George Gascoigne

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George Gascoigne
George Gascoigne

George Gascoigne (c. 1525 – October 7, 1577) was an English poet. He was the eldest son of Sir John Gascoigne of Cardington, Bedfordshire.


  • 1 Early life
  • 2 At war in the Netherlands
  • 3 Later writings
  • 4 References
  • 5 See also

Early life

He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and on leaving the university is supposed to have joined the Middle Temple. He became a member of Gray's Inn in 1555. 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 M.P. 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," an atheist and constantly in debt.

His poems, with the exception of some commendatory verses, were not published before 1572, but they were probably 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 there two of his plays were acted. He repaired his fortunes by marrying the wealthy widow of William Breton, thus becoming step-father 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 Walthamstow estate, which he had from his wife, until his death.

At war in the Netherlands

He sailed through as a soldier of fortune to the Low Countries in 1572, and was driven by stress of weather to Brill, 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, 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.

Taken prisoner after the evacuation of Valkenburg by the English troops, he was sent to England in the autumn of 1574. He dedicated to Lord Grey of 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 presented her with the Pleasant Tale of Hemetes the Hereinitei in four languages.

Later writings

Most of his works were actually published during the last years of his life, after his return from the wars. He died at Barnack, near Stamford, where he was the guest of George Whetstone, on October 7, 1577. George Whetstone wrote a long dull poem in honour of his friend, entitled "A Remembrance of the wel-imployed life and godly end of George Gaskoigne, Esquire."

His 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 added smoothness and sweetness of his verse. His poems were published in 1572 during his absence in Holland, surreptitiously, according to his own account, but it seems probable that the "editor" who supplied the running comment was none other than Gascoigne himself. "A hundredth Sundrie Floures bound up in one small Posie. Gathered partely (by translation) in the fyne outlandish Gardens of Euripides, Ovid, Petrarke, Ariosto and others; and partely by Invention out of our owne fruitfull Orchardes in Englande, Yelding Sundrie Savours of tragical, comical and moral discourse, bothe pleasaunt and profitable, to the well-smelling name."

  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition article "George Gascoigne", a publication now in the public domain.

See also

  • Canons of Elizabethan poetry
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