Gower in Winter: Last Poems

  • R. F. Yeager
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


On those many occasions (surely!) when we close our eyes and call up John Gower, the image that I wager we conjure most often is of an elderly, bearded man in a long robe. Depending upon our degree of familiarity with the realia of Gower scholarship, that robe might be blue and the beard mediumlength, forked, and salt-and-pepper (as “he” appears, along with beehive hat and longbow, in London, British Library MS Cotton Tiberius A.iv, fol. 9v); or, alternatively, the gown might be red and gold, and the beard shorter, a rounded Van Dyke, thick and lustrous black (as presently on his tomb effigy, in Southwark Cathedral);2 or the gown is wholly red and the beard white, long, and unshaven from ear to scraggly end near mid-chest (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Bodley 902, fol. 8r). Or perhaps, if one is a true aficionado, Gower appears (as he does in a tiny miniature in London, British Library MS Additional 42131, fol. 209v), naked from the collarbone up, bald on top but with shoulder-length, wavy white hair below, bushy white eyebrows and a white beard, grizzled and forked, that extends from earlobe to what would have been four or five inches below his chin if blown up to scale.


Practical Wisdom Fourteenth Century Diffi Cult Complete Work British Library 
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  1. 3.
    On Gower’s tomb, see John Hines, Nathalie Cohen, and Simon Roffey, “Johannes Gower, Armiger, Poeta: Records and Memorials of His Life and Death,” in A Companion to Gower, ed. Siân Echard (Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2004), 36–41.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    G. C. Macaulay, ed., The Complete Works of John Gower, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899–1902); vols. II-III reprt. as The English Works of John Gower, EETS, e.s. 81–82 (London, 1968). All quotations from Gower’s writing are drawn from this edition.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    On generic English manuscript portrayal in the late fourteenth century, see Sabrina Mitchell, Medieval Manuscript Painting (New York: Viking Press, 1964), esp. “The International Gothic Style,” 33–41; Gervase Mathew, The Court of Richard II (New York: Norton, 1968), 38–52, and 204–05, nos. 14 and 15; J. J. G. Alexander, “Painting and Manuscript Illuminations for Royal Patrons in the Later Middle Ages,” in V. J. Scattergood and J. W. Sherborne, eds., English Court Culture in the Later Middle Ages (London: Duckworth, 1983), 141–62. Also valuable are the views of Millard Meiss: see French Painting in the Time of Jean de Berry, 2 vols. (London: Phaidon, 2nd ed., 1969), ch. 4, “The Portraits of Jean de Berry,” 2, 68–94, esp. 68. On MS Bodley 294, see particularly the discussion of Gareth M. Spriggs, “Unnoticed Bodleian Manuscripts, Illuminated by Herman Scheerre and His School,” Bodleian Library Record 7 (1962–67), 193–203. Also helpful is Selby Whittingham, “The Chronology of the Portraits of Richard II,” Burlington Magazine 113 (1971), 12–21, who points out (12) that “the attempt to date a portrait by reference to the apparent age of the person portrayed is fraught with hazards.”Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Jeremy Griffiths, “Confessio Amantis: The Poem and Its Pictures,” in A. J. Minnis, ed., Gower’s Confessio Amantis: Responses and Reassessments (Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1983), 163–78. On the ordered placement of illuminations in Confessio manuscripts, see also Richard K. Emmerson, “Reading Gower in a Manuscript Culture: Latin and English in Illustrated Manuscripts of the Confessio Amantis,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 21 (1999), 143–86; Joel Fredell, “Reading the Dream Miniature in the Confessio Amantis,” Medievalia et Humanistica, n.s. 22 (1995), 61–93; and Thomas J. Garbâty, “A Description of the Confession Miniatures for Gower’s Confessio Amantis, with Special Reference to the Illustrator’s Role as Reader and Critic,” Mediaevalia 19 (1996), 319–43.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    That is, the Bedford Psalter-Hours painter has been identified as the artist known as “The Master of the Great Cowchers,” who was in London between 1406 and 1408; see Sylvia Wright, “The Author Portraits in the Bedford Psalter-Hours: Gower, Chaucer and Hoccleve,” British Library Journal 18 (1992), 190–201.Google Scholar
  6. 15.
    The case for Gower’s dependence on Machaut has been made forcefully and eloquently by Peter Nicholson, Love and Ethics in Gower’s Confessio Amantis (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005).Google Scholar
  7. 18.
