A Caxton Edition of John Gower's Confessio Amantis

UNC-CH Catalogue Entry:

  • Published:  Westminster, William Caxton, 2 Sept. 1493 [i.e. 1483]
  • Description: [9], 2-ccxi [i.e. ccxiii], [1] l.; leaves [1], [8], [9] and last leaf are blank. fo. 30 cm.
  • Notes:
    • Capital spaces, guide-letters.
    • Gift of the Hanes Foundation, 1960.
    • Part of the Incunabula.
    • RBC Incunabula 532.5 supervised
    • c.1: Lacks leaves I (blank), vii, viii (blank), p. 2, 8, q 1, r 7, 8, s 1-3, 6, B 1, 8, C 1-6. u 8 misbound after t 6.
    • A number of leaves damaged at margins (repaired). Printing nearly intact. A few ms. notes. “Ih. Crofton” on ii r°. Capitals supplied by hand in red. In blind-stamped calf over wooden boards.
    • Cited in: Hain. Repertorium (with Copinger’s Supplement) 7835. Duff. 15th cent. Engl. books, 166. Ricci. Census of Caxtons, 48; 18. Goff G-329.


William Caxton (c. 1422 – c. 1491), widely considered the first printer in England, chose the Confessio Amantis to be one of the select volumes he was to publish. His Confessio edition was the first large volume he was to set in a two-column format (Driver 270), and represents a rare instance of Caxton integrating a table of contents for a literary work (Blake 283-284).

UNC-CH RBC Incunabula 532.5 is remarkable in a number of ways. It was gifted to UNC-CH in 1960 to serve as the one millionth volume of the UNC-CH Library. This copy contains the first printed leaf of the volume, which is missing in many other copies, and a number of marginal notes and drawings of some interest. This volume also retains the original Caxton binding “of the craftsman known as the first Caxton binder,” which is extant in only a handful of Caxton editions (Wells 10). During restoration of the volume, one of the pieces of reinforcement paper inside its cover was found to be a 1481 indulgence (collecting funds for a war against the Turks) also printed by Caxton (Wells 16).


  • Blake, N. F. “Caxton, William (1415×24–1492).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. Ed. David Cannadine. Jan. 2008.
  • Blake, N. F. “Caxton’s Copytext of Gower’s Confessio Amantis.” Anglia 85 (1967): 282-293.
  • Blake, N. F. “Early Printed Editions of Confessio Amantis.” Mediaevalia 16 (1993): 289-306.
  • Driver, Martha W. “Printing the Confessio Amantis: Caxton’s Edition in Context.” In Re-visioning Gower, edited by R.F.Yeager. Asheville, NC: Pegasus Press, 1998. 269-303.
  • Echard, Siân. “Gower in Print.” In A Companion to Gower, edited by Siân Echard. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2004. 115-35.
  • Peck, Russel, ed. Confessio Amantis. Latin trans. Andrew Galloway. 2nd ed.. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000-2013. http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams.Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3
  • Wells, William. “Gower and Caxton.” South Atlantic Bulletin 27.1 (1961): 9-10.
  • Wells, William. “The One Millionth Volume: The Poet and the Poem; the Printer and the Book.” Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Library. https://archive.org/details/onemillionthvolu0well

William Caxton’s Edition of John Gower's Confessio Amantis
Rare Book Collection, Wilson Special Collections Library, UNC-Chapel Hill
Incunabula 532.5

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The John Gower Society is extremely grateful to the Rare Book Collection, Wilson Special Collections Library, UNC-Chapel Hill, for permission to host these images, and for their support and assistance in allowing access to the volume to acquire these images. - Brian W. Gastle, Western Carolina University