François Villon

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François Villon (representation from Grand Testament de Maistre François Villon , 1489)

François Villon (* 1431 in Paris ; † after 1463 ; his real name was probably François de Montcorbier or François des Loges ) is considered the most important poet of the French late Middle Ages .

In his two parodic wills and in numerous ballads , he processes the experiences of his adventurous life as a scholar , vagante and criminal. While his contemporaries were probably primarily interested in the satirical stanzas on contemporary Parisian dignitaries, he has been valued since the Romantic era for his haunting themes of love , hope , disappointment, hate and death , especially in the first part of the Great Testament .

Life and work

Youth and Studies

Only his own scanty information in his main work Le Testament as well as two pardon documents from 1455 concerning him and two presumably concerning him in university lists provide information about his childhood and adolescence . After this he was apparently born in 1431 as François de Montcorbier or des Loges in Paris, the son of poor parents. His father apparently died early, in any case, François came young into the care of the canon and legal scholar Guillaume de Villon, whose name he adopted around 1455 and whom he describes in the will as "my more than one father". After propaedeutic (preparatory) studies at the Artistic Faculty of the Paris University , he probably obtained the degree of Bachelor in 1449 , and in 1452 that of Magister Artium . According to his own statement, he began but did not finish further studies, more likely theology than canon law or medicine (cf. Testament , v. 201 ff.).

Slipping into crime

Why Villon dropped out of his studies is not known; but the almost year-long strike of the Paris professors from 1453-1454 played a role, which the students bridged with all sorts of (not only harmless) mischief. Villon slipped into the city's academic proletariat and probably even joined the Coquillards , one of the criminal gangs that arose in the turmoil of the Hundred Years' War , which operates in almost all of northern France .

In June 1455 he inflicted a fatal wound on a priest who was also armed with a knife. It remains unclear whether the victim, who refrained from prosecuting the perpetrator on the deathbed “for certain reasons”, was himself a criminal. In any case, Villon preferred to get out of Paris after having a barber bandage the wound on his lips under a false name that he himself had sustained in the fight. Already at the beginning of 1456 he was able to return thanks to two pardons from King Charles VII , in which the course of events is described in detail and presented as a case of self-defense. He is called "François des Loges, also called Villon" in the first document and "Françoys de Monterbier" in the second. The latter is considered a typographical error for “Montcorbier”, the name under which a “Franciscus de Moultcorbier” or “de Montcorbier” appears in the Paris student lists of 1449 and 1452, which could be identical in age to him. It does not appear from them who procured him the pardon documents. Maybe his foster father Guillaume helped him with the first one, whose name "Villon" he used here for the first time. In the will (v. 1030 ff.) Villon also states that “his” lawyer Fournier (a colleague of Guillaume's colleges) bailed him out several times.

It was probably in this year 1456 that he wrote his first relatively reliably datable work, the Ballade des Contre-Vérités , which he signed with the acrostic VILLON in the chorus . This parodic text, which perverts a lyrical praise of the virtue of Alain Chartier in advice for crooks, was obviously aimed at an audience of educated criminals, that is, the author's immediate environment.

Some of the ballads that were later sprinkled into the will (1461/62) could also have been written around 1455.

The fact that he performed songs he had composed himself in this phase of his life or later in Paris pubs or elsewhere is not proven by any corresponding statements by Villon nor by texts he has received or other evidence. The content of the 25 or so ballads that he knows are unsuitable for setting to music and they follow the development of this lyrical genre, which had broken away from music around 1400.

Escape and wandering years

Scarcely a year back in Paris, Villon committed another criminal offense: On the night before Christmas 1456, he and four accomplices plundered a safe containing 500 gold crowns in the sacristy of the chapel of the Collège de Navarre . A little later, probably still in winter, he left the city, not without leaving his first long work, the Lais (= legacy) or Small Testament , for the amusement of his cronies .

