A Critical Analysis of the Sack of Limoges (1370) according to Jean Froissart

January 15, 2018 September 1st, 2019 Free Essays Online for College Students

The Battle of Limoges was Edward, the Black Prince’s final military action of his life and as a consequence has grave implications on how it was subsequently viewed as the one blemish on his otherwise glorious reputation1. It is used as an example of ‘butchery in medieval warfare and of the Black Prince’s cruelty’.2 Even though he was not infringing on chivalric code, ‘inherent inhuman viciousness has often been attributed to the Black Prince’ due to the actions carried out at Limoges. Which Barbara Emerson has stated does not fit with his pervious leadership style. At one point in the N�jera campaign, the Black Prince forbade Don Pedro to kill the townsfolk of a taken town.3 However we have to ask what about Limoges was cruel? Was it the supposed massacre that Froissart tells us it was? How was the Black Prince’s illness affecting his decision making and did he in fact remain chivalric throughout the campaign? For example there are now some major inconsistencies between what modern scholars and academics believe and what Froissart tells us. So the final question one has to ask is, can we still find use in Froissart as a historical source?

Froissart is one of the major contemporary sources for us in finding out about the life and actions of the Black Prince. Writing his chronicles in French, he uses other chroniclers for much of his work, Le Bel and so we must be wary to distinguish what was just Le Bel recited and what was added by Froissart from his own knowledge or his other sources.4 He used and relied upon the ‘reminiscences’ of the knightly group of men from both England and France as well as possibly using heralds such as Sir John Chandos who compiled a life of the Black Prince.5 He also had the benefit of meeting the Black Prince and being with him at certain points of his life, such as in the winter of 1366, in Aquitaine.6 Curry has written on Froissart that ‘there has been much academic debate over the nature, sources and reliability of his works.’7 However this surely is an issue for any chronicler of the time. The writer would have a patron and hence would write a history aimed at them with particular emphasis on attitudes, values and ideas that matched the patrons.

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Froissart is no different that other writers in shaping the bias and using selected content on what audience it was that he was writing for. This is why when using authors like Froissart we have to consider where the document has come from and who it was written for. It would be criminal not to do this for the reasons already stated. Palmer has written that one such example is that the Amiens Manuscript and all other versions of Book I from Froissart. In all other versions of the manuscript other than the Amiens version, certain chapters appear in all versions and likewise, there are chapters in the Amiens version that are not in any other form of the manuscript.8 Therefore, it is vital for a complete view on what Froissart makes of an event we look at several variations of it and compare just how they differ and consider who it was that was the patron of that manuscript was and how that in turn affected how it was written.

Despite his French origins, Froissart actually admired the Black Prince and so his account of the Sack of Limoges is interesting in painting the Black Prince in a very negative light. One view on this is the possibility that the important fact was that the Black Prince ‘ordered a pointless massacre’ rather than the number of dead.9 Even so Hubert Cole amongst others has suggested that Froissart multiplied the number of dead tenfold. Whereas Froissart gives the figure of ‘more than three thousand persons…’10 were killed, a contemporary local chronicler at the Saint Martial Abbey recorded that ‘The city was taken and burned and more than three hundred persons put to death’.11 If this is the figure, then it has been suggested that this number was less than the number estimated for the number of military militia.12 What is interesting on the matter of the amount of deaths is that some sources do not mention it at all. Both Papal and French records which have been said to have been ‘purely factual’ with the references to the destruction of property but neither have records with regards to the number of dead.13 In fact even the English chronicler, Walsingham does mention the inhabitant’s deaths, Edward and his forces ‘…killed all those he found there, a few only being spared their lives and taken prisoner.’14 So whilst Froissart is certainly not the only chronicler to tell of a vast massacre it is very telling that official records make no mention of it at all.

As aforementioned, with the sack of Limoges being the last military action in Aquitaine (as well as in his life), this very fact helps to contribute to that fact that his character is viewed in such a negative light. In fact it has been suggested that it was due to the sacking that the Black Prince got his name of ‘Black’. This can be seen in Froissart and one reason for this could be that this manuscript could have been written for a French patron. Palmer has written that the French, being the suppressed victims of the Black Prince within the early part of the Hundred Years’ War, has a point of view that is more ‘unreasonably’ hostile towards the English with a prime example being the sack of Limoges.15 Barber has suggested that this could have come from the French or Papal courts (Pope Gregory XI’s nephew, Roger de Beaufort had been taken captive at Limoges).16 However if it has, we are yet to find a record of it today, suggesting either it has been lost or it has come from elsewhere, if not from his own opinions.


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