"For Worldes Good": John Gower's "Tale of Constance" and the End of the Crusades.

Brwon, Harry J.

"For Worldes Good": John Gower's "Tale of Constance" and the End of the Crusades.

Brown, Harry J. "'For Worldes Good': John Gower's 'Tale of Constance' and the End of the Crusades." In The Crusades: Other Experiences, Alternate Perspectives: Selected Proceedings from the 32nd Annual CEMERS Conference, ed. Khalil I. Semaan (Binghamton, NY: Global Academic Publishing, 2003), pp. 179-89. ISBN 9781586842512.

Brown sees the battle of Nicopolis in 1396, after which "almost 20,000 crusaders" were beheaded "by the Ottomans" and "many more were enslaved," as the termination of "the Crusade era and European chivalry" (179). Gower, he argues, "was probably among those who had known enough to see the massacre coming" (179) because "he had been present when Philipe [de Mézières . . . presented his "Epistre" to King Richard urging an alliance with Charles [VI of France] and the Avignon pope against the much stronger Ottomans on the other side of the world" (179-80). In Brown's view, the Prologue to the CA, ll. 240-49 represent "at least one dissenting murmur in the English court" against taking up the crusade that ended at Nicopolis (181). Gower's opposition to the 1396 effort is the more apparent in alterations he made to Trivet's original narrative that provided the source for the "Tale of Constance." Brown finds significant Gower's omission of Tiberius' agreement with the sultan and the detail of 11,000 Saracens slaughtered: for Gower, these "would have represented the kind of pro-Crusade rhetoric being spread through England and all of Europe by reactionary propagandists like Philipe of Mézières" (184). Trivet's original narrative, Brown argues, in the end of which "the West is fully converted, Christendom is united, and the East is crushed under the avenging might of Rome," so that "all of [Pope] Urban's dreams [would] have been realized" (186), was for Gower too much like the propaganda he both feared and rejected. Hence "Gower suppresses this rhetoric. 'Moral Gower' warns against pursuing an ideology that at the close of the fourteenth century was not only obsolete, but potentially suicidal" (188). Brown concludes that "at the very least, the example of Gower's 'Tale of Constance' suggests that we reconsider such canonical medieval poets not simply as artists composing in the protective isolation of Church and court, but as active participants embroiled in a sometimes desperate ideological struggle" (188). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. eJGN 37.2.]


Gower Subjects
Confessio Amantis
Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations