Abstract--Writing Fame: Readers’ Manuscript Copies of Chaucer’s 1556 Tomb Inscriptions and Renaissance Editors’ Construction of Chaucer and Chaucer’s Workes


Arnold Sanders, Goucher College, 2009-10


Last summer, while examining two 1561 Chaucer editions at the Garrett Library (Johns Hopkins U.), I happened upon two manuscript transcriptions of the verses on Chaucer’ tomb, a marble structure Nicholas Brigham paid to erect at Westminster in 1556.  Though one inscription is far more complete than the other, both appear to be sixteenth-century hands and both are located in places suggesting that their writers considered the epitaphs the “termini” of Chaucer’s works.  One stands at the end of his printed works, beside the earlier, Surigonis-Caxton memorial verses that Stow had placed before the beginning of Lydgate’s works.  In the other copy of the 1561 Stow Chaucer, one quatrain from the epitaph is traced in now-faint black ink with red capitals on the verso of the colophon leaf, just below a tomb-like printer’s ornament. (For my transcription see the Appendix, and digital images can be viewed at this web page:


The occurrence of the same kind of annotation in two different hands, in two copies of the same Chaucer edition seemed unlikely and suggestive.  Research soon revealed that, in 1994, Joseph Dane and Alexandra Gillespie reported finding two others (at U.T. Austin and the Huntington Library).  Dane’s Huntington copy has a fairly complete version of the tomb verses on the title page, and Gillespie’s Ransome Center copy has a similarly complete version on the colophon leaf below the printer’s device, like the second copy I saw in the Garrett Collection.  I found a third epitaph inscription in a 1532 edition at the Folger Shakespeare Library, also located at a “terminus” of the printed text.  In Allison Wiggins’ 2008 survey of 52 Renaissance copies of Chaucer’s collected works, she reported finding this annotation along with two other epitaphs inscribed in 1532 and 1561 editions.  It appears that, other than owners’ signatures, these seven manuscript epitaph transcriptions are the only specific kind of annotation that occurs so frequently in the fifty-six Chaucer editions under consideration.  (Also see Pearsall and Prendergast.)

What we see in these annotations of Chaucer’s Workes may be just a small sample of a more widespread pattern of readers, editors and printers interacting during the period when Chaucer manuscripts were being replaced by print editions (Lerer).  Like the editions customers chose to bind as Sammelbände, which would have alerted printers to future co-printing and co-marketing strategies, readers’ annotation practices in older editions would have implied their desires for added content in new editions.  The same pattern of reader-printer negotiation over edition design has been demonstrated in de Worde’s creation of title pages for his English readers (Driver).  Readers’ discovery of the tomb verses in post-1598 editions also may have encouraged them to remedy that omission.  The content and location of the annotations suggest a way of understanding what was then understood as a “complete” Chaucer edition, and what production and ownership of such a book meant to Chaucer’s growing fame as a kind of ancestral cult figure for the English language and “Englishness.” 

Some of the annotators, like the Canterbury pilgrims, may have carried their editions to Westminster where they copied the epitaphs on the spot, perhaps helping to wear away the marble inscriptions while doing so (Bonser, Walsingham).  Other owners of Chaucer’s works could acquire their epitaph texts by copying them from newer editions or from manuscript copies made by other readers who were similarly devoted to the poet.  All could use the epitaphs to make a symbolic journey of veneration while reading the collected works of this literary saint.



I.  Joseph Dane’s and Alexandra Gillespie’s transcription of the monument’s inscribed verses:


Qui fuit Anglorum vates.  Ter maximus olim

Galfridus Chaucer.  conditur hoc tumulo

Annum si queras domini si tempora mortis

ecce nota subsunt.  que tibi cuncta notant.  25 octobris anno domini 1400


Chaucer occubuit sed corpore, cetera magnis

post cineres virtus vincere sola facit.  ICB


recquies erumnarum mors

N. Brigham hos fecit musarum nomine sumptus.  1556


[The “verses about the ledge”]

Si rogites quis eram forsan te fama docebit

quod si fama negat mundi quia gloria transit

Hec monumentie lege.


