Writing Fame: Renaissance Chaucer Editions’ Epitaph Transcriptions and the Construction of Chaucer

Arnold Sanders, Goucher College, 2009-10


Last summer, while examining two 1561 Chaucer editions at the Garrett Library at Johns Hopkins University, 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 transcription is far more complete than the other, both appear to be written in Early Modern hands and both are located in places suggesting that their writers considered the epitaphs the “termini” of Chaucer’s works. [B copy Full Slide]  In the one I found first, one quatrain from the epitaph is traced in now-faint brownish ink with red capitals on the verso of the colophon leaf, just below a sarcophagus-like printer’s ornament.[1] [B copy closeup Slide]  The other, copied in dark black ink, stands just below the printer’s title announcing “Thus endeth the workes of Geffray Chaucer” and before the beginning of Lydgate’s works.[2]  [A copy Full Slide / A copy close-up Slide]

The occurrence of the same kind of annotation in two different hands, in two copies of the same Chaucer edition seemed astonishing and suggestive.  Research soon revealed that, in 1994, Joseph Dane and Alexandra Gillespie also reported finding two others at the Huntington Library and at the Harry Ransome Center.  [Dane copy Slide]  Dane’s Huntington copy has a fairly complete version of the tomb verses on the title page of a 1550 reprint of the Thynne edition, located beneath another sarcophagus-like printer’s ornament.  [Gillespie copy Slide] Gillespie’s Ransome Center copy of the 1561 Stowe Chaucer has a similarly complete version on the colophon leaf below the printer’s device, exactly where I found the second copy in the Garrett Collection.  [All four Slide]  Because the texts of all four inscriptions differ from each other, and from surviving printed transcriptions, they did not seem to have been copied from the same source, or to be the work of even modestly skilled scribes.  Indeed, my first annotator’s attempt to simulate Medieval manuscript rubrication completely misunderstands the function of red letters, using them not to indicate beginnings of verses, actions performed in the Mass, or responsories, but rather for irregular capitalization and punctuation marks, the lower-case “d” of “domini.”

A few months after finding the transcriptions at the Garrett Library, I visited the Folger Shakespeare Library and Steve Galbraith generously offered to show me whatever I wished to see.  Of course, I asked to see early Chaucers.  Within ten minutes, we found another inscription in a 1532 edition.  That annotation turned out already to have been discovered and reported in the previous year by Allison Wiggins, along with two other epitaphs inscribed in 1532 and 1561 editions at the Folger.  [All Seven MSS Slide]  Based on Wiggins’ survey of 52 Renaissance copies of Chaucer’s collected works in England and America, and copies examined by Dane, by Gillespie, and by me, these seven epitaph transcriptions appear to be the only kind of extended annotation that occurs so frequently, other than owners’ signatures.  If the manuscript epitaphs have been found in one eighth of these fifty-six Renaissance Chaucers, it seems likely that we would find more now that we know what we are looking for.  This talk advances a hypothetical explanation for what we are looking at, readers’ participation in the construction of Chaucer’s poetic fame based on social practices related to the cult worship of the Saints.  If there was a “Chaucer cultus,” it seems to have left no trace of public processions or official sanction.  Its private devotion may have been directed toward the tomb, epitaph, and collected works of a secular Christian author whose poems, real and apocryphal, made him uniquely serviceable to followers of the English and Roman Churches. 

The peculiarly mixed qualities of Chaucer’s works and his Early Modern fame have drawn critical attention for decades.[3]  In the 1990s, Seth Lerer, Derek Pearsall, Theresa Krier, and John Watkins traced the tug of war between the English and Roman churches as they sought to construct a “Chaucer” to suit their causes.  A popular readers’ cult of “Saint Geoffrey” may have helped bridge a difficult cultural gap between Catholic and Protestant English readers seeking some common ground upon which to base their “Englishness.”[4]  In a cultural reception which differs from that of any other Medieval poet, this concern for Chaucer’s tomb and his poetic fame seems to link readers’ interests with the material survival and completeness of the poet’s works.[5] 

So far, these epitaph annotations have been studied as evidence of reader-response to the text (Wiggins), and of the writers’ choice of copy text from the tomb, itself, or from print editions by Camden and Speght (Dane and Gillespie).  Wiggins goes so far as to suggest that they represent “a persistent tradition of transcribing, circulating, and re-copying these lines,” but she does not speculate upon what might have motivated that tradition, its possible influence on later print editions of the works, or what caused it to persist for decades.

