A MEDIEVAL MYSTERY - by Noel C. Brindley

A poem dedicated to a great huntsman and warrior

10/05/2012 23:01

I believe the poem was written in memory of Sir John Chandos of Radbourne, Derbyshire, a founding knight of the garter who died on New Years Day, 1370. He was a great warrior, diplomat and Huntsman, much loved by King Edward III and the Black Prince.

There is a very informative online book, The Perfect Knight, Sir John Chandos. by Stephen Cooper. This book tells the story of Sir John Chandos, the Derbyshire knight who served the Black Prince. You can read it here: https://www.chivalryandwar.co.uk/Resource/Chandos.pdf

Sir John Chandos at the battle of Najera 1367

from - Medieval Warlords, Tim Newark, illustrated by Angus McBride


Along with Sir James Audley, Sir John Chandos was the closest friend and advisor to the Earl of Chester, the Black Prince. He was given by the Earl, the position of, Keeper of the forests of Cheshire, Wirral, Macclesfield and Delamere (refs. Booth & Carr and H. J. Hewitt, The Black Prince's expedition). The chief royal official was the Keeper/Warden a supervisory forest officer. As he was often an eminent and preoccupied magnate, his powers were frequently exercised by a deputy. He supervised the foresters and under-foresters, who personally went about preserving the forest and game and apprehending offenders against the law.

All these forests Gawain must have travelled through on his journey to the Green Chapel. Sir John Chandos was also made Chief forester of the forest of High Peak and constable of Peak castle, he held all these positions until his death in 1370. Peak castle was the administrative centre of the Forest of High Peak.
Of great significance to the poem is that Sir John Chandos was mortally wounded on Dec 31 1369 during a skirmish at Lussac Bridge and died from his wounds on January 1st 1370, this mirroring Gawains anticipated death at the hands of the Green Knight, on New Years Day. An Arthurian poem ending on New Years day, being suitably dedicated to one of Edward III's founding Garter Knights who, it appears, had the characteristics of a Gawain.
Froissart poured praises on Sir John Chandos throughout his chronicles and of his death wrote:
“God have mercy on this soul! for never since a hundred years did there exist among the English one more courteous, nor fuller of every virtue and good quality than him”.
“He was so much beloved by the king of England and his court, that they would have believed what he should have said in preference to all others”.
If Froissart is to be believed, Chandos's truthfulness had obviously been tested at some point in his career. Was Gawains test a reference to this?
The man obviously demanded a great respect, from friend or foe, which was reflected at the time of his death. 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 as he had the great respect of both sides.

Froissart's descriptions of Sir John could be of a Sir Gawain or a Bertilak. Froissart describes how, when he (Chandos) was appointed ‘regent and lieutenant of the King of England’ in 1361: '[He] kept a noble and great establishment; and he had the means of doing it; for the King of England, who loved him much, wished it should be so. He was certainly worthy of it; for he was a sweet-tempered knight, courteous, benign, amiable, liberal, courageous, prudent and loyal in all affairs, and bore himself valiantly on every occasion: there was none more beloved and esteemed by the knights and ladies of his time.'

Gawain Poem: For I am well aware, indeed, you are Sir Gawain, whom all the world honours;
wherever you ride, your honour, your courtesy is graciously praised by lords, by ladies, by all who live.

Froissart's physical description of Chandos
'Among the knights, Sir John Chandos shewed his ability, valorously fighting with his battle-axe: he gave such desperate blows, that all avoided him; for he was of great stature and strength, well made in all his limbs.'

There are many links to Sir John in this poem, apart from his foresterships, that are hard to ignore as being mere coincidences.


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There are three highly detailed hunting scenes described by the poet. 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 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 I shall show you something of my knowledge (of the hunt)'. (Richard Vernier).

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, Count of Foix - Warrior, Negotiator, Master of the Hunt, Patron of Music

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 as he had the great respect of both sides.

Chandos also negotiated with Febus, the traversing of his lands in the Pyrenees for the free companies entering Spain.

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’.

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 (p.68) - Froissarts Chronicles.

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It is mentioned in the poem that Sir Gawain had the Virgin Mary painted on the inside of his shield - And wherever this man found himself in battle, his earnest intent was on this, above all else: that he should get all his fortitude from the five joys that the gracious Queen of Heaven had in her Child. (For this reason the knight had her image fittingly painted on the inner side of his shield, so that when he glanced at it his courage never diminished.)

In a painting by Benjamin West Sir John Chandos is shown holding a shield with the Virgin Mary upon it.

The composition shows Edward, The Black Prince, receiving King John of France after the Battle of Poitiers. It was painted in 1788 for George III, to be hung in the Audience Chamber at Windsor Castle.

