Significance and Impact of Fernão Lopes's Chronicles

Probably written between 1434 and 1449, these chronicles span a period of West European history from 1357 to 1411. This is a period of turmoil in Europe, with the Hundred Years War, the Great Schism, waves of plague and famine, abandoned fields, economies in crisis and successive currency devaluations. All these significant events affected Portugal, but more so owing to its alliance with England and its rivalry with Castile. The Treaty of Windsor (1386) brought Portugal to a center-stage position in Europe through a marriage alliance with Philippa of Lancaster, the daughter of John of Gaunt, while bringing him and his army to the Iberian Peninsula, to defend Portuguese interests against Castile, but also to claim the Castilian crown in the name of his wife Constanza. Lopes offers insights on events and negotiations from perspectives not found in other contemporary chroniclers.
          Whenever and wherever emissaries, armies, tradesmen and goods circulate, there is also a circulation of ideas, literature, fashions, military strategies, and coins, among sundry other subjects and areas of knowledge that have found their way into Lopes’s chronicles. In other words,  they provide interesting material to Medieval Studies in areas such as History and Philosophy of History, Politics, Military Studies, Social Studies, Women Studies, Literature, Economy, Medieval Medicine, Agriculture and Land Administration, to name a few.
          Lopes’s chronicles are indeed a wealth of information on the period. He discusses his concern for the truth as an historian ahead of his age, searching through and commenting on a vast number of national and foreign documents. Nevertheless, while describing momentous events, he does not lose sight of the plight of the common people. He presents scenes in motion, with dialogues reflecting the emotions of those involved. We hear of military strategies being discussed, but which also include health concerns for the soldiers. We watch the people of Lisbon rushing through the streets answering the call to save the Master of Avis. We learn details of the ravages of hunger during the siege of Lisbon in 1384 and how it affected the city dwellers through great pain and distortion of their bodies. We even hear the voice of the children begging for a tiny piece of bread during the famine, or how, once he was acclaimed King of Portugal, they rushed to welcome the Master of Avis to Coimbra, riding on lengths of cane as if they were hobby-horses. This degree of detail on medieval life is not easily found in the chronicles of his better-known counterparts, the Castilian Pero López de Ayala and Jean Froissart, the chronicler of medieval France.
          Unfortunately, until now there was no complete translation of Fernão Lopes’s chronicles into English. In 1988, D. Lomax and R. J. Oakley published an anthology with sections of Lopes’s chronicles referring to the presence of the English in Portugal in a volume with the same name, The English in Portugal 1367-87 (Warminster: Aris & Phillips). This, however, represents barely twenty per cent of the full text.
          For many years, fellow Lopesian scholars felt the frustration of knowing that his work could make a significant contribution to many areas of the Humanities among the academic community if only it could be published in English, the lingua franca of our age. Anglo-American scholars will now have easy access to the content of Lopes’s chronicles. The same can be said of scholars of other nationalities who use English as a working language.

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