What we see in these annotations 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.[6]   Like the editions chosen for Sammelbände, which would suggest co-printing and co-marketing strategies, readers’ annotation practices in older editions also may have become known to printers and would have strongly implied readers’ desires for new content to sell new editions.  In this instance, we can observe the tomb verses’ forty-year migration from readers’ manuscript notes into the type set for printed texts of later editions, a process that brings to the printed page readers’ association of the tomb with the “collected works.”[7]  The content and location of the annotations suggest what Early Modern readers believed to be a “complete” Chaucer edition, and what production and ownership of such a book meant to the poet’s growing fame as a kind of ancestral cult figure for the English language and “Englishness.” 

Ever since the preface to Caxton’s second edition of Canterbury Tales, Chaucer’s reputation and his works have been represented by printers as contested ground.  Alexandra Gillespie has pointed out specific kinds of printed annotations that emerged when the earliest Chaucer editions were read amid government censorship of Catholic content (Print Culture 186-228).  She also speculates that later editions may have been influenced when public Catholic religious practices returned during Mary’s reign.  Joseph Prendergast observes, however, that Stowe’s 1561 edition, printed only 3 years after Mary’s death, and by a notorious Catholic sympathizer, ignores Brigham’s tomb and prints only the Surgionus-Caxton verses (53-4).  Prendergast suspects Stowe was responding cautiously to the new government, but I would also suggest Stowe gave readers what they had asked for in the past.  The four handwritten epitaphs we have discovered on copies of his edition may be part of a larger pattern of reader annotation that bears witness to print-shop dialogues which led Stowe’s 1598 Survey of London to report extensively on Brigham’s monument and to quote its verses.  From Stowe’s notes, the epitaph seems to have made its way into Speght’s collected works edition of that same year.  By that point, the Brigham verses seem to have become a standard element of Chaucer’s collected works, much like the Chaucer portrait and the “hard word” glossary Speght introduced.

Like the poet, Early Modern English readers were, themselves, subject to decades of vigorous attempts to influence their religious practices.  Alexandra Walsham notes that Elizabethan clergy “were dealing with a populace which had been baptized Catholic” and which had a “nostalgia for the ritual protection which had been supplied by the pre-Reformation Church” (813).  Jesuit missionaries to England invoked the superior “thaumaturgic” powers of the Old Religion’s saints as evidence of its superiority to the leaner liturgy of the upstart schismatics.  Meanwhile, what has been called the Roman Church’s “crisis of canonization” between 1523 and 1588 resulted in no new saints being made, while the Church formulated its response to Protestant attacks on the saints’ cults as “superstition.”  Perhaps not coincidentally, this encompasses the period in which the first editions of Chaucer’s collected works were printed, and almost precisely brackets Brigham’s construction of the tomb in 1556.  [Modern Tomb Slide]

The verses, themselves, differ from typical medieval English tomb inscriptions studied by Nigel Saul in that they do not ask for intercessory prayers for the deceased (343-52).  They do identify the poet by name and date of death, as would be traditional, but their main message is Chaucer’s fame, his status as “thrice-greatest English poet.”  They also take pains to identify the tomb’s sponsor, Brigham, and the year of its construction, as if memorializing the tomb, itself.  The verses seem intended to constitute what Saul calls “the deceased’s place in the social pecking-order,” a kind of biographical inscription he finds increasingly common in tombs constructed in the 1500s (359, 357-9).  Unlike a knight’s most famous battles, a gentry squire’s ancestry, or a married couple’s tally of years lived faithfully together, Chaucer’s epitaph redundantly concentrates his entire identity into his fame as an English poet (Saul 357, 359, 361).  In addition, the plane-relief, full-length portrait of Chaucer seems to be an unusual departure from tomb iconography after 1538.[8]  The inscriptions and Chaucer’s graven image might have enabled viewers to associate Chaucer’s poetry with the tomb’s spectacular presence, and may help to explain the extraordinary use made of those verses by readers and printers.

