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John Gower, Poetry and Propaganda in Fourteenth-Century England

John Gower, Poetry and Propaganda in Fourteenth-Century England

David R. Carlson
Volume: 7
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.cttn32w3
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  • Book Info
    John Gower, Poetry and Propaganda in Fourteenth-Century England
    Book Description:

    John Gower has been criticised for composing verse propaganda for the English state, in support of the regime of Henry IV, at the end of his distinguished career. However, as the author of this book shows, using evidence from Gower's English, French and Latin poems alongside contemporary state papers, pamphlet-literature, and other historical prose, Gower was not the only medieval writer to be so employed in serving a monarchy's goals. Professor Carlson also argues that Gower's late poetry is the apotheosis of the fourteenth-century tradition of state-official writing which lay at the origin of the literary Renaissance in Ricardian and Lancastrian England. David Carlson is Professor in the Department of English, University of Ottawa.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-972-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ABBREVIATIONS AND CITATION FORMS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: GOWER IN HISTORY
    (pp. 1-4)

    More history than John Gower, perhaps; much of state-papers, little literary criticism. Provision needs always be made for poetry’s special character, and it is. In poetry, materiam superat opus; in prose too, including the government documents. Gower and the other contemporary writers who so laboured over the fourteenth-century prose and verse were all mundane historical actors as well. They were in witness to their times, in what writing of theirs remains, and so reflect or refract conditions. In fact the late medieval writers also intervened in the historical materia with which they lived – processus might be preferable to Ovid’s...

  5. I Fourteenth-Century Panegyric Verse and Official Writing

    • Chapter One OFFICIAL VERSE: THE SOURCES AND PROBLEMS OF EVIDENCE
      (pp. 5-25)

      The well-attested early fourteenth-century effort went wrong badly. For his invasion of Scotland in 1314, the Plantagenet King of England Edward II, like the great Macedonian Alexander before him, took a contemporary Choerilus along in train, ostensibly “the famousest prosodist in all England,” a man named Robert Baston, whose career in poetry is in fact otherwise unknown, despite the chronicler’s assertion of his magnitude. The English king

      famosiorem metristam in universo regno Anglie, videlicet quemdam fratrem Carmelitam, secum adduxit, ut de triumpho suo de Scotis adipiscendo ad ipsorum dedecus metra compingeret, et ad memoriale sempiternum Scotis sic per eum, ut...

    • Chapter Two THE STATE PROPAGANDA
      (pp. 26-43)

      Another kind of evidence comes in, over the course of the fourteenth century, by consequence of England’s expensive war effort. The state itself – in the persons of various place-holders in various government offices, the chancery and household staffs chiely, including the monarch, nominally, as head of state – undertook to produce and recirculate various newsletters and other official documents, propagating information about the state’s achievements, in order to build support. This kind of source, officially produced and circulated, was used by poets as matter for transmutation into metrical propaganda.

      With the possibility of such conjunctive evidence for sponsorship comes...

    • Chapter Three OCCASIONS OF STATE AND PROPAGANDISTIC VERSE IN MID-CENTURY
      (pp. 44-67)

      Official documents, memoranda, proclamations, and especially the ubiquitous but evasive newsletters, state-sponsored in production and recirculation; a prose pamphlet-literature too, now mostly lost, partisan though not clearly if ever directly state-sponsored, in some cases at least connected to writing in state-sponsored recirculation (demonstrating access by drawing on official records and documents), with polemical purposes identifiable with state-purposes; so much is attested by the surviving prose literature: the documents and newsletters themselves, in the sometimes indirect forms in which they are now known; the greater newsletter-like writings, or lesser chronicle-like polemical writings, pamphlets themselves possibly in some cases; and then such...

    • Chapter Four WALTER PETERBOROUGH’S VICTORIA BELLI IN HISPANIA (1367) AND ITS OFFICIAL SOURCE
      (pp. 68-92)

      The culminating case will be that of Gower’s Cronica tripertita in early 1400: a verse apology for the secular state, no matter that explicit evidence for its commission is wanting – unreliable and so unremunerative anyway – yet so closely dependent on a particular official source, otherwise widely promulgated by the state, that Gower’s work must be regarded as state-official panegyric. Meanwhile come two other cases likewise having evidence of poets’ dependence on official sources, and so possibly of commissioning. Remains the problem of establishing these poets’ connections to particular sources of information, which may not survive in direct evidence...

    • Chapter Five COMPULSION IN RICHARD MAIDSTONE’S CONCORDIA (1392)
      (pp. 93-109)

      In a subsequent generation, still in Gower’s adulthood, in circumstances of which Gower himself probably had better information than is now available, the same array of literary-historical actors may have converged in another substantive Latin verse performance. Perhaps: again, the evidence is not all that might be wished. There is still nothing, direct or indirect, about piecework payment nor official commission, though there is again indication of some relation between a poet and a possibly official commissioning agency; there is also clear official encomiastic purpose; and again some indication of possible reliance on official sources of information, originating from within...

  6. II. Gower’s State-Official Late Poetry

    • Chapter Six OFFICIAL WRITING AT THE LANCASTRIAN ADVENT
      (pp. 110-120)

      By 1400, John Gower was an established literary figure, of long involvement in producing “public poetry,” in Anne Middleton’s phrase, writing about relatively broad social and political secular issues.¹ The Mirour de l’omme, the Vox clamantis , and the Confessio amantis were behind him, in circulation, before he delivered a public apology for the Lancastrian tyranny (in the ancient sense) early in that year. His Cronica tripertita is official verse panegyric.

      Nor was Gower alone in propagating varieties of secular-social writing at the time, for by 1400 the literary system in operation in England was better populated with such figures...

    • Chapter Seven ENGLISH POETRY IN LATE SUMMER 1399
      (pp. 121-152)

      A “part of the Lancastrian aim of legitimation” may have been taken on by the English poets, Helen Barr suggested¹ – including poets other than John Gower, whose Cronica tripertita will turn out to be unequivocally involved in the Lancastrian programme – testifying “again to the accute importance of the control of such texts to the Lancastrian hegemony.” “The successful legitimation of Henry’s usurpation was dependent on the activities of a carefully managed parliament,” demonstrably by means of the Westminster deliberative bureau in which Adam Usk worked, “and on the equally careful management of the texts and documents recording and...

    • Chapter Eight THE CRONICA TRIPERTITA AND ITS OFFICIAL SOURCE
      (pp. 153-196)

      Lancastrian officers and clerical subordinates had drafted components of the “Record and Process” of Richard’s deposition and Henry’s installation, suiting facts to fit immediate agenda of the new state-ruler. Others had assembled the components in the form of the final complete document, for its emplacement in the official record. Still others had seen to the official fabrication’s further rebroadcast, by one means and another, putting various redactions about the kingdom. And other poets too were busying themselves, propaganda-wise, about spreading news of the conditions of the advent: the several poets of 1399 and Chaucer too (with the lines “O conqueror...

    • Chapter Nine GOWER AFTER THE REVOLUTION: CLIENT AND CRITIC
      (pp. 197-226)

      What most makes the Cronica triperita admirable – the poet’s stylistic accomplishment in face of his materials’ unpoetic recalcitrance – is also precisely what makes it difficult to admire, even to use. The poem is hard to read, and it was extensively glossed and lengthy. By consequence harder still to enjoy, it did not much circulate; nor can it ever have been conceived as a popular piece of writing, for broad use, even in the much circumscribed contemporary senses of popularity and breadth that would have to be applied at about 1400.

      That Henry of Lancaster himself, or such advisors...

  7. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 227-240)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 241-244)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 245-246)