14th Century

The Ellesmere Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury tales : the new Ellesmere Chaucer facsimile (of Huntington Library MS EL 26 C9) Tokyo: Yushodo Co.,; San Marion, Calif. : Huntington Library Press, 1995.
PR 1866 .W76 1995 Special Collections Vault

When this New Ellesmere Chaucer Facsimile was made it was issued in three versions; what you see here is the 3d version designed for scholars and students.  This version is issued in unbound quires similar to those of the original manuscript and stored in a blue, linen-covered box. Although it is not certain who commissioned the original, possibly Chaucer’s son, Thomas Chaucer, was responsible.  Some time after completion, it passed into the hands of Thomas de Vere, twelfth Earl of Oxford. A series of owners had it until 1568 when Sir Giles Alington gave the manuscript to his neighbor, Roger, Lord North. When Lord North died in 1600, it passed to Sir Thomas Egerton, a fellow knight of Bath, and a prior keeper of the Great Seal.  Under James I, Egerton became Chancellor and Baron Ellesmere. So the manuscript remained from the 17th to early 20th centuries as part of the library of Sir Thomas Egerton. Then in 1917 Henry Huntington purchased the Egerton Collection which by then was known as the Bridgewater Library.
This manuscript contains the writing of the first master of English literature, and is considered to be the most complete andreliable text edition of the Canterbury Tales. The large manuscript was probably produced soon after 1400. It contains 240 parchment leaves, 232 of which are the text of the Tales. The remaining leaves were originally blank, lined pages that now contain miscellaneous verses, notes and scribbles by various persons over the course of the 15th and 16th centuries. The original text was written by one scribe in an English style cursive script.  There are probably three artists, distinguished on stylistic grounds, who painted the miniatures. The chief purpose of the Ellesmere pilgrim portraits is to facilitate reading by making explicit and visible the manuscript’s arrangement. which classifies the tales according to the narrators.  As visual “titles” their function is to introduce and represent the twenty-three tale tellers and only secondarily to illustrate the General Prologue descriptions.  For a complete internet presentation of the Ellesmere Chaucer see the Long Island University special Collections site: http://www.cwpost.liu.edu/cwis/cwp/library/sc/chaucer/chaucer.htm.

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