Historians on John Gower

Historians on John Gower. Edited by Stephen Rigby, with Siân Echard. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2019. [Brewer catalogue]

Historians on John Gower, edited by Stephen Rigby with Sian Echard

D.S. Brewer


John Gower’s poetry offers an important and immediate response to the turbulent events of his day. The essays here examine his life and his works from an historical angle, bringing out fresh new insights.

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.

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About the Editors

Stephen Rigby is Emeritus Professor of Medieval Social and Economic History at the University of Manchester.

Siân Echard is a medievalist and a book historian. Her interests include twelfth-century Anglo-Latin literature, particular Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britannie; Arthurian literature; the works of John Gower; and the post-medieval reception and transmission of medieval texts. Her books include Arthurian Narrative in the Latin Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) and The Arthur of Medieval Latin Literature (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2011); A Companion to Gower (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2004); and Printing the Middle Ages (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008). With Robert Rouse, she is the general editor of The Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature in Britain (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017).

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