Gower Bibliography

Did John Gower Rededicate His 'Confessio Amantis' before Henry IV's Usurpation?

Jones, Terry. "Did John Gower Rededicate His 'Confessio Amantis' before Henry IV's Usurpation?" In Middle English Texts in Transition: A Festschrift Dedicated to Toshiyuki Takamiya on his 70th Birthday. Ed. Horobin, Simon, and Mooney, Linne R. Woodbridge, Suffolk: York Medieval Press/Boydell and Brewer, 2014, pp. 40-74. ISBN 9781903153536


Jones reconsiders the evidence traditionally used to show that Gower rededicated CA to Henry in 1392-93, which has been the main argument to prove his disaffection to Richard II before he was deposed. His study starts with a detailed analysis of the two main manuscripts used by Macaulay for his theory of the second and third recension of the poem: Huntington Library MS Ellesmere 26 A.17 and Oxford, Bodleian library, MS Fairfax 3. Jones revises Macaulay's dating of Ellesmere 26 A.17 to 1397-99 through an in-depth examination of the heraldic ornaments in fol. 1, which leads him to conclude that it must have been produced later, in 1403. He discards the possibility of a posterior addition of these ornaments given the carefully planned design of the manuscript, concluding that "the fact that it is such a high-class production also reinforces the impression that this may have been a royal commission possibly paid for by the king as a gift to his son--as part of his ongoing propaganda campaign" (54). Jones reaches a similar conclusion about the corrections and changes made to MS Fairfax 3, the only pre-usurpation manuscript. As he reminds us, Macaulay already acknowledged that the First Revision Hand must have amended the text after Henry's accession –given that there is a reference to Richard's fate. Following Parkes' identification of one of the CA revision hands as the same Scribe 4 that updated four manuscripts of VC, Jones has been able to confirm that in one of these manuscripts (Oxford, All Souls College, MS 98) "every single passage disparaging Richard II is in a different ink, and written over an erasure" (56). In Jones' view, the two revisions must have been done after Henry's usurpation, as a result of the "pressure on his poets to make them fall in line with the new political correctness" (56). Therefore, Jones claims, there is no evidence that Gower rededicated CA to Henry in 1392-93--and even if he rededicated the poem some years later, that doesn't mean that he changed allegiance or he was disenchanted or disillusioned; he just changed patron, a common practice in the period. The rest of the article is dedicated to demonstrating that the dedication was amended after the deposition, based on three arguments. The first argument is the reference to Henry as "Henry of Lancaster," a title he only inherited on his father's death in 1399. Jones has been able to corroborate that this designation was rare before 1399, even in books of accounts, where the denomination "Earl of Derby" was used until that date, though after 1399 it was often corrected by sewing pieces of velum with the new designation "of Lancaster." Secondly, neither the political theories and mirrors for princes of the period would describe Richard's behavior as that of an oppressive ruler, nor do any of Gower's poems written prior to 1399 criticize him for being a bad king. Jones finds no credible evidence of Gower's disenchantment with Richard, nor of any degree of admiration for Henry, who before 1399 was not a particularly remarkable military or political figure. Finally, Jones analyzes the "black propaganda," the rewriting of history promoted by Henry and Arundel after the usurpation which not only depicted Richard in a negative light but also tried to show people dissatisfied with his rule. "Everywhere we see signs of nervous scribes conforming to the new political correctness" (71), he affirms. It is in this context that the rededication of CA must be understood, which, given the new dating proposed by Jones, seems to show the existence of two, and not three, recensions of the poem.] [ASH. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 33.2.]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Manuscripts and Textual Studies
Confessio Amantis

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