Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Great Frieslander

In the 1390s Friesland (Frisia) in the Netherlands was, if we are to believe the chronicler Froissart, some kind of republic. It had no lord and refused to submit to the Count of Holland, Zealand, and Hainault, who claimed the region and launched more than one expedition to make good that claim.

Says Froissart,
We will ...speak of the Frieslanders, who, as I was informed, had been long acquainted with duke Albert's intention of marching against them with a powerful army. They held many councils on the subject, and determined to combat their enemies at the very moment of their landing; for they said they should prefer death with liberty, to being slaves; and would never quit the battle while alive. They also resolved not to accept of ransoms for any person, however high his rank, but to put their prisoners to death, or keep them in banishment from their own countries.
This unwillingness to ransom noble prisoners marked them apart from most of the rest of Europe, and defeated Frieslanders were slaughtered in the same spirit by the lords, knights and squires who sought to conquer them.

But I do have to wonder about "the great Frieslander:"
Among these was a Frieslander of high birth and renown: he was of great strength and stature, for he was taller by a head than all his countrymen. His name was Yves Jouvere; but the Hollanders, Zealanders and Hainaulters called him "The great Frieslander." This valiant man had gained much reputation in Prussia, Hungary, Turkey, Rhodes and Cyprus, where he had performed such deeds of valour that he was much spoken of.
That Froissart says he was "of high birth" doesn't count for much with me. I am fascinated by his renown. Yves Jouvere had acquired a reputation by touring to all the usual crusading fronts that footloose, ambitious young nobles frequented. When he went to such places, how did he present himself, and how was he received?

Image at the top: a modern view of Friesland.


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