Timelines to Visualize History

A Project by the Department of Medieval English Literature and Historical Linguistics, University of Düsseldorf

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1342 1402

John of Trevisa

John of Trevisa, sometimes called John de Trevisa or John Trevisa, was a contemporary of Chaucer. He was a prolific translator, an is best know for his translation of Ranulph Higden's Polychronicon, a universal history.

From 1362 to 1369 Trevisa was a Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, and in 1369 became a Fellow of Queen's College, but was dismissed in 1379. Later he became vicar of Berkeley and chaplain to Lord Berkeley, and also canon of Westbury-on-Severn. In 1387 he translated and extended Ranulph Higden's Polychronicon, a universal history, and in 1398 he translated Bartholomaeus Anglicus' De Proprietatibus Rerum (On the Properties of Things), an encyclopedia. Another Latin work translated by Trevisa is Aegidius Romanus' De Regimine Principum, which became one of the sources of Thomas Hoccleve's Regiment of Princes. He also translated Richard Fitz-Ralph's Defensio Curatorum and the Dialogus inter Militem et Clericum attributes to William of Ockham.

The Dialogue between a Lord and a Clerk accompanies his Polychronicon and is dedicated to Lord Berkeley. Trevisa is also said to have translated the Bible and he is generally regarded as one of the greatest translators of his time.

Trevisa is well known to students of Middle English for his description of the state of the English Language in the year 1385 which he inserted into his translation of the Polychronicon. An excerpt follows:
(Chap. lix: The Languages of Britain)

As hyt ys yknowe houh meny maner people buþ in þis ylond, þer buþ also of so meny people longages and tonges. [...]
Also Englyschmen, þeyh hy hadde fram þe bygynnyng þre maner speche, Souþeron, Norþeron, and Myddel speche in þe myddel of þe lond, as hy come of þre maner people of Germania, noþeles by commyxstion and mellyng, furst wiþ Danes and afterward wiþ Normans, in menye þe contray longage ys apeyred, and som vseþ strange wlaffyng, chyteryng, harryng, and garryng grisbittyng. þis apeyryng of þe burþtonge ys bycause of twey þinges. On ys for chyldern in scole, ayenes þe vsage and manere of al oþer nacions, buþ compelled for to leue here oune longage, and for to construe here lessons and here þinges a Freynsch, and habbeþ suþthe þe Normans come furst into Engelond. Also gentil men chidren buþ ytaut for to speke Freynsch fram tyme þat a buþ yrokked in here cradel, and conneþ speke and playe wiþ a child hys brouch; and oplondysch men wol lykne hamsylf to gentill men, and fondeþ wiþ gret bysynes for to speke Freynsch, for to be more ytold of. [...]
Al þe longage of þe Norþhumbres, and specialych at York, ys so scharp, slyttyng, and frotyng, and vnschape, þat we Souþeron men may þat longage vnneþe vndurstonde. Y trowe þat þat ys bycause þat a buþ nygh to strange men and aliens, þat spekeþ strangelych, and also bycause þat þe kynges of Engelond woneþ alwey fer fram þat contray...
Literature, Middle English Period, Poetry, Prose