John Gower: Life, Work, and Times

Welcome to my website dedicated to the life and work of the trilingual English poet John Gower (c. 1330-1408). A friend and contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer (see my Chaucer chronology and the chronology companion website to learn more about him). Gower was long considered a foundational figure in English literary history. In modern times, however, Gower's reputation has suffered (largely under the perception that his works are overly moralizing). Recently, Gower is enjoying a revival and more and more critics are encouraging new approaches to his writing. I have created this site to invite more people to appreciate Gower's work, and I hope it also serves as a resource to future scholars, teachers, and readers.

This webpage contains images, a chronology of Gower's life, a bibliography, links to Gower texts online, and other Gower websites. This is a continual work-in-progress, and I will make updates from time to time and add new links. If you have any comments or suggestions, please contact me!

Bar 1

Images of John Gower and His Works:
Medieval to Modern

Gower's Tomb Author Portrait Gower Enthroned Nebuchadnezzar's Ymage
Gower Manuscript Gower in Print Gower Engraving Gower Woodcut
Gower Engraving Moral Gower Echanting Storyteller Gower Resurrected

Over six centuries of John Gower in manuscript, print, and performance.
Click on any image above for a larger view and more information.

Bar 2

Chronology: The Life of John Gower

At certain moments, this chronology points to my Chaucer chonology. For some new and insightful work on Gower's life, see A Companion to Gower, ed. Sian Echard (Boydell & Brewer, 2004). Although some may deem his overview of Gower's life and work a bit out-dated, John Fisher's book John Gower: Moral Philosopher and Friend of Chaucer (New York University Press, 1964) is still quite useful and informative.

This website adapts material from Russell Peck's chronology, and I also include my own links and supplementary material here and there.

For those interested in a less conventional take on Gower's life and work (particularly his relationship with Richard II), see the "Gower" sections in Who Murdered Chaucer? A Medieval Mystery by Terry Jones et al. (Methuen, 2003).

John Gower is born (probably in Kent or Yorkshire). He comes from a prosperous family that holds land in Kent, Yorkshire, Norfolk, and Suffolk.
Geoffrey Chaucer, poet and friend of Gower, is born.
Gower purchases an estate in Kent (Aldingdon Septvauns). King Edward III disputes the transaction but later deems Gower's claim just. During this decade, Gower was perhaps in a legal or civil office; others suggest he may have been a merchant by trade.
Gower acquires a manor in Suffolk. This property (named Kentwell) had belonged to Sir Robert Gower of Brabourne (a relative).
Gower disposes of his manors (Aldingdon and Kentwell).
Gower writes his first major work, Mirour de l'Omme, in French. The poem survives in only one fragmentary manuscript.
King Edward III dies; the regency for Richard II begins. Richard is ten years old at the time.
During this time, Gower moves into the Austin Priory of St. Mary Overey in Southwark (a suburb of London); here he will spend most of the rest of his life. It is widely belived that Gower helped finance the repair and restoration of the priory (which had been damanged by fire over a century earlier). The priory had its own scriptorium, and Gower might have supervised the copying of his own poems. During this time, Chaucer was busy with his own affairs, including trips to the Continent.
Also around this time, Gower begins Vox Clamantis, his major Latin work. In its finished form, it contains seven books in Latin elegiac verse.
Chaucer gives power of attorney to John Gower and Richard Forester while he travels on a mission to Lombardy (in Italy).
In what is known as the English Rising or the Peasants' Revolt, groups of rebels (mostly from Essex and Kent) march on London, destroying the houses of unpopular public officials and assassinating some key political figures.

Most scholars believe Gower began writing Book 2 of Vox Clamantis at this time and that he completed the poem shortly afterwards. He adds to his poem an allegorical dream vision (describing the June uprising) which constitutes what is now Book 1.
Gower is granted manors in Norfolk and Suffolk. He rents these properties (named Feltwell and Moulton) to a parson, Thomas Blakelake. Blakelake pays 160 pounds per year.
Chaucer dedicates Troilus and Criseyde to "moral Gower" and "philosophical Strode."
Gower begins Confessio Amantis (his major English work), which includes some praise for Chaucer; meanwhile, Chaucer begins The Legend of Good Women. Some time later, Chaucer refers to Gower's work (just before what is now known as the Man of Law's Tale). Indeed, the Man of Law's Tale is a version of a story also told by Gower in Confessio Amantis.
The Lords Appellant defeat King Richard II and his faction and execute Nicholas Brembre and Thomas Usk, both of whom were friends of Chaucer and known to Gower.
Richard II declares himself of age, and gains full power as monarch.
Gower completes the first recension of Confessio Amantis. He dedicates the poem to the young King Richard II (who encouraged him to write it). Most of the known manuscripts of the poem follow this recension, which contains an account of the King commissioning the work and some famous words of praise for Chaucer.
Gower revises Confessio Amantis, adding new material and occasionally rearranging the old. In 1392 he revises the poem's conclusion to exclude praises of Richard II; he adds to the Prologue a dedication to Henry of Lancaster. This 1392 version is sometimes referred to as the third recension of the poem, and it was not copied as much as the 1390 edition.
In return for the issuing and dedicating Confessio Amantis to him, Henry of Lancaster presents Gower with an ornamental collar.
Gower composes some shorter Latin poems, including "Carmen super multiplici viciorum pestilencia," "O Deus immense" and "De Lucis scrutino."
Gower writes a sequence of eighteen French ballades entitled "Traitié."
On January 28, Gower marries Agnes Groundolf (possibly of Flemish ancestry); some believe this may have been his second marriage. By this time Gower was an old man (around seventy years of age); according to tradition, he was on the verge of blindness. Due to Gower's age and infirmity--and the fact that his marriage to Agnes took place in his own lodging and not in the parish church--some suggest that Agnes must have been Gower's nurse.
Richard II is deposed by act of Parliament; Henry of Lancaster becomes King Henry IV. Five weeks after his coronation, Henry grants Gower two pipes of Gascony wine per year.
Gower adds the Chronica Tripertita to the end of Vox Clamantis. He also dedicates and presents his French work "Cinkante Balades" (Fifty Ballads) to Henry IV. Around this time he also writes short Latin poems praising the king ("Rex celi deus," "H. aquile pullus," "O recolende"), as well as his final English poem, "In Praise of Peace." This latter poem may have been written after the poet had become blind.
Geoffrey Chaucer dies. His tomb is in Westminster Abbey.
John Gower dies and is buried in the Priory Church of St. Mary Overey. His tomb lies in Southwark Cathedral.

