MISSOULA – University of Montana students and faculty conducting research on Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” have an exceptional new resource available through the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library. The library recently acquired a detailed facsimile of the Ellesmere Manuscript, a beautiful, illuminated edition produced in the early 15th century.
The manuscript, originally commissioned by an unknown artistic patron between 1400 and 1405, now resides at the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif. The Mansfield Library purchased the limited-edition, deluxe facsimile for $8,000, supported by donations to the library’s Archives & Special Collections Department in memory of Mabelle Hardy, the library’s Lucia B. Mirrielees Fund and the Friends of the Davidson Honors College Opportunity Fund.
The facsimile allows students and researchers to engage with the most important manuscript of “The Canterbury Tales” in a form that reflects the original as closely as possible. Combining the best of the old and the new, the facsimile features high-resolution photographic reproduction supplemented by authentic 24-karat-gold letter gilding to emulate the look and feel of the medieval manuscript.
UM English Professor Ashby Kinch, who teaches British literature and the Chaucer seminars, said the original manuscript was produced by 10 to 12 people.
“One scribe, speculatively identified as Adam Pynkhurst, wrote the entire manuscript,” Kinch said. “But all of the other major design components would have been executed by other people. Three different limners – or border artists – worked on the Ellesmere, and at least three portrait artists; but somebody also had to supervise the work, including preparing the parchment from calfskin, ruling the pages and designing the page."
Students taking an honors seminar in Chaucer this semester already have viewed the manuscript, which is the newest addition to the library’s surprisingly robust collection of Chauceriana.
The development of the Chaucer collection has been supported by the Lucia B. Mirrielees Fund, which honors Professor Mirrielees, who taught Chaucer in the English Department from 1924 to 1949. It includes the oldest complete book in the library, an edition of “The Canterbury Tales” printed by John Stowe in 1561 and donated by Richard Merritt, as well as a reproduction of the Hengwrt Chaucer manuscript of “The Canterbury Tales,” which was produced slightly before the Ellesmere and used the same scribe.
“This acquisition bolsters what is already an excellent collection of Chaucerian material,” Kinch said. “For a rural state university to have such a rich body of primary-source material on this singularly important author in the English poetic tradition should be a real point of pride for Montanans.”
The Chaucer collection is housed in the library’s Archives & Special Collections Department. For more information email Archivist Donna McCrea at firstname.lastname@example.org, call Kinch at 406-243-4462 or email email@example.com.
NOTE TO MEDIA: McCrea will be available only by email Monday through Thursday, Oct. 28-31. Please set up time for an on-camera interview on Friday, Oct. 25, or after Oct. 31.
Photo chaucer1: The Ellesmere Manuscript facsimile. Photo by Todd Goodrich
Photo chaucer2: UM English Professor Ashby Kinch talks with students in the Archives & Special Collections Department at the Mansfield Library. Students in the honors Chaucer seminar recently viewed the newly acquired Ellesmere Manuscript facsimile during class. Photo by Todd Goodrich