    C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1930), 200.Google Scholar
  8. 19.
    The epistola is printed by Macaulay, Complete Works, IV, 1–2, and translated by Eric W. Stockton, The Major Latin Works of John Gower (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1962), 47–48.Google Scholar
  9. 21.
    Macaulay, ed., Complete Works, IV, xvii-xviii, translates Gower’s will; for the Latin text, see Sir Harris Nicolas, “John Gower, the Poet,” Retrospective Review, 2nd series, 2 (1828), 103–17 (104).Google Scholar
  10. 22.
    On the “traditional” assumption of Gower’s birth year as 1330, see John H. Fisher, John Gower, Moral Philosopher and Friend of Chaucer (New York: New York University Press, 1964), 46. Of course, we have no birth record for Chaucer, either.Google Scholar
  11. 24.
    John A. Burrow, The Ages of Man: A Study in Medieval Writing and Thought (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), 93.Google Scholar
  12. 41.
    On Edward Ill’s children with Alice Perrers, see Michael Prestwich, The Three Edwards: War and State in England, 1212–1377, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2003), 253; Dictonary of National Biography XV, 898–900, where Alice is supplied with two daughters, one of whom is attributed to Edward, while no father is named for the other; and Michael Packe, King Edward III, ed. L. C.B. Seaman (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983), 286, who cites a son, John. Interestingly, “Hermentrude,” Notes and Queries, 7th series 7 (1889), 449, asserts Dame Alice as Edward’s “sick nurse,” as she may well have been in the last months of his life, although (despite an assuredly remarkable bedside manner) what recommended her initially must not have been her medicinal skills. Eve Salisbury gives attention to Agnes’s status in an important essay, “Promiscuous Contexts: Gower’s Wife, Prostitution, and the Confessio Amantis,” in John Gower: Manuscripts, Readers, Contexts, ed. Malte Urban (Turnhout: Brepols, 2009), 219–40.Google Scholar
  13. 42.
    See Martha Carlin, Medieval Southwark (London: Hambledon Press, 1996), ch. 9, “The Stews and Prostitution,” 209–29, and maps, 34–35.Google Scholar
  14. 43.
    Indeed, prostitutes were known in London at the end of the fourteenth century as “Winchester geese”: see A. R. Myers, London in the Age of Chaucer (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1972), 11.Google Scholar
  15. 48.
    See Paul E. Beichner, “Gower’s Use of the Aurora in the Vox Clamantis,” Speculum 30 (1955), 582–95. On Gower’s centonic style, see my “Did Gower Write Cento?” in John Gower: Recent Readings, ed. Yeager (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Press, 1988), 113–32.Google Scholar
  16. 54.
    For the possibility that Chaucer was killed for political reasons on the orders of Henry IV and Arundel, see Terry Jones, R. F. Yeager, Terry Dolan, Alan Fletcher, and Juliette D’Or, Who Murdered Chaucer? A Medieval Mystery (London: Methuen, 2003). On Sawtre, see Peter McNiven, Heresy and Politics in the Reign of Henry IV. The Burning of John Badby (Woodbridge, Suff: Boydell & Brewer, 1987), esp. 79–92. On Arundel’s extensive attempts to legalize executions, see Margaret Aston, Thomas Arundel: A Study of Church Life in the Reign of Richard II (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), 320–25, and McNiven, 63–78.Google Scholar
  17. 56.
    That Gower served at the order of the regime is delineated by David R. Carlson, “The Parliamentary Source of Gower’s Cronica Tripertita and Incommensurable Styles,” in John Gower, Trilingual Poet: Language, Translation and Tradition, ed. Elisabeth Dutton, with John Hines and R. F. Yeager (Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2010), 98–111.Google Scholar
  18. 59.
    After seizingpower, Henry IV, perhaps influenced by observation of Gian Galeazzo Visconti during a visit to Milan, actively sought laudation and support from poets, including Christine de Pisan, undoubtedly Gower, and probably Chaucer as well-very likely to the latter’s detriment. In the case of Christine, as she states in her Vision, Henry led her to believe that he held her son a hostage pending her coming to England to write for his court. See Sister Mary Towner, ed., Lavision-Christine, Catholic University of America Studies in Romance Languages and Literatures 6 (Washington DC: Catholic University of America, 1932), 166. For the full case, see my “Chaucer’s ‘To His Purse’,” and Jones, Yeager, Dolan, Fletcher, and D’Or, Who Murdered Chaucer?, passim.Google Scholar

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© R. F. Yeager and Toshiyuki Takamiya 2012

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  • R. F. Yeager

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