CLANVOWE, SIR THOMAS, the name of an English poet first mentioned in the history of English literature by F. S. Ellis in 1896, when, in editing the text of The Book of Cupid, God of Love, or The Cuckoo and the Nightingale, for the Kelmscott Press, he stated that Professor Skeat had discovered that at the end of the best of the MSS. the author was called Clanvowe. In 1897 this information was confirmed and expanded by Professor Skeat in the supplementary volume of his Clarendon Press Chaucer (1894–1897). The beautiful romance of The Cuckoo and the Nightingale was published by Thynne in 1532, and was attributed by him, and by successive editors down to the days of Henry Bradshaw, to Chaucer. It was due to this error that for three centuries Chaucer was supposed to be identified with the manor of Woodstock, and even painted, in fanciful pictures, as lying
“Under a maple that is fair and green,
Before the chamber-window of the Queen
At Wodëstock, upon the greenë lea.”
But this queen could only be Joan of Navarre, who arrived in 1403, three years after Chaucer’s death, and it is to the spring of that year that Professor Skeat attributes the composition of the poem. Sir Thomas Clanvowe was of a Herefordshire family, settled near Wigmore. He was a prominent figure in the courts of Richard II. and Henry IV., and is said to have been a friend of Prince Hal. He was one of those who “had begun to mell of Lollardy, and drink the gall of heresy.” He was one of the twenty-five knights who accompanied John Beaufort (son of John of Gaunt) to Barbary in 1390.
The date of his birth is unknown, and his name is last mentioned in 1404. The historic and literary importance of The Cuckoo and the Nightingale is great. It is the work of a poet who had studied the prosody of Chaucer with more intelligent care than either Occleve or Lydgate, and who therefore forms an important link between the 14th and 15th centuries in English poetry. Clanvowe writes with a surprising delicacy and sweetness, in a five-line measure almost peculiar to himself. Professor Skeat points out a unique characteristic of Clanvowe’s versification, namely, the unprecedented freedom with which he employs the suffix of the final -e, and rather avoids than seeks elision. The Cuckoo and the Nightingale was imitated by Milton in his sonnet to the Nightingale, and was rewritten in modern English by Wordsworth. It is a poem of so much individual beauty, that we must regret the apparent loss of everything else written by a poet of such unusual talent.
See also a critical edition of the Boke of Cupide by Dr Erich Vollmer (Berlin, 1898). (E. G.)