Online Digital Facsimiles of Chaucer Manuscripts and Early Printed Editions in Other Library Collections


Llyfrgell Gendlaethol Cymru (The National Library of Wales) Peniarth MS 392 (the "Hengwyrt Chaucer"): Oldest of the surviving manuscripts of "the tales of Canterbury," this text was copied by Adam Pinkhurst, who also copied the sumptuous Ellesmere Manuscript, now at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.  Because the Hengwyrt tale order differs from all four dominant tale orders, because it is the oldest surviving manuscript, and because its creation may have been supervised by Chaucer, himself (see the short mocking lyric, "Adam Scryvyn"), it has been suggested that this might have been Chaucer's preferred tale order.  Later research using modern computational studies of all surviving Canterbury Tales MSS suggest that there may never have been an "original order," but rather that the tales might have been capable of "shuffle performance" in a variety of orders, perhaps to suit Chaucer's varied audiences at court and in the City of London.  (Matthew Spencer, et al., "Analyizing the Order of Items in Manuscripts of 'The Canterbury Tales," Computers and the Humanities 37:1 (February 2003) 97-109.  Stable URL:

British Library Harley 7334:  Harley MS 7334 is begun by a beautifully illuminated recto folio and contains the complete Canterbury Tales, including the spurious "Tale of Gamelyn" that was, for a time, accepted as the missing "Cook's Tale."  Here it follows the "Cook's Fragment" about a riotous London apprentice's abbreviated descent into a life of crime.  Click on the misleadingly undistinguished "bindings" image below the initial bibliographic description, and click the right arrow eight times to bypass the endpapers and flyleaves so as to arrive at the true folio 1r which begins the "General Prologue."  Reading the "Ownership" evidence, drawn mainly from signatures found on various leaves, will do much to humanize the Renaissane and early modern reading audience, ending with the man who was the last private owner before donating it to the British Museum (later British Library), Edward Harley (1689-1741), 2nd Earl of Oxford and Mortimer.  The Harleian Library is one of the BL's most valuable sub-collections of manuscripts and early printed books.

Renaissance Print Editions:

British Library--Treasures in Full: Caxton's Chaucer:  London: Caxton, 1477, and London: Caxton, 1483.  William Caxton published the first printed edition (editio princeps or "ed. prin.") of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in 1477.  Six years later, in 1483, he published a second edition that was, his preface insisted, based upon a better manuscript of the tales than that he had used in first edition.  Interestingly, he attributes this decision to a "gentleman" whose son protested the incompleteness of the earlier edition and offered the loan of his father's manuscript for preparation of the new edition.  Scholars have debated how to interpret this claim.  Caxton might really have had such an encounter, or he might have made it up to improve sales of the large (312 folio leaves), expensive new edition.  However, had he felt public demand for the edition already was sufficient, he might have been unlikely to add costs in typesetting, paper and ink in order to write the anecdote defending it.  The first edition had no paratextual apprartus at all.

Si‚n Echardís 'Chaucer: Manuscripts and Books" Link Page:  Professor Echard (Univ. British Colombia) has a long-running and very complete list of manuscript and early print editon facsimile links.