Gower MSS - Stowe 950

John Gower

MS Hunter 59 T-2-17 Portrait of Gower folio 6v John Gower Vox Clamantis Glasgow Univ Library www.lib.gla.ac.uk

Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts of the Works of John Gower
Derek Pearsall


London, British Library, MS Stowe 950
Confessio Amantis (extensively defective)
London, s.xv first quarter


(fols 2r-176v) Confessio Amantis  I.166-VIII.2549
Ne hyde it nought for yif thou feynest <> Which hadden bee fortuned sore

Prologue missing; Book I wants 1-165, 2641-2791 (Macaulay, in a rare slip, has 2991); Book II (fol.20vb) wants 2486-2645; Book III (fol.41ra) wants 673-988; Book IV (fol.55rb); Book V (fol.76vb, English text, fol.77ra) wants 3714-3897, 5832-6184; Book VI (fol.118va); Book VII (fol.132rb) wants 771-1111; Book VIII (fol.161vb, English text, fol.162ra) wants 2550-3114*end.

Seven leaves are lost at the beginning.  A leaf is lost after fol.16, with text of I.2641-2791; a leaf is lost after fol.35 (II.2486-2645); two leaves after fol.44 (III.673-988); a leaf after fol.97 (V.3714-3897); two leaves after fol.108 (V.5832-6184); two leaves after fol.136 (VII.771-1111); and at least four leaves after fol.176 (VIII.2550-3114*end).  Text of VII.1309-1461 is omitted (1462 follows 1308 in mid-folio), presumably through loss of leaf in an exemplar.  At fol.138r a wavy line after VII.1308 may indicate recognition by the scribe or his supervisor that there is a hiatus in the copy.

Text: only partly collated by Macaulay (sigil O): Ib.  He finds that it agrees in general with H1XG.


No illustration survives.  No connection can be perceived between the loss of leaves and any plausibly imaginable programme of illustration


There are plain 6-line pen-flourished initials, blue on red, at I.203 (fol.2r) and at the beginning of Book II; there is a 4-line initial, flourished but uncoloured, at the beginning of Book III, and 3-line initials, flourished but uncoloured, introduce Books IV-VIII and some major text-divisions; 2-line initials, flourished but uncoloured, introduce remaining major and some minor text-divisions; 1-line initials, uncoloured and sometimes even unflourished, introduce remaining minor text-divisions and some Latin summaries.  Sometimes, 1-line initials are completely missed, and guide-letters are clearly visible, e.g. fols 3v (I.436), 14v (I.2262), 15r (Latin verses at I.2398), 65r (IV .1683), 153v (Latin summary at VII.4027).  The initials at fol.2r and at the beginning of Book II are the only initials that are `finished’ apart from five isolated 3-line initials with decoration, blue on red, that appear at major text-divisions at fols 57v (IV.371), 113v (V.6961), 121r (VI.485), 121v (VI.537), 122r (VI.607).
There is frequent flourishing of letters h, l, t, etc. in the top line of the column.  At fol.29r begins a sequence of pages with elaborate strap-work flourishing and occasional grotesque heads attached (e.g. fols 29v, 30v, 31v, 47r, 49r, 95r), which has inspired some later imitation (e.g. fols 29r, 49r, 94r). After the first few pages these flourishings appear sporadically up to fol.116, but then disappear completely apart from isolated examples at fols 138r and 170r.


I           Parchment, 360 x 255 mm.

II         i + 175, now foliated 2-176. Two leaves of a Latin legal text, in a scholar's informal cursive hand, are pasted to the insides of front and back covers

III        Collation: i8 (fol.2) wants 1-7, ii8, iii8 (fols 11-17) wants 7 (leaf after fol.16), iv-v8, vi8 (fols 34-40) wants 3 (leaf after fol.35), vii8 (fols 41-6) wants 5 and 6 (leaves after fol.44), viii-xiii8, xiv8 (fols 95-101) wants 4 (leaf after fol.97), xv8 (fols 102-108) wants 8 and xvi8 (fols 109-115) wants 1 (leaves after fol.108), xvii-xviii8, xix8 (fols 132-7) wants 6 and 7 (leaves after fol.136), xx-xxiii8, xxiv8 (fols 170-76) wants 8 (leaf after fol.176: a complete text would require at least three leaves from a further quire).  Quire and leaf signatures regularly present. Catchwords in hand of scribe, at first placed in decorative scrolls, a practice soon abandoned. If the last lines of text are in red, the scribe writes the catchword in red (e.g. fol.46v).  There is a catchword at fol.89v in the middle of quire xiii (it appears on leaf niii, and niiii follows).

