John Gower’s Handwriting Identified


These findings, by Sebastian Sobecki, appear in the article, “Ecce patet tensus: The Trentham Manuscript, In Praise of Peace, and John Gower’s Autograph Hand” which is published in the latest issue of Speculum. Sobecki, Professor of Medieval English Literature and Culture at the University of Groningen, reveals that he discovered that the British Library’s Additional MS 59495, known as the Trentham manuscript would have belonged to John Gower until the time of his death in 1408. Furthermore, he believes that one of the scribes who produced the manuscript was Gower himself.

Sobecki tells, “I had been working on and off for a couple of years on In Praise of Peace when I decided to inspect the Trentham manuscript in the British Library. In a nutshell, my findings were made possible by the difference between the digitised images and the physical manuscript or, rather, by what digitisation couldn’t capture: I had a hunch about the last two words of the ownership inscription on folio 42r, but it was only when I unfolded the dog-ear on that folio that I found the full inscription – “Will Sanders un Just D P.”. Then it only took me a couple of days to identify Saunders and realise that he was in charge of dissolving St Marie Overie, the Southwark monastery where Gower had spent the last years of his life.

“Finally, over the course of another week I started thinking through the consequences of this find, and it was then that I realised that this manuscript must have stayed with Gower until his death, and that the last scribe to write in it must therefore enjoy some degree of authorial approval. When I looked at the hand of this scribe, and his only other, equally brief, stint in British Library Cotton MS Tiberius A IV, the handwriting struck me as insecure and characterised by eyesight problems. That’s when it dawned on me that I had most probably identified Gower’s autograph hand.”


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