See this link: https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/eGallery/object.asp?category=276&object=407522&row=1382&detail=magnify

Description of the detail shown above - The principal figures is the PRINCE OF WALES: upon his helmet a plume of Ostrich feathers in a coronet, which was worn by the King of Bohemia in the battle of Cressy. JOHN LORD CHANDOS: his crest on his helmet, which is a Saracen's head proper, in profile bended sable: his shield Azure; on it the Virgin Mary Or, encompassed with the rays of the sun Argent.

The description of Chandos in the painting can be found in: The Beauties of England and Wales, Vol I by John Britton and Edward Wedlake.

The Web Gallery of Art says: The paintings by West must be seen as part of a revival of interest in the Middle Ages that was being pioneered by antiquarians such as Joseph Struttz and Francis Grose, to whose works the artist clearly referred for details of the arms, armour, and dress. For the historical narrative the primary sources in English were an early translation of the Chronicles (1325-1400) of Jean Froissart and the History of England (1754-62) by David Hume.

Froissart - Virgin Mary Or and/or bleue Dame?

The Virgin Mary or bleue Dame is mentioned before the battle of Poitiers as being an armorial device used by Chandos. Various references from other sources, Rev. George Shand, Joshua Barnes, M. J. Huxtable, all describe the Virgin Mary as being used by Chandos as one of his armorial devices used either on his shield or on his surcoat.

Sir John Froissart's Chronicles, Thomas Johnes translation, 1806 edition

It chanced, on that day, that Sir John Chandos had rode out near one of the wings of the French army, and Lord John de Clermont, one of the [French] King’s marshals, had done the same, to view the English. As each knight was returning to his quarters, they met. They both had the same device upon the surcoats which they wore over their other clothes; it was a Virgin Mary, embroidered on a field azure, or, encompassed with the rays of the sun argent.

Johnes Translation differs from earlier translations of the 16th century, such as Lord Berner's, as the Virgin Mary is described as being Or (gold) on a azure (blue) background. Berners described the image as a blue Madonna.

Thomas Johnes translation was published at the beginning of the19th century, nearly twenty years after Benjamin West's painting, West could not have used Johnes translation as reference for Chandos' golden Virgin Mary. Where did West get his information? Johnes had many historical manuscripts stored at his Hafod estate. Perhaps one of these documents, destroyed in a fire at Hafod in 1807, contained the information that the device used by Chandos, was a gold Virgin Mary.
Bloodied banners: martial display on the medieval battlefield by Robert W. Jones, p.24 refers to this incident and also believes it is a depiction of the Virgin Mary.

SHAND - Some Notices of the surname of SHAND

It is a somewhat remarkable circumstance that in the records of the office of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh, several coats of arms, in no respect resembling each other, are assigned to the name of Shand...................................The next coat of arms appropriated to the name Shand, in the registers of the Lyon office, is a very striking and beautiful escutcheon, viz., Azure in the Sun, the Virgin Mary with the Babe, all proper. To the entry is subjoined the following note, “see Randle Holmes Book, ii c 1, fig 45, for the manner of drawing.” It appears, as we shall see by and by, that in the times before the Reformation, there were several dignified ecclesiastics in the diocese of Aberdeen of the name Schand.
This fact, taken in connection with the peculiar nature of these armorial bearings themselves led us at one time to think that they might have been used by some of those individuals. But, on further enquiry, we are satisfied that this is really French heraldry, and that these bearings are the arms of the family of Chandos or Shandos, which, as is well known, produced several distinguished captains in the course of the long wars between the English and the French.


Golden Virgin Mary, symbol of the Garter Knights

The patrons of the order were:
first and chiefest elected, the Holy Trinity.
Secondly, the blessed Virgin Mary, accounted then the general mediatrix and protectress of all men.
King Edward IV (1461-70) was so strictly devoted, that he thought some additional ceremonies requisite to her farther honour, and thereupon ordained, that on her five solemnities the Knights Companions should annually (on the feast of St. George) wear the habit of the order as long as divine service was celebrating, bearing on the right shoulders of their robes a golden figure of the Virgin Mary.
This Virgin Mary, Or, as displayed a century earlier by Chandos may have had particular significance to the order.

Ken Polton, of Chanterye and The Lion Rampant (see refs) with an interest in the life of Sir John Chandos, believes that Chandos had the Virgin Mary painted on the lining of his shield. It would make sense that on occassion the virgin was depicted on his shield lining, as Chandos' main armourial device was a 'sharp pile gules on a field argent'.

Refs: Stephen Cooper, Sir John Chandos, The Perfect Knight - Brayley - Froissart - Of Device as Device: The Narrative Functioning of Armorial Displays in Froissart’s Chronicles by M. J. Huxtable, University of Durham - Rev George Shand, Norwich 1877, SHAND Some Notices of the surname of SHAND, particularly of the County of Aberdeen - Joshua Barnes, life of Edward III (1688) - https://www.lionrampant.uk.com/characters_chandos.htm

Read more: https://hautdesert.webnode.com/a-poem-in-memory-of-a-great-huntsmn-and-warrior/


by Noel C Brindley - May 2012

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