During the following two centuries, the tomb undergoes a period of curious celebrity in English print culture.  As Lehrer and Dane remind us, by 1652 an engraving of it was available in Elias Ashmole’s Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum (337), and by 1721, John Urry’s edition of Chaucer’s works included the tomb engraving with the verses on its title page, as well as reproducing the text in its entirety in the preface.  [Urry 1721 Slide]  If printers and editors adopted readers’ analogous association, “fame = tomb and tomb=text,” the tomb contained and the editions’ tomb verses memorialized the poet’s bodily and textual remains as complete and somehow sacred constructions whose secular residue was that elusive but powerful phantom, “fame.”  In fact, the actual tomb’s power seems to have been considered potent enough to oversee and guarantee loan repayments (Prendergast 1).  Like the tomb’s image and inscriptions, the text of Chaucer’s works also could manifest the poet’s “absent presence” and the poet’s fame by a process similar to that by which saints’ relics operated.  Just as the Church had declared, since the Eighth Century, that “relics had the power of reproducing themselves,” so the press could reproduce potentially infinite copies of Chaucer’s works (Bonser 236).  Translations of the tomb inscriptions to print editions accomplish the same ends for Chaucer’s text as the ceremonial translation of the saint’s remains to the site of viewers’ venerations, in this instance, a Latin memorial imposed upon a collected body of Middle English poetry

Even as the tomb poems influenced the content of Chaucer’s printed works, copying the epitaphs may have altered the tomb.  Copying the text from someone else’s manuscript annotation or a new print edition would be the easiest way to obtain the text, but some annotators, like so many Canterbury pilgrims, may have carried their editions to Westminster to copy the epitaphs on the spot, perhaps helping to wear away the marble inscriptions while doing so.  Speght, writing only 46 years after the tomb’s construction, noted that the “verses written about the ledge” of the monument (“Si rogites quis eram…”) were “clean worne out.”  This would be peculiarly rapid erosion of a marble inscription that was protected from rain and other natural forces by its location within the Abbey.[9]  In fact, pilgrimage practices authorized by the Roman Church may explain it. 

Alexandra Walsham cites instances in which the Church sanctioned worship of “secondary” or “associative” relics, and between 1615 and 1640, printed books were credited with performing miraculous cures in their authors’ names (798).[10]  The Christian worship of “brandea,” including “touch relics,” dates to the earliest days of the church, and since the twelfth century in England, worship of saints’ relics, including physical contact with their tombs and reliquaries, was especially active until the late 1530s  (Grabar 343 ff., Kitzinger 115-19, Crook 6-39 and 210-41, esp. 238-39).  [FDR Cultus Slide]  Even today, secular visitors to public monuments continue to practice unconsciously the ancient rituals by touching specific portions of public statues, such as those at the F.D. R. Memorial in Washington, D.C.  Note the brightness of the president’s forefinger and knee, and the shiny ears and nose of “Fala,” Roosevelt’s Scottish terrier, testimony to the dedicated rituals of Fala’s cultus which have left traces in other modern media.[11]  [Fala Cultus Slide]  Westminster Abbey visitors’ contact with the tomb, itself, may have been influenced by the saints’ cults’ emphasis on physical contact with objects which had touched what has been called “the holy radioactivity” of the saint (Finucane 26).  In the 1620s, the Church officially authorized worshipers of the proto-saint, Bishop Frances de Sales, to “carry away fragments of stone scraped from his tomb” (Walsham 786, citing James, 119, 121).  The vanished verses’ physical location, “about the ledge” may have rendered them more vulnerable to deliberate removal, but even innocent tracing might have been sufficient to erode the letters given the material from which the tomb may have been constructed. 

If we can trust the surviving descriptions, the tomb was carved from “Petworth Marble,” a stone geologists “small ‘Paludina’ marble,” after the fossil shells embedded in its calcite matrix.[12]  [Paludina Marble Slide]  Widely used since Roman times for interior monuments, including those at Canterbury Cathedral, Petworth marble is “easily weathered by acid rain” which dissolves the matrix, allowing the shells to fall out (Birch 45, 44).[13]  [Weathered Paludina Marble Slide]  One source of acid-bearing liquids in the Abbey could have been the human sweat deposited by the visitors’ hands tracing those very inscriptions as they transcribed them.[14]  As more of the calcite matrix gave way and the inscriptions became more difficult to read, the temptation to hand-trace them might have grown stronger.