In the Lais , Villon (or the I speaking there) had claimed that he was “going to Angers” (v. 43). This information is supported by the statement of an accomplice from the break-in, obtained in a police report, that Villon had gone there to investigate a robbery of a rich monk for the gang. It is not known whether the coup was ever attempted. That Villon, as some biographers have suspected and almost point out as a fact, wanted to win the poet Duke René d'Anjou as a patron in Angers , is a mere hypothesis that is not supported by any further information.

In the autumn of 1457, Villon was imprisoned in Blois for unknown reasons and was saved at the last moment from execution by an amnesty issued by the Duke and great poet Charles d'Orléans on the occasion of the birth of his daughter Marie on December 19. At least that's what Villon says in a poem of praise for the newborn that gave him access to the ducal court. For this, in turn, he thanked him with a double ballad, which he then added to the praise poem when he was allowed to enter it personally in the duke's collective manuscript.

When, after participating in a courtly poetry contest , he himself entered his contribution, the Ballade des contradictions (Ballad of contradictions), into the above-mentioned collective manuscript, he could not fail to make an impromptu Latin-French mocking poem about an occasionally poetic favorite of the Duke, who was probably also present. Thereupon he was reprimanded in two poems by the Duke and one of his pages, albeit without naming his name, so he was shown outside the door.

It is rather unlikely that he went from Blois or later to Moulins and was a guest of the Duke of Bourbon there, as the apocryphal title of a begging ballad from 1461 (see below) suggests. In any case, the ballad in question was most likely not addressed to Bourbon, but to Charles d'Orléans.

What is more certain (although hardly mentioned in the literature so far) is that Villon tried in Vendôme at the beginning of October 1458 with two ballads to placate Duke Charles, who was there because of a trial. After the first, the ballad des proverbes (“proverb ballad ”), was harshly rejected by a similar ballad by a courtier, the second, the ballad des menus-propos (banal ballad ), seems to have brought him a gift of money from the duke.

The presumption, almost a fact presented by some biographers, that Villon was imprisoned in the city of Orléans in the summer of 1460 is based on a misinterpretation of the above-mentioned praise of Charles d'Orléans' daughter and is not supported by any further information.

Villon only becomes tangible again in the summer of 1461. This he spent, as he states at the beginning of the will , in Meung-sur-Loire in the dungeon of the bishop of Orléans, Thibaut d'Aussigny, whom he portrays as harsh and unjust, but without reasons to name or state the reason for his detention. His attempts to please the bishop with the Épître aux amis (letter to the friends) and the dialogue poem Débat du cœur et du corps de Villon (Villons dialogue with his heart) failed. He was only released by chance that on October 2, 1461 the newly crowned King Louis XI. stopped in Meung on his way to the Touraine and pardoned him, perhaps at the intercession of Duke Charles, who might have been informed of Villon's presence in Meung.

He returned to Paris or, since the city itself was closed to him because of the unpunished burglary affair, to the surrounding area. From here he probably tried in writing to reconnect with his foster father Guillaume and his circles. One such attempt is apparently the ballad de bon conseil (ballad of good advice), apparently aimed at young criminals, or the contrite ballad de Fortune ( ballad for fortune ), in which the author-ego en passant as of hard The work of "worn out" plaster burners presented.

When these advances failed, Villon began writing the Testament (The Great Testament). In terms of scope, but also thanks to the variety and complexity of the topics dealt with, it became his main work, into which he also inserted around 20 ballads, some of which were probably already written before, but mostly certainly at the same time. It is not known exactly where the will was made, whether somewhere near Paris or in a hiding place in the city. Apparently it was finished in the summer of 1462.

Another arrest and another conviction in Paris

After the failure of his attempt to start a new life, Villon seems to have rejoined the criminal milieu out of disappointment and hardship and to have lived more or less in the Parisian underground. Presumably come from this time, i. H. 1462, his difficult to understand ballads in crooks jargon, in which he speaks to the Parisian crooks in the role of a crook, perhaps in order to finally identify with them.

According to a memorandum that has been preserved, he was in the Paris city jail for an apparently minor theft at the beginning of November 1462 and was due to be released when the victims of the break-in of 1456 in the Collège de Navarre learned of his arrest. Before being released, Villon had to commit himself to 120 thalers, i.e. H. to repay his share of the booty. Guillaume de Villon had undoubtedly vouched for him, because he took him in again.

