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HE materials for a biography of John Gower the poet are scanty, and quite insufficient for a sketch of his personal history; and his writings contain very few of those allusions to himself which are so frequently met with in similar that he was educated either at Oxford or Cambridge, though his great knowledge in all branches of medieval learning, especially as displayed in his Confessio Amantis, affords a strong presumption, that he must have been a student at one of the universities. It is one of the many inventions of Leland, * that Gower was a lawyer; others have made him a member of the Temple and even a judge; there is however as little proof of such representations as of those respecting Chaucer having belonged to the legal profeslion: nor does it appear that a judge bearing the name of Gower sat on the bench during the fourteenth century.t It is certain, however, that he was the owner of much landed property, and received a learned education; and his compositions in Latin, French and English, prove that he was a highly cultivated English gentleman, and one of the earliest poets in his mothertongue.
| works. The date of his birth is unknown, and within seventy years of his death his descent and the place of his birth seem to have been entirely forgotten. Caxton, who in 1483 printed the first edition of the Confeffio Amantis, styles him, Johan Gower Squyer borne in Walys in the tyme of kyng richard the second; Gower being the name of a family of some repute, resident in a diftrict of South Wales called Gowerland, which occurs occafionally in the public records of the poet's day;* but beyond Caxton's assertion, no proof that he was a native of the principality is known to exist. We have no direct evidence
* Henry le Gower, the well known bishop of St. David's, died in 1347. Thomas Gower, Burgensis ville de Havreford in Suthwallia, occurs on Rot. Pat. 18 Ric. II. p. 1. memb. 22.
The next mention of the poet occurs in Leland, who heard that he belonged to the ancient family of the Gowers of Stitenham in Yorkshire, the ancestors of the marquis of Stafford, which family, tradition states, came from Britanny with William the Conqueror in his expedition to England. This statement has been repeated by Bale, Pitts, and Holinshed, who contented themselves with merely copying from Leland; but the late Rev. Henry J. Todd ş has attempted to support it by documentary evidence, which, he asserts, remained un
• Commentarii de Script. Brit. p. 414. Coluit forum et patrias leges lucri causa.
+ Foss, Judges of England, iv. p. 28.
I Commentarii de Scriptoribus Britannicis, ed. Hall, p. 414. Johannes Goverus, vir equestris ordinis, ex Stitenhamo, villa Ebora. censis provinciæ, ut ego accepi, originem ducens, etc.
$ Illustrations of the Lives and Writings of Gower and Chaucer, London, 1810.
noticed up to his time. Mr. Todd's evidence however has, unfortunately for his argument, very little foundation. He expresses his desire “ to connect, according to a proud family tradition, the poet Gower with that illustrious house of the same name,” and conjectures that a remarkable manuscript of the Confessio Amantis, of which the marquis of Stafford was then in possession, and which is now the property of the earl of Ellesmere, “ was a present from the author to one of the Gower family soon after the completion of the work.”* It will appear hereafter, how very lightly Mr. Todd examined this manuscript.
He mentions also, as further evidence of this Family connexion, a deed in the archives of the marquis of Stafford executed by Robert de Ranclif of Stitenham, dated the Wednesday next after Easter, the 19th of April 1346, which was witnessed amongst others by a John Gower. But this charter is indorsed, as Mr. Todd himself remarks “ in the handwriting of at least a century later.”+ “ 1346. Johannes Gower, wittnes only St John Gower the poet."
Mr. Todd has likewise published the poet's last will ; but this document has not the sightest reference to Yorkshire, and a number of records exist in which property of the very fame teftator, situated in several southern and eastern counties, is mentioned.
Since Todd's publication other particulars have been brought to light, principally through the research of that indefatigable genealogist and antiquary, the late Sir Harris Nicolas, which go far to show, that the poet belonged altogether to a different family, and that he was born and dwelt in Kent, where he possessed considerable pro
* Illustrations of Chaucer and Gower, p. 109.
perty. Sir H. Nicolas observes,* that “ the strongest evidence against the opinion, that the poet was of the Yorkshire family of Gower, exists in the entire difference of their arms.” On the poet's tomb in Southwark and on a seal attached to a deed executed by John Gower and dated 1373, the same coat is emblazoned, thus demonstrating that the poet and this John Gower are one and the same person. These arms are Argent on a chevron, Azure, three leopards' heads, Or. Both crests are also identical, on a chapeau a talbot passant. Whereas the Gowers of Stitenham bear Barry, Argent, and Gules, a cross patee flore, Sable; and for their crest a wolf passant, Argent, collared and chained, Or. Sir Harris Nicolas on the authority of one of the Cottonian MSS. (Julius C. vii. fol. 152) states that there was living at the same period another John Gower, who bore a coat entirely different from the two families above mentioned. He was a party to a deed with Ralph Spigurnell and Sir John de Byshopston, dated Westminster, the 20th of August 1359, and enrolled on Rot. Pat. 33 Edw. III. p. II. membr. 6. By this instrument the king confirms to him and others certain grants for life made by Roger Mortimer, earl of March. One of the manors granted is that of Bridgewater in Somerset, with which the descendants of the Gowers of Stitenham have only recently been connected.
In the fourteenth century a family of respectab the name of Gower dwelt in Suffolk and probably resided occasionally in Kent, to which attention was first drawn by Weever, t who, when mentioning the epitaph of Sir Robert Gower on his tomb at Brabourne, adds : “ From this familie John Gower the poet was descended.”
Sir Robert Gower, knight, obtained on the 25th of June
• Retrospective Review, Second Series, 11. p. 111.