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François Bonivard: Hero of Byron's Poem, The Prisoner of Chillon

by Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition

BONIVARD, FRANÇOIS (1493-1570), the hero of Byron’s poem, The Prisoner of Chillon, was born at Seyssel of an old Savoyard family. Bonivard has been described as “a man of the Renaissance who had strayed into the age of the Reformation.” His real character and history are, however, widely different from the legendary account which was popularized by Byron. In 1510 he succeeded his uncle, who had educated him, as prior of the Cluniac priory of St Victor, close to Geneva. He naturally, therefore, opposed the attempts of the duke of Savoy, aided by his relative, the bishop of the city, to maintain his rights as lord of Geneva. He was imprisoned by the duke at Gex from 1519 to 1521, lost his priory, and became more and more anti-Savoyard. In 1530 he was again seized by the duke and imprisoned for four years underground, in the castle of Chillon, till he was released in 1536 by the Bernese, who then wrested Vaud from the duke. He had been imprisoned for political reasons, for he did not become a Protestant till after his release, and then found that his priory had been destroyed in 1534. He obtained a pension from Geneva, and was four times married, but owing to his extravagances was always in debt. He was officially entrusted in 1542 with the task of compiling a history of Geneva from the earliest times. In 1551 his MS. of the Chroniques de Genève (ending in 1530) was submitted to Calvin for correction, but it was not published till 1831. The best edition is that of 1867. The work is uncritical and partial, but is his best title to fame.