De Wavrin was born at the turn of the fifteenth century. Jean’s father was killed at Agincourt as was his brother. Jean having lost his family, and being an illegitimate descendent of the house of Artois, continued to fight alongside the French army until 1435 when he entered into the employment of the Duke of Burgundy who was an ally of the English. Eventually de Wavrin retired from a career as a professional soldier, married and settled down with a wife in Lille. It helped that she was a rich widow.
He was an avid book collector and amateur chronicler. In effect history was one of his hobbies. From 1445 onwards he began to write a chronicle of English history in four volumes which he finished in 1455 with the death of King Henry IV. Before long he commenced a fifth volume and continued writing about the history of England until 1471 by which time he was on his sixth volume.
Wavrin’s work was not undertaken for patronage and as such the work is not only extensive it is also uncritical. The period covering the Wars of the Roses is not so disinterested. It should be remembered that de Wavrin favoured the House of York because of his association with Burgundy and its alliance with the Yorkist kings. He even presented a copy of his history to Edward IV which can, today, be found in The British Library.
What makes the chronicle unique is that he knew the people that he was writing about and presents the Wars of the Roses from a European perspective. What’s not helpful is that he is not always accurate- perhaps in part because he was not a fan of the Lancastrians. My current interest comes from his description of the relationship between Edward IV, his brother George and the Earl of Warwick and the role played by the Woodville family in the breakdown of the family relationship.
He’s thought to be the illegitimate son of Robert Count de Wavrin who was legitimised by the Duke of Burgundy after a successful career fighting in the Hundred Years War commencing at the Battle of Agincourt. Being Burgundian he was an English ally.
He wrote a chronicle of English history to stave off boredom, so he claimed, after a successful career as a soldier and then a diplomat – and that’s the conundrum; was he simply someone seeking to fill his time or was there a more significant underlying message. Is he a Yorkist spin doctor? What makes the chronicle unique is that he knew the people and saw the Wars of the Roses from a European perspective. He’s not always accurate, take the Battle of Wakefield for example – he puts a spin on it that paints the Lancastrians in a none too positive light as well as using a bit of creative licence to explain the course of events. We know from the evidence of other chronicles that Sir Andrew Trollope’s plans to arrive at Sandal with men disguised as Yorkists then lure York into the open having won his confidence is an unlikely set of events.
What de Waurin does do is to describe people from first hand knowledge and try to explain reasons for their success or otherwise. Gransden uses the example of Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. He observes that although she is descended from the St Pol family and that her mother had been the Duchess of Bedford that her father was a mere knight and that she herself was a widow with two children. He explains that for these two reasons Edward’s counsellors were signally unamused by Edward’s marriage to her. He also explores the reasons behind the Earl of Warwick’s power and prestige.
Interestingly de Waurin knew Antony Woodville (Elizabeth Woodville’s brother) as well as the Earl of Warwick. Woodville fancied himself as a patron of the arts and its perhaps not surprising that de Waurin’s lavishly illustrated chronicles contain images of Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville and also an image of himself presenting his book to Edward IV – the king’s copy can be found in the British Library these days. It is from de Waurin that we learn about the political shenanigans at court between the Woodvilles and the likes of Warwick and the Duke of Clarence.
De Waurin’s chronicle which covers English history drawing on earlier chronicles explores the reigns of Edward II and Richard II amongst others. He finishes in 1471 when Edward and his line looked to be secure on the throne.
Gransden, Antonia (1997). Historical Writing in England: c. 1307 to the early sixteenth century London: Routledge