One evening in November or December, however, Villon was caught up in a scuffle by his cronies with the employees of a notary and the latter himself. Although he had apparently tried to stay out of it and had quickly returned to Guillaume, he was arrested the next day and then sentenced to death, not without having been tortured, if the ballad of Garnier is believed (see below).

Probably on death row, he literally wrote the famous quatrain with gallows humor:

Je suis Françoys, dont il me poise, I am François, which gives me sorrow
Né de Paris emprès Pontoise, born in Paris at Pontoise,
Et de la corde d'une toise and from the cord of a cubit [length]
Sçaura mon col que mon cul poise. my throat will know what my bum weighs.

The ballad des pendus (ballad of the hanged) , which is also justifiably famous, was probably created in the same time and situation .

However, Villon had appealed to the Paris Supreme Court, the Parlement . This in fact conceded the harsh judgment on January 5, 1463, but changed it "because of the bad way of life said Villons" to ten years of exile from the city and county of Paris. Villon had to leave town in the middle of winter and practically outlawed . His last sign of life was a bombastic poem of thanks to the tribunal that brushed the boundaries of parody and a mocking ballad to the prison clerk Garnier, who would have liked to see him hanging. Thereafter, no more reliable testimonials from him or about him are known.


In the first decades after Villon's disappearance, his works were preserved and disseminated by rich literature lovers having them included in the collective manuscripts they commissioned from calligraphers . Villon was first printed in 1489. Apparently the Parisian printer Pierre Levet had compiled works by him, a good 90 percent of the amount of text known today, from various collective manuscripts. This edition was reprinted frequently and by various workshops in the course of the following decades. In 1533 the poet Clément Marot published a kind of critical edition of Villon, which was published several times until 1542. After around 1550, Villon was largely, but never completely, forgotten. So mentioned him z. B. praising the author and literary theorist Boileau , albeit obviously without knowing him better, around 1670. In 1723 and again in 1742 a work was published.

Villon was rediscovered as an author of importance during the Romantic era. The first edition based on modern criteria appeared in 1832, and in 1834 the poet Théophile Gautier dedicated a highly acclaimed study to it in La France littéraire . Villon later influenced poets such as Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud , who identified with him as poètes maudits (poets laden with curses / ostracized poets) and passed this view of his figure on to poets and chansonniers of the 20th century, e. B. to Georges Brassens , Wolf Biermann and Reinhard Mey .

Today, many colleges in France are named after him, although those responsible may not always have been well informed about him.

While the first transcriptions of poems appeared in England in 1846 and the first transcription of the complete works in 1878, Villon was only discovered in the German-speaking area around 1890, by Richard Dehmel . In 1892 he transferred two of his ballads and probably created at the same time, by titling them as the song of the hanged and the song of the outlaw poet , the image of Villons as a songwriter. The first more complete transfer was that of the Austrian KL Ammer (1907, see below). It had a great influence on the authors of Expressionism , such as Georg Heym , Klabund or Bert Brecht , who took several ballads from them, slightly changed, into his Threepenny Opera .

The expressionist poet, narrator and playwright Paul Zech became a kind of German Villon . In 1931 he published an extremely free adaptation based on the already existing German Villon versions. In doing so, Zech shortened the two wills considerably, omitted a number of ballads and made up for this by adding many ballads he had invented in the style of Villons (or whatever he thought they were). In front of the “Nachdichtung”, he put a longer foreword combining the genres essay and biography. In 1943 Zech revised his “Nachdichtung” and in 1946, shortly before his death, also the foreword fundamentally, shortening its essayistic part and expanding the biographical part into a novel-like “Biography of François Villon”. The new version of the "Nachdichtung" appeared in 1952 in Rudolstadt / Thuringia, but especially in 1962, again slightly changed and restructured, as a paperback in Munich, with the extended biography as an appendix. This paperback edition had 29 editions with well over 300,000 copies in 2009 and determines the image of Villons in the German-speaking area.

