Gower Bibliography

John Gower, Mentor for Royalty: Richard II

Coffman, George R. "John Gower, Mentor for Royalty: Richard II." PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 69 (1954), pp. 953-964.


In all of Gower's work we witness the poet "repeatedly going through the same cycle: a ruler is responsible for the welfare of England and for its morality in civic, religious, and political life as exemplified in the individual citizen" (964). Gower's "most significant role" (953) is therefore to act as mentor for royalty, in particular for Richard II. To illustrate this point, Coffman examines three aspects of Gower's work: the 1381 Peasants Revolt; Gower's views of Lollardy; and Gower's final assessment of Richard's reign. The first of these, the 1381 Revolt, is treated in the VC, where Gower demonstrates that the wise king is responsible for the welfare of his land. The subject of Lollardy further suggests that Gower looked to the king to quell heresy. In "Carmen super multiplici viciorum pestilencia" he admonishes Richard in the final couplet to be like the husbandman ("Cultor") who watches and acts "lest the weeds of heresy stifle the harvest" (957-58). The third and longest section of Coffman's essay is a close reading of "O Deus Immense." Its value, Coffman argues, consists in "its quality as a mirror reflecting the mind of a middle-class conservative and through it interpreting in a comprehensive manner Gower's class in society and the Lancastrian attitude as found in contemporary records" (959). Gower's revision of the heading of the poem reveals that Gower increasingly saw himself in the role of "a judge rendering a decision [on Richard's reign] rather than that of an advisor telling a young ruler what to do" (960). Coffman shows that in "O Deus Immense," "practically every maxim, precept, or injunction applies with direct clarity to King Richard's reign" (962). Also noted are Gower's use of the second person to address his reader and make note of important precepts, as well as the reference to the Coronation Oath which signals the obligation of kings to rule justly. Coffman points out that the Coronation Oath was used by the Lancastrians in the 1399 deposition charges to indict Richard for ruling badly, and the essay ends with a comparison between the language of the poem and the phrasing of these thirty-three charges. [CvD]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Vox Clamantis
Minor Latin Poetry

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