The Hengwrt Chaucer Digital Facsimile (2000): Manuscript Description[1] — Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, Peniarth MS 392 D (olim Hengwrt MS 154).

Daniel W. Mosser (Virgina Tech)


Canterbury Tales (lacks VIII(G)554-1481 (i.e., the Canon’s Yeoman’s Prologue and Tale); X(I)1180-end lost)


Rebound at the National Library of Wales in 1956 in red morocco, blind stamped diamond and rectangular geometrical patterns, with metal ring and hook clasps and braided leather hinges. Sewn on five double bands. This binding replaces dark, tanned goat(?) on older (medieval?) oak boards, removed and stored in 1930 (see Doyle and Parkes 1979, pp. xxxix-xlii [includes photographs of the old boards]; Manly-Rickert 1940 I: 267; and Bindings).


Parchment: “more probably sheep than calf...of middling thickness and quality, with a good mat (velvety) finish” (Doyle and Parkes 1979, p. xxi), trimmed and very stained. Portions eroded (gnawed by rats?) have been replaced with blank parchment (1956).

Page Size

Approximately 29 x 20.5 cm (trimmed irregularly).


39-44 lines per page, single columns. Written space variable from 21-23 x 11.5-13 cm.


250 folios remain containing three separate foliations, the newest dating from the conservation efforts of 1956. The pencil foliations (one on the original parchment and one on the parchment patch) commence with the first page of CT as “2.” An older, ink foliation, in the lower gutter, begins by numbering this page “1.” (A “leaf from an early-fourteenth-century Sarum breviary with musical notation” was formerly bound with the MS as fol. 1 [Doyle and Parkes 1979, p. xlii).

[1-5]8 fols. 2-41
[6]2 fols. 42-43
[7]6 fols. 44-49
[8-11]8 fols. 50-81
[12]6 fols. 82-87
[13-20]8 fols. 88-151
[21]8+1 (2+χ1) fols. 152-160
[22]8+8 (4+χ8) fols. 161-176[2]
[23-28]8 fols. 177-224
[29]10 fols. 225-324
[30-31]8 fols. 235-250

Doyle and Parkes detect five structural sections:

Ifols. 2-57 (Qq [1-8]; Fragment I[A])
IIfols. 58-87 (Qq [9-12]; Fragment III[D])
IIIfols. 88-111 (Qq [13-15]; Fragments VII[B2]ef IX[H])
IVfols. 112-234 (Qq [16-29]; Fragments II[B1] V[F]a+ V[F]673-708 IV[E]b+ IV[E]2419-40 & V[F]1-8 V[F]b VIII[G]a IV[E]a VI(C) VII[B2abcd]
Vfols. 235-50 (Qq [30-32?]; Fragment X[I], defective)

In structural section IV, a series of signatures is observable, though there is disagreement over just what can be made out. In the following table, I juxtapose my own findings from an examination of the signatures under UV light with Doyle and Parkes’s presentation of Manly-Rickert’s readings “in Roman letters, queried if doubtful, in square brackets if conjectural; [Daniel] Huws’s readings in italics, queried if doubtful, with [Doyle and Parkes’s] conjectures also italicized in square brackets” (1979, p. xxiii). (“MR” = “Manly-Rickert”; “DP” = Doyle and Parkes):


In Q [25], on fols. 193 and 195, an o is visible with UV light and on fols 194 and 196 UV light reveals the combination of a superior o with “D” (i.e., majuscule “eth”) beneath. In Q [28], the r is the long form of the graph, flourished on fol. 220. In Q [29], the s is the sigma form.


The Hengwrt scribe’s hand has also been identified in the following MSS (see Doyle and Parkes):

  • The Ellesmere MS [El] (Huntington Library MS 26 C 9) of the Canterbury Tales; (cf. Ramsey 1982, 1986).
  • The Hatfield House “Cecil Fragment” of Troilus and Criseyde (see Campbell 1958; Doyle 1995, Figs. 16 and 17).
  • Qq [2-4] of Trinity College, Cambridge MS R.3.2 of Gower’s Confessio Amantis. The Hg scribe is identified by Doyle and Parkes (1978) in this MS as “Scribe B.” Among his collaborators on this Gower MS are the copyist of MS Harley 7334 and Corpus Christi, Oxford MS 198 of the Canterbury Tales (“Scribe D”), and Thomas Hoccleve (“Scribe E”).
  • Possibly also the scribe of Cambridge University Library MS Kk.1.3 (20) [Kk] (one leaf from the Prioress’ Prologue and Tale), but Doyle remains hesitant in this identification, as do I. Doyle believes that if this MS belongs in the list, it would fit last chronologically (Doyle 1995, pp. 60-65; Figs. 18 and 19).

The text hand is of the anglicana formata type representative of the latter half of the fourteenth century, with double-compartment a (cf. the hand of Kk and Trinity, however, where the secretary a is preferred), looped ascenders on b and d, 8-shaped g and word-final s (cf. Kk, where sigma-s is preferred), “tilted” y. The text headings are written in either a larger anglicana script, or in a hybrid anglicana.