Egon Larsen and Erich Simm also used some of Villon's texts (in their own adaptation and with music by Theo Mackeben ) in their stage work The Patience of the Poor - 12 Scenes about François Villon , which was published in 1949 as a stage manuscript in the “Kaleidoskop Bühnenvertrieb” in Berlin-Friedenau appeared.

In the posthumously published novel '' Der Judas des Leonardo '' by Leo Perutz (d. 1957) Villon appears under a different name in Milan, visits the court of Duke Ludovico il Moro , meets Leonardo da Vinci there and dies in the course of the novel violent death.

One of the most impressive interpreters of Zechscher Villon texts (in the version from 1931) was the actor Klaus Kinski , who also recorded readings on record . Thanks to him, the verse “ I'm so wild for your strawberry mouth ” from A Ballad in Love for a Girl named Yssabeau , like the entire ballad, has no model at Villon, but comes from Paul Zech.

Even bands from the field of music of the medieval scene , such as Subway to Sally , Des Geyers Schwarze Haufen and In Extremo , generally adhere to Zech's lyrics in their Villon settings, mostly in the easily accessible version from 1962. The same applies for most Villon reciters after Kinski.

It should also be mentioned that the Swiss musicians René Bardet, Orlando Valentini and Andreas Vollenweider published a setting of Zechscher Villon texts in 1977 under the title “Poetry and Music”.

Also Reinhard Mey has (though in the transmission of the beginning of his career, in the late 1960s, some Villon ballads Martin Löpelmann , 1937) music and sung ( girls in taverns ).

The life of Villons has been filmed several times. In 1914 he was played by Murdock MacQuarrie in the serial The Adventures of François Villon . William Farnum portrayed him in the silent film If I Were King , shot in 1920 , and John Barrymore in 1927 in Der Bettelpoet ( The Beloved Rogue ). 1930 Dennis King Villon played in The King of the Vagabonds ( The Vagabond King ). Ronald Colman was seen in the role of Villon in If I Was King in 1938 . Other actors are Serge Reggiani in François Villon (1945), Douglas Fairbanks jr. in The Triangle , Pierre Vaneck in Si Paris nous était conté (1956) and Jörg Pleva in François Villon (1981).


  • Ballade des contre-vérités (1456?) - Funny advice for young crooks.
  • Le Lais (1456) - The Little Testament, a funny combination of the parodies of a courtly love lament, a literary testament and a dream poem. The will part contains maliciously joking legacies to many named people, especially officials from the judiciary, police and administration, as well as other Parisian dignitaries, who were exposed to the laughter of Villon's cronies in this way.
  • Épître à Marie d'Orléans (1457) - Poem of praise and thanks (followed by a ballad of praise and thanks) to the newborn (19 Dec.) daughter of Duke Charles d'Orléans.
  • Ballade des contradictions (1457) - Villon's contribution to a poetry contest at the court of Charles in Blois. The poem was in 1892 by Richard Dehmel as song of the outlaw poet transferred, in turn, by Paul Zech his the outlaw ballad was processed.
  • Épître à ses amis (1461) - a cry for help from the dungeon in Meung, probably not addressed to “friends”, but indirectly to Bishop Thibaut as the court lord responsible for him.
  • Débat du coeur et du corps de Villon (1461) - contrite reflections in the dungeon of Meung, written to please the bishop (and perhaps also Charles d'Orléans as his guest on the way through).
  • Ballade contre les ennemis de la France (1461) - most likely to King Louis XI. directed, which Villon tried to attract attention after his release from dungeon, but apparently without success.
  • Requête (1461) - a begging ballad to Charles d'Orléans. It has long been wrongly regarded as addressed to the Duke of Bourbon because of the apocryphal title Requeste a Mons. de Bourbon , introduced by the printer Levet in 1489.
  • Ballade de bon conseil - a ballad apparently aimed at young criminals, but in fact probably aimed at Guillaume de Villon and his colleagues, in which Villon presents himself as converted to good.
  • Ballade de Fortune - a very artistic ballad, visibly aimed at the same circle, in which Villon presents himself as the at least partially innocent plaything of the goddess of fate (and in which he insinuates en passant that he has to "wear out" himself as a plaster burner).
  • Le Testament (1461/62) - The great testament; Villon's main work, in which 20 poems, mostly ballads, are interspersed. The partly elegiac and self-critical, partly sarcastic opening part could still be addressed to potential helpers. The main satirical part, however, the z. Sometimes attacked the same group of people as the lais , apparently aiming at the applause of the criminal milieu in which Villon was again immersed. The very complex work is considered to be one of the great texts of the late Middle Ages and has accordingly generated a flood of research literature. One of the most famous interspersed poems is the ballad des dames du temps jadis , whose refrain Where is the snow from last year? represents one of the most common quotes from Villon that has become proverbial beyond France.
  • Ballades en jargon (1462) - eleven difficult-to-understand poems in which Villon, in the role of a crook and in the language of crooks, addresses the Parisian underworld, half warning, half defiant. They omit many editions of the work as well as the German transmissions.
  • Ballade des pendus (1462) - Villon asks the passers-by for pity in the role of the man who is hanged with others who are already dangling on the gallows. One of the most beautiful poems by the French Middle Ages. In 1892 Richard Dehmel first translated it into German as the song of the hanged .
  • Quatrain (1462) - an anticipation of his last hour full of black humor.
  • Louange à la cour (1463) - a bombastic, perhaps hidden ironic poem of praise for the high Paris court.
  • Ballade au clerc du guichet (1463) - a mocking ballad to the prison clerk Garnier, who would have liked to see Villon hanging. It is probably his last surviving work.