IV        Written space 265 x 190 mm. 44-46 lines per column, 2 columns per page. Carefully pricked and ruled and framed. No running heads. Latin verse-headings (in black) and summaries, etc. (in red) both in column in a larger and more formal version of the scribe's hand: the distinction grows more marked as the hand of the English text grows more cursive.  Latin verse-headings are usually underlined in red, with Versus written in margin. Latin summaries are often misplaced in relation to the English text by a line or two (e.g. I.390, fol.3r; I.466, fol.3v), indicating an exemplar with summaries in the margin; they often follow at the end of the same line as the last line of a Latin verse-heading (e.g. I.574, fol.4v; I.1234, fol.8v) or of the English text after which they have been misplaced (e.g. I.1890, fol.12r). A blank line at the end of a summary indicates advance miscalculation of the space needed. There are occasionally spaces left for Latin summaries that are not entered in (e.g. I.292, fol.2v; II.1013, fol.27r); many other minor glosses are omitted, and indications of speaker appear only after II.2308 (fol.34v) and rarely even then.

V         A firm, quite small anglicana. The scribe dots y and adds a fine stroke above i for a few folios, but soon gives up. Corrections in the hand of the scribe, e.g. omitted words indicated by a caret and inserted in the margin, e.g. I.467, fol.3v; I.581, fol.4v; I.748, fol.5v, I.1112, fol.7v, etc.); substitutions entered in the margin for words under-dotted to indicate erasure, e.g. I.1384, fol.9v, I.1553, fol.10v; words crossed out and the ‘correction’ written above, e.g. II.467, fol.23r, ‘vncouthe’ above ‘vnknowe’; lines marked for reversal by the insertion of ‘a’ and ‘b’ in the margin, e.g. I.1863-4, fol.12r. All forms of correction soon become very sporadic, whether because the scribe was writing more carefully or correcting less so.

VI        Occasional raised punctus at the end of Latin verse lines; raised punctus plus virgule at end of English verse lines where the English text is compressed into prose by adjacent (space for) decorative initial, I.203-7 (fol.2r); double virgule to mark word-break and overrun in Latin summary following I.234 (fol.2r); raised punctus to mark mid-line break after prominent enjambment, e.g. I.971 (fol.7r, after ‘sorow’), I.985 (fol.7r, after ‘Uphield’, I.1151 (fol.8r, after ‘pees’), I.1251 (fol.8v, after ‘hert’). After this little flurry, as is often the case, the practice becomes very sporadic. A raised punctus plus virgule is used after the first ‘man’ in I.2224 (fol.14r) to avoid ambiguity.

VII      Sewn on 7 tabs, late 15th or early 16th century brown leather over oak boards, front cover blind-stamped with four diamonds (the four making one large diamond), with eight triangles (each pair making one large triangle) at the corners, in a rectangular frame outlined by a double fillet; small diamonds are stamped at the centres and flourets at the corners of each of the four diamonds; the eight triangles each have three flourets, and further flourets are stamped in the line between the outer fillet and the edge of the cover. The spine of the volume, now much cracked, has 19th century gold lettering in gilt-edged compartments: JOHN GOWER.\ CONFESSIO \ AMANTIS \\ BRIT.MUS.\ STOWE \ 950

2o fo (fol.3r) hym selfe greueth alther werste (I.325)


(leaf pasted on inside of front cover)  2 pages of a Latin text, probably legal, heavily abbreviated, in double columns, prose, in a scholar's informal cursive hand, with the name `Anthony Chester', `Anthony Chester,’ in different hands (s.xvii), also `Iohn Chester', `Elyzabeth Chester', in the spaces between the Latin, and `Chester’ among pen-trials, also `Frauncis Normann' (Stowe Catalogue 1849).

