The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.
§ 6. The Chronicles of Froissart
Lord Berners was peculiarly well fitted to execute this translation. He had himself been active at the siege of Terouenne and on the Field of the Cloth of Gold, where Henry VIII regarded himself as, in some sort, reviving the glories of old; he had visited the Spanish court of Charles V and knew something of that of France. He so thoroughly entered into the spirit of his original as to make his work rather an adoption than a translation. In his hands history is still near akin to fiction, but rather to the heroic romance than to the well worn marvels of ancient chronicles. If these remind us of Gesta Romanorum or of Sir John Mandeville, Froissart, in the dress of Berners, may be paralleled with Malory. Sir John of Hainault champions the cause of queen Isabel as would a knight of Arthur; and from orthodox romance comes the fancy picture of Bristol, the well closed city on the good port ofthe sea, which beats round its strong castle. While the old chronicles are wearisome, Berners conveys all the vigour and freshness of Froissart in his descriptions and conversations. Both the human interest and the chronicler’s personal attitude towards it are preserved. Berners is in full sympathy with Froissart’s aristocratic spirit, which places the violence of a duke of Britanny or a count of Foix on a plane above criticism though not beyond sympathy, and bestows a contemptuous pity on the crestfallen burghers of Bruges and a lofty disdain on the upstart pride of Ghent. In language, Berners follows the excellent method of earlier translators: “In that I have not followed myne authour worde by worde yet I trust I have ensewed the true reporte of the sentence of the mater.” And he varies his narration pleasantly by a not unskilful use of inversion.
But the Froissart of Bernes taught something further to the Tudor historians, of the value of well proportioned detail and occasional quotation of witness in impressing the sense of actuality. It can hardly be said that Hall and Holinshed, the most ambitious of Tudor historians, borrow much from Bernes in style; but it is evident that the new model influenced their aims and methods quite apart from its value as a new mine of information.