Edmund Spenser’s 1596 homage to Chaucer in Book IV of The Faerie Queene, already may refer to the inscriptions’ erosion two years before Speght reported the damage:  [Spenser FQ Verse Slide]

But wicked Time that all good thoughts doth waste,

And workes of noblest wits to nought out weare,

That famous moniment hath quite defaste,

And robd the world of threasure endlesse deare,

The which mote haue enriched all vs heare.

O cursed Eld the cankerworme of writs,

How may these rimes, so rude as doth appeare,

Hope to endure, sith workes of heauenly wits

Are quite deuourd, and brought to nought by little bits?  (Stanza 33)


Nineteenth-Century descriptions of the tomb suggest that all of the letters were almost completely erased before the 1850 campaign to restore the tomb (Prendergast 87-96).[15]  An 1818 account of Chaucer’s tomb’s decay notes that Spenser’s nearby tomb also had become “decayed” before being replaced in 1778 (Brayley).[16]  Spenser’s epitaphs, as recorded by Camden, identified the poet with Chaucer’s fame and with English poetry’s vitality, perhaps with fatal results for the tomb, itself:

Hic prope Chaucerum situs est Spenserius, illi

Proximus ingenio proximus ut tumulo.


Hic prope Chaucerum, Spensere poeta, poetam

Conderis, et versu quam tumulo propior.

Anglica, te vivo, vixit plausitque poesis;


Here nigh to Chaucer Spenser lies; to whom

In genius next he was, as now in tomb.


Here nigh to Chaucer, Spenser, stands thy hearse,

Still nearer standst thou to him in thy verse.

Whilst thou didst live, lived English poetry;

Now thou art dead, it fears that it shall die.


            The printer of Spenser’s first folio “Collected Works” in 1679 used Spenser’s Wesminster Abbey tomb for the frontispiece.  [Spenser Works TP Slide]   

The success of this edition in establishing its author’s public fame as a poet may have influenced the title page layout devised for the 1721 Chaucer edition.  [Spenser/Chaucer 1679/1721 Works Slide]

I have only just begun to investigate the practice of representing poets’ tombs, rather than their portraits, on title pages and frontispieces, but the 1679 Spenser page layout suggests a direct relationship between the tomb and the collected works that may owe a debt to the earlier practices of Chaucer’s readers and printers and that may have influenced the design of the 1721 Chaucer edition.[17]  [4 MSS and email Slide]  More importantly, further inspection of surviving copies of Early Modern Chaucer editions may reveal additional instances of tomb inscriptions which might provide ownership evidence to help determine whether the owners had common geographical or social ties.[18]  The social force which wore away the tomb’s marble letters also may have set them forever in cold type and “black ink.”



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.


Garrett Library Stow Chaucer, 1561, John Work Garrett Copy

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 the reversed “N” of Brigham’s line in digital text.  The annotation’s relative closeness to Dane’s Wylbraham text, its careful attention to exactly where verses were located, and its cancelled line and other signs of hasty composition, suggest this also may have been copied directly from the tomb at Westminster.



Garrett Library Stow Chaucer, 1561, Copy 1a, Tudor and Stuart Club Copy


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.  This annotation corresponds roughly with the text quoted by Dane and Gillespie, but skips from the quatrain about Chaucer to the line commemorating Brigham.  The irregularly rubricated capitals and haphazard punctuation suggest the writer was not Latin literate but was familiar in passing with the general appearance of rubricated manuscripts.


Works Cited


Arnold, Reverend F.H.  Petworth: A Sketch of its History and Antiquities, with notices of archaeological interest in its vicinity.  Petworth, UK: A. J. Bryant, 1864.

Birch, Roger.  Sussex Stones: The Story of Horsham Stone and Sussex Marble.  NP: Roger Birch, 2006.

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

Brayley, Edward Wedlake.  The History and Antiquities of the Abbey Church of St. Peter, Westminster, including Notices and Biographical Memoirs of the Abbots and Deans of that Foundation.  London: J. P. Neale, 1818.  Vol. 2.

