Gower Bibliography

Was Richard II A Tyrant? Richard's Use of the Books of Rules for Princes

Jones, Terry. "Was Richard II A Tyrant? Richard's Use of the Books of Rules for Princes." Fourteenth Century England 5 (2008), pp. 130-60. ISSN 1471-3020


Contrary to the image offered by post-usurpation chroniclers and perpetuated by uncritical modern historians, Richard II's reign was consistent with the portrait of the ideal king offered by contemporary political theorists, for whom there was no inconsistency between absolute rule and the public welfare, as long as the king acted for the common good rather than for his own personal advantage. So does Jones argue in this impressively documented essay. Thus Richard's displays of magnificence manifest not his personal vanity but his assertion of his rightful role as king, fully justified even by religious writers, and his pursuit of Gloucester and Arundel beginning in 1397 reflects impartial justice rather than personal revenge. Jones includes Chaucer's "Melibee" among the works from which Richard might have learned how to govern, providing, as it does, a model for the seeking of counsel, for the choice of advisors according to their ability rather than their rank (one of the sore points with Richard's uncles), for his pursuit of peace (with France), for the role of women (such as Queen Anne) as intercessors, and for the use of the "semblant of wrath," which may be the source for the charge that Richard had a quick temper, in contrast the many recorded instances in which he exercised a calming influence instead. Gower figures in this essay, of course, as one of those who not only helped to justify Henry's usurpation but who also sought to "chang[e] the nation's collective memory about Richard" (27) by altering the historical record to make it appear that the post-usurpation attacks on Richard's rule and character actually emerged from events early in his reign. In Gower's case, this amounted to rewriting his comments on the youthful Richard and his advisors in the "Vox Clamantis." The reference to his "sors" (Stockton: "destiny") in VC VI.572 indicates, Jones states, that the entire revised passage "must have been written after the usurpation, but modified to make it look as if it had been written earlier" (28). Similarly, Gower revised the dedication of the "Confessio Amantis" to make it appear that he had presented the poem to Henry in 1393. In this case, he gives himself away by his reference to "Henry of Lancaster," a title that Henry could not have borne until 1397, in Prol. 87, as Gower in effect concedes in the marginal gloss at Prol 28, which states that the book was presented "domino suo domino Henrico de Lancastria tunc Derbeie Comiti." The "Cronica Tripertita" Jones dismisses as "mendacious and disgraceful" (13), and he cites it among those perpetuating the "lie" that Richard refused to seek the counsel of older men. Jones published an abbreviated summary of his essay in "Richard II: Royal Villain or Victim of Spin," The Times, 4 October 2008. [PN. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 30.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Backgrounds and General Studies
Vox Clamantis
Cronica Tripertita
Confessio Amantis

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