Hundred Years War Manuscripts Come To Royal Armouries Leeds

By Caroline Lewis | 13 December 2007
medieval illustration of men in armour coming at each other on a bridge with pikes thrust forward

Courtesy Royal Armouries / University of Sheffield

Our relations with the French aren’t too bad these days, but they have been rather frosty in the past. In fact, eating a baguette for lunch was probably as good as treason during the active moments of the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453).

It was a time when steel clashed against steel and Joan of Arc heeded God's word to drive the English out of Orléans, and kings dreamt of extending their realm over the English Channel (or La Manche).

To allow inhabitants of the 21st century to immerse themselves in the action of those days, The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds has used new technology to bring medieval style war reportage alive in an innovative exhibition.

The Chronicles of Froissart: from conflict to co-operation (running until April 6 2008) features rare and wonderfully illustrated 14th and 15th century manuscripts from libraries across Europe, some of which have been digitised especially.

part of a medieval manuscript with an illuminated initial

Courtesy Royal Armouries / University of Sheffield

The key manuscript, The Chronicles of Froissart, is on show in the flesh. The Chronicles were composed between 1356 and 1400 by Jehan (John Froissart), and are regarded as one of the most significant works of late medieval French literature. Thought to have been brought to England by Sir John Arundell after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the Chronicles blend historical record, memoir and war reporting on the major Anglo-French conflict.

Complementing the Chronicles (on loan from Stonyhurst College library, Lancashire) are folios from six more digitised manuscripts. They are usually held in libraries around Europe and are only available to researchers, and have never before been assembled in a single location.

A specially developed e-learning interactive allows visitors to discover the pages of these manuscripts in the exhibition. ‘Kiosque’ has been created by Sheffield-based company Tribal, in partnership with the University of Sheffield, and combines maps and stories from the Chronicles with interactive tours of all the manuscripts, as well as a tool for viewing high resolution photographs of the folios in all their colourful detail.

The manuscripts date from about 1410-1414 and were copied and decorated in Paris, with miniatures by the skilled medieval artists Giac and Boethius Masters. It’s wonderful chance to see the works, which remain a prime source for historians.

screenshot of a computer game with a medieval theme

Courtesy Royal Armouries / University of Sheffield

Professor Peter Ainsworth, Head of the Department of French at Sheffield University, has spent two years working on the exhibition.

“Whilst steel was clashing on steel on the battlefields of northern France, copyists and painters in the French capital were quietly producing miracles of the bookmaker’s art,” he said. “It is our hope that their extraordinary work will find new admirers and fresh appreciation through this exhibition.”

Some of the new admirers will surely be attracted by the specially devised Hundred Years War computer game, Capture the Castle, which you can play at the exhibition (regardless of age). Contemporary arms and armour are also on show, plus a programme of events including sword fights will add that Hundred Years War je ne sais quoi!

“Froissart’s theme may be conflict between two emerging nations, but our exhibition celebrates the friendship we enjoy with several French, Belgian and UK libraries, without whose sympathetic cooperation we could never have produced such a rich and colourful exhibition,” said Prof Ainsworth.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned: