George Gascoigne

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George Gascoigne portrait from the frontispiece of The Steele Glas and Complaynte of Phylomene (1576) George Gascoigne.gif
George Gascoigne portrait from the frontispiece of The Steele Glas and Complaynte of Phylomene (1576)

George Gascoigne (c. 1535 7 October 1577) was an English poet, soldier and unsuccessful courtier. He is considered the most important poet of the early Elizabethan era, following Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey and leading to the emergence of Philip Sidney. [1] He was the first poet to deify Queen Elizabeth I, in effect establishing her cult as a virgin goddess married to her kingdom and subjects. [2] His most noted works include A Discourse of the Adventures of Master FJ (1573), an account of courtly intrigue and one of the earliest English prose fictions; The Supposes, (performed in 1566, printed in 1573), an early translation of Ariosto and the first comedy written in English prose, which was used by Shakespeare as a source for The Taming of the Shrew ; [3] the frequently anthologised short poem "Gascoignes wodmanship" (1573) and "Certayne Notes of Instruction concerning the making of verse or ryme in English" (1575), the first essay on English versification. [4]

Courtier person who is often in attendance at the court of a king or other royal personage

A courtier is a person who is often in attendance at the court of a monarch or other royal personage. The earliest historical examples of courtiers were part of the retinues of rulers. Historically the court was the centre of government as well as the residence of the monarch, and the social and political life were often completely mixed together.

Elizabethan era epoch in English history marked by the reign of Queen Elizabeth I

The Elizabethan era is the epoch in the Tudor period of the history of England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603). Historians often depict it as the golden age in English history. The symbol of Britannia was first used in 1572, and often thereafter, to mark the Elizabethan age as a renaissance that inspired national pride through classical ideals, international expansion, and naval triumph over Spain. The historian John Guy (1988) argues that "England was economically healthier, more expansive, and more optimistic under the Tudors" than at any time in a thousand years.

Thomas Wyatt (poet) English poet and diplomat (1503-1542)

Sir Thomas Wyatt was a 16th-century English politician, ambassador, and lyric poet credited with introducing the sonnet to English literature. He was born at Allington Castle near Maidstone in Kent, though the family was originally from Yorkshire. His family adopted the Lancastrian side in the Wars of Roses. His mother was Anne Skinner, and his father Henry had been a Privy Councillor of Henry VII and remained a trusted adviser when Henry VIII ascended the throne in 1509. Thomas followed his father to court after his education at St John's College, Cambridge. Entering the King's service, he was entrusted with many important diplomatic missions. In public life his principal patron was Thomas Cromwell, after whose death he was recalled from abroad and imprisoned (1541). Though subsequently acquitted and released, shortly thereafter he died. His poems were circulated at court and may have been published anonymously in the anthology The Court of Venus during his lifetime, but were not published under his name until after his death; the first major book to feature and attribute his verse was Tottel's Miscellany (1557), printed 15 years after his death.


Early life

The eldest son of Sir John Gascoigne of Cardington, Bedfordshire, Gascoigne was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, [5] and on leaving the university is supposed to have joined the Middle Temple. He became a member of Gray's Inn in 1555. [5] He has been identified without much show of evidence with a lawyer named Gastone who was in prison in 1548 under very discreditable circumstances. There is no doubt that his escapades were notorious, and that he was imprisoned for debt. George Whetstone says that Sir John Gascoigne disinherited his son on account of his follies, but by his own account he was obliged to sell his patrimony to pay the debts contracted at court. He was MP for Bedford in 1557–1558 and 1558–1559, but when he presented himself in 1572 for election at Midhurst he was refused on the charges of being "a defamed person and noted for manslaughter", "a common Rymer and a deviser of slaunderous Pasquelles", "a notorious rufilanne", and a constantly indebted atheist.

Cardington, Bedfordshire village and civil parish in the Borough of Bedford in Bedfordshire, England

Cardington is a village and civil parish in the Borough of Bedford in Bedfordshire, England.

Trinity College, Cambridge Constituent college of the University of Cambridge in England

Trinity College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge in England. With around 600 undergraduates, 300 graduates, and over 180 fellows, it is the largest college in either of the Oxbridge universities by number of undergraduates. In terms of total student numbers, it is second only to Homerton College, Cambridge.

Middle Temple one of the four Inns of Court in London, England

The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, commonly known simply as Middle Temple, is one of the four Inns of Court exclusively entitled to call their members to the English Bar as barristers, the others being the Inner Temple, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn. It is located in the wider Temple area of London, near the Royal Courts of Justice, and within the City of London.

