Deceptive Lombard Tyrants in Gower’s “Tale of Albinus and Rosemund”

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In situating John Gower’s anti-Italian sentiments within the context of economic competition and xenophobic violence in mid- to late-fourteenth-century London, Craig Bertolet divides Gower’s criticisms into two broad categories: characterizations of Lombard merchants as deceptive and greedy, and critiques of what Gower’s contemporary Geoffrey Chaucer terms the “tyraunts of Lumbardye.” These boundaries between these two stereotypes, however, prove to be porous, as for Gower the Lombards’ greed and fraudulent dealing are enabled by a royal government more interested in profit than in the best interests of the nation. The idea of the deceptive Lombard, therefore, overlaps with the idea of the cruel tyrant, who unnaturally works against his own people’s best interests, an intermingling of stereotypes illustrated in Gower’s work by the tale of Albinus and Rosemund in Book I of Confessio Amantis. I argue that in this story, Gower constructs the idea of the Lombard as a tyrannical yet deceptive husband, covering grotesque cruelty with a veneer of chivalry and courtesy. Though Genius explicitly condemns the first Lombard king Albinus for his boasting, Gower’s version of the tale also highlights Albinus’ perverse and manipulative courtliness as he covers a cup made from the skull of his father-in-law with gold and precious stones so that “no signe of the skulle is sene,” while his earlier warlike behavior is covered with the “perled garnement” of festive jousting. His tale demonstrates that images of the tyrannical Lombard lord and deceptive Italian merchant are mutually dependent and politically useful, helping to displace criticism of England’s own monarchs onto an outsider against whom violence can be justified.