kids encyclopedia robot

François Villon facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Quick facts for kids
François Villon
Stock woodcut image, used to represent François Villon in the 1489 printing of the Grand Testament de Maistre François Villon
Stock woodcut image, used to represent François Villon in the 1489 printing of the Grand Testament de Maistre François Villon
Born c. 1431
Paris, France
Died after 1463 (aged 31–32)
Occupation Poet, thief
Language Middle French
Education master's degree
Alma mater University of Paris

François Villon (Modern French: [fʁɑ̃swa vijɔ̃], IPA: [frɑ̃nˈswɛ viˈlɔ̃n]; c. 1431 – after 1463) is the best known French poet of the Late Middle Ages. He was involved in criminal behavior and had multiple encounters with law enforcement authorities. Villon wrote about some of these experiences in his poems.



Villon was born in Paris in 1431. One source gives the date as 19 April, 1432 [O.S. April 1, 1431] .

Early life

Villon's real name may have been François de Montcorbier or François des Loges: both of these names appear in official documents drawn up in Villon's lifetime. In his own work, however, Villon is the only name the poet used, and he mentions it frequently in his work. His two collections of poems, especially "Le Testament" (also known as "Le grand testament"), have traditionally been read as if they were autobiographical. Other details of his life are known from court or other civil documents.

From what the sources tell us, it appears that Villon was born in poverty and raised by a foster father, but that his mother was still living when her son was thirty years old. The surname "Villon," the poet tells us, is the name he adopted from his foster father, Guillaume de Villon, chaplain in the collegiate church of Saint-Benoît-le-Bétourné and a professor of canon law, who took Villon into his house. François describes Guillaume de Villon as "more than a father to me".

Student life

Villon became a student in arts, perhaps at about twelve years of age. He received a bachelor's degree from the University of Paris in 1449 and a master's degree in 1452. Between this year and 1455, nothing is known of his activities. The Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1910-1911) says "Attempts have been made, in the usual fashion of conjectural biography, to fill up the gap with what a young graduate of Bohemian tendencies would, could, or might have done, but they are mainly futile."

Le Testament, 1461

The next date for which there are recorded whereabouts for Villon is the summer of 1461; Villon wrote that he spent that summer in the bishop's prison at Meung-sur-Loire. His crime is not known, but in Le Testament ("The Testament") dated that year he inveighs bitterly against Bishop Thibault d'Aussigny, who held the See of Orléans. Villon may have been released as part of a general jail-delivery at the accession of King Louis XI and became a free man again on 2 October 1461.

In 1461, he wrote his most famous work, Le Testament (or Le Grand Testament, as it is also known).

In the autumn of 1462, he was once more living in the cloisters of Saint-Benoît.

Banishment and disappearance

In November 1462, Villon was imprisoned for theft. He was taken to the Grand Châtelet fortress that stood at what is now Place du Châtelet in Paris. In default of evidence, the old charge of burgling the College of Navarre was revived. No royal pardon arrived to counter the demand for restitution, but bail was accepted and Villon was released. However, he fell promptly into a street quarrel. He was arrested and condemned to be executed, although the sentence was commuted to banishment by the parlement on 5 January 1463.

Villon's fate after January 1463 is unknown. Rabelais retells two stories about him which are usually dismissed as without any basis in fact. Anthony Bonner speculated that the poet, as he left Paris, was "broken in health and spirit." Bonner writes further:

He might have died on a mat of straw in some cheap tavern, or in a cold, dank cell; or in a fight in some dark street with another French coquillard; or perhaps, as he always feared, on a gallows in a little town in France. We will probably never know.


Sida ur Villons stora testamente kb stockholm
A page from Villon's Le grand testament. Kungliga biblioteket in Stockholm, Sweden.

Le Petit Testament, also known as Le Lais, was written in late 1456. The work is an ironic, comic poem that serves as Villon's will, listing bequests to his friends and acquaintances.

In 1461, at the age of thirty, Villon composed the longer work which came to be known as Le grand testament (1461–1462). This has generally been judged Villon's greatest work, and there is evidence in the work itself that Villon felt the same.

Besides Le Lais and Le grand testament, Villon's surviving works include multiple poems. Sixteen of these shorter poems vary from the serious to the light-hearted. An additional eleven poems in thieves' jargon were attributed to Villon from a very early time, but many scholars now believe them to be the work of other poets imitating Villon.


