Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and other works

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 Eng MS 113
  • Dates of Creation
      2nd half 15th century
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      Middle English
  • Physical Description
      1 volume. v + 190 + ii folios, foliated 1-197 (modern foliation). Dimensions: 297 x 210 mm. Collation: 1-724, 822. There is a strip of vellum down the gutter in the middle of each quire. Medium: paper, except f. 5, conjoint with the pastedown, and ff. 196-7, a conjoint pair, of which 197 was formerly a pastedown. Binding: medieval binding of brown leather over wooden boards; six bands; five bosses on each cover, now missing; two clasps, missing.
  • Location
      Collection available at the John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

A late fifteenth-century manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, along with other verse texts written on the flyleaves and in blank spaces of quire 8, including a poem on the death of Edward IV, 'The Prentise unto Woe' by Henry Baradoun, and memoranda of the deaths of English kings from Edward I to Edward V.

Contents: (1) ff. 6-194r, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, described by J.M. Manly and E. Rickert, The text of the Canterbury Tales (1940), vol. 1, pp. 349-55 (see Bibliography). They assign this 'Ma' manuscript to the A group of Canterbury Tales manuscripts, and they note that the text is closely related to 'Cn', the Cardigan MS, formerly the property of the Brudenell estate, now Austin, University of Texas, HRC Pre-1700 MS 143, and that the hand is like that of Oxford, Bodleian Library, Digby 181, ff. 1-39, which ends with the words 'Explicit Edorb quod'.

(2) (a) f. 3r-v, 'King Edward the iiiith. Wher is this Prynce that conquered his right... for hym to pray Explicit.' Index of Middle English Verse, no. 4062. Printed from here by F.J. Furnivall in Political, religious, and love poems (see Bibliography below), pp. xlvi-xlviii. (b) f. 4r-v, 'The Prentise unto Woe' by Henry Baradoun: 'Musyng alone voide of consolacion... and wo. Baradoun Henricus transtulit istud opus per semetipsum.' IMEV, no. 2227. Printed from here by Furnivall, op. cit, p. 289. (c) ff. 4v-5v, 'Articuli passionis cristi. Cristus imminente passione... custoditus est.' Sixty-three heads.

(3) (a) f. 194v, 'Periculum animarum periuratorum secundum diuersos autores.' Twelve lines, each beginning 'Cristus Qui iurat voluntarie': swearing on Book, putting hand on Book, kissing Book. (b) f. 195, Dates of death or cessation of English kings, Edward I-Edward V: 'Memorandum quod Rex E' primus post conquestum filius Regis Henrici tercii obiit die translacionis sancti Thome Martiris anno regni sui xxxvto sicut continetur in Rotulo xxxvo dicti Regis E primi in Surr' et Sussex' in titulo Vic'... Memorandum quod E vtus cessauit a regimine xxvito die Iunii anno regni sui primo Et Rex Ricardus tercius incepit regnare.' (c) f. 197, 'Qui cepit vxorem cepit absque quiete laborem...' (4 lines).

Script: 'Current anglicana of a rather legal sort' (Ker). The scribe of the Tales has been identified as John Brode of Haberton, near Totnes, Devon (see below). Written space: c.235 x 102 mm in the Parson's Tale. 54-60 long lines.

Secundo folio: musyng (f. 4) or vnder his (f. 7).

Decoration: One 4-line initial in blue ink with red penwork infill and flourishes on f. 6r; other spaces for initials are not filled in.

Description derived from N.R. Ker, Medieval manuscripts in British libraries, vol. III, Lampeter-Oxford (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), pp. 420-1. By permission of Oxford University Press.

Administrative / Biographical History

Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1340-1400), poet and administrator, was probably born in the early 1340s in London. Nothing is known of his education but he may well have attended the almonry school of St Paul's Cathedral. In 1357 he was a page in the household of Prince Lionel. Between 1359 and 1360 he was with the army of Edward III in France and in October of 1360 he is recorded as carrying letters to England. By 1366 Chaucer was married, probably to Philippa Roelt, the daughter of Sir Payn Roelt, a knight of Hainault, and Guyenne king of arms.

By 1367 Chaucer had become a member of the royal household, being described as an esquier or a valettus, one of a company of men who were dispatched on administrative or diplomatic missions in England or sometimes in Europe. He visited Italy in 1372-3 and again in 1378. From 1374 he held a number of official positions, among them comptroller of customs on furs, skins, and hides for the port of London (1374-86). In 1386 Chaucer retired from his comptrollerships, and moved to Kent where he was a justice of the peace, probably until 1389. From 1389 to 1391 he was clerk of the king's works.