II.  Garrett Library Stow Chaucer, 1561, Copy 1


The wordes writtin a bout Chaucers

tombe ſtone in Weſt<minster>

Si rogites quis eram, forſan te fama docebit

     quod ſi fama negat, mundi quia gloria tranſit

                         hec monumenta lege


Qui fuit  Anglorum Chaucers epitaphe [written over cancelled first line]

written in West<minster> upon his tombe

Qui fuit Anglon vates ter maximus olim

     Galfridis Chaucer conditur hoc tumulo

An<n>um ſi queras d<omi>ni si tempora mortis

     ecce nota ſubſunt, qui tibi cuncta notant

             25 octob<e>r a<n>o D<omi>ni 1400


Ærrumar<um> requies mors

N: Brigham hos fecit musſar<um> <nomine> sumptus 1556  } wordis[?] also writtin

                                                                                                     upon chaucers stone


My angle brackets expand scribal ligatures.  The inscription’s curly brackets enclose both sides of the epitaph, itself, and a single curly bracket encloses the right side of Brigham’s line.  I have been unable to reproduce in digital text the reversed “N” of Brigham’s line. 


Garrett Library Stow Chaucer, 1561, Copy 1a


Qui fuit Anglor<um> vates ter maximus, olim:

Galfridus Chaucer, conditur hoc Tumulo

Ann<um>, si queras domini: si tempora, Mortis:

ecce: nota, subsunt: [que?] tibi cuncta, notant.

Æ<um>mar<um> requies, Mors.

N: B[ri?]gam: hos fecit [?musarum sumptus]


My angle brackets expand scribal ligatures.  The red ink remains more legible than the rest, which has faded to light brown.


Works Cited


Bonser, Wilfrid.  “The Cult of Relics in the Middle Ages.”  Folklore 73:4 (Winter, 1962)  234-56.

Chaucer, Geoffrey.  The workes of Geffray Chaucer newly printed, wyth dyuers workes whiche were neuer in print before: as in the table more playnly dothe appere. Cum priuilegio.  London: by Nicholas Hill for Rycharde Kele, 1550? [Folger Shakespeare Library copy]

--------.  The Workes of Geffrey Chaucer, newlie printed, with diuers addicions, whiche were neuer in print before; with the siege and destruction of the worthy Citee of Thebes, compiled by Ihon Lidgate, Monk of Berie.  As in the tale more plainly doeth appere.  1561.    [“first copy” in theGarrett Library from the collection of John Work Garrett]

--------.  The Workes of Geffrey Chaucer, newlie printed, with diuers addicions, whiche were neuer in print before; with the siege and destruction of the worthy Citee of Thebes, compiled by Ihon Lidgate, Monk of Berie.  As in the tale more plainly doeth appere.  1561.    [“second copy” Garrett Library from the Tudor and Stuart Club of Johns Hopkins University]

Dane, Joseph.  "Who is Buried in Chaucer's Tomb? -- Prolegomena." Huntington Library Quarterly 57 (1994): 98-123

--------, and Alexandra Gillespie.  “Back at Chaucer’s Tomb: Inscriptions in Two Early Copies of Chaucer’s Workes.”  Studies in Bibliography 52 (1999) 89-96.

Driver, Martha.  “Ideas of Order: Wynkn de Worde and the Title Page.”  in John Scattergood and Julia Boffey, eds., Texts and Their Contexts: Papers from the Early Book Society.   Dublin: Four Courts P, 1997.  87–149.

--------.  “Mapping Chaucer: John Speed and the Later Portraits.”  The Chaucer Review 36:3 (2002) 228-49. 

Gillespie, Alexandra.  Print Culture and the Medieval Author: Chaucer, Lydgate, and their Books, 1473-1557.  Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006.

Lerer, Seth.  Chaucer and His Readers: Imagining the Author in Late-Medieval England.  Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993.

Pearsall, Derek.  “Chaucer’s Tomb: The Politics of Reburial.”  Medium Aevum 64 (Spring 1995)

Prendergast, Thomas A.  Chaucer’s Dead Body: From Corpse to Corpus.  N.Y.: Routledge, 2004.

Walsham, Alexandra.  “Miracles and the Counter-Reformation Mission to England.”  The Historical Journal.  46:4 (2003) 779-815.

Wiggins, Alison.  “What Did Renaissance Readers Write in their Printed Copies of Chaucer?”  The Library 9:1 (March 2008) 3-36.