His poems, with the exception of some commendatory verses, were not published before 1572, but they may have circulated in manuscript before that date. He tells us that his friends at Gray's Inn importuned him to write on Latin themes set by them, and that two of his plays were acted there. He repaired his fortunes by marrying the wealthy widow of William Breton, thus becoming stepfather to the poet, Nicholas Breton. In 1568 an inquiry into the disposition of William Breton's property with a view to the protection of the children's rights was instituted before the Lord Mayor, but the matter was probably settled in a friendly manner, for Gascoigne continued to hold the Breton Walthamstow estate, which he had from his wife, until his death.

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.

Nicholas Breton (1545–1626), English poet and novelist, belonged to an old family settled at Layer Breton, Essex.

Walthamstow district of the London Borough of Waltham Forest in east London, England

Walthamstow is a major district in North East London and is part of the London Borough of Waltham Forest. It is located 7.5 miles (12.1 km) North East from Charing Cross. Historically in the county of Essex, it significantly increased in population as part of the suburban growth of London and was incorporated as the Municipal Borough of Walthamstow in 1929 before becoming part of Greater London in 1965. Walthamstow is situated between the North Circular Road to the north, the Lea Valley and Walthamstow Reservoirs to the west, and Epping Forest to the east.

Plays at Grays Inn

Gascoigne translated two plays performed in 1566 at Grays Inn, the most aristocratic of the Renaissance London Inns of Court: the prose comedy Supposes based on Ariosto's Suppositi , and Jocasta, a tragedy in blank verse which is said to have derived from Euripides's Phoenissae , but appears more directly as a translation from the Italian of Lodovico Dolce's Giocasta. [6]

Inns of Court Professional associations for barristers in England and Wales

The Inns of Court in London are the professional associations for barristers in England and Wales. There are four Inns of Court – Gray's Inn, Lincoln's Inn, Inner Temple and Middle Temple.

Euripides ancient Athenian tragic playwright

Euripides was a tragedian of classical Athens. Along with Aeschylus and Sophocles, he is one of the three ancient Greek tragedians for whom a significant number of plays have survived. Some ancient scholars attributed 95 plays to him but, according to the Suda, it was 92 at most. Of these, 18 or 19 have survived more or less complete and there are also fragments, some substantial, of most of the other plays. More of his plays have survived intact than those of Aeschylus and Sophocles together, partly because his popularity grew as theirs declined—he became, in the Hellenistic Age, a cornerstone of ancient literary education, along with Homer, Demosthenes, and Menander.

Lodovico Dolce Italian theorist of painting

Lodovico Dolce (1508/10–1568) was an Italian man of letters and theorist of painting. He was a broadly-based Venetian humanist and prolific author, translator and editor; he is now mostly remembered for his Dialogue on Painting or L'Aretino (1557), and his involvement in artistic controversies of the day. He became a friend of Titian, and often acted as in effect his public relations man.

A Hundreth Sundry Flowres (1573) and Posies of Gascoigne (1575)

Gascoigne's best known and controversial work was originally published in 1573 under the title A Hundreth Sundry Flowres bound up in one small Poesie. Gathered partely (by translation) in the fyne outlandish Gardins of Euripides, Ovid, Petrarch, Ariosto and others; and partly by Invention out of our owne fruitefull Orchardes in Englande, Yelding Sundrie Savours of tragical, comical and moral discourse, bothe pleasaunt and profitable, to the well-smelling noses of learned readers, by London printer Richarde Smith. The book purports to be an anthology of courtly poets, gathered and edited by Gascoigne and two other editors known only by the initials "H.W." and "G.T." The book's content is throughout suggestive of courtly scandal, and the aura of scandal is skilfully elaborated through the effective use of initials and posies—Latin or English tags supposed to denote particular authors—in place of the real names of actual or alleged authors.

Ovid Roman poet

Publius Ovidius Naso, known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who lived during the reign of Augustus. He was a contemporary of the older Virgil and Horace, with whom he is often ranked as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature. The Imperial scholar Quintilian considered him the last of the Latin love elegists. He enjoyed enormous popularity, but, in one of the mysteries of literary history, was sent by Augustus into exile in a remote province on the Black Sea, where he remained until his death. Ovid himself attributes his exile to carmen et error, "a poem and a mistake", but his discretion in discussing the causes has resulted in much speculation among scholars.

Petrarch 14th-century Italian scholar and poet

Francesco Petrarca, commonly anglicized as Petrarch, was an Italian scholar and poet during the early Italian Renaissance who was one of the earliest humanists.

