François de Montcorbier Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

François Villon was born François de Montcorbier (or perhaps des Loges) and later took as his own the name of his benefactor, Guillaume de Villon. He was a native of Paris, born there the year Joan of Arc died, and presumably reared there. He received his baccalaureate in 1449 and became a Master of Arts three years later.

Much of the fragmentary information which is available concerning Villon’s life comes from legal documents dating back to 1455. In that year, he was involved in a brawl and killed a priest named Phillippe Chermoye or Sermoise, but he was later pardoned for justifiable homicide. The following Christmas season, he and others committed a burglary at the College of Navarre, after which he apparently fled Paris.

In 1461, Villon was in a dungeon at Meung. Incarcerated there for reasons unknown, he was (as he says in The Great Testament) cruelly mistreated by Bishop Thibault d’Aussigny, but along with other prisoners he was released when the newly crowned King Louis XI passed through the town. Evidently unable to stay out of trouble, Villon was before long imprisoned once again, this time at the Châtelet in Paris. He was soon released again, but he had been incriminated in the College of Navarre burglary by a talkative accomplice, Guy Tabary, and had to agree to repay his share of the loot. Very soon, Villon was arrested yet again, following a brawl. This time, he was sentenced to be hanged; the sentence was commuted, however, and he was exiled instead. At that point, the trail ends, and further references to him (in François Rabelais’s works, for example) are probably pure fictions. He died during or after 1463.

At some time, perhaps after he first fled from Paris, Villon spent a while at Blois, at the court of Charles d’Orléans, and a poem is preserved (titled “Je meurs de seuf auprès de la fontaine”/ “I Am Dying of Thirst near the Fountain”) which he composed for a poetry contest held by Charles. His first long poem, The Legacy, was composed shortly after the 1456 Christmas burglary, while The Great Testament was written following his release from the Meung prison.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

0111204977-Villon.jpg François Villon (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Nothing is known of the background and youth of François Villon (vee-yohn) except that he was born in Paris in 1431, of poor parents. His father died early; his mother was still living in 1461. His name was actually François de Montcorbier, but he took the name of his patron (and probable relative) Guillaume de Villon, a priest and professor of canon law in Paris. He was also known in court records as François des Loges. The patron sent young Villon to the University of Paris, at that time one of the greatest in Europe, where he received the degree of bachelor of arts in 1449 and that of master of arts in 1452.{$S[A]Montcorbier, François;Villon, François}

Shortly after finishing his education Villon began a long series of embroilments with the law, incidents that scholars have re-created from documents in the Paris archives. On June 5, 1455, he was involved in a street brawl with one Jehan le Mardi and a priest named Phillippe Chermoye, as a result of which Chermoye died of his wounds. Villon was banished and fled the city, but the sentence was remitted on the basis of self-defense. Back in Paris the next year, he was so badly beaten in another brawl that he planned to go to Angers. Before leaving, however, around Christmas of 1456, he and some disreputable friends robbed the chapel of the College of Navarre. The robbery was discovered in the spring; one of the gang turned king’s evidence, and Villon was again banished from Paris. For four years he wandered about France. In 1457 he was a visitor at the court of Charles, duc d’Orléans, himself one of the great French medieval poets, and he was also sheltered by Jean II of Bourbon. He was unable to keep out of trouble; in 1460 he was sentenced to death in Orléans and was freed only as a result of the general amnesty proclaimed on the state entry of the duke’s infant daughter. The summer of 1461 found him in prison at Meung; again he owed his...

(The entire section is 783 words.)