1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lebel, Jean

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LEBEL, JEAN (d. 1370), Belgian chronicler, was born near the end of the 13th century. His father, Gilles le Beal des Changes, was an alderman of Liége. Jean entered the church and became a canon of the cathedral church, but he and his brother Henri followed Jean de Beaumont to England in 1327, and took part in the border warfare against the Scots. His will is dated 1369, and his epitaph gives the date of his death as 1370. Nothing more is known of his life, but Jacques de Hemricourt, author of the Miroir des nobles de Hesbaye, has left a eulogy of his character, and a description of the magnificence of his attire, his retinue and his hospitality. Hemricourt asserts that he was eighty years old or more when he died. For a long time Jean Lebel (or le Bel) was only known as a chronicler through a reference by Froissart, who quotes him in the prologue of his first book as one of his authorities. A fragment of his work, in the MS. of Jean d’Outremeuse’s Mireur des istores, was discovered in 1847; and the whole of his chronicle, preserved in the library of Châlons-sur-Marne, was edited in 1863 by L. Polain. Jean Lebel gives as his reason for writing a desire to replace a certain misleading rhymed chronicle of the wars of Edward III. by a true relation of his enterprises down to the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War. In the matter of style Lebel has been placed by some critics on the level of Froissart. His chief merit is his refusal to narrate events unless either he himself or his informant had witnessed them. This scrupulousness in the acceptance of evidence must be set against his limitations. He takes on the whole a similar point of view to Froissart’s; he has no concern with national movements or politics; and, writing for the public of chivalry, he preserves no general notion of a campaign, which resolves itself in his narrative into a series of exploits on the part of his heroes. Froissart was considerably indebted to him, and seems to have borrowed from him some of his best-known episodes, such as the death of Robert the Bruce, Edward III. and the countess of Salisbury, and the devotion of the burghers of Calais. The songs and virelais, in the art of writing which he was, according to Hemricourt, an expert, have not come to light.

See L. Polain, Les Vraies Chroniques de messire Jehan le Bel (1863); Kervyn de Lettenhove, Bulletin de la société d’émulation de Bruges, series ii. vols. vii. and ix.; and H. Pirenne in Biographie nationale de Belgique.