François Villon (born in Paris 1431; sentenced to be ‘hanged and strangled’ 1462 – commuted to exile, 1463; vanished 1463) was quite a villain. A killer, a thief, a common brawler, he happened to also be a poetic genius. The moral is that sometimes we need The Bad Guys.
Awarded a Master of Arts at 21. He killed a priest at the age of 24 (possibly self-defence). After a year on the lam, he returned to Paris and celebrated Christmas Eve, 1456, by (sacrilegiously) robbing the College of Navarre. Four more years on the lam led to his (first) death sentence at Orleans in 1460. He was released, did more gaol time the next year, at Meun-sur-Loire, was pardoned by gift of King Louis XI, returned to Paris, where he did time in the Châtelet, and while on a good behaviour bond, was implicated in a stabbing murder. He expected his second death sentence to be carried out (see Quatrain, below), but his luck held out yet again.
I know the doublet by its collar; I know the monk by his habit; I know the master by his servant; I know the nun by her veil; I know the sharper’s jargon; I know fools fed on cream; I know the wine by the barrel; I know all, except myself.*
On January 3, 1463, the Court of Parliament in Paris determined, “having regard to the bad character of the said Villon, that he be banished for ten years from the Town, Provosty, and Viscounty of Paris.” “He passes wearily, with his staff and bundle, cloaked, his hood pulled well over his eyes, under the arch of the St. Jacques Gate…He crosses the bridge over the moat, going heavily and slouching, clogged with melancholy, sickness, and weariness of body and spirit. He trudges off along the southern road once more, and the gathering January darkness receives him.”**
He was never seen again.
I am François which is my cross
Born in Paris near Pontoise
From a fathom of rope my neck
Will learn the weight of my arse.[*Ballade.] [** Wyndham Lewis, D. B. François Villon (1928), p. 220.]