Article

John Clanvowe

Andrew Galloway

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online May 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0036
John Clanvowe

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
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Interest in John Clanvowe’s works and life (b. c. 1341–d. c. 1391) initially developed because a 290-line poem—often printed under the title The Cuckoo and the Nightingale, now commonly known by the title given in the earliest of its medieval copies, The Boke of Cupide—is now generally agreed to be by him. It was, however, preserved in five 15th-century manuscripts among the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer. Whether the late-medieval scribes who preserved The Boke of Cupide in this way thought that this poem was by Chaucer is unclear, because collections of anonymous lyrics were common in the period. But from the 16th through the 19th century, printers and editors of Chaucer’s poetry universally assumed that The Boke of Cupide was by Chaucer, partly because it opens by quoting lines from Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale (lines 1785–1786). Only after Skeat 1896 (cited under Works and Attribution) showed that the poem was unlike Chaucer’s poetry, and simply alludes to Chaucer’s writings, did scholars turn to the question of just who had written The Boke of Cupide, and what else that writer might have written or done. The phrase “explicit Clanvowe” (“Clanvowe ends”) at the end of one medieval copy of The Boke of Cupide (Cambridge, University Library MS Ff. 1. 6) led Skeat to conclude that the author was Sir Thomas Clanvowe, who flourished in the early 15th century. Skeat looked to a Clanvowe from the early 15th century (Thomas) because Skeat assumed that the poem’s title alluded to a poem from 1402 by Thomas Hoccleve, The Letter of Cupid. But mentions of Cupid are very common, and Skeat’s view that Thomas Clanvowe had written it was soon abandoned in favor of an earlier Clanvowe: Sir John, known to be an associate and supporter of Chaucer. John Clanvowe was, moreover, identified as a member of an elite group of Chamber knights who, in the 1380s, followed and supported the heretical Wycliffites, also known as the Lollards. The identification of the author of The Boke of Cupide with a notorious late-medieval English heresy generated further interest in his life and work, especially in the other work more confidently ascribed to John Clanvowe, the prose religious treatise in English titled The Two Ways. This work constitutes the only piece of religious writing by any of the King’s Chamber knights who were said to be Lollards.

Article.  4271 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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