Historians on John Gower. Edited by Stephen Rigby, with Siân Echard. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2019. [Brewer catalogue]
The late fourteenth century was the age of the Black Death, the Peasants’ Revolt, the Hundred Years War, the deposition of Richard II, the papal schism and the emergence of the heretical doctrines of John Wyclif and the Lollards. These social, political and religious crises and conflicts were addressed not only by preachers and by those involved in public affairs but also by poets, including Chaucer and Langland. Above all, though, it is in the verse of John Gower that we find the most direct engagement with contemporary events. Yet, surprisingly, few historians have examined Gower’s responses to these events or have studied the broader moral and philosophical outlook which he used to make sense of them.
Here, a number of eminent medievalists seek to demonstrate what historians can add to our understanding of Gower’s poetry and his ideas about society (the nobility and chivalry, the peasants and the 1381 revolt, urban life and the law), the Church (the clergy, papacy, Lollardy, monasticism, and the friars) gender (masculinity and women and power), politics (political theory and the deposition of Richard II) and science and astronomy. The book also offers an important reassessment of Gower’s biography based on newly-discovered primary sources.