The chronicles of Jean le Bel, written around 1352-61, are one of the most important sources for the beginning of the Hundred Years' War. They were only rediscovered and published at the beginning of the twentieth century, though Froissart begins his much more famous work by acknowledging his great debt to the "true chronicles" which Jean le Bel had written. Many of the great pages of Froissart are actually the work of Jean le Bel, and this is the first translation of his book. It introduces English-speaking readers to a vivid text written by a man who, although a canon of the cathedral at Liege, had actually fought with Edward III in Scotland, and who was a great admirer of the English king. He writes directly and clearly, with an admirable grasp of narrative; and he writes very much from the point of view of the knights who fought with Edward. Even as a canon, he lived in princely style, with a retinue of two knights and forty squires, and he wrote at the request of John of Hainault, the uncle of queen Philippa. He was thus able to draw directly on the verbal accounts of the Crecy campaign given to him by soldiers from Hainault who had fought on both sides; and his description of warfare in Scotland is the most realistic account of what it was like to be on campaign that survives from this period. If he succumbs occasionally to a good story from one of the participants in the wars, this helps us to understand the way in which the knights saw themselves; but his underlying objective is to keep "as close to the truth as I could, according to what I personally have seen and remembered, and also what I have heard from those who were there". Edward may be his hero, a "gallant and noble king", but Le Bel tells the notorious story of his supposed rape of the Countess of Salisbury because he believed it to be true, puzzled and shocked though he was by his material.
It is a text which helps to put the massive work of Jean Froissart in perspective, but its concentrated focus and relatively short time span makes it a much more approachable and highly readable insight into the period.