Gower's ‘Epistle to Archbishop Arundel': The Evidence of Oxford, All Souls College, MS 98.

Yeager, R. F.

Gower's ‘Epistle to Archbishop Arundel': The Evidence of Oxford, All Souls College, MS 98.

Yeager, R. F. "Gower's ‘Epistle to Archbishop Arundel': The Evidence of Oxford, All Souls College, MS 98." In Manuscript and Print in Late Medieval and Early Modern Britain: Essays in Honour of Professor Julia Boffey. Ed. Tamara Atkin and Jaclyn Rajsic (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2019), pp. 13-34.

The careful evidence and fine-grained arguments of Yeager's essay have the potential to help reshape understanding of "the shifting views and allegiances of Gower, the man" (34), particularly those that pertain to Thomas Arundel, his putative ownership of Oxford, All Souls College, MS 98, the Latin prose heading and the "Epistola" to Arundel that today open the manuscript, Gower's "Carmen super multiplici viciorum pestilencia," and Gower's motives, intentions, and timing in composing and revising some of the contents of works included in the manuscript. Yeager opens by questioning the traditional understanding of All Souls MS 98 as a manuscript presented to Arundel and, by extension, evidence of Gower's "fulsome commitment" to Arundel and "ardent support" of Henry's usurpation (14). He reviews and confirms Malcolm Parkes' arguments that the manuscript was not an "authorial product" but "posthumously assembled by scribes" (17), affirming that the "Epistola" was not included in the All Souls MS 98 until nearly a century after Gower's death. Moreover, Yeager shows that the decoration of the manuscript, the "extensive emendations over erasures" in the All Souls version of the "Epistola," and the Latin prose heading or preface together suggest "strongly that the common conception of All Souls MS 98 is mistaken" (19). The emendations, in particular, indicate that the "Epistola" must have existed in two recensions at least, the All Souls version being a revision, prompting Yeager to raise questions about when and for what purpose the pre-revision "Epistola" was composed originally. He looks to the Latin prose preface and contextualizing history for reasons to believe that Gower composed the "Epistola" initially when Arundel was first appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by Richard II, specifically designed to accompany :Viciorum pestilencia," a "new, showcase poem in 1397" (31). Characteristic of the argument in many ways is Yeager's explanation of a revision of an allusion to the Sermon on the Mount in the "Epistola" where, when describing the hiding of candlelight, Gower replaced the familiar and scriptural "sub modio" (under a basket) with "sub cincere" (under ashes), an indication, Yeager maintains, of Gower's new sense of a threat of "auto da fé," prompted by Arundel's "De heretic comburendo" and the "thirteen anti-Lollard Constitutions" of 1407 (25). The All Souls "Epistola," then, is less a "fulsome commitment" to Arundel than a propitiation of the archbishop who in his "second Canterbury tenure" was a "different, more dangerous man" in "different, far more dangerous times" (28), someone whom Gower may have had cause to fear because he had himself criticized the prelacy earlier in his career. Yeager's arguments do not depend wholly upon a single, revised word, of course, but this kind of subtlety characterizes his fresh and provocative way of looking at material in All Souls MS 98, material viewed in relation to the seriatim political climates in which it was produced, revised, and compiled. [MA. Copyright. The John Gower Society. eJGN 38.2.]


Gower Subjects
Biography of Gower
Minor Latin Poetry
Manuscripts and Textual Studies