Although Sir Gowther could legitimately be considered a poem, it is more usually referred to as a tall-rhyme romance, consisting of twelve stanzas that read more like short paragraphs than actual poetic verses. Dating from the Middle Ages, it tells a version of an oft-repeated English folk tale that has been slightly tweaked to reflect the thinking and the political preoccupations of the day. At the time, the monarchy and the church were very conscious of the prevailing paganism in the countryside and rural areas of the nation, and their intent was to "convert", by fair means or foul, even the most rural of citizens. This is reflected in the story in that the more pagan, mystical figures are very bad, and a very bad character, Sir Gowther, becomes a penitent, loyal and good man after his semi-conversion and his humility towards God. It is actually rather ironic that a story intended to show the importance of penitence and faith, in which a fiendish protagonist becomes so admirable that he is almost canonized, should have such deep roots in the old English pagan folkloric tradition.
Unlike many such tales, there is a manuscript that exists for the story of Sir Gowther and it is not just a fragmented oral tradition. The original is believed to have been written around the beginning of the fifteenth century; the two manuscripts held by the British Library date back to the later years of the 1400s. The two manuscripts were clearly intended for different readerships; the first, more preoccupied with the lineage of Sir Gowther, and intended for a more upper class audience whose preoccupation at the time was keeping their own bloodline aristocratic. The second manuscript, for the middle or lower classes, is more concerned with the religious aspect of the story, emphasizing the terrible misdeeds committed by Sir Gowther, and his path to almost sainthood by the end of the story.