Laurent de Premierfait

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Laurent de Premierfait (c. 1370 – 1418) was a Latin poet, a humanist and in the first rank of French language translators of the fifteenth century,[1] during the time of the mad king Charles VI of France.[2] To judge from the uses made of Du cas des nobles hommes et femmes in England, and the sheer number of surviving manuscripts of it (sixty-five in a 1955 count),[3] it was extremely popular in Western Europe throughout the fifteenth century. Laurent made two translations of the Boccaccio work, the second considerably more free. A large percentage of surviving manuscripts are carefully written and illuminated with illustrations.


Laurent was born in Premierfait, a small village near Troyes. He lived at the papal court at Avignon for a while and came shoulder-to-shoulder with other humanists while being employed by the Papal Court. Laurent was well known for translating Aristotle,[4] Cicero, and Livy. He was also the first French translator of Giovanni Boccaccio's works.[5][6] He states in one of his works that he, like his interlocutor Jean de Montreuil, was a clerc du diocèse de Troyes and secretary-notary to Jean-Allarmet de Brogny, Cardinal of Saluces. Laurent worked as well for Amadeus VIII, Duke of Savoy, Jean Chanteprime, contrôleur général des finances, and for king Charles VI. He made a living as a translator for such nobles as Louis de Bourbon, Bishop of Liège and the great collector-connoisseur, Jean, Duke of Berry,[7] both being relatives to Charles VI.[8] Jacques Monfrin states that Laurent's translations were not done for the general public but more for wealthy aristocratic patrons.[9]

He may have died of the Black Death that wiped out about half of the European population recurring repeatedly from the mid fourteenth century. There is a possibility, however, that he was murdered during the invasion of Paris by the Burgundians in 1418, a result of the Armagnac-Burgundian civil war that raged in France after John the Fearless, Duc de Bourgogne, murdered the king's brother Louis d'Orléans in 1407.[10]

A portrait of Laurent, considered to be an authentic representation, figures among the illuminations in the manuscript of Du cas des nobles hommes et femmes that was dedicated to the duc de Berry and has come with the former royal library to the Bibliothèque Nationale.[11]

Works of translations[edit]

Economics (1418)
De quattuor virtutibus
De amicitia (1416)
De senectute (1405) [15]
De Casibus Virorum Illustrium (1400 and again in 1409)
De mulieribus claris (1405)[17]
Decameron (1410) In this, Laurent worked from a Latin version.


  1. ^ "If we are to judge by the number and the length of his translations he is the most significant translator of fifteenth century France," wrote Patricia M. Gathercole in introducing him (Gathercole, "Laurent de Premierfait: The Translator of Boccaccio's De casibus virorum illustrium" The French Review 27.4 (February 1954:245-252) p 245.
  2. ^ Bozzolo, Carla (1984) Laurent de Premierfait et Terence, Vestigia. Studi in onore di Giuseppe Billanovich, Rome: Edizione di storia di Litteratura, 1, 93-129
  3. ^ Patricia M. Gathercole, "The Manuscripts of Laurent de Premierfait's 'Du Cas des Nobles' (Boccaccio's 'De Casibus Virorum Illustrium')" Italica 32.1 (March 1955:14-21).
  4. ^ For Aristotle he worked from a Latin translation.
  5. ^ The French Translators of Boccaccio
  6. ^ Laurent de Premierfait: The Translator of Boccaccio's De Casibus Virorum Illustribus
  7. ^ The Rothschild MS. in the British Museum of Les Cas des Malheureux Nobles Hommes et Femmes; Laurent wrote a third prologue to Jean, duc de Berry (Gathercole 1955:15).
  8. ^ 'Jhesu Nichil Est Commune Ligurgo': A French Humanist Debate of ca. 1405 by Grover C. Furr
  9. ^ Jacques Monfrin, "Traducteurs et leur public en France au Moyen âge," Journal des Savants, January–March 1964:5-20.
  10. ^ Henri Hauvette, De Laurentio de Primofato (Paris, Hachette, 1903)
  11. ^ B.N. fr. 226. Paulin Paris, in Les manuscrits français de la Bibliothèque du Roi, noted by Gathercole 1955:16.
  12. ^ Jacques Monfrin. Humanisme et traduction au Moyen âge, in L'Humanisme médiéval dans les littératures romanes du XIIe au XIVe siècle (Paris: Fourrier. 1964), pp. 217-46. esp. 233 ff.; R. H. Lucas, Medieval French Translations of the Latin Classics to 1500, Speculum 45 (1970):225-53
  13. ^ G.S. Purkes attributed this translation to Laurent in "Laurent de Premierfait", Italian Studies IV (1949).
  14. ^ Lucas, R. H. Medieval French Translations of the Latin Classics to 1500, Speculum 45 (1970):225-53
  15. ^ Paris, BnF, ms lat. 7789
  16. ^ Ornato, Per la fortuna, p. 261, n.5
  17. ^ Whether the French translation is due to Laurent has been a matter of contention; H. Hauvette, Laurent's biographer, maintains that he did not.


  • Grover C. Furr, The Quarrel of the Roman de la Rose and Fourteenth Century Humanism. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, January 1979.
  • Coville, Alfred Gontier et Pierre Col et l'Humanisme en France au temps de Charles VI (Paris: Droz) 1934:175-86
  • Areford, David S. Excavating the Medieval Image, (Ashgate Publishing) 2004:59-75, 341-62 ISBN 0-7546-3143-5
  • Gathercole, Patricia May "Fifteenth-century translation. The development of Laurent de Premierfait." MLQ 21 (1960:365-90)
  • Bozzolo, Carla (1973) Manuscrits des traductions francaises d'œuvres de Boccacce: XVe siècle (Padua: Antenore) (1973)
  • Famiglietti, Richard "Laurent de Premierfait: The Career of a Humanist in Early Fifteenth Century Paris", Journal of Medieval History (1983)
  • Hauvette, Henri. De Laurentio de Primofato (Paris: Hachette) 1903. Still the only full-scale life.