fol.1r   (a scrap of flyleaf, remounted) Brief account of Gower, s.xvii/xviii. ‘The title of this Book ys Confessio Amantis It was wrote by one Sr John Gower Kt a Lawyer & Poet, a contemporary & familiar adquaintance of ye famous Geffrey Chaucer. Vide. Chaucers life prefixt to his works Anno. 1598. under ye title Education.’ This is a very brief summary of what is said, at the place cited, in Speght’s edition of Chaucer, 1598 (see also fol.177r).
fol.2r   (top) `Gualterus Harting 1719'  (s.xviii)
fol.3r   (bottom) `Gualter' (s.xviii)
fol.3v   (at I.419) `Nota' (s.xvi). So at I.594 (fol.4v), I.677 (fol.5r), I.836 (fol.6r), etc.
fol.4v   (top)  `ane note for [..] N’ (s.xvi)
fol.6r   (top) `Anthony’ `Elizabeth' `Of’ (s.xvi, a careful maybe archaizing script)
fol.22v (at II.291)  a face drawn in the large initial ‘O’; so too fol.52v (III.2363).
fol.28r (right margin, top, at II.1178) `In the nam of god/Amen per A.M.' (s.xvi, as preceding)
fol.41r (right margin, at III.62) `Hominem mores faciunt' (s.xvii/xviii)
fol.49v  a heraldic pennant drawn beside III.1803.
fol.53v (catchword position, but not on the last leaf of a quire) `In grece af' (the first three words of the last line but one on the page, III.2547).
fol.55v (top) `Robert Willmer' also monogram `RW' (s.xvi2). `June 1620' (s.xvii)
fols 61v-62r (at top, across opening) two 2-line Latin sententiae, the first written out twice: `Vt ver fert flores, flos fruitus, fruitus odores/ Sic doctrina mores mos Sensus, Sensus honores' (see Walther 32618); `Non iacet in molli veneranda scientia lecto/ Ipsa sed assiduo parta labore venit' (see Gaal 1703); also the name `Wylliam Burye' repeated in various forms 5 times, and the dates February 9 1573 and June 31 [sic] 1575. One imagines a schoolboy, writing under the eye of his teacher (‘apud preceptorem’).
fol.63v (top, middle)  a carefully drawn crest or monogram, with date ‘ANo 1569/ MAYE 9th’
fol.70v (top, middle) `with him’  (s.xvii)
fol.72r (top, middle) `John’  (s.xvi)
fol.73r (top) `God be mersyffull vnto vs and shewe vs / the Leyght of the Contenance and be mersyffull. / Henrye Swynbourne Jr.'  (s.xvi/xvii)
fol.122r           (right margin, top) `In manus tuas domyno comendo spiritus' (s.xvi)
fol.135v           (at VII.528)  `no [for nota?] clark’ (s.xvi)
(at VII.593) `England & Kent' (s.xvii/xviii)
fol.138v           (top) `William Croft' (s.xvii, in an unformed hand)
fol.151v           alphabet written down middle of columns
fol.152r           (at VII.3804)  scribbles and pen-trials
fol.159r           similes noted in the story of Lucrece, at VII.4944 (also 4983, 5004), by means of a flouret.  The same hand glosses `medled' as `mixt' at 4899 (fol.158v)
fol.175r           (at VIII.2299, the prayer to Venus)  `To Mr Land’ (s.xviii)
fol.177r           (leaf pasted on inside of back cover) Latin legal text, as on inside of front cover (see above), over which has been pasted what looks like a portion of the original flyleaf (see fol.1 above), numbered 177, with more information (s.xvii/xviii) about the life of Gower and a note of the examination of the MS in 1890.  Visible beside it, written between the Latin, is the name `Stannowe' (s.xv). The information is taken, as in the earlier note (see fol.1r, above), from Speght’s account of Chaucer’s education , cited almost verbatim, and from the marginal note appended at this point by Speght in which he speaks of the life of Gower, his tomb, and the source (Bale) he is using. For other MSS in which later readers provide information, albeit more briefly, on the author of poem, see Harris 1993: 220, n.24.


