date was not considered as true until the publication of an extract from the register of the Cordeliers in Cambray, where he was buried * Although this extract fully establishes the year and month when Monstrelet died, I shall insert here what relates to it from the Mémoriaux' of John le Robert, before mentioned, because they contain some circumstances that are not to be found in the register of the Cordeliers. When several years of his history are to be retrenched from an historian of such credit, authorities for so doing cannot be too much multiplied. This is the text of the abbot of St. Auburt, and I have put in italics the words that are not in the register :--
“ The 20th day of July, in the year 1453, that honourable and noble man Enguerrand de Monstrelet, esquire, governor of Cambray, and bailiff of Wallaincourt, departed this life, and was buried at the Cordeliers of Cambray, according to his desire. He was carried thither on a bier covered with a mat, clothed in the frock of a Cordelier friar, his face uncovered : six flambeaux and three chirons, each weighing three-quarters of a pound, were around the bier, whereon was a sheet thrown over the Cordelier frock. Il fut nez de bas, and was a very honourable and peaceable man. He chronicled the wars which took place in his time in France, Artois, Picardy, England, Flanders, and those of the Gantois against their lord duke Philip. He died fifteen or sixteen days before peace was concluded, which took place toward the end of July, in the year 1453.'
“I shall observe, by the way, that the person who drew up this register assigns two different dates for the death of Monstrelet, and in this he has been followed by John le Robert. Both of them say, that Monstrelet died on the 20th of July; and, a few lines farther, add, that he died about sixteen days before peace was concluded between duke Philip and Ghent, which was signed about the end of the month : it was, in fact, concluded on the 31st. Now, from twenty to thirty-one, we can only reckon eleven days; and I therefore think, that one of these dates must mean the day of his death, and the other that of his funeral ;-namely, that Monstrelet died on the 15th and was buried on the 20th. The precise date of his death is, however, of little importance : it is enough for us to be assured that it took place in the month of July, in 1453, and consequently that the thirteen last years of his history, printed under his name, cannot have been written by him. I shall examine this first continuation of his history, and endeavour to ascertain the time when Monstrelet ceased to write ;—and likewise attempt to discover whether, during the years immediately preceding his death, some things have not been inserted that do not belong to him.
* “This extract was published by M. Villaret in tlic xiith vol. of his Histoire de France, edition in 12mo. p. 119."
“Before I enter upon this discussion of his work, I shall conclude what I have to say of him personally, according to what the writer of the register of the Cordeliers and the abbot of St. Aubert testify of him. He was, says each of them,' a very honourable and peaceable man ;' expressions that appear simple at first sight, but which contain a real eulogium, if we consider the troublesome times in which Monstrelet lived, the places he held, the interest he must have had sometimes to betray the truth in favour of one of the factions which then divided France, and caused the revolutions the history of which he has published during the life of the principal actors. I have had more than one occasion to ascertain that the two above-mentioned writers, in thus painting his character, have not flattered him.
“ The Chronicles of Monstrelet commence on Easter-day *, in the year 1400, when those of Froissart end, and extend to the death of the duke of Burgundy in the year 1467. I have before stated, that the thirteen last years of his chronicle were written by an unknown author,
-and this matter I shall discuss at the end of this essay. In the printed as well as in the manuscript copies, the chronicle is divided into three volumes, and each volume into chapters. The first of these divisions is evidently by the author : his prologues at the head of the first and second volumes, in which he marks the extent of each conformable to the number of years therein contained, leave no room to doubt of it.
“His work is called Chronicles; but we must not, however, consider this title in the sense commonly attached to it, which merely conveys the idea of simple annals. The chronicles of Monstrelet are real history, wherein, notwithstanding its imperfections and omissions, are found all the characteristics of historical writing. He traces events to their source, develops the causes, and traces them with the minutest details; and what renders these chronicles infinitely precious is, his never-failing attention to report all edicts, declarations, summonses, letters, negotiations, treaties, &c. as justificatory proofs of the truth of the facts he relates.
“ After the example of Froissart, he does not confine himself to events that passed in France: he embraces, with almost equal detail, the most remarkable circumstances which happened during his time in Flanders, England, Scotland, and Ireland. He relates, but more succinctly, whatsoever he had been informed of as having passed in Germany, Italy, Hungary, Poland : in short, in the different European states. Some events, particularly the war of the Saracens against the king of Cyprus, are treated at greater length than could have been expected in a general history.
“Although it appears that the principal object of Monstrelet in writing this history, was to preserve the memory of those wars which in his time desolated France and the adjoining countries, to bring into public notice such personages as distinguished themselves by actions of valour in battles, assaults, skirmishes, duels and tournaments, and to show to posterity that his age had produced as many heroes as any of the preceding ones,—he does not fail to give an account of such great political or ecclesiastical events as took place during the period of which he seemed only inclined to write the military history. He relates many important details respecting the councils of Pisa, Constance, and of Basil, of which the
• “ The text of Monstrelet is Pâques Communiaux. p. 224. It is a receipt from Anthony de Waevrans, This expression has seemed to some learned men to be esquire, châtelain of Lille, with this date,— the 2d of equally applicable to Palm as to Easter Sunday. M. April, on the vigil of Pâques communiaux avant la Secousse, in a note on these words, which he has added to cierge benit, in the year 1490. The circumstance of page 480 of the ninth volume of Ordinances, reports both the paschal taper clearly shows it to have been written on opinions, without deciding on either. But tho senso is Holy Saturday, which fell that year on the 2d of April, absolutely determined as to Easter-day in this passage of since Easter-day of 1491 was on the 3d of the annue Monstrelet, and in a paper quoted by Du Chesne, among month.-See l'Art de Vérifier les Dates.' the proofs to the genealogy of the houno of Montmorenci,