Traitié Selonc Les Auctours Pour Essampler Les Amantz Marietz: Introduction


1 “Puisqu’il ad dit ci devant en Englois par voie d’essample la sotie de cellui qui par amours aime par especial, dirra ore apres en François a tout le monde en general un traitié selonc les auctours pour essampler les amantz marietz, au fin q’ils la foi de lour seintes espousailes pourront par fine loialté guarder, et al honour de dieu salvement tenir.” Text from Gower, Complete Works, I:379.

2 See Yeager, “John Gower’s Audience” pp. 92–93.

3 The shorter version, as found in Glasgow, University of Glasgow Library, MS Hunter 59 (T.2.17) and related manuscripts, is as follows: “Cest un traitie quel Johan Gower ad fait selonc les auctours touchant lestat de matrimoine dont les amantz marietz se pourront essampler a tenir la foi de lour seintes espousailes.” [“This is a treatise which John Gower made, following the authorities, concerning the matrimonial state, whereof married lovers might be able to take examples for themselves and hold fast to the promise of their holy spousal.”]

4 See also the Latin stanza heading the same section: “Ut Rosa de spinis spineto prevalet orta, / Et lilii flores cespite plura valent, / Sic sibi virginitas carnis sponsalia vincit, / Eternos fetus que sine labe parit.” [“As risen rose outshines the thorny bush, / And lily’s flowers are valued more than earth, / So maidenhood, surpassing carnal vows, / Wins out, and spotless bears eternal fruit.”] The translation is by Echard and Fanger, Latin Verses, p. 65.

5 The Albigensians, or Cathars, were neo-Manichaean dualists who held the body to be evil and a prison to the pure soul (hence “Cathar,” from katharos, “pure”), the liberation of which was the purpose of every life. Suicide was justified; engendering offspring served only the dark power. See Holmes, Holy Heretics; and more recently Barber, Cathars.

6 On this and subsequent points of marital doctrine, see Kelly, Love and Marriage.

7 The point is made eloquently and at length by Peter Nicholson in Love and Ethics.

8 E.g., Lewis, Allegory of Love.

9 This is the true (if frequently misunderstood) meaning of the “First Rule of Love,” that “Marriage is no real excuse for not loving.” See Andreas Capellanus, Art of Courtly Love, p. 184.

10 A useful discussion of Gower’s treatment of rime royal in French and English, and in comparison with Chaucer’s, is Itô’s chapter “Gower and Rime Royal” in his John Gower, the Medieval Poet, pp. 101–18.

11 Gower, Complete Works, I:lxxxiii–iv.

12 For fuller discussion, see Yeager, “John Gower’s Audience.”

13 “[E] que les faiseurs d’icelle [musique naturele] ne saichent pas . . . donner chant par art de notes a ce qu’ilz font”; see Deschamps, L’Art de Dictier, pp. 60–68 (at p. 62).

14 See Wimsatt, Chaucer and His French Contemporaries, chap. 1: “Natural Music in Middle French Verse and Chaucer,” pp. 3–42, especially pp. 12–16; and, further, Butterfield, Poetry and Music.

15 As Wimsatt notes, no consensus exists concerning when Deschamps wrote his balade to Chaucer. Wimsatt himself settles on “late 1380s”; see Chaucer and His French Contemporaries, p. 248.

16 Excluding the fragment leaf in Nicholas Love from the count.

17 Fisher, John Gower: Moral Philosopher, p. 116, offers 1385 as a probable beginning point for the Confessio. Russell A. Peck holds to 1386; see the chronology in his edition, Confessio Amantis, 1:59.

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Traitié Selonc Les Auctours Pour Essampler Les Amantz Marietz: Introduction