Carlson, David R.  “Alexander Barclay and Richard Pynson: A Tudor Printer and His Writer.”  Anglia113 (1995) 283-302. 

--------.  “A Theory of the Early English Printing Firm: Jobbing, Book Publishing, and the Problem of Productive Capacity in Caxton’s Work.  In William Kuskin, ed., Caxton’s Trace: Studies in the History of English Printing.  Notre Dame, IN:  U Notre Dame P, 2006.  35-68.

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.  London: John Stowe, 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.  London: John Stowe, 1561.    [“second copy” Garrett Library from the Tudor and Stuart Club of Johns Hopkins University]

--------.  The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer : compared with the former editions, and many valuable mss. out of which, three tales are added which were never before printed / by John Urry, student of Christ-Church, Oxon. deceased; together with a glossary by a student of the same College. To the whole is prefixed the author's life, newly written, and a preface, giving an account of this edition.  London: Bernard Lintot, 1721.

Connell, Philip.  “Death and the Author: Westminster Abbey and the Meanings of the Literary Monument.”  Eighteenth-Century Studies 38:4 (Summer 2005) 557-85.

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; Wynkyn 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.  87-146.

--------.  Image in Print: Book Illustration in Late Medieval England and its Sources.  London: British Library, 2004.

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

Edwards, A.S.G.  “From Manuscript to Print: Wynkyn de Worde and the Printing of Contemporary Poetry.”  Gutenberg Jahrbuch (1991) 1430-8.

--------.  “Poet and Printer in Sixteenth Century England: Stephen Hawes and Wynkyn de Worde.”  Gutenberg Jahrbuch (1980) 82-88.

“The Erosion of Carbonate Stone.”  USGS: Science for a Changing World.  Web.  3/24/2010.  Available: http://wwwbrr.cr.usgs.gov/projects/SW_corrision/erosion/teachers-pupils/index.html

Finucane, Ronald.  Miracles and Pilgrims: Popular Beliefs in Medieval England.  N.Y.: St. Martin’s P, 1995.

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

Grabar, Andre.  Martyrium.  3 vols.  Paris: Collège de France, 1944-6.

“G.W.L.”  [Letter  to “Mr. Urban”].  The Gentleman’s Magazine.  November, 1808.  974-5.

Hackel, Heidi Brayman.  Reading Material in Early Modern England: Print, Gender, and Literacy.  Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005.

Johnson, Francis R.  A Critical Bibliography of the Works of Edmund Spenser Printed before 1700.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins P, 1933.

Judson, Alexander C.  The Life of Edmund Spenser.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1945.

Kitzinger, Ernst.  “The Cult of Images in the Age Before Iconoclasm.”  Dunbarton Oaks Papers 8 (1954) 83-150.

Krier, Theresa.  “Receiving Chaucer in Renaissance England.”  In Theresa Krier, ed.,  Refiguring Chaucer in the Renaissance.  1-18.

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

Orme, Nicholas.  “Church and Chapel in Medieval England.”  Transactions of the Royal Historical Society.  Sixth Series, 6 (1996) 75-102.

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.

Read, Allen Walker.  “The Disinterment of Milton’s Remains.”  PMLA 45:4 (December 1930) 1050-68.

Refiguring Chaucer in the Renaissance.  Ed. Theresa M. Krier.  Gainsville, FL: UP of Florida, 1998.

Saul, Nigel.  English Church Monuments in the Middle Ages: History and Representation.  Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009.

Sherman, William H.  Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England.  Philadelphia: U Penn P, 2008.

Spenser, Edmund.  The Works of that Famous English Poet, Mr. Edmund Spenser.  London: by Henry Hills for Jonathan Edwin, 1679.

--------.  Works.  A Variorum Edition.  Ed. Edwin Greenlaw, Charles Grosvenor Osgood, and Frederick Morgan Padelford.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1932-49.

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

Watkins, John.  “Wrastling for this world”: Wyatt and the Tudor Canonization of Chaucer.”  In Theresa Krier, ed.,  Refiguring Chaucer in the Renaissance.  21-39.