The following French complete edition is recommended: François Villon, Poésies complètes, éd. […] By Claude Thiry (Paris: Livre de poche / Lettres Gothiques, 1991)

German-language editions

All the editions listed below have in common that the barely understandable ballads in crook jargon are usually missing.

  • François Villon: The Master's Works . Translated into German by KL Ammer (Leipzig, Julius Zeitler, 1907), title and binding by Walter Tiemann . The edition was reprinted unchanged in 1918 by the Berlin Hyperion publishing house. In 1931 it was reissued under the very inapplicable title Balladen bei Kiepenheuer in Berlin and reprinted unchanged by the same publisher in Weimar in 1949. In 1955 it was newly published in Leipzig as a Reclam volume, which was published at least seven times under the title The very irreverent songs of François Villon . In 1987 it was taken over by the Diogenes publishing house in Zurich with the title, songs and ballads, which was changed again . Ammer's transmission comprises about 80% of Villon's work (the crooks ballads and some mannerist ballads are missing) and can still be considered one of the most acceptable.
  • François Villon. Seals . French and German, translated […] by Martin Löpelmann (Munich: Callwey, 1937). It is the first, almost complete, bilingual edition and was reprinted several times until 1951. The transmission is moderately faithful and quite wooden.
  • François Villon: The Great Testament . German translation by Peter Welf [= Wolfgang Benndorf]. With 17 drawings by Hans Fronius (Vienna: Sussmann, 1937). This partial transfer was reprinted unchanged in 1949 by the Viennese Amandus Verlag, now under Benndorf's real name. It was the first of the meanwhile numerous German editions that contain illustrations with artistic aspirations.
  • François Villon: Ballads . Post-poetry by Ernst Stimmel (Hamburg: Hauswedell, 1939). With 8 pen drawings by A. Paul Weber . Was reprinted unchanged by the same publisher in 1946. Transmits only the really lyrical part of Villon's work, i. H. about a quarter.
  • François Villon: The Great Testament . Transferred from Walter Widmer (St. Gallen / Vienna / Stuttgart: Janus Library, 1949). With pen drawings by Karl Staudinger . Bilingual edition, reprinted frequently and by various publishers. The translation is easy to read and relatively true to the meaning, stylistically but not congenial, because it transforms Villon's very concise four-letter (= eight-syllable) verses into more verbose, mostly six-lettered verses.
  • Villon. All seals . French with German translation by Walther Küchler (Heidelberg: Lambert Schneider, 1956). The edition was reprinted frequently, so it is one of the more successful. It is passably legible and passably faithful.
  • François Villon: Seals. The legacies. The testament. Mixed poems . French German. German translation by Carl Fischer (Munich: Goldmann 1963). Tries to find a balance between translation aid and literary translation. Not quite successful as a text.
  • The life confession of François Villon . Transferred from Martin Remané (GDR, East Berlin, Rütten & Loening 1964, at least 4 editions) Bilingual edition, which also contains some of the ballads in crook jargon (together with a glossary of red word terms) and notes. Legible, but only moderately accurate.