Judged to be offensive, the book was "seized by Her Majesty's High Commissioners." [7] Gascoigne republished the book with certain additions and deletions two years later under the alternative title, The Posies of George Gascoigne, Esquire. The new edition contains three new dedicatory epistles, signed by Gascoigne, which apologise for the offence that the original edition had caused. This effort failed, however, as the book was also ruled offensive and likewise seized.

At war in the Netherlands

When Gascoigne sailed as a soldier of fortune to the Low Countries in 1572, his ship was driven by stress of weather to Brielle, which luckily for him had just fallen into the hands of the Dutch. He obtained a captain's commission, and took an active part in the campaigns of the next two years including the Middelburg siege, during which he acquired a profound dislike of the Dutch, and a great admiration for William of Orange, who had personally intervened on his behalf in a quarrel with his colonel, and secured him against the suspicion caused by his clandestine visits to a lady at the Hague.

1611 edition of The Noble Art of Venerie or Hunting, translated by Gascoigne and printed by Thomas Purfoot Houghton - Typ 605.11.853 The noble art of venerie or hunting, pg 89.jpg
1611 edition of The Noble Art of Venerie or Hunting, translated by Gascoigne and printed by Thomas Purfoot

Taken prisoner after the evacuation of Valkenburg by English troops during the Siege of Leiden, he was sent to England in the autumn of 1574. He dedicated to Lord Grey de Wilton the story of his adventures, The Fruites of Warres (printed in the edition of 1575) and Gascoigne's Voyage into Hollande. In 1575 he had a share in devising the masques, published in the next year as The Princely Pleasures at the Courte at Kenelworth , which celebrated the queen's visit to the Earl of Leicester. At Woodstock in 1575 he delivered a prose speech before Elizabeth, and was present at a reading of the Pleasant Tale of Hemetes the Hermit, a brief romance, probably written by the queen's host, Sir Henry Lee. At the queen's annual gift exchange with members of her court the following New Year's, Gascoigne gave her a manuscript of Hemetes which he had translated into Latin, Italian, and French. Its frontispiece shows the Queen rewarding the kneeling poet with an accolade and a purse; its motto, "Tam Marti, quam Mercurio," indicates that he will serve her as a soldier, as a scholar-poet, or as both. He also drew three emblems, with accompanying text in the three other languages. [8] He also translated Jacques du Fouilloux's La Venerie (1561) into English as The Noble Arte of Venerie or Hunting (1575) which was printed together with George Turberville's The Book of Falconrie or Hawking and is thus sometimes misattributed to Turberville though in fact it was a work by Gascoigne.

Later writings and influences

Most of his works were published during the last years of his life after his return from the wars. He died 7 October 1577 at Walcot Hall, Barnack, near Stamford, where he was the guest of George Whetstone and was buried in the Whetstone family vault at St John the Baptist's Church, Barnack.

Gascoigne's theory of metrical composition is explained in a short critical treatise, "Certayne Notes of Instruction concerning the making of verse or ryme in English, written at the request of Master Edouardo Donati," prefixed to his Posies (1575). He acknowledged Chaucer as his master, and differed from the earlier poets of the school of Surrey and Wyatt chiefly in the greater smoothness and sweetness of his verse.


See also


  1. May, Steven. "Early Courtier Verse: Oxford, Dyer, and Gascoigne" in Early Modern English Poetry, Patrick Cheney, et al, eds. New York: Oxford UP, 2007, pp. 60–9; 61.
  2. Hamrick, Stephen. "‘Set in portraiture’: George Gascoigne, Queen Elizabeth, and Adapting the Royal Image". Early Modern Literary Studies 11.1 (May 2005).
  3. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21)Volume V. The Drama to 1642, Part One.
  4. Austen, Gillian. "Self-portraits and Self-presentation in the Work of George Gascoigne". Early Modern Literary Studies 14.1/Special Issue 18 (May 2008).
  5. 1 2 "Gascoigne, George (GSCN555G)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  6. Cunliffe, Supposes; The Oxford Companion to English Literature, ed. by Margaret Drabble, 5th edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), s.v. "Gascoige, George".
  7. Hughes, Felicity A. "Gascoigne's Poses." SEL: Studies in English Literature 1500–1900, vol. 37, no. 1, 1997, pp. 1-19,
  8. Hamrick, "'Set in Portraiture'"
  9. Bindoff, Stanley T. (ed.) The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509–1558. Boydell and Brewer, 1982. p. 193
  11. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 7 March 2009. Retrieved 22 July 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. Sir Martin Frobisher Revised Ancestry
  19. Pedigree of Markenfield

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