A MEDIEVAL MYSTERY - by Noel C. Brindley



There are three highly detailed hunting scenes described by the poet. Sir John Chandos was a notable hunter, a man familiar with all the traditions and rules of the medieval hunt as detailed in the poem.

Chandos had something of a reputation as a huntsman as no less an authority than Gaston Febus requested to see his dogs while negotiating the status of his estates with the Black Prince. (Dr. David Green)

Febus in a letter to the Black Prince, suggests that the Prince gather 'all of Chandos' hounds and as many as you can have (and all others you can get) and I shall show you something of my knowledge (of the hunt)' - Vernier. They were to meet at Augouleme or Perigueux - Barber.

Gaston Febus obviously had a great respect for Sir John Chandos, especially as a huntsman, it appears his collection of hunting dogs drew particular attention from the Count of Foix. Chandos had hunted with the Black Prince in Wirral at Shotwick Park and also Macclesfield forest in 1353, on his visit to Cheshire. It was at this time he was made Keeper and Surveyor of the Cheshire forests of Wirral, Macclesfield and Delamere. Froissart also explains that Chandos had lost an eye to a stag in the forests of Bourdeaux, c1365. 

Gaston Febus, the Count of Foix, was regarded as the greatest medieval huntsman, also a Warrior, Negotiator and Patron of Music. He was author of Livre de la chasse (Book of the Hunt), it was later translated into English by Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York.

Sir John Chandos had many of the qualities of Febus. According to Froissart Sir John Chandos and Gaston Febus had a great respect for each other as they " loved each other for their great deeds". Chandos was also a notable negotiator as It was believed by many Frenchmen, that if he had survived, he would have been the only one who could have brokered a peace between England and France.

Chandos also negotiated with Febus, the traversing of his lands in the Pyrenees for the free companies entering Spain. The Free Companies had been required, by the Black Prince, to join his army to do battle against Enrique of Trastamara's forces at Najera in 1367. Sir John Chandos and Gaston Febus, Count of Foix had met many times - from, Sir John Chandos, The Perfect Knight by Stephen Cooper: Chandos was in Agen on 12 January 1364 when the Prince took the homage of Gaston Phoebus, Count of Foix. The proceedings were held in the parlement chamber of the House of the Friars Preacher, and although the Prince was present in person, the record shows that it was Chandos who was the spokesman and master of ceremonies.

In May 1366, when Pope Urban V wanted the Prince to make peace with Gaston Phoebus, Count of Foix, he sent the Archbishop of Toulouse to see the Prince and wrote to Chandos and others, asking them to assist.

The Count of Foix in 1367, was doing his best to prevent the mercenaries from crossing the Western Pyrenees into Aquitaine. Once again, the Prince had to call on Chandos’s diplomatic skills:
The Prince sent Chandos to meet and retain [the Companies]; and to assure the Count of Foix of his affection, and that he would pay double the amount of damage which [the Companies] might do in his territory. Chandos, out of his love for the Prince, took these messages and left Bordeaux, and rode to the city of Dax in Gascony, and then into Foix, where he found the Count. He spoke to him so wisely and courteously that he soon reached a provisional agreement, to allow free passage through his country.

Chandos returned to the Count of Foix and asked him, tactfully, if he would indeed allow the Companies to pass through one of the corners of his land. The Count of Foix, who wanted to please the Prince... agreed, provided that they did no damage to him or his lands. Chandos agreed to this, and sent one of his knights and a herald back to the Companies, telling them that the treaty
between him and the Count was concluded; and he returned to the Principality. He found the Prince in Bordeaux and related his journey and how he had fared. The Prince, who trusted him and held him in high regard was well content with the outcome.
The Prince had good reason to feel pleased with the progress which his servant had made. Chandos Herald tells us that Sir John recruited fourteen Companies altogether.

Sir Hugh Calveley was a 7ft+ giant in charge of these companies whose men were described as the 'Dogs of War'. Calveley had also been in charge of the reserve division of the forces of Jean de Montfort, under the command of Sir John Chandos, at the battle of Auray in 1364. Calveley was a noteable Captain of the Hundred Years War. It is interesting that the Cheshireman/Cestrian Sir Hugh Calveley, has been likened to the Green Knight, his tomb effigy at St. Boniface, Bunbury, is 7ft 4in tall.

The tomb of Sir Hugh Calveley of Cheshire “who gladly smites with his sword” according to Chandos's Herald (photo: N C Brindley)

St. Boniface, Bunbury, Cheshire (photo: N C Brindley)



It is possible that the Gawain poet may have been an under-forester, a supervisor of the hunt. This is not improbable as a literate man, a John le clerc, was an under-forester to Richard Done, Master Forester of Delamere, in 1351. The following entry is from Appendix II. to the thirty-sixth report of the deputy keeper of the public records, No. 1. - Welsh Records: Recognizance Rolls of Chester. July 30th 1351 – Richard Done, forester of Mara (Delamere), Hugh de Frodesham, John le Clerc, Robert Hikkeden, Robert son of Richard son of Philip, and Thomas son of Robert de Frodesham, under-foresters, warrant for a pardon to, for the death of Robert Cosyn, killed by them in the execution of their office.
This information is also contained in Ormerod's History of Cheshire vol. II: killing of Robert Cosyn, taken in the act of slaying one of the deer, and having refused to surrender - Records in Chester Exchequer, Rot. 23, 2

Sir John Chandos also had a love of music as explained by Froissart - in August, 1350, the king of England, Edward III, had mustered a fleet to engage the Spanish, off Winchelsea at the naval Battle of Les Espagnols sur Mer ("the Spanish on the Sea"), or the Battle of Winchelsea. The battle was a victory for an English fleet commanded by Edward III, with the Black Prince, over a Castilian fleet commanded by Don Carlos de la Cerda. Prior to the battle Edward stood on the prow of his ship, wearing a hat of beaver fur ‘which suited him very well’. At hand were several knights of the Garter, a new company of chivalry with its home at Windsor. King Edward was in good spirits; indeed he wanted music. He commanded his minstrels to pipe a certain ‘German dance’ that one of the knights, Sir John Chandos, had newly brought from Germany, and to add to the merriment he bade Sir John to sing it, ‘taking great delight therefrom’.

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Refs: The Household and military Retinue of Edward the Black Prince by Dr David Green -Account of Master John de Burnham the Younger, Chamberlain of Chester, by Booth and Carr - Lord of the Pyrenees: Gaston Fébus, Count of Foix 1331-1391 by Richard Vernier, p.68 - The Black Prince By Richard Barber, p.187 - Froissarts Chronicles.

by Noel C Brindley - May 2012

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