John Gower

?1330 - 1408

John Gower has a magnificent, brightly coloured tomb in the north aisle of the nave of Southwark Cathedral in London, England.

 

John Gower's Tomb

 

Tomb of John Gower, Southwark Cathedral (Photograph by Tony Avon)

 

John Gower

 

His head rests upon his three main works: Confessio Amantis, Vox Clamantis and Speculum Meditantis which were written respectively in English, Latin and French.

Gower was one of England's earliest poets - a contemporary of William Langland and a friend of Geoffrey Chaucer. It is likely that he came from a wealthy family from Kent and that he was trained in the law.

Gower was highly thought of during his life time and enjoyed the patronage of Richard II. It is said that Gower met the king while rowing on the River Thames and was invited aboard the royal barge. This meeting inspired him to write Confessio Amantis - a work consisting of 34,000 rhymed couplets.

When Chaucer went abroad on his diplomatic tours he nominated Gower as one of his attorneys. Chaucer dedicated Troylus and Chriseyde to him in the following manner: 'O moral Gower, this book I directe/ To thee'. In return Gower provided a tribute to Chaucer in Confessio Amantis. However, it is possible that the two poets became estranged later in life as this tribute does not appear in subsequent versions of the poem. Shakespeare lifted the plot for his play Pericles, Prince of Tyre from Confessio Amantis.

Gower remarried at the age of 70 in 1398 and two years later he went blind. Most of his final years were spent in the priory of St Mary Overies in Southwark. (St. Mary Overy was the previous name for Southwark Cathedral.)

Here is the first section of The Prologue from Confessio Amantis :

Of hem that writen ous tofore
The bokes duelle, and we therfore
Ben tawht of that was write tho:
Forthi good is that we also
In oure tyme among ous hiere
Do wryte of newe som matiere,
Essampled of these olde wyse
So that it myhte in such a wyse,
 
 

 


 

 

 
 
 
 

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