Online Scholarly Primary Sources

Online Editions of Chaucer's Works--this page combines links to the best available public domain, digital editions of Chaucer that are currently (2004) available.  Read the head note carefully for advice about how to use them, and do not quote from them in papers for my courses unless you have cleared your intended use of the quotation with me. 

Oscar Summer's Edition 1889 of Caxton's Malory--Scroll down to Malory and click.  Note this is NOT Vinaver's Twentieth-Century edition, which is the standard scholarly edition unless you are specifically studying the Medieval printer's version for some good reason.  To see sample pages from the British Library's ongoing project to digitize the Winchester Manuscript of Malory's text, click here.   Click here for a brief discussion of the two versions of Malory.

Online Edition of Petrarch's Canzoniere--Petrarch invented, or at least perfected, the Italian sonnet in these 366 poems dedicated to a woman he called "Laura," probably Laura de Noves.  She was married to another man and his poetry appears to have been the only contact between them.  The site, created by Peter Sadlon, presents side-by-side Italian and English translations (A.S. Kline).  A striking reading by Moro Silo, in Italian, of "Voi ch'ascoltate," the first poem in the cycle, is available as an MP3 file from the home page.  Petrarch's secular poetry, and his Latin scholarship, inspired Boccaccio, Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, and countless other poets who learned from him the art of formal innovation and the nuanced exploration of human psychological states.

Digital Scriptorium--a searchable collection of high-quality Medieval and Renaissance manuscript images.  The search engine is not set up to search by document content, but rather by shelfmark (a locator used before "Dewy Decimal" or "Library of Congress" systems were invented).  This resource may one day be powerful, but for now, it is an interesting source of potential illustrations for one's arguments about the way a text would look in MS. You can search by the text's author, and by that means, can access eight manuscripts containing the works of the Venerable Bede, four containing works by Chaucer (including Plimpton 254, which ends with the "Treatise on the Astrolabe" for "Lite lewis my sone" and Plimpton MS 253, a fragment containing the end of the Franklyn's prologue and the start of his tale, with marginalia), several containing works by Chaucer's great source--Giovanni Boccaccio--and his mentor Petrarch,  Chaucer's contemporary and co-dedicatee of the Troilus--John Gower, several kings and queens of England including Elizabeth 1, Romans like Ovid and Vergil, and my namesake, the encyclopedist, Arnold of Villanova.  (I once lived in Newton, i.e., "New Town," Massachusetts, so for a while I would have been Arnold of Villanova.)

Labyrinth--an excellent source of primary texts online, scholarly articles (though limited in number on any one topic), and links to other reliable scholarly web sites.

The Internet Medieval Sourcebook--Paul Halsall's (Fordham University) invaluable collection of mainly primary and some secondary sources for historical and cultural background on a wide range of medieval topics ranging from law to religion to rural peasant life to gender and marriage. 

Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse--University of Michigan's carefully produced digital editions of many Early English Text Society publications of many lesser-known medieval works, including the non-Malorian Arthurian tales, as well as the major works of the Pearl-Poet, an acceptable edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (F.N. Robinson's 2nd, the precursor to the Riverside Chaucer), and Barry Windeatt's 1984 edition of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde.  Do not use the Oskar Sommer 1889 edition of Malory, which has serious errors corrected by Eugene Vinaver's 1947 and subsequent editions based on the Winchester MS.  Depending on your browser and display, you also may see small rectangular boxes in place of some specialized Anglo-Saxon and Middle English alphabetical characters--usually they replace the "ash" and "thorn" (both "th" sounds) or "edth" (a "dth" sound) or a "yough" (looks like a "3" and sounds like "y" if at the start of a word or like a "gh" in the middle or end of a word).  Click here for a more complete explanation of Medieval manuscript spelling conventions.

The Camelot Project at University of Rochester--this site contains everything Arthurian except Malory.  Its online Arthurian text database mingles Medieval sources like Geoffrey of Monmouth and Nenius with the enormous outpouring of Arthuriana produced by the nineteenth- and twentieth-century English and American emergence of "Medievalism," an interesting mass-nostalgia for medieval conventions used to act out contemporary anxieties and drives.

TEAMS Middle English Texts--The Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages, run by Western Michigan University and University of Rochester, has generously made available (for free!) original scholarly editions of many important Middle English texts from a website at the Rollins Library, U. Rochester.  This site is a model for how scholarly literature research should be supported.  Because their editions are freely available, you will see them hyperlinked from numerous other text databases you encounter.  This is the "mother lode," however.

The Online Medieval and Classical Library--These public domain translations and editions from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are not reliable scholarly sources, though they are well-prepared electronic versions of their print originals, many of which were intended for the general English and American reading public.  The few outdated scholarly editions usually can be surpassed elsewhere online.  The Skeat editions of Chaucer, for instance, are not nearly as good as the F.N. Robinson 2nd edition available from U. Michigan (above), and neither meets the scholarly criteria of the Riverside Chaucer (ed. Benson et al., but based on Robinson's 2nd edition).  Nevertheless, you can find here electronic editions in English of some foundation texts not often detected in most student libraries, like Orlando Furioso, the four Arthurian romances of Chretien de Troyes (Comfort's trans. for Everyman), the Nibelungenleid, many Icelandic sagas, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and Lucan's Pharsalia (on the Roman Civil Wars).  Just double-check what you want to quote against scholarly print editions in the library and you can use them.

Online Douay-Rheims Bible-- After Protestant translators began flooding Europe with contending vernacular translations (i.e., English, French, German, etc. vs. the Vulgate Latin), the Catholic Church fought back by producing what they claimed (and most modern scholars believe) was a more accurate, less thesis-motivated translation of the Vulgate.  All medieval scholars typically quote the Douay-Rheims, as do renaissance scholars until 1604, when the newly crowned successor to Elizabeth, James I, ordered a new translation of the bible which bears his name.  This site is maintained by Scriptours.com as a free demonstration site run by Abelware, a Christian software company, but the site's apparatus may contain unscholarly information (e.g., the reference to the language of the D-R text as "old English").