by: John Gower (Author), R. F. Yeager (Editor)
from: The French Balades  2011

The Subject of the Traitié

At first glance perhaps it appears superfluous to inquire after the subject of a “treatise, following the authorities, as an example for married lovers.” In his description of its contents, Gower seems to have been quite clear about what he intended the Traitié to do. Nonetheless, certain anomalies exist that may further clarify, and so influence, our understanding of Gower’s subject. There are, for example, two quite different versions of the prose heading from which G. C. Macaulay borrowed his title for these balades. The longer one, in Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Fairfax 3 and similar manuscripts, runs as follows:
Because the preceding poem in English [i.e., the Confessio Amantis] was by way of example of the foolishness of those in particular who love in a courtly manner, now the subsequent treatise will be in French, for all the world generally, following the authorities, as an example for married lovers, in order that they might be able to protect the promise of their sacred spousal through perfect loyalty, and truly hold fast to the honor of God.1
This, the more extensive wording, raises a number of issues of interest, not the least of them, especially from the perspective of establishing a date of composition for the Traitié, being the firm connection of the Traitié with the Confessio. The statement also unmistakably contrasts two kinds of love between men and women: the “foolish,” “courtly” sort (exemplified, it would appear, in the Confessio — a not unimportant commentary on that poem) with the love of a husband and a wife, united salvement — “truly” (although with more than a hint, perhaps, also of “safely,” “salvifically,” or “in good health”) — in the eyes of God. Intriguingly, it contrasts two languages as well — the English of the Confessio with the French of the Traitié — and for a particular reason: to Gower, apparently, “François” was a universal, “for all the world generally,” not a regional, language. And it is a language, if we take him as this word — see the envoy of Traitié XVIII — of which he felt himself no master. Does this mean that Gower expected a broader readership for the Traitié than for the Confessio? I suspect it does, as I have argued elsewhere, and this is interesting and important in itself.2 And among other things, it may lend further support to the earlier dating of the Traitié, since as the 1390s progressed Gower’s focus on England and English issues increased commensurately, at the expense of his attention to noninsular events. (One thinks immediately of the Cronica Tripertita — but it is no less possible, and probably more significant, to view his decision to write the Confessio in English as a milder, less partisan marker of this same shift in concern.) We may note further here as well the appeal to les auctours — “the authorities” — which itself prompts inquiry. Specific allusions to doctrinal and classical sources will be pursued as they appear, line by line, in the notes. But interestingly foregrounded, too, is the broader question: what did Gower mean by “authorities”? In the case of the Traitié, would the term have been applied to include (as I believe it likely did) contemporary masters of versification — Machaut, Deschamps, Froissart, and the chevalier poets of the Livre de Cent Ballades, aristocrats such as Jean de Saint-Pierre, and Oton de Graunson? Hints may lie here that, carefully exhumed and weighed, can further our advancing archaeology of Gower’s literary-critical lexicon.

But surely the most meaningful portions of the Traitié’s descriptive heading, in both the longer and shorter versions, are, first, the attention called there to the role of God as the cause — the origin, the root, effectively — of marriage as a viable, indeed the most desirable, human condition; and second, Gower’s pointed insistence that “lovers” and “marriage” are not — simpliciter — contradictory notions.3 Perhaps for modern readers, whose vision of marriage begins with love and (with luck) evolves into one form of religious service or another, these issues seem unprovocative in the extreme, even to the degree of unnoticeability. Nevertheless, making the case for each of them is clearly Gower’s subject in the Traitié. And conceivably he had good reason — or reasons.

As to the first — that is, God’s preferment of marriage: a block of patristic and subsequent, dogmatic opinion proffered the claim that ideally virginity, not marriage, was the highest state of aspiration for the human soul. Gower expresses this position through Genius, who remarks to Amans in Book V (lines 6388–90) of the Confessio Amantis, “Virginité is for to preise, / Which, as th’Apocalips recordeth, / To Crist in hevene best acordeth.”4 Yet to assert, as Gower does throughout the Traitié, that God intended people to multiply, and moreover to base that claim on reason, is scarcely a radical position. (Indeed, insisting on God’s opposition to carnal intercourse was a primary heresy of the Albigensians, condemned repeatedly beginning in 1025.)5 Humankind is constituted, after all, of spirit and flesh; and in Eden before the Fall, where God established the first marriage, his intention was a harmony of both in the sinless procreation of Adam and Eve.6 The problem facing postlapsarian humanity, in the orthodox view of the medieval Church, was adjudicating the legitimate requisites of soul and flesh: procreation was both necessary and good, as was physical desire, provided that serving God was the wished-for end product of every carnal act. Intention, ergo, was all, and the assessment and direction of intent toward the lawful was the role appropriate to reason. In the Confessio Amantis, high on Gower’s list of purposes is to demonstrate through fictive example that love, thoughtfully weighed in reason’s balance and leading to fruitful relations between man and woman, is highly pleasing to God.7 In the Traitié, this is the purpose, minus, largely, the reliance on fictive example. Despite their “lyric” form, the balades of the Traitié comprise a true “treatise” (hence, probably, Gower’s use of the term): that is, a rational argument, logically assembled, poem by poem, to define “honeste” marriage and justify its centrality to God’s greater plan for human life.

