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!
Gower and His Works: Medieval to Modern
centuries of John Gower in manuscript, print, and performance.
Click on any image above for a larger view and more information.
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
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,
John Gower is born
(probably in Kent
or Yorkshire). He comes from a prosperous family that holds land in
Kent, Yorkshire, Norfolk, and Suffolk.
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.
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.
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
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
Chaucer dedicates Troilus and Criseyde to "moral
Gower" and "philosophical Strode."
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.
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.
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
(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
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).
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
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).