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Thomas Gray to Norton Nicholls, 24 February 1771

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To The Revd Mr Nicholls at Blundeston near Leostoff Suffolk by Norwich

Dear Sr

Your Friend Jean Froissart, Son of Thomas by profession a Herald-painter, was born at Valenciennes in Haynault about the year 1337. was by nature fond of every noble diversion, as hunting, hawking, dress, good-cheer, wine, & women (this latter passion commenced at 12 years old) and was in his own time no less distinguish'd by his gallant poesies (still preserved in Mss) than by his historical writings, wch he begun at the desire of Robert de Namur, Seigneur de Beaufort, when he was barely 20 years of age. at 24 he made his first voyage into England, & presented the first part of his history to Edw: the 3d's Queen, Philippa of Haynault, who appointed him Clerk of her chamber, that is, Secretary, by wch he became one of the Houshold in that Court. after the death of this Queen in 1369 he had the Living of Lessines in his own country given him, & must then consequently be a Priest. he attach'd himself to Wenceslaus of Luxemburg, Duke of Brabant, who dying in 1384, he became Clerk of the Chappel to Guy Comte de Blois, who probably gave him a canonry in the collegiate Church of Chimay near Marienbourg in the county of Haynault. he also had obtain'd of the Pope a reversion of another canonry in the Church of Lisle; but of this he never could get possession. after 27 years absence from England he made a third voyage thither in 1395, & stay'd in it only 3 months. his Patron Guy de Blois died in 1397, & Froissart survived him certainly 4 years, but how much more is uncertain. these & many more particulars are taken from the account of his life & writings collected by Mons: de la Curne de St Palaye, in 10 Tome of the Mem: de l'Acad: des Inscript:ns &c: where you may see much more about him. the same Author defends him strongly against the suspicions, that have been entertain'd, of his partiality to the English Nation.

A Man at arms was a complicated machine, consisting of about seven Men, i:e: the Knight or Gentleman himself compleatly & heavily arm'd & mounted on his great war-horse caparison'd & arm'd as strongly as the Rider: the rest were his Esquires rather meant to assist him & watch his motions in the combat, than to engage in action themselves. all of them were (as I apprehend) on horseback, & thus taken together, made the principal strength & principal expence of armies in those days. Ecuyers were the sons of Gentleman, train'd up in quality of Pages till 12 years old (commonly not in their Father's Castle, but in that of some famous Knight, his Friend) after wch age they assumed the title of Esquires, were exercised daily in feats of arms & curtesy, attended the person of their Lord at home & abroad, and at 21 were qualified to receive themselves the order of knighthood. read the same St Palaye's Mem: de l'ancienne Chevalerie, 2 v: 8vo. 1759, Paris. if you would have me say any thing to T: you must remind me, what period of time he enquired about, for my memory fails me.

You may be sure of a month's notice from me, if I undertake the voyage, wch seems to me next to impossible. I received a letter from B:n last night, wch mentions you kindly, & seems very desirous, we should come this summer. what you m[entio]n of herrings I know not: I have never seen or heard of them!

Monstrelet reaches from A:D: 1400 to 1467, & there are additions at the end of him, that come down to 1516. it is a splendid & very substantial Folio, publ:d in 1572.

Adieu! my respects to Mrs. Nicholls.
Letter ID: letters.0623 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 54
Addressee: Nicholls, Norton, c. 1742-1809
Addressee's age: 29[?]


Date of composition: 24 February 1771
Date (on letter): 24 Feb: 1771
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: [Cambridge, United Kingdom]
Place of addressee: Blundeston, United Kingdom

Physical description

Form/Extent: A.L.; 3 pages
Addressed: To The Revd Mr Nicholls at Blundeston near Leostoff Suffolk by Norwich (postmark: CAMBRIDGE)


Language: English
Incipit: Your Friend Jean Froissart, Son of Thomas by profession a Herald-painter,...
Mentioned: Bonstetten, Charles Victor de, 1745-1832
Monstrelet, Enguerrand de
Ste.-Palaye, Jean Baptiste la Curne

Holding Institution

College Library, Eton College , Windsor, UK <>
Availability: The original letter is extant and usually available for academic research purposes; bound into a copy of Mathias's Works of Thomas Gray (London, 1814), vol. II, part 2; a photocopy is at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, OSB MSS c 467, box 1, folder 105

Print Versions

  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, letter XXXVI, vol. v, 127-129
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, including the correspondence of Gray and Mason, 3 vols. Ed. by Duncan C. Tovey. London: George Bell and Sons, 1900-12, letter no. CCCLXXVIII, vol. iii, 303-304
  • Correspondence of Thomas Gray, 3 vols. Ed. by the late Paget Toynbee and Leonard Whibley, with corrections and additions by H. W. Starr. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971 [1st ed. 1935], letter no. 543, vol. iii, 1166-1168