Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 22.djvu/305

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Gower
Gower
299

GOWER, JOHN (1325?–1408), poet, is loosely described by Caxton, who first printed his ‘Confessio Amantis’ in 1483, as ‘a squyer borne in Walys in the tyme of kyng Richard the second.’ The poet was certainly not a Welshman by birth, and, since in 1400 he described himself as ‘senex,’ it is probable he was born in the second or third decade of the fourteenth century. All the early writers insist on his good birth. Leland, in his ‘Commentarii’ (p. 414), connected him with the Gowers of Stittenham, Yorkshire, ancestors of the Leveson-Gowers, and he has been followed by Bale, Pits, Holinshed, and Todd. But the poet's coat of arms and crest emblazoned on his tomb in Southwark differ altogether from the armorial bearings of the Gowers of Stittenham, and render the relationship impossible. The poet, moreover, rhymed his name with ‘power,’ while the Stittenham family have always pronounced their name as though it rhymed with ‘po-er’ or ‘pore.’ Weever's assumption that the poet was closely connected with the family of Sir Robert Gower, a large landowner both in Suffolk and Kent, has been powerfully supported by Sir Harris Nicolas's researches, and is probably correct. Sir Robert died in or before 1349, and was buried in the church of Brabourne, near Ashford, Kent, where there was at one time a brass to his memory, bearing the poet's coat of arms. In 1333 Sir Robert had received from David, earl of Athol, the manor of Kentwell, Suffolk, with its appurtenances. This manor became the joint property of his two daughters after his death. The elder daughter, Katherine, died in 1366. The younger, Joan, was in 1368 married to a second husband, Thomas Syward, pewterer and citizen of London, and husband and wife were then joint owners of the Kentwell manor. On 28 June 1368 they granted it to John Gower, a near kinsman, who has been, with every probability, identified with the poet. By a deed executed at Otford, Kent, on Thursday, 30 Sept. 1373, John Gower made Kentwell over to Sir John Cobham, William Weston, Roger Ashburnham, Thomas Brokhill, and Thomas Preston, rector of Tunstall. The crest engraved on the seal attached to this deed is identical with that on the poet's tomb. Henceforth the poet seems to have been closely associated with Kent. He wrote of the Kentish insurrection of 1381, with every sign of personal knowledge. On 1 Aug. 1382, in a charter which confirmed to him the manors of Feltwell, Norfolk, and Moulton, Suffolk (Rot. Claus. 6 Richard II, p. 1, No. 27 dorso), he is designated ‘esquier de Kent.’ On 6 Aug. following he parted with Feltwell and Moulton to Thomas Blakelake, parson of the church of St. Nicholas at Feltwell, on condition that 40l. was paid him annually in the conventual church of Westminster. Confirmation of this arrangement was made on 24 Oct. 1382 and 29 Feb. 1384. Documents dated 3 Feb. 1381 and 10 June 1385 assigned to Gower and one John Bowland, clerk, the rights of Isabella, daughter of Walter de Huntingfield, to certain lands and tenements at Throwley and Stalesfield, Kent. In 1365 a John Gower rented the manors of Wygeburgh (i.e. Wigborough), Essex, and Aldington, Kent. It is possible that this tenant was the poet. But it is extremely doubtful whether the John Gower, ‘clerk,’ who held the rectory of Great Braxted, Essex, from February 1390 to March 1397, is identical with the writer. Professor Morley accepts the identification without hesitation. But there is no other evidence to show that Gower, whose customary title was ‘esquier,’ was in holy orders. The probability is all the other way.

The legends that represent Gower as educated at Oxford, and as entering the Inner Temple, have no historical basis. His works prove him to have been a man of wide reading, who probably travelled in France in early life, and in his later years he settled down as a well-to-do country gentleman, watching with some alarm the political and social movements of his time. He was known at court, but not apparently till well advanced in years. His chief poem, ‘Confessio Amantis,’ was written (according to his own account) at the request of Richard II, to whom it was first dedicated. But he transferred his dedication and his allegiance to the king's rival, Henry of Lancaster, afterwards Henry IV, about 1393–4, when ‘un esquier, John Gower,’ is mentioned among Henry's retainers. In the opening years of Henry's reign he proved himself an untiring panegyrist of his new sovereign. It is thus that he has gained for himself the reputation of a timid time-server, but the change of allegiance may well have been the result of conviction. On his tomb the poet's effigy wears a collar of SS, to which is appended a swan, Henry's badge (assumed after the death of Thomas of Gloucester in 1397). In his old age the poet married. At the time he was residing in the priory of St. Mary Overies, Southwark, to which he had proved a great benefactor. His apartments seem to have been in what was afterwards known as Montague Close, between the church of St. Mary Overies and the river (Rendle, Old Southwark, p. 317). According to the register of William of Wykeham, bishop of Winchester, the name of Gower's wife was Agnes Groundolf, and the