The only name among the many inscribed in the MS that can be identified with any confidence is that of `Robert Willmer’ (fol.55v).  The Wilmers are a Northants family (see Foster and Green 1888): Robert Wilmer of Sywell had possession of the manor of Hanington and died 11 Jas.I, being succeeded by his son William, who died 1631, being succeeded by his son Robert, presumably the one alive in 1620 (Bridges, Northants., II.148).  There is no evident connection between Wilmer and Anthony Chester (front inside cover), whether the latter is identified as Sir Anthony Chester (d.1635), one of the Chesters of Chicheley, Bucks., or his son or grandson of the same name.  Sir Anthony Chester was grandson of Sir William Chester (1509-95), Lord Mayor of London (see DNB).  He was high sheriff of Buckinghamshire in 1601 (Lipscomb, Bucks., 94, 98) and was created baronet in 1619; he married Elizabeth (d.1629), daughter of Sir Henry Boteler of Woodhall in Hertfordshire; their son Anthony (1593-1651) married another Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Peyton of Dodington in Cambridgeshire, and had a brother John and a sister Elizabeth; his son Anthony (d.1698) likewise had a brother John and a sister Elizabeth (see Waters 1878; Harris 1993:98-99).  It may not be without interest, in connection with the additions on fols 61v-62r, that Sir William Chester's first wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Lovett of Astwell, Northants., had a sister Amye who married James Bury of Hampton Poyle, in Oxfordshire (Bridges, I.215). This Bury family records a William who died 1563 and a great-grandson William (d.1632) whose father Thomas was aged 4 at the death of his father John in 1572 (VCH, Oxford, VII.32).  Neither William could be the signatory of fols 61v-62r, if the dates mean anything.

The remaining names establish no pattern of relationship, familial or geographical, with the above, through which they might be identified.  `Stannowe' (endleaf) may refer to the Norfolk family of thet name (Harris 1993:98, n.14) and have to do with the provenance of the legal text.

The Stowe MSS were mostly collected by Thomas Astle (1735-1803), Keeper of the Records at the Tower of London, or acquired by him through his wife, daughter of the Rev. Philip Morant (1700-70), the historian of Essex, at the latter's death.  Morant had a large collection of books and MSS.  See DNB.  After Astle's death, his collection went in 1804, by his bequest, to Richard Greville, Marquis of Buckingham, and was housed at Stowe, in Buckinghamshire.  The present MS appears in the O'Conor Catalogue of 1818 as Press II, no.xcviii (Vol.I, pp.380-81).  The Stowe MSS were offered for sale by the second Duke of Buckingham in 1849, and a Catalogue for the sale was printed (in which the present MS appears as no.481, p.116), but the 4th Earl of Ashburnham (1797-1878) stepped in and bought the whole collection; the sale was cancelled, and most copies of the Catalogue destroyed.  In 1883 the part of the Ashburnham collection containing the present MS was bought by the British Museum and the MSS renumbered


Macaulay, II.cxlv

Catalogue of the Stowe Manuscripts in the British Museum. 2 vols. London, 1895.  I.634.

Catalogue of the Important Collection of Manuscripts from Stowe....sold by....S.Leigh Sotheby....(1849), p.116

The History and Antiquities of Northamptonshire, compiled from the Manuscript Collections of John Bridges by Peter Whalley. 2 vols., Oxford, 1791.

Charles O'Conor, Bibliotheca MS. Stowensis : A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Stowe Library. 2 vols. and Appendix.  Buckingham, 1818. See Vol.I, pp.380-81

C.Wilmer Foster and J.J.Green, History of the Wilmer Family.  Leeds, 1888

Georg Gaal, Sprüchwörterbuch in Sechs Sprachen. Vienna: Volke, 1830. (I owe this reference to Dr James Binns.)

Harris, Kate, `Ownership and Readership: Studies in the Provenance of the Manuscripts of Gower's Confessio Amantis'.  Unpublished D.Phil. dissertation, University of York, 1993.

George Lipscomb, The History and Antiquities of the County of Buckingham.  4 vols.  London, 1847.

R.E.Chester Waters, Genealogical Memoirs of the extinct family of Chester of Chicheley. 2 vols. London, 1878

"I throw my darts and shoot my arrows at the world. But where there is a righteous man, no arrow strikes. But I wound those who live wickedly. Therefore let him who recognizes himself there look to himself."
Vox Clamantis

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