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



[1] For my transcription see the Appendix, and digital images can be viewed at this web page:


[2] That manuscript epitaph also stands beside the printer’s reproduction of the earlier, Surigonis-Caxton memorial verses.   

[3]   As early as 1993, Seth Lerer argued that Chaucer’s first tomb poem, composed by Stephan Surgionis at Caxtons’ expense and reprinted in the 1478 Boethius, was evidence that the printer was appropriating the poet’s tomb, texts, and authority in a way which already identified Chaucer as a Humanist “laureate,” a titular father of his language’s literature and object of readers’ veneration (esp. 153-63).   In 1995, Derek Pearsall analyzed the circumstances of Brigham’s erection of the new tomb for evidence he was appropriating Chaucer’s fame for the Counter-Reformation.[3]  In 1998, Theresa Krier observed that Chaucer “crossed the space between supposedly opposing categories of authorial identity and works generae,” and John Watkins observed that Thynne’s 1532 edition specifically allied itself with Henry VIII’s political ideology to create a “Protestant Chaucer,” following the lead of John Foxe’s declaration that the poet was “a right Wicleuian” (2, 23-4, 25). 

[4]   See Connell for the eighteenth-century flowering of this patriotic, literary, and funerary association, especially 557-8.

[5]   Alexandra Gillespie has observed that no such monument is certainly known to exist for John Lydgate, although a rubbing of words from his tombstone was reported in 1777, and it may have been copied on the flyleaf of an unrelated manuscript in a fifteenth-century hand (229-30).  The monk of Bury St. Edmunds may have attracted no such cult-like attention in Protestant England, perhaps because he was too much like the saints of old.

[6]   In this I follow the entrepreneurial view of Early Modern English printers developed by A.S.G. Edwards and David Carlson, especially the latter’s “Theory of the Early English Printing Firm,” as a corrective to the aristocratic-patronage model of Early Modern publication which dominated analysis of Caxton’s editions by Norman Blake and George Painter.[6]   Carlson specifically suggests that printing Chaucerian apocrypha was a strategy by which printers reshaped the collected works to appeal to contemporary readers’ appetites, and that, even in the fifteenth century, printers’ business models depended on job-printing for customers who brought their own copy and paid cash in advance for what they wanted (57).  See especially Painter’s William Caxton: A Biography (chapters 12 and 14; 108-120 and 141-50) and Blake’s Caxton: England’s First Publisher (chapters 8 and 9; 156-91).  For Blake, de Worde marks a shift toward a more customer-oriented publishing strategy, accepting suggestions from his staff and printing works by living contemporary English authors (190-91).  Carlson’s study of job-printing even in Caxton’s era strongly suggests how customer-oriented the printer’s publishing decisions had to be because of the need to keep the presses busy.

[7]   As Dane and Gillespie point out, actual visits to the tomb would not have been necessary for the verses’ reproduction.  Discovery of the tomb verses printed in post-1598 editions also would have encouraged readers to remedy their omission in older editions by adding them.  Thus, reader responses to the tomb inscriptions may have influenced, and been influenced by the printers’ decisions in ways that may add to recent studies of Early Modern printing practices by Edwards and Martha Driver.  Readers’ influence on printers’ book-design decisions might offer a new, more “collaborative” way to see the earlier breakthroughs in English publishing by Caxton, especially his prologues and epilogues describing interactions with his customers.  This approach also may add to by A.S.G. Edwards’s study of editions of Stephen Hawes’ poems in which de Worde used custom woodcuts to identify and sell a contemporary poet’s work, and Martha Driver’s work on de Worde’s reinvention of the title page and John Speed’s portrait of Chaucer (“Manuscript,” Image, and “John”).

[8]   Henry VIII’s Injunctions of 1536 and 1538 “ordered the removal of images attracting pilgrimages or offerings” (Orme 100). 

[9]   John Urry, in a footnote discussing the verses in his prefatory “Life of Geoffrey Chaucer,” invents a completely unfounded explanation: “These Verses were probably written upon a Ledge of Brass, which may have been fixed upon the Marble Table, but is not taken away, and not upon the Stone itself, there being no footsteps of any writing upon the edge of it” (sig. [e2], n. t).  