Thus for Gower “love” and “marriage” are by no means exclusionary conditions, certain twentieth-century scholars to the contrary.8 Taking as serious (rather than tongue-in-cheek humor, as is more likely) the assertions of Andreas Capellanus, among others, that married couples could not be lovers — of each other — these scholars extrapolated an antipathy to marriage that they believed ran commonly in late medieval thought.9 One result for Gower, who so openly champions marriage throughout his works, albeit with special vehemence in the Traitié, was his condemnation by the critics as a regressive conservative (if not a prude) in matters of the heart. Yet a better word for Gower’s stance in the Traitié, even than conservative, is orthodox. Certainly neither here nor elsewhere in his work does he ever speak against love’s power, importance, or the fulfillment it provides in its properly sanctioned incarnation. And there is another, more valuable result of the criticism of Gower’s staunch defense of married lovers, especially as found in the Traitié: it suggests a reason for their writing. To choose a form associated with frivolous love to promote its opposite is characteristically Gowerian — n.b., his wish to demonstrate to the poetic community at home and abroad that he, too, was master of the balade, if as always in his own particular way.


• F: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Fairfax 3, fols. 186v–190. [Primary base text for these poems, collated by Macaulay with S, G, and T. Also contains Confessio Amantis and various minor Latin poems.]

• S: Oxford, All Souls College, MS 98, fols. 132–135. [Also contains Vox Clamantis, Cronica Tripertita, and various minor Latin poems.]

• T: London, British Library, MS Additional 59495 (formerly MS Trentham Hall), fols. 33–39. [Also contains “In Praise of Peace,” “Rex celi deus,” Cinkante Balades, “Ecce patet tensus,” “Henrici quarti.” Also: London, British Library, MS Additional 59496, a transcript commissioned in 1764 by the then-owner of Add. 59495, Granville Leveson-Gower, second Earl Gower.]

• G: Glasgow, University of Glasgow Library, MS Hunter 59 (T.2.17), fols. 124v–128. [Also contains Vox Clamantis, Cronica Tripertita, and various minor Latin poems. Apparently derived from S.]

• H: London, British Library, MS Harley 3869, fols. 186v–190. [Also contains Confessio Amantis and various minor Latin poems. Identical to F.]

• B: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 294, fols. 197v–199v. [Also contains Confessio Amantis and various minor Latin poems.]

• Tr: Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.3.2, fols. 148–152. [Also contains Confessio Amantis and various minor Latin poems.]

• W: Oxford, Wadham College, MS 13, fols. 442v–446v. [Traitié incomplete at *. Also contains Confessio Amantis.]

• Bo: Geneva, Foundation Bodmer, MS 178. fols. xx. [Also contains Confessio Amantis and various minor Latin poems; formerly Morwich, Keswick Hall, MS Gurney 121. Identical to F.]

• ?: Nottingham, University Library, Wollaton Library Collection, MS WLC LM 8, fols. 201–203v. [Also contains Confessio Amantis.]

• A: London, British Library, MS Arundel 364, fol. 223. [Fragment on leaf inserted into Nicholas Love’s Meditationes Vitae Christi.]

• Y: New Haven, Yale University, Beinecke Library, Osborn Collection, MS fa.1, fols. 196–199. [Also contains Confessio Amantis.]

• P: Princeton, Princeton University, Firestone Library, Robert H. Taylor Collection, MS Taylor 5, fols. 187–191. [Also contains Confessio Amantis.]


• London, British Library, MS Stowe 951, fols. 313–322. [Quixley. Also contains English versions of John of Hildesheim’s Historia trium regum (“History of the Three Kings”) and the Speculum vitae (“Mirror of Life”), attributed to William of Nassington.]

Versification and Dating

All eighteen balades of the Traitié follow the same formal pattern of three stanzas of seven lines each and no envoy, except the eighteenth, which adds a fourth stanza of seven lines, perhaps intended as an envoy (but see below). Rhyming is ABABBCC consistently throughout — what is known, when found in Middle English poetry, as “rime royal.”10 The end rhymes deserve particular attention, as they demonstrate Gower’s concern about detail and a measure of his poetic skill. Each balade in the Traitié has but three rhymes — that is, e.g., in IV, line-endings of -emte (AA), -ouses (BBB), -orde (CC) in each stanza. Such limitation is not unusual for balades in French, given the accessibility of rhymes, especially in comparison to English. Gower, however, seems purposely to have set himself a more difficult task in the Traitié by seeking a different rhyming triad for each of the eighteen balades. The rhymes of I–VI should illustrate: I: -ure (AA), -age (BBB), -able (CC); II: -ence (AA), -ant (BBB), -our (CC); III: -a (AA), -itz/is (BBB), -ue (CC); IV: -emte (AA), -ouses (BBB), -orde (CC); V: -on (AA), -ire (BBB), -este (CC); VI: -oine (AA), -é (BBB), -ure (CC). To be sure, there are occasional repetitions of one or another rhyme, as follows: I and XVII have -age as, respectively, B and C rhymes; IV and XVIII have -orde as, respectively, A and C rhymes; V, XII, and XVI have -on as, respectively, A, A, and B rhymes; VI, VIII, and XII have B rhymes in -é; IX, XV, and XVIII have C rhymes in -ie. The rhymes of the remaining six balades (II, III, VII, X, XIII, XIV) are unique, however, so that, taken together, Gower’s rhymes in the Traitié point toward a thought-out program of variation, apparently unnecessary except to demonstrate the poet’s artfulness.

