John Gower, Vox Clamantis. With the kind permission of
Glasgow University Library, Dept. of Special Collections.
John Gower, poet and friend of Chaucer, was born around 1330, into a prominent Yorkshire family which
held properties in Kent, Yorkshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. Gower's coat
of arms is identical to those of Sir Robert Gower of Brabourne. Nothing
is known of his education, though it has been speculated that he was
trained in law. Gower himself held properties in Suffolk and Kent,
where he seems to have resided until taking up residence in the priory
of St. Mary Overies in Southwark, London, around 1377.
Gower's first work was Mirour
de l'Omme (i.e. Mirror of Man) (wr. 1376-79), an allegorical
poem in French meditating on the fall of man and the effect of sin on
the world. Gower later latinized the title to Speculum Hominis,
and later changed it to Speculum Meditantis to fit with the
titles of his later works. Around 1377, Gower began work on Vox Clamantis (i.e. The
Clamoring Voice), an essay in Latin elegiac verse. Like the Speculum
Meditantis, it too treats of sinfulness, and criticizes the
corruption of the society. It also provides a contemporary view of the
Peasants' Revolt of 1381. Gower's moral and philosophical writings were
highly praised by his peers. In 1385, Gower's good friend, Geoffrey
Chaucer, dedicated the Troilus and Criseyde to him, giving him
the epithet "moral Gower."
In 1386, Gower began work on his
most acclaimed work, Confessio
Amantis (i.e. Lover's Confession). Unlike his previous works,
Gower wrote the Confessio in English at the request of Richard II who was concerned that so little was being written in English. It is
a collection of tales and exempla treating of courtly love. The
framework is that of a lover complaining first to Venus, and later in
the work, confessing to her priest, Genius. Completed around 1390, Confessio Amantis made an important contribution to courtly love
literature in English. Some of the stories have their counterparts in
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and one of the stories later served
as the source for Shakespeare's Pericles, in which Shakespeare
had Gower appear in the Chorus. Gower revised Confessio Amantis
in 1393, replacing the praise of King Richard II with a dedication to
Henry of Lancaster. In return, Henry presented Gower with an ornamented
British Library, Egerton MS. 1991.
Next, Gower composed a series of
Latin poems, as well as Traitié, a sequence of French
ballads in rhyme royal. In 1397, Gower married Agnes Groundolf,
probably his second wife. By this time Gower was nearly blind, so the
marriage may have been one of convenience. King Richard II was finally
deposed by parliament in 1399, replaced by Henry Lancaster as Henry IV. Soon afterwards, Gower composed a sequel to Vox Clamantis,
the Cronica tripertita (i.e. Tripartite Chronicle), in
which he condemned the vices of King Richard II and his court. At this
time, Gower also wrote Latin verses in praise of the new King, as well
as his last English work, "To King Henry, in Praise of Peace".
Gower dedicated and presented his French work Cinkante Balades
(Fifty Ballads), which some attribute to his younger days, to King
Henry. Old and blind, John Gower died in 1408, leaving a considerable
estate. He was buried in St. Mary Overies (later St. Saviour's), now Southwark Cathedral, where his tomb
can still be seen today.
- Burrow, J. A. Ricardian
poetry, Chaucer, Gower, Langland and the 'Gawain' poet.
Haven: Yale University Press, 1971.
- Dodd, William George. Courtly
Love in Chaucer and Gower.
; London, Ginn and company, 1913 ; repr. Gloucester, Mass.: P. Smith,
- Fisher, John H. John Gower, Moral
Philosopher and Friend of Chaucer.
York: New York University Press, 1964.
- Gallacher, Patrick J. Love,
the Word, and Mercury: A Reading of John Gower's Confessio Amantis.
University of New Mexico Press, 1975.
- Gower, John. The
Complete Works of John Gower. G.C. Macaulay, Ed.
: Clarendon Press, 1899- ; repr. Grosse Pointe, MI : Scholarly
- Gower, John. Confessio
Middle English Texts. Russell A. Peck, Ed., Latin translations by
Michigan: Western Michigan University, 2000.
- Gower, John. The
English Works of John Gower. G.C. Macaulay, Ed.
London: K. Paul, Trench,
Trübner & Co., Ltd., for the Early English Text Society, 1901.
- Gower, John. The
Latin verses in the Confessio Amantis: an Annotated translation.
Echard and Claire Fanger, translators, with a preface by A.G. Rigg.
Lansing, Colleagues Press, 1991.
- Gower, John. The Major Latin works of
John Gower: The Voice of One Crying, and
the Tripartite Chronicle. Annotated & translated by Eric W. Stockton.
Univ. of Washington Press, 1962.
- Gower, John. Miroir
de l'Omme / The Mirror of Mankind.
William Burton Wilson, rev. Nancy Wilson Van Baak, foreword by R.F.
Lansing, MI: Colleagues Press, 1992.
- Kerby-Fulton, Kathryn, and Maidie Hilmo,
Medieval Professional Reader at Work:
from Manuscripts of Chaucer, Langland, Kempe, and Gower.
B.C.: University of Victoria, 2001.
- Nicholson, Peter. An
Annotated Index to the Commentary on Gower's Confessio Amantis.
& Renaissance texts & studies; v. 62.
N.Y.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1989.
- Pearsall, Derek Albert. Descriptive
Catalogue of the Manuscripts of the Works of John Gower.
York: Garland Pub., 1995.
- Pearsall, Derek Albert. Gower and
Lydgate. Writers and their work, no. 211.
Longmans, Green & Co., 1969.
- Peck, Russell A. Kingship
and Common Profit in Gower's Confession Amantis
Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978.
- Yeager, Robert F. John
Gower's Poetic: The Search for a New Arion.
of the John Gower Society, 2.
NY: D.S. Brewer, 1990.
- Yeager, Robert F. John
Gower Materials: A Bibliography Through 1979.
Reference Library of the Humanities; vol. 266.
York: Garland Pub., 1981.
To cite this article:
Jokinen, Anniina. "Life of John Gower". Luminarium.
13 Feb 2010. [Date you accessed this article].
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Created by Anniina Jokinen on October 25, 2002. Last updated on January 24, 2023.
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