  • The small and the large testament . French-German. Edited, translated and commented by Frank-Rutger Hausmann (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1989). Easily legible and, thanks to the lack of rhymes, relatively faithful; especially very well commented. As the title suggests, Villon's scattered texts are missing; H. the so-called mixed poems and the crooks ballades, and thus about 20% of the amount of text that can be attributed to him.
  • François Villon: The Great Testament . Transferred from Walter Widmer (Frankfurt a. M./Wien/Zürich: Büchergilde Gutenberg, 1970). With 50 drawings by Gertrude Degenhardt
  • François Villon: The Little and the Big Testament . New seal by KL Ammer. (Frankfurt a. M .: Röderberg, 1976, ISBN 3-87682-540-7 ). With 77 drawings by Hans Grundig . (Licensed edition by Reclam Verlag Leipzig)
  • A. Paul Weber - François Villon: Ballads . Edited by Günther Nicolin. Adaptation by Ernst Stimmel (Hamburg, Hans Christians Verlag, 1982, ISBN 3-7672-0759-1 ). With colored drawings by A. Paul Weber.
  • Ernst Stankovski (Viennese castle actor): François Villon: The great testament . Translated from Old French, with settings of fourteen ballads for the guitar and seventeen woodcuts from a medieval dance of death. 1981 Munich / Vienna. Albert Langen - Georg Müller GmbH.
  • The booklet The vicious ballads and songs of François Villon by Paul Zech (Weimar 1931 and Berlin 1947; Rudolstadt 1952 and Stuttgart 1959; Munich: dtv, 1962 and more often), which is mostly under the authorship of Villon, is (see above) not a transfer, but a free reseal .

Sound carrier:

  • Francois Villon and the Great Testament spoken by Horst Drinda LITERA 8 60 015, 1963 (LP).
  • Neuss Testament. The Villon Show. Wolfgang Neuss and Fatty George . Fontana, 1965 (LP). Conträr Musik, 1997 (CD). (Partly very free cabaret transmission based on Paul Zech's Villon adaption and other sources.)
  • Kinski speaks Villon (Amadeo, 1971 and others, see above) (LP, CD).
  • The vicious ballads of Francois Villon (adaptation by Paul Zech) Speaker: Heinz Reincke; Preiser Records SPR 9941, 1967 (LP).
  • Helmut Qualtinger speaks François Villon , translated into the Viennese dialect by HC Artmann , ISBN 3-902028-26-2 , Preiser (Naxos), 1997 (CD).
  • The ballads by François Villon in the Viennese version by HC Artmann , performed by Adi Hirschal and the Burning Hearts . Recording of a production in the Vienna Rabenhof Theater from April 1998, em.el records 1999, distribution: HOANZL, 1060 Vienna. (CD).
  • François Villon by Christian Redl with volume, ISBN 3-455-30345-5 , Hoffmann and Campe (Indigo), 2003. (CD).
  • The vicious ballads and songs of François Villon by Roland Bayer, recitation and self-composed setting based on the adaptation by Paul Zech, Capella Verlag (Speyer), 1993 (CD).
  • Vagrant ballades and songs by Francois Villon by Peter Rohland and Schobert Schulz , Thorofon (Bella Musica), 1996 (CD).


Web links

Commons : François Villon  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. The judge was the Prévôt de Paris Jacques de Villiers de L'Isle-Adam (see there)
  2. ^ The patience of the poor in the catalog of the German National Library: DNB 575534958 .
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on August 15, 2005 .