Dating the Traitié

The artfulness of the Traitié is perhaps worth interrogating further, specifically in light of our uncertainty about its date of composition. Noting that in the Latin verses following balade XVIII “in all the copies” (except, that is, B), Gower describes himself as “old in years” (“vetus annorum”) and entering into the “order of husbands” (“ordine sponsorum”) — a nuptial on record as having taken place in 1398 — Macaulay logically posited that “it would seem that the Traitié belongs to the year 1397.”11 This date, along with the corollary assumption that Gower wrote the Traitié in celebration of his own marriage, has found general acceptance for many years. Yet difficulties with both should be pointed out, beginning with the apparent incongruity of Gower finding in his new marriage inspiration for the Traitié, which is, after all, an altogether blistering indictment of adultery. Not that it couldn’t happen — but it doesn’t seem likely. Nor can we be sure that Gower’s later Latin verses, necessarily work of 1397–98, were written at the same time as the Traitié. Contiguous appearance in a manuscript — even several manuscripts over which Gower may have had oversight — is no proof of coterminal composition. And finally, one might wonder whom Gower had in mind as the ideal reader of the Traitié? It would take quite a leap to decide that his bride, one Agnes Groundolf, had skills up to the task, although, as we know very little about her, perhaps she did. But would Gower have put himself to the extra trouble of so successfully varying his rhyme schemes just to shine in the eyes of his wife?

If not, however, and if indeed Gower wrote the Traitié at a time other than when he married, when might that have been? In the absence of stronger evidence, where might we turn for clues? One possibility is the versification itself.12 Lacking envoys, as they do, the balades of the Traitié resemble the earlier style of Machaut (d. 1377) whose work remained rooted in musical composition, to which envoys were relatively unsuited. Deschamps, in L’Art de Dictier (c. 1392), his widely-read “how-to” treatise on writing verse, distinguished between what he called “artificial music” (that is, made with instruments or singing voice) and “natural music,” or lyric poetry, intended as now for unaccompanied reading, silently or aloud. “Those who make natural music,” Deschamps concluded, “generally don’t know . . . how to give their lyrics artful melody.”13 An admitted “natural music maker,” Deschamps shortly after Machaut’s death set out — self-consciously, it is thought — to play to his strength by separating verse from music permanently.14 His impact on the balade was profound. It seems to have been his preferred mode: his collected Oeuvres contain more than a thousand. Most conclude with the envoy that served as his trademark, and subsequently through his influence became the standard for the form. Gower may or may not have read L’Art de Dictier — we lack proof either way — but about whether in general he knew the work of Deschamps (who after all composed a balade, avec envoi, for Chaucer ca. 1385–91) there can be little doubt.15 The absence of envoys from the Traitié, then, suggests an earlier rather than a later date for these poems, and weakens the case for Gower’s marriage in 1398 as the cause.

It seems likely too that the manuscripts, as well as the particular exempla singled out in the Traitié, provide other clues about the moment of their writing. The manuscript evidence is of two sorts. First, in the twelve known manuscripts containing the balades of the Traitié, they are preceded in nine by the Confessio Amantis, in two by the Vox Clamantis and Cronica Tripertita, and in one they appear alongside the Cinkante Balades and “In Praise of Peace.”16 Moreover, just as in the Confessio, Latin prose commentary was written for the Traitié poems (even Quixley’s fifteenth-century translation retains it), directing our reading of the balades and of the longer >i in precisely the same ways. Among Gower’s poems only the Traitié and the Confessio are so glossed. Both presentational elements suggest the close association of Traitié and Confessio in Gower’s mind, if not necessarily demonstrating their near-simultaneous composition.

The suggestion, however, is further strengthened by content, as well: ten of the eighteen balades in the Traitié, i.e., all of them containing exempla, have their narratives replicated, usually in greater detail, in the Confessio Amantis. Nothing we know would have prevented Gower from using either work as a base for narratives in another with decades in between, but Occam’s razor points toward a different conclusion. Thus it seems plausible, even, indeed, more than likely, that the balades of the Traitié and the Confessio date from approximately the same time: not later than 1390, and possibly as early as 1385.17

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