THE VULGATE LATIN BIBLE--this was the text which would have been known to Christians in Chaucer's time, with the exception of the "Lollard" followers of GC's contemporary John Wycliff, who translated portions of it into Middle English despite the threat of execution for this heretical act.  The Internet Sacred Texts Archive, which maintains this site, is a non-profit group promoting understanding of many religious traditions, and they offer reading texts from Eastern, Western, traditional and esoteric religions.  This site allows one to move between the Vulgate and many modern translations, including the King James Version (KJV), but not, interestingly, the Douay-Rheims translation.

THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA--an indispensable introduction for the undergraduate to the Church's view of its own beliefs, major figures, and most important events.  It is not "scholarly" in the sense of being produced by scholars who are independent of papal authority, but it is a carefully checked, "doctrinally correct," vision of history.  As a starting place, it's great.

Medieval French Saints' Lives, Sermons, Epics and the Breton Lais of Marie de France--The University of Manitoba (CA) French, Spanish and Italian Department mounted this text database to support the course "Langue et littérature du moyen âge."  The texts are (of course!) in Old French, but OF differs far less from Modern French than Old English differs from Modern English.  Most students with a little French and an appropriate dictionary can puzzle their way through Marie's wonderful verse lais.  To go directly to the lais, click here.  If you need the help of a "trot," click here for Judith Shoaf's verse translations of eight of Marie's lais and her prologue.  For the Middle English texts of "Lay le Freyne" and "Syr Launfal," go to the TEAMS site (above).

The Robin Hood Project--Alan and Barbara Tepa Lupak, working at University of Rochester, have compiled bibliographies and numerous online editions of Robin Hood texts.  Note that the primary texts of this tradition are entirely the work of that great author, "Anonymous."

Partonopeus de  Blois--Penny Eley, Penny Simons, Mario Longtin, Catherine Hanley, Philip Shaw at University of Sheffield: ‘Partonopeus de Blois’ was one of the most popular romances composed in the 12th century, and played a key role in the development of Old French narrative literature. Analysis of the text is complicated by the fact that it exists in a number of different versions, which are difficult to study using a conventional printed edition. This project has produced an electronic resource that allows researchers to read and compare all the different versions in detail, without having to work from the original manuscripts (held in libraries from Yale to the Vatican) or microfilms.

Generall rule to teche euery man that is willynge for to lerne, to serve a lorde or mayster in euery thyng to his plesure / edited from a XVth century MS. in the British Museum (MS. Addl. 37969) with an introduction and notes by R. W. Chambers--edited for the Early English Text Society in 1914, this manuscript offers a view of the nobles' life from the point of view of their servants, that vast pool of invisible labor who live mainly beneath the notice of courtly literature of the time.  The online edition must be "paged through" but it is a generally readable photographic facsimile.

The Forme of Curry--a late fourteenth-century (c. 1390) recipe book.  Knowing what people love to eat will help you understand what it feels like to be them.  Note that this manuscript's creation usually is interpreted to be a response to the importation of spicy French and Middle-Eastern-influenced cuisine after Richard II's marriage to Anne of Bohemia.  See references to cookery in the "General Prologue"'s portrait of the Franklin, a wealthy gourmet.

Fifty earliest English wills in the Court of Probate, London : A. D. 1387-1439 : with a priest's of 1454.--F.J. Furnivall edited this invaluable set of documents for the Early English Text Society in 1882.  In addition to giving us in inventory of what material goods these medieval people cared enough about to include in their wills, these documents also record their private and public social networks in precisely graduated order of importance based on the order in which people are named and the value (and sometimes stated purpose) of what they are given by the testator's will.  Use the "Spelling Conventions" and "Early English Currency" web pages (below) to help you decipher what these people are giving away.

The Ceremonies of Homage and Fealty--In the late fifteenth century, a Sir Thomas Littleton wrote this memo for his son, who was studying at the Inns of Court (i.e., English "law school").  Littleton believed the old forms of law and social relations were being corrupted by new customs, and lost by failure to perform them properly.  By recording them, he preserves some crucial identity-constructing social forms which you will see in medieval art and literature.  The only surviving form of these relationships is the typical, traditional modern Christian marriage ceremony.  What Littleton leaves out, but any medieval reader would have understood, is the lord's/lady's responsibility to protect the vassal.  Be sure to read the note near the bottom of the page for an explanation of what this entails and examples of the literature that grew out of violations of this responsibility.

Andreas Capellanus, "De amore et amoris remedio"--In this three-part Latin treatise, usually (confusingly?) translated "The Art of Courtly Love," Andreas the Chaplain purports to lay out the rules for obtaining and maintaining the extra-marital, often adulterous erotic love of another, and (in the third part) explains why that form of love should be avoided at all costs.  As with Dante's Divina Comedia, in which modern readers nearly always stop at the juicy bits in the Inferno, this Harvard University Chaucer Seminar web page offers a partial translation of parts I and II.  To see the vehement part III (i.e., the "remedy for love" of the Latin title), including its violent anti-feminism, you will have to consult the library's printed copy of John Jay Parry's venerable 1940 translation.

Spelling Conventions in Un-modernized Medieval Texts--Medieval scribes spelled in an alphabet which contained several characters that no longer are used.

Early English Currency--Medieval English money was minted in traditional units whose values are interrelated much as today's "pounds and pence" are, but the relationships are not decimal (1-10-100-1000)!  These people clearly did some formidable mental math at the market.