Statue of Francois Villon in Utrecht
Statue in Utrecht

Villon was a great innovator in terms of the themes of poetry and, through these themes, a great renovator of the forms. He understood perfectly the medieval courtly ideal, but he often chose to write against the grain, reversing the values and celebrating the lowlifes destined for the gallows, falling happily into parody or jokes, and constantly innovating in his diction and vocabulary; a few minor poems make extensive use of Parisian thieves' slang. Still Villon's verse is mostly about his own life, a record of poverty, trouble, and trial which was certainly shared by his poems' intended audience.

Villon's poems are sprinkled with mysteries and hidden jokes. They are peppered with the slang of the time and the underworld subculture in which Villon moved. His works are also replete with private jokes and full of the names of real people – rich men, royal officials, lawyers, and policemen – from medieval Paris.

English translation

Complete works

George Heyer (1869–1925; father of novelist Georgette Heyer) published a translation in 1924. Oxford University Press brought out The Retrospect of Francois Villon: being a Rendering into English Verse of huitains I TO XLI. Of Le Testament and of the three Ballades to which they lead, transl. George Heyer (London, 1924). On 25 December 1924 it was reviewed in The Times Literary Supplement, p.886 and the review began "It is a little unfortunate that this translation of Villon should appear only a few months after the excellent rendering made by Mr. J. Heron Lepper. Mr. Heyer's work is very nearly as good, however: he makes happy use of quaint words and archaic idioms, and preserves with admirable skill the lyrical vigour of Villon's huitains. It is interesting to compare his version with Mr. Lepper's: both maintain a scholarly fidelity to the original, but one notes with a certain degree of surprise the extraordinary difference which they yet show." George Heyer was a fluent and idiomatic French speaker and the French and English are printed on opposite pages. The book also contains a number of historical and literary notes.

John Heron Lepper [Wikidata] published a translation in 1924. Another translation is one by Anthony Bonner, published in 1960. One drawback common to these English older translations is that they are all based on old editions of Villon's texts: that is, the French text that they translate (the Longnon-Foulet edition of 1932) is a text established by scholars some 80 years ago.

A translation by the American poet Galway Kinnell (1965) contains most of Villon's works but lacks six shorter poems of disputed provenance. Peter Dale's verse translation (1974) follows the poet's rhyme scheme.

Barbara Sargent-Baur's complete works translation (1994) includes 11 poems long attributed to Villon but possibly the work of a medieval imitator.

A new English translation by David Georgi came out in 2013. The book also includes Villon's French, printed across from the English. Notes in the back provide a wealth of information about the poems and about medieval Paris. "More than any translation, Georgi's emphasizes Villon's famous gallows humor...his word play, jokes, and puns".


Translations of three Villon poems were made in 1867 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. These three poems were "central texts" to Rossetti's 1870 book of Poems, which explored themes from the far past, mid-past, and modern time. Rossetti used "The Ballad of Dead Ladies"; "To Death, of his Lady"; and "His Mother's Service to Our Lady".

American poet Richard Wilbur, whose translations from French poetry and plays were widely acclaimed, also translated many of Villon's most famous ballades in Collected Poems: 1943–2004.

Where are the snows of yesteryear?

The phrase "Where are the snows of yester-year?" is one of the most famous lines of translated poetry in the English-speaking world. It is the refrain in The Ballad of Dead Ladies, Dante Gabriel Rossetti's translation of Villon's 1461 Ballade des dames du temps jadis. In the original the line is: "Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?" ["But where are the snows of yesteryear?"].

Richard Wilbur published his translation of the same poem, which he titled "Ballade of the Ladies of Time Past", in his Collected Poems: 1943–2004. In his translation, the refrain is rendered as "But where shall last year's snow be found?"

Critical views

Villon's poems enjoyed substantial popularity in the decades after they were written. In 1489, a printed volume of his poems was published by Pierre Levet. This edition was almost immediately followed by several others. In 1533, poet and humanist scholar Clément Marot published an important edition, in which he recognized Villon as one of the most significant poets in French literature and sought to correct mistakes that had been introduced to the poetry by earlier and less careful printers.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: François Villon para niños

  • Le Testament
  • List of people who disappeared
National Hispanic Heritage Month on Kiddle
Famous Hispanic aviators
Manuel J. Fernandez
Robert Cardenas
Richard G. Candelaria
Oscar F. Perdomo
kids search engine
François Villon Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.