Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Trevisa, John de
TREVISA, JOHN de (1326–1412), author, was born in 1326 at Crocadon in St. Mellion, near Saltash, Cornwall, and was a fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, from 1362 to 1369. In the latter year he became fellow of Queen's College, but in 1379 Trevisa, together with Whitfield, the provost, and some others, were expelled from the college by the archbishop of York for their unworthiness. The excluded fellows carried away certain moneys, charters, and other property of the college, and on 20 Oct. 1379 the chancellor was ordered to inquire into the matter, and, after some delay, the property was restored (Cal. Pat. Rolls, Richard II, i. 420, 470; Wood, Hist. and Antiq. ed. Gutch, i. 496). However, Trevisa still appears as paying 13s. 4d. for a chamber at Queen's College in 1395–6 and 1398–9 (Hist. MSS. Comm. 2nd Rep. pp. 140, 141). Previous to 1387 Trevisa had entered the service of Thomas, fourth baron Berkeley, as chaplain and vicar of Berkeley. He was also a canon of Westbury-on-Severn. He died at Berkeley in 1412. In his ‘Dialogue between a Lord and a Clerk,’ Trevisa speaks of ‘where the Apocalips is wryten in the walles and roof of a chapel both in Latyn and Frensshe;’ this no doubt refers to some ancient writing in Berkeley church, which still survived in 1805, and which may possibly have owed its origin to Trevisa. Trevisa speaks in the ‘Polychronicon’ of having visited ‘Akon in Almayne and Egges in Savoye.’
Trevisa was not an original writer, but was a diligent translator of Latin works into English for the benefit of his master, Lord Berkeley. His scholarship is not unfrequently at fault; however, the value of his writings is not in their matter, but in their interest as early specimens of English prose. His most notable work was the translation of Higden's ‘Polychronicon,’ which he concluded on 18 April 1387 (Polychronicon, viii. 352; Caxton, in error, gave the date as 1357). He inserted at some places brief notes, and added a continuation down to 1360. Trevisa's translation was published in a revised form by Caxton in 1482, by Wynkyn de Worde in 1495 (?), and by Peter Treveris [q. v.] in 1527. A portion of the work, entitled ‘The Descrypcyon of Englonde,’ was printed in 1497, 1502, 1510, 1515, and 1528. The whole work has been reprinted from the manuscripts in the Rolls Series edition of Higden, 1865–85.
Trevisa also wrote:
- ‘A Dialogue on Translation between a Lord and a Clerk,’ which he composed as an introduction to the ‘Polychronicon,’ and which was printed by Caxton.
- A translation of Bartholomew de Glanville, ‘De Proprietatibus Rerum,’ which he finished at Berkeley on 6 Feb. 1398, ‘the yere of my lord's age 47.’ This translation was printed by Wynkyn de Worde probably in 1495, and by Berthelet in 1535. Stephen Batman [q. v.] produced a revised version in 1582, with which Shakespeare was probably familiar.
- Translation of a sermon by Richard FitzRalph against the mendicant friars (St. John's College, Cambridge, MS. H. 1; Addit. MS. 24194, and Harleian, 1900).
- ‘The Begynning of the Worlde and the Rewmes betwixe of Folkis and the ende of Worldes,’ a translation of a spurious tract of Methodius (Harleian MS. 1900).
- Vegetius ‘De re Militari;’ a translation of this work made for Thomas, lord Berkeley, in 1408 is in Digby MS. 233 in the Bodleian Library, and is probably by Trevisa.
- Ægidius ‘De Regimine Principum,’ a translation contained in Digby MS. 233, and reasonably ascribed to Trevisa.
- A translation of Nicodemus de Passione Christi, Additional MS. 16165 at British Museum; written, like other translations, at the request of Lord Berkeley. Dr. Babington ascribes to Trevisa the translation of the ‘Dialogus inter Militem et Clericum de potestate ecclesiastica et civili’ (a Latin tract inaccurately attributed to William Ockham [q. v.]), which was published at London in 1540.
Trevisa is also credited by Caxton with a translation of the Bible. Archbishop Ussher quotes a genealogy of King David of Scotland as by Trevisa. Other works attributed to Trevisa by Bale, as ‘Gesta Regis Arthuri,’ &c., are probably only portions of the ‘Polychronicon.’
[Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub. ii. 795; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.-Hib. pp. 720–1; Ames's Typogr. Antiq. ed. Herbert; Blades's Life of Caxton, i. 195, ii. 124–5; Prefaces to Rolls Series edition of Higden's Polychronicon, i. pp. liii–lxiii, and iii. p. xxviii; Hist. MSS. Comm. 1st Rep. p. 60, 2nd Rep. pp. 128–9, 140–1, 3rd Rep. p. 424, 6th Rep. p. 234; Boase's Register of Exeter College, pp. 11–12 (Oxf. Hist. Soc.).]