[10]   “Secondary relics” might include objects such as a handkerchief used to retrieve parts of a martyr’s body from the ashes (Walsham 798).

[11] Secularized perpetuation, often nationalistic in origins, of relics derived from poets, composers, and philosophers, resulted in the hideous disinterment and plundering of remains thought to be John Milton’s in 1790, and to the popular veneration of skulls said to belong to Joseph Haydn (until 1954), Emanuel Swendborg (to 1958) and Friedrich von Schiller (to 1965) (Reed, Finucane 29-30). 

[12] For their resemblance to the modern “periwinkle,” Petworth marble and the related Purbeck stone are sometimes colloquially called “winklestone.”

[13]   Floor slabs and exterior monuments were more likely to be constructed from Purbeck marble, also mined in Sussex from earlier Jurassic deposits which are more resistant to acidified liquids (Arnold 80). 

[14]   The chemistries of sweat and acidic rainwater are similar.  Ordinary, pre-industrial rainwater can reach an acidic pH of 5.0 to 5.6 (7 being neutral), which is strong enough to erode marble, and human sweat may have a pH as low as 4 to 5.5 (“Erosion”).   In exterior locations, the marble’s calcite (CaCO3) interacts with carbonic acid (H2CO3) created when CO2 in the atmosphere dissolves in rainwater (“Erosion”).  Human hands effectively deposit such “acid rain” directly upon the marble they touch.

[15]   In 1808, a letter to The Gentleman’s Magazine by “G.W.L.” laments that the tomb is in a “mutilated state,” and declares that “the inscription is almost defaced, and the Monument has suffered much through neglect.”  “G.W.L.” may be self-consciously echoing ,” the same provocative verb Spenser chose to conflate the wearing-out of “workes” of “heavenly wits” with Time’s destruction of a “famous moniment.”  More suggestive still is Edward Ledyard Brayley’s 1818 judgment that, of the plane-relief carvings on the monument, “the arms of Chaucer are along distinguishable, through the partial decomposition and crumbling state of the marble: the same arms may be traced in an oblong compartment at the back of the recess, where also, are some remains of the [Brigham epitaph] inscription, now almost obliterated from similar circumstances” (II. 265).  Brayley appears to describe his own continuation of the erosion process when, frustrated by others’ damage to the inscriptions, he hand-traces the remaining fragments of text and armorial bearings.  Of the Chaucer portrait, which Brayley says was “similar to that engraved in [Chaucer’s] printed Works,” presumably referring to Urry’s title page, “not a vestige is left” (II. 265). 


[16]  The replica of the original was paid for by subscriptions and reproduced what is alleged to be Spenser’s original epitaph:


After the Spenser’s burial in Westminster Abbey in 1599, at the expense of the Earl of Essex, in 1620, Ann Clifford, Countess of Dorset, Pembroke, and Montgomery paid to erect the monument near Chaucer’s, engraved with the claim that “THE WORKS WHICH HE LEFT BEHINDE HIM” are the “WITNESSE” of the poet’s “SPIRRIT.”  


[17]   . Spenser’s tomb epitaphs might have perished for the same reason Chaucer’s may have done, zealous tracing and rubbing by which they were copied by owners of his first folio Works, printed by Henry Hills for Jonathan Edwin in 1679.  One problem with this hypothesis arises from the fact that the tradition of sumptuous folio editions of Spenser’s work never quite became established after the 1679 Hills-Edwin.  The epitaph and tomb illustration already were provided by the printer in multi-volume octavo and other small format editions by Jacob Tonson, which took the place of folio editions in 1715, 1742, 1750, and in reprints by John Hughes in 1758 and J. Bell in 1777/1778, the year of the new tomb.  Nevertheless, the inscriptions were described as being obliterated by 1798, only a century after the folio collected works was published and 158 years after they were carved.  See Johnson’s Critical Bibliography, 53-6, for a description of the first collected works.

[18]   The míse-en-page of many editions’ epitaph inscriptions, at the end of the poet’s works, themselves, or at the end of the volume, also suggests a final role the verses might have played for readers as part of their performance of Chaucer’s text.  All readers could use the epitaphs to make a symbolic journey to the resting place of the literary saint by reading them aloud with reverence when they reached the end of his works.