Chaucer's early literary works are based largely on French models and include the Book of the Duchess, an allegorical lament written in 1369 on the death of Blanche, wife of John of Gaunt, and a partial translation of the Roman de la Rose. Following his visits to Italy Chaucer's works were modelled primarily on those of Dante and Boccaccio. Major works include The House of Fame, which recounts the adventures of Aeneas after the fall of Troy; The Parliament of Fowls, which tells of the mating of fowls on St Valentine's Day and is thought to celebrate the betrothal of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia; and a prose translation of Boethius' De consolatione philosophiae. Other works include the unfinished Legend of Good Women, a poem telling of nine classical heroines, which introduced the heroic couplet into English verse, and Troilus and Criseyde, in which he perfected the seven-line stanza later called rhyme royal.

During the 1390s Chaucer wrote his masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales. This unfinished poem, introduces a group of pilgrims journeying from London to the shrine of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury. To help pass the time they decide to tell stories. Together, the pilgrims represent a wide cross section of life in 14th-century England and vividly indicate medieval attitudes and customs in such areas as love, marriage, and religion. The work offers what is in effect an anthology of medieval literary genres, ranging from saint's life to bawdy fabliau.

There is no record of Chaucer after 5 June 1400, and no will survives. The traditional date of his death, 25 October 1400, depends upon an inscription placed on a tomb in the abbey in 1556, and may well be correct. According to Caxton, he was buried at the entrance to the chapel of St Benedict in Westminster Abbey.

Source: Douglas Gray, 'Chaucer, Geoffrey (c.1340-1400)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). By permission of Oxford University Press:

Access Information

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Purchased by the John Rylands Library from the London bookseller Bernard Quaritch Ltd in May 1910 for £180; invoice dated 24 May. Accession no. R24403.

Custodial History

(1) John Brode. On f. 194r is recorded 'Iste liber constat Iohanni Brode Iuniori etc' ', in the hand of the text, suggesting that item (1) was probably copied by John Brode, and item (2) was added by him on various occasions (Ker). Manly and Rickert identify Brode as an individual living at Harberton near Totnes, Devon.

(2) John Hull, etc. The manuscript probably came into the ownership of John Hull (d. 1549), a customs officer of Exeter and Dartmouth; his scribbles are on ff. 1r, 2r, 194v, 195v, 196r and v. There are various names in sixteenth-century hands, including Robert Croke (f. 195r) and Thoma Jonsun (f. 2r).

(3) Mr Woolcombe of Pitton near Yealmpton, Devon, mid-17th century. A John Woollcombe of Pitton, Yealmpton, gentleman, was party to leases in 1672 and 1689: Plymouth and West Devon Record Office, refs 279/106 and 279/113.

(4) Reverend Samuel Winter Pearse. By 1846 the manuscript had for some time been in the possession of the family of Reverend Samuel Winter Pearse, of Shaugh and Sampford Spinney in Devon. At this point, a transcript of the manuscript was made by William James Pynwell (the transcript is now MS 1580 in the Schøyen Collection). Reverend Pearse probably sold the manuscript soon after. See Griffiths article in the Bibliography below.

(5) Lawrence W. Hodson of Compton Hall near Wolverhampton. His bookplate; Hodson 39. However, the manuscript does not appear in the catalogue for the Hodson Sale at Sotheby's on 3 December 1906. This catalogue included three other copies of the Canterbury Tales.

Related Material

John Brode was also probably the scribe of Bodleian Library MS Digby 181: see Daniel Mosser's article in the Bibliography below.


Carleton Brown and Rossell Hope Robbins, The index of Middle English verse (New York: printed for the Index Society by Columbia University Press, 1943).

F.J. Furnivall, Political, religious, and love poems, Early English Text Society, Original series, vol. 15 (London: published for the Early English Text Society, by K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1866, re-edited 1903).

J. (Jeremy) Griffiths, 'New light on the provenance of a copy of The Canterbury Tales, John Rylands Library, MS Eng. 113', Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 77 no. 2 (1995), pp. 25-30.

N.R. (Neil Ripley) Ker, Medieval manuscripts in British libraries, vol. III, Lampeter-Oxford (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), pp. 420-1.

G.A. (Godfrey Allen) Lester, The index of Middle English prose. Handlist 2, a handlist of manuscripts containing Middle English prose in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester and Chetham's Library, Manchester (Cambridge: Brewer, 1985), pp. 49-51.

John M. Manly and Edith Rickert, The text of the Canterbury Tales studied on the basis of all known manuscripts. Volume 1, Descriptions of the manuscripts (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1940), pp. 349-55. Contains a description of the manuscript.

Daniel Mosser, 'The scribe of Chaucer manuscripts Rylands English 113 and Bodleian Digby 181', Manuscripta, vol. 34 (1990), pp 129-47.

There is a detailed description of the manuscript on the Scholarly Digital Editions website: