Ellesmere Chaucer manuscript

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Page of The Canterbury Tales from the Ellesmere Chaucer manuscript.

The Ellesmere Chaucer manuscript, also Ellesmere Chaucer or Ellesmere manuscript, is an early 15th century illuminated manuscript of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. It is part of the Ellesmere manuscripts and referred to as MS EL 26 C 9. Together with the Hengwrt Chaucer manuscript, it is considered to be the most important source of the original text of The Canterbury Tales. The Ellesmere Chaucer is held in the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. It is named after its former owner, the Earl of Ellesmere.

Significance of the Ellesmere Chaucer

The Ellesmere Chaucer is one of the oldest surviving manuscripts of The Canterbury Tales. It was copied in the years following Chaucer's death in 1400, according to some in 1401, [1] to others around 1410.[2] Since no holograph of Chaucer has ever been found, it offers the best evidence of what he wrote.
Still it was only with the publication of Walter W. Skeat's edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer in 1894, that the Ellesmere Chaucer gained its eminent textual status. After Skeat many editions were based on the Ellesmere Chaucer, including the Riverside Chaucer in 1987. Other editions were based on the Hengwrt Chaucer manuscript. In fact, no matter which of these is chosen, the other one is heavily consulted. [3]

History of the manuscript

The early history of the Ellesmere Chaucer manuscript is uncertain, but it is possible that soon after Chaucer's death in 1400, his son Thomas commissioned a deluxe manuscript of The Canterbury Tales, and provided the materials to produce it. [4] Over a large period of time names were recorded in the manuscript, which implies that it must have had several owners. The following is a reconstruction of that ownership with the use of the most important of those glosses.

House de Vere

Since a ballad on the House of Vere is included at the beginning of the manuscript, an early association with John de Vere (1408-1462), 12th Earl of Oxford is probable. After the death of his father in 1417, he became ward of the Duke of Exeter, and in 1426 of the Duke of Bedford, both kinsmen of Thomas Chaucer.
At the time of death of John de Vere (1442-1513), 13th Earl of Oxford, Sir Robert Drury was one of the executors of the will and among the legatees were Sir Drury's sons-in-law, George Waldegrave and Sir Giles Alington. [2]

Drury Family

From 1513 on the manuscript seems to have been in the possession of the Drury family.

“Robertus drury miles [space], William drury miles, Robertus drury miles, domina Jarmin, domina Jarningam, dommina Alington,”

This gloss refers to Sir Robert Drury of Hawsted in Suffolk, his two sons William and Robert, and his three daughters, Anna, Bridget and Ursula. In 1495 Sir Drury had been speaker of the House of Commons and he was also a member of Henry VIII's Council. Anna Drury was married to George Waldegrave, and after Waldegrave's death in 1528 to Sir Thomas Jermyn. Bridget Drury was married to Sir John Jernyngham of Somerleyton and Ursula Drury was married to Sir Giles Alington. The names Domina Jernegan and Domina Alington are repeated in the manuscript. The gloss "Edwarde Waldegrave" probably refers to George Waldegrave's and Anne Drury's son, who was born in 1514.

"... per me henricum Payne" "And also my Chaucer written in vellum and illumyned with golde."

This could be Henry Payne of Nowton, near Hawstead, a member of 'The Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn', who died in 1568. He had witnessed Sir William Drury's will in 1557 and had gotten a legacy from him. In his own will, he bequeathed the manuscript to Sir Giles Alington, the grandson of Ursula Drury and her husband Giles Alington.

"1 Durum 5 Pati 68 R. North"

This gloss gives us the date 1568 and the motto "Durum pati" of Roger North (1530/31-1600), 2nd Lord North, the new owner of the manuscript, although it is not known how it came into his possession. Some verses were added to the manuscript, signed with 'R.N.' or 'R. North'. [2]

The Bridgewater Library

After the death of Lord North in 1600, the manuscript came into the possession of John Egerton (1579-1649), who was created 1st Earl of Bridgewater in 1617. He added the pressmark "Q3" to the manuscript. John Egerton (1622-1696), 2nd Earl of Bridgewater corrected that later to "Q.3/3". The manuscript became part of the Bridgewater library and was housed at Ashridge in Hertford, where it would stay until 1802. It was then moved to London. A year later Francis Egerton (1736-1803), 6th Earl and 3rd Duke of Bridgewater died unmarried. His distant cousin, John William Egerton (1753-1823), inherited the earldom of Bridgewater and the Ashridge lands. His nephew, George Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Marquis of Stafford (later 1st Duke of Sutherland), inherited the Bridgewater library and other properties including Bridgewater House in London. From 1803 to 1833 the manuscript was called the Stafford Chaucer. Leveson-Gower’s younger son, Francis Egerton, created Earl of Ellesmere in 1846, inherited the library and the Stafford Chaucer became the Ellesmere Chaucer. The library remained in the family until it was sold by John Francis Granville Scrope Egerton (1872-1944), 4th Earl of Ellesmere. [2]

Henry E. Huntington and the Huntington Library

In 1917, Henry Edwards Huntington, railroad magnate and collector of art and rare books, purchased the Bridgewater library privately from Sotheby's. That makes him the last private owner of the manuscript that is now known as the Ellesmere Chaucer. After Huntington's death in 1927, his priceless library of rare books and art was opened to the public.

Description of the manuscript

The beautiful, large manuscript, probably made and bound in London, is approximately four hundred by two hundred eighty-four millimetres in size. It contains two hundred and forty fine vellum leaves, two hundred thirty-two of which contain the text of The Canterbury Tales. It is written in an anglicana formata script [5] by the scribe who also copied the Hengwrt Chaucer manuscript. In 2004 this scribe has been tentatively identified as Adam Pinkhurst. The remaining leaves contain verses, notes and scribbles by various persons. It is luxuriously illuminated and by far the most famous survivor of the rare illustrated versions of Chaucer's major works. In circa 1911 it was bound in dark green morocco, with the Egerton arms stamped in gold on the front cover. [6] In 1994 the previous modern green goatskin binding of the manuscript was removed and in 1995 the manuscript was re-bound, using original 15th-century techniques. [2]

The illumination

Ellesmere initial.

After the text was copied [7] it was surrounded by decorated borders of floral patterns in a conservative style. [6]

The white-highlighted initials on a gold ground in blue, pink, dull red, and with little or no green, are six to four lines high. They are filled with leaf designs, with bars and foliage borders in the same colours, including daisy buds, interlaced and with an occasional grotesque.

Ellesmere grotesque.

Smaller gold initials are two to four lines high and have white patterns on particoloured blue and pink grounds.
Paragraph marks are alternating in blue with red or in gold with grey-blue flourishing and further in the text in gold with purple. Running headlines and marginal notes are set off by these paragraph marks. [2]
Verse paragraph breaks are identified by the term 'pausacio'. [8]

The portraits of the pilgrims

A unique feature of the Ellesmere Chaucer is the set of twenty-three equestrian portraits of the pilgrims. Along with some symbolism - the Clerk with books, the Physician with a urine bottle - some replicate many of the details of the descriptions given in the General Prologue and the links between the tales. [9] Even the horses suit their riders, at least to some extent.
Each portrait is positioned at the start of his or her tale and placed outside of the written space. On the recto the illuminations are on the right of the text in the gloss space or in the ruled texts space. On the verso they are usually to the left of the text in a niche in the decoration, except for the portrait of the Miller, which is also pictured on the right of the text.
The portraits vary in size, the largest being circa hundred by eighty millimetres, the smallest circa forty-five by forty-five millimetres according to the artist.
There were three different artists at work. One painted the first sixteen pilgrims and the last one as small figures. A second one painted only Chaucer's portrait. A third one was responsible for the illustrations of the Monk, the Nun's Priest, the Second Nun, the Canon's Yeoman and the Manciple. He painted his figures on a larger scale en made them standing on a patch of green grass.
Some miniatures seem to be done before the border decoration was painted, and forced the bar border and initial to the right of their normal position. Others were painted after the border. Then erasure of parts of the border was needed. [2]

Pilgrim Chaucer's portrait

The portrait of pilgrim Chaucer, [10] the pilgrim that records all the tales, is painted by the most competent of the three artists that worked on the Ellesmere Chaucer. There is some discrepancy in proportion between the large bust of pilgrim Chaucer and the smaller size of his legs and his horse, standing on a grassy plot. It marks the opening of his The Tale of Melibee. This bearded portrait of Geoffrey bears a marked resemblance to the image appearing in a British Library manuscript of Thomas Hoccleve's poem The Regiments of Princes. (MS Harley 4866). [11] That picture [12] accompanies a eulogy of Chaucer and is descibed by Hoccleve as a lyknesse that will serve to remind readers of what Chaucer looked like. [13]

The order of the tales

The Ellesmere and Hengwrt Chaucer manuscripts share the same scribe. Pinkhurst appears to have copied the Hengwrt Chaucer first, maybe from Chaucer's originals and possibly during his lifetime. He then copied the Ellesmere manuscript after a more careful inventory and editorial preparation.
Academics divide the tales into ten fragments. The tales in a fragment are connected, and give a clear indication of their order, usually with one character that passes the floor to another. Between the fragments themselves there are no explicit connections, save for IX-X and, in the Ellesmere manuscript, IV-V. This means that there is no explicit indication of the order in which Chaucer intended the fragments to be read. The order of the tales in the Hengwrt and the Ellesmere manuscripts differs. The order of the Ellesmere Chaucer, also the most popular one and used in The Riverside Chaucer, is as follows:

Fragment Tales
I (A) General Prologue
The Knight's Tale
The Miller's Prologue and Tale
The Reeve's Prologue and Tale
The Cook's Prologue and Tale
II (B1) The Man of Law's Introduction, Prologue, Tale and Epilogue
III (D) The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
The Friar's Prologue and Tale
The Summoner's Prologue and Tale
IV (E) The Clerk's Prologue and Tale
The Merchant's Prologue, Tale and Epilogue
V (F) The Squire's Introduction and Tale
The Franklin's Prologue and Tale
VI (C) The Physician's Tale
The Pardoner's Introduction, Prologue and Tale
VII (B2) The Shipman's Tale
The Prioress's Prologue and Tale
The Prologue and Tale of Sir Thopas
The Tale of Milibee
The Monk's Prologue and Tale
The Nun's Priest's Prologue, Tale and Epilogue
VIII (G) The Second Nun's Prologue and Tale
The Canon's Yeoman's Prologue and Tale
IX (H) The Manciple's Prologue and Tale
X (I) The Parson's Prologue and Tale
Chaucer's Retraction


The Ellesmere Chaucer fascimile

In commemoration of its 75th anniversary, the Huntington Library authorized Yushodo Co. in Tokyo to publish a facsimile of the Ellesmere Chaucer. This facsimile was printed in a full-color, high-definition process with gold inlay, on high quality, long-life paper imported from England. The original camera work was done at the Huntington Library by the Huntington's principle photographer, Robert Schlosser. The manuscript was conserved and rebound by Anthony G. Cains of the Trinity College, Dublin, with the assistance of Maria Fredericks, at the time Rare Book Conservator of the Huntington Library. This is truly an international work, bringing together the expertise of all participants to produce one magnificent facsimile. [4]

This fascimile was produced in a limited edition of 250 copies:

  • the Deluxe version, sewn and bound in an early 15th-century-type binding, oak boards and quarter brown calf leather, with blue quarter morocco clamshell case,
  • the Quired version of unsewn leaves in a blue quarter morocco clamshell case.

The Ellesmere Chaucer Monochromatic Facsimile
The transparencies that were the basis of the color facsimile were used to make a full-sized, monochromatic facsimile, printed by the Stinehour Press of Lunenberg, Vermont. The facsimile exibits the texture and decoration of the original manuscript pages. It features a color frontispiece, the page that begins the Knight's Tale. The New Ellemere Chaucer Facimile was released in 1996.

Sources and references

  • The Riverside Chaucer Third Edition (1987), General Editor Larry D. Benson, Harvard University, Houghton Mufflin Company, Boston. ISBN 0-395-29031-7
  • Ellesmere Chaucer - Guide to Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Huntington Library.
  • Ruth Evans, "Chaucer's life", in: Steve Ellis Chaucer An Oxford Guide (2005). New York United States: Oxford University Press. Inc. ISBN 0-19-925912-7
  • David Griffith, "Visual culture", in: Steve Ellis Chaucer An Oxford Guide (2005). New York United States: Oxford University Press. Inc. ISBN 0-19-925912-7
  • Stephen Penn, "Literacy and literary production", in: Steve Ellis Chaucer An Oxford Guide (2005). New York United States: Oxford University Press. Inc. ISBN 0-19-925912-7
  • Elizabeth Scala, "Editing Chaucer", in: Steve Ellis Chaucer An Oxford Guide (2005). New York United States: Oxford University Press. Inc. ISBN 0-19-925912-7
  1. Evans, p. 21.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Ellesmere Chaucer.
  3. Scala, p. 485.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Scala, p. 491.
  5. anglicana formata script
  6. 6.0 6.1 Huntington Catalog Images
  7. Penn, p. 125
  8. Penn, p. 119.
  9. Griffith, p. 201.
  10. Portrait of Chaucer in the Ellesmere Chaucer.
  11. Griffith, p. 205.
  12. Geoffrey Chaucer's portrait in MS Harley 4866.
  13. Evans, p. 21.
  14. Ellesmere Chaucer
  15. Riverside, p. 5.