Bar 3

Gower Bibliography

Editions of Texts:
  • The Complete Works of John Gower, ed. G. C. Macaulay (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899-1902; reprinted Grosse Pointe, MI: Scholarly Press, 1968). Remains an authoritative edition of all of Gower's works (Anglo-Norman, Latin, and English) with notes and commentary.
  • Confessio Amantis (TEAMS Middle English Texts), ed. Russell Peck; Latin translations by Andrew Galloway (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Western Michigan University, 2000-2006). Scroll down to find the complete text (in three volumes).
  • Confessio Amantis, ed. Russell Peck (Univeristy of Toronto Press, 1966; reprinted 1980). An accessible edition; note that many non-narrative passages are excerpted.
  • The Latin Verses in the Confessio Amantis: An Annotated Translation, trans. Sian Echard and Claire Fanger; preface by A. G. Rigg (East Lansing, MI: Colleagues Press, 1991).
  • Miroir de l'Omme/The Mirror of Mankind, trans. William Burton Wilson; revised by Nancy Wilson Van Baak; foreword by R. F. Yeager (East Lansing, MI: Colleagues Press, 1992). A prose translation of Gower's major Anglo-Norman work.
  • The Major Latin Works of John Gower, trans. Eric W. Stockton (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1962). Contains prose translations of Vox Clamantis and Cronica Tripertita.
Books about Gower's Life and Works:
  • Echard, Sian, ed. A Companion to Gower (London: Boydell & Brewer, 2004). A great guide to Gower: includes new essays on his life, work, and literary reception history.
  • Watt, Diane. Amoral Gower (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003). Offers an innovative take on Gower's poetics and politics, suggesting Gower is not as conservative as many make him out to be.
  • Yeager, R.F. John Gower's Poetic: The Search for a New Arion (Rochester, NY: D.S. Brewer, 1990). A broad examination of Gower's learning and his complete poetry, including his both his long and short works.
  • Fisher, John. John Gower: Moral Philosopher and Friend of Chaucer (New York University Press, 1964). Provides a sustained reading of Gower's life, times, and work.
See also the Gower section of the Luminarium website and the Gower bibliography by Derek Pearsall (both slightly out of date).

Gower Texts Online

Luminarium Bookstore - connects to websites containing online versions of Gower's work.
John Gower Society Texts - links to online editions and translations of Gower's work.
TEAMS Online Edition - contains the entire Confessio Amantis with introduction, footnotes, and commentary (scroll down and select a section to read).
Harvard Chaucer Website - excerpts from Confessio Amantis.
Confessio Amantis in Modern English - a modernized verse translation of the Prologue (by Richard Brodie).
From Vox Clamantis, Book 1 - part of Gower's description of the Peasants' Revolt (translated from Latin into modern English).
From Vox Clamantis, Book 3 and Book 4 - part of Gower's satirical depictions of Prelates and Monks (translated from Latin into modern English)
From Mirour de l'Omme - selections from Gower's description of Friars, Knights, Lawyers, Merchants and Tradespeople (translated from French into modern English).

Other Gower Resources

Luminarium Gower Website - several pages on Gower's life and works; also links to essays and books on Gower and additional resources.
Sian Echard's Gower Page - informative site with many exciting images and helpful links.
Derek Pearsall's Gower Page - a concise Gower biography and bibliography; selected excerpts from Gower's poetry.
The Gower Project - an international working group bridging Gower studies and new media.
John Gower Society - includes news and resources relevant to Gower studies.
Online Gower Bibliography - searchable database contains reviews of articles and other scholarly works on Gower.
Gower Audio Files - listen to excerpts of Gower's poetry read aloud (in Middle English).

Last Updated: 22 December 2007