Gower Bibliography

Introduction: The Exemplar of Kingship

Harriss, G.L.. "Introduction: The Exemplar of Kingship." In Henry V: The Practice of Kingship. Ed. Harriss, G.L.. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985, pp. 1-29.


Harriss considers Gower with reference to Henry V and discusses Gower's relation to the politics and society of his time. Harriss uses the works of Gower, Hoccleve, Lydgate, and a number of anonymous poets to illustrate prevailing concerns with government and kingship among the educated urban class of late medieval England. The repeated calls for "good governance" among the commons following the many disturbances of the end of the fourteenth century "only thinly concealed their own bewilderment and lack of effective remedies." It is in this context that Gower's political writings are to be seen. "Of all the Ricardian poets Gower is most representative of the middle and 'professional' stratum of free society which in the late fourteenth century had become alienated from royal government, and impotently voiced its grievances and remedies in a wide range of the surviving literature" (p. 2). The "strictly defined role" of this class "in the political hierarchy restricted their own capacity to effect reform" (p. 4). Hence they looked to the king, both as a model and as a leader. The bulk of Harriss' essay is taken up with a survey of the prevalent ideals of kingship, divided among the following topics: the role of the king, justice, counsel, finance, political harmony, chivalry, war and peace, and religion. Henry shared the same ideals, Harriss asserts, and made them the program of his reign; and his ability to win the confidence of his subjects was due not to his innovations but to his fulfilling the expectations of kingship as they had already been defined. All these topics are familiar, of course, from Gower's writing, and Gower is frequently quoted as Harriss defines the ideals that Henry attempted to put into practice. Harriss' survey also does much to set Gower's poetry in the context of other contemporary writing on political themes.[PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 8.2]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Backgrounds and General Studies

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