Gower, Henry (DNB00)

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GOWER, HENRY (d. 1347), bishop of St. David's, was sprung from a noble family (Fœdera, ii. 747) settled probably in the English-speaking peninsula of Gower, not far from Swansea. He was educated at Oxford, and became master of arts, doctor of both civil and canon law (ib.), and fellow of Merton College (Brodrick, Memorials of Merton College, p. 177, Oxford Hist. Soc.) At the end of 1322 he appears for a short time as chancellor of the university, and he again acted in that office in 1323 (Wood, Fasti Oxon. pp. 19, 20, ed. Gutch). It is said that when holding this office he took an active part in liberating the university from the jurisdiction claimed by the archdeacon of Oxford, but the dispute between the university and the archdeacon was not raised in its final form until 1325, and not settled until 1345 (Collectanea, 1st ser. pp. 16–26, Oxford Hist. Soc.; Anstey, Munimenta Academica, i. 148, Rolls Ser.). He also became some time after 1319 archdeacon of St. David's (Le Neve, Fasti Eccl. Angl. i. 308, ed. Hardy). Browne Willis (Survey, p. 163) says that he had been a canon of St. David's since about 1314. Gower was particularly distinguished for his knowledge of several languages (Fœdera, ii. 747). These probably included Welsh, as his fitness for a Welsh appointment is specially noted. He is described by Edward III as a man of foresight and of unblemished character.

The death of Bishop David Martin (9 March 1328) left the bishopric of St. David's vacant during the disturbances produced in South Wales by the fall of Edward II. The precentor and canons, when informing the king of Bishop David's death, recommended Archdeacon Henry as his successor. The government at once accepted the proposal. On 26 March the congé d'élire was issued, and on 12 June he was consecrated at Canterbury by Stephen Gravesend [q. v.], bishop of London (Le Neve, Fasti Eccl. Angl. i. 293–4; Stubbs, Registrum Sacrum Anglicanum, p. 53).

Gower was anxious to proceed to the papal court at Avignon, but a general order now prohibited all magnates from leaving the country, and he seems to have received a special appointment to put down the disturbances in his diocese. This indicates that he was in the confidence of Mortimer and the queen. Mortimer was his tenant for some of the lands belonging to his church, about which he had some difficulties after the favourite's fall (Rot. Parl. ii. 392 a). At last Gower tried by a personal interview to persuade the king to let him go to Avignon, but leave was refused, although on 16 Aug. royal letters of a most flattering character were sent, commending him and his business to pope and cardinals (Fœdera, ii. 747, 748, 749). Before the year was out he was attacked with his household by some of his lawless spiritual subjects, when performing his office and reconciling the church of Llanbadarnfawr, close to Aberystwith (Rot. Parl. ii. 433 b).

Gower did not take a very leading part in the general business of the next twenty years. In April 1329 he received letters of protection to cross the sea with the king (Fœdera, ii. 764), who was to perform homage to Philip of France at Amiens. In 1334 he was on a commission to renew the truce with France in the south (ib. ii. 880–1), and early in 1342 he was one of the negotiators of a projected treaty between the allies of the French and English at Antoing, near Tournay (ib. ii. 1185). He was present at the parliaments held at Westminster at Eastertide 1341 and 1343 (Rot. Parl. ii. 126 b, 135 b). In 1346 he lent the king three hundred marks (ib. ii. 453 a). He died in 1347, and was buried in his cathedral, where a large altar-tomb, overshadowed by the southern bay of the great rood screen which he himself had built, still covers his remains. It is now much mutilated, but the effigy of the bishop in eucharistic vestments is still fairly complete.

Gower's fame rests on his munificent benefactions, and still more on his distinction as an architect. He has been quaintly called the ‘Menevian Wykeham.’ He was the originator of a peculiar and singularly beautiful local form of ‘decorated’ Gothic architecture. ‘He has left,’ say Jones and Freeman, ‘more extensive traces of his mind at St. David's than any other bishop before or since.’ In 1334 he established a chantry in the lady chapel of his cathedral, and appropriated the church of Manorowen, near Fishguard, to the sub-chanter and vicars choral as its endowment. He carried out probably at this time considerable alterations of the fabric of the lady chapel. He also effected very important structural changes in the main body of the cathedral. He raised the walls of the aisles to their present height, and, while ingeniously working up existing materials, gave the whole the appearance of a ‘decorated’ building. He also built the massive rood screen which cuts off nave from choir by a thick wall of stone. He may also have added a new stage to the tower, though this work is possibly a little earlier. The ‘decorated’ additions to the chapter-house are also his work. But the great manifestation of his architectural genius at St. David's is the magnificent ruined episcopal palace, ‘altogether unsurpassed by any existing English edifice of its own kind,’ with its superb rose window, graceful chapel spire, magnificent great hall, and unique arcaded parapet. He also seems to have built the fortified wall which shut in the close of St. David's, and made it possible for him to erect a palace and not a castle in the heart of disturbed Dyved. He repaired six other episcopal residences selected from the large number of half-ruinous mansions and castles belonging to his see. It has been thought that a coarser and inferior parapet of the type of that at St. David's proves that Lamphey palace, near Pembroke, was also rebuilt or largely added to by him; but the mass of the building is earlier or later than Gower's time. Probably it is a clumsy imitation of his style by a later artist (Archæologia Cambrensis, new series, ii. 321, 324). Leland assigns it to Gower (Collectanea, i. 323); but Leland also says Gower was chancellor of England. The very similar parapet work of the tower of Swansea Castle, work only differing from that at St. David's by its greater plainness, is also attributed to Gower by Leland, and here architectural evidence leaves little doubt of his correctness. Several other buildings in the diocese can also be attributed ‘with moral certainty’ to Gower or to a school of builders that followed in his footsteps These include the beautiful decorated chancel of Swansea old church, the churches of Carew and Hodgeston, and the choir and chapel at Monkton in Pembrokeshire. Gower was also the founder of a hospital at Swansea for the blind, aged, and sick. He appointed six chaplains to perform divine service in it, and endowed it with lands in the neighbourhood that seem to have been his private property, as well as the revenues of the churches of Swansea, Penrice, and Llanguick.

[Gower's architectural work at St. David's is minutely described in the History and Antiquities of St. David's by Bishop Jones and Professor Freeman, pp. 78, 101, 110, 157, 189; his personal history is treated with less completeness in pp. 302–3 of the same work; for his buildings in Gower, Freeman's Architectural Antiquities of Gower, reprinted in pamphlet form from the Archæologia Cambrensis, vol. i. new ser.; for Lamphey, Archæologia Cambrensis, ii. 321, 324, iii. 199, new ser.; Browne Willis's Survey of St. David's; Canon Bevan's Diocesan History of St. David's, pp. 133–4, in the S.P.C.K. Series of Diocesan Histories; Leland's Collectanea, i. 275, 323; Rymer's Fœdera, vol. ii. Record edition; Rolls of Parliament vol. ii.; Le Neve's Fasti Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ, i. 293–4, 308, ed. Hardy.]

T. F. T.