One of the primary distinctions between Scribe B’s work in Hg and El (as noted by Hanna 1989, p. 8) is that in the latter, ascenders in the top lines, running heads, explicits and incipits, and elsewhere where space allows, extend much higher than usual and are frequently topped by an ornamental, c-shaped hook. The scribe’s long r in El, in final position, often closes with a counter-clockwise loop, a feature absent in the scribe’s work elsewhere. El as a whole is more carefully planned and executed than Hg, and as part of this the scribe employs “a graded system of litterae notabiliores and paragraph marks” (Doyle and Parkes 1978, p. 187). Finally, one might take note of the more calligraphic quality of the scribe’s hand as it is manifested in El as contrasted with its appearance in Hg, with a duct at once slightly more angular and yet more supple than in Hg. In other respects, the hand can be described as in Hg, a variety of anglicana formata dated to the end of the fourteenth century and the early fifteenth century.

On the evidence of Doyle and Parkes (1978) and Christianson (1989), the scribe, Doyle and Parkes’s “Scribe B,” may have been one of the textwriters, scriveners, and stationers working out of the shops in Paternoster Row. Christianson suggests that the identities of two of the scribes of the Trinity College, Cambridge MS R.3.2 (Gower, Confessio Amantis), Scribes B and D, may be narrowed to a group of three prominent craftsmen: Thomas Marleburgh, John Robert, and John Roulande (p. 218). (See further Doyle 1995).

On the five “supplementary” hands in Hg, see Doyle and Parkes (1979), pp. xliii-xlvii. Of special interest are hands C and F. Hand C adds the “Adam” stanza (MkT VII2007-2014[B23197-3204]) in the gutter of fol. 89v, and could be the same scribe as that of British Library MS Arundel 38 (cf. fol. 65r in the Arundel MS; note especially the W form at the beginning of stanza 3 in Ar 38, the a graphs, majuscule T; the forms for g, though not identical, have many points of congruency), Henry V’s copy of Hoccleve’s Regiment of Princes. Doyle and Parkes’s observations on hand F are particularly noteworthy: “Unlike hands C, D and E, hand F, was trying to deal with lacunae for which sufficient manuscript authority was not readily available.... He may have relied on his own invention, or his director’s. Hand F is very like Thomas Hoccleve’s hand in his own poetical anthologies, Huntington Library HM 144 [sic: HM 111?] and 744 and Durham University Library (England), Cosin V.III.9...”[5] Hand F “supplies the last five words of line 24 on fol. 83v (D 2048), the last three words of line 25, and the whole of line 26 on fol. 138v (E 1305-1406) and line 30 on fol. 150r (E 2230), all in blanks left by A” (Doyle and Parkes 1979, p. xlvi). (For comparison, a color facsimile of Huntington Library MS HM 111, fol. 16v is included here. Cf. the V at the head of line 1 in the HM 111 example with vicius in line 340 of fol. 83v, as well as the c and word-final s graphs in the same line of Hg with Hoccleve’s hand in the Huntington MS. On fol. 138v, the g in good provides another strong point of correspondence with the hand in the Huntington MS. It is a shame that none of Hoccleve’s characteristic w forms appear in the Hg additions, but there are enough congruencies to suspect very strongly that the hand is that of Hoccleve.)

Progress of copying

The presence of catchwords at the ends of most quires (absent at the end of the anomalous Q [6]), excepting those that come at the ends of structural sections, suggests that the exemplars were acquired in the form of booklets (see Doyle and Parkes 1979, p. xxvi; Hanna 1989b). Although Manly-Rickert (1940 I: 267) argue that Q [6] results from the scribe’s having continued to copy from the verso of the first leaf of the new quire directly to its conjugate, rather than to the recto of a new leaf, Doyle and Parkes caution that “Manly and Rickert did not notice that there is some difference of the membrane, frame, and ink between quires 6 and 7 and those on either side” (1979, p. xxvii). The ink in Qq [6-7] is a flatter, more faded shade of grayish-brown as compared with the ink in neighboring quires. Following on this point, Hanna describes the parchment as being of a “greyish tinge quite unlike any other sheets in the vicinity.”[6] He conjectures that the single bifolium that constitutes Q [6] is indicative of the scribe’s having failed to receive all of the copytext for Fragment I(A) at one time, and that the copytext for Qq [7-8] arrived later. Thus Q [6] represents a temporary “booklet boundary, later superseded..... But this momentary hesitation indicates that even continuous units of Chaucer’s text were not always available in their continuous wholes to the scribe or to his director” (1989: 68-9).

Structural section II is written in a lighter shade of yellowish-brown ink, the same shade that appends the note Of this Cokes tale | maked Chaucer na | moore to fol. 57v, suggesting that the exemplar for Fragment III(D) was obtained separately and that the text was inserted between two other structural sections where it could most easily be accommodated.

Section IV presents a number of textual and physical anomalies. MLT ends at the bottom of fol. 128r (the first folio of Q [18]), with the verso left blank (now filled with the Brereton family records). Presumably, the scribe hoped to find a link to the following SqT (fol. 129r). At the “end” of SqT (V(F)672), at the top of fol. 137v, the scribe at first left the rest of that page blank and proceeded to copy MerT from the top of fol. 138r (judging from the varying shades of ink). Later, the scribe inserted Fk Headlink, altered at V(F)675 to read “Marchant,” in a yellowish ink (as in Section III).

On fol. 151r, at IV(E)2319, there is a distinct change from dark brown to grayish ink. It is at just this point ( IV[E]2318: see Manly-Rickert 1940 II: 281-3; Dempster 1946) that several MS groups apparently change their affiliations. The plausible explanation is that while Hg was able to acquire text for the rest of the tale, the apparent early fragmentation of the exemplar was problematic for many other MSS. Alternatively, the scribe(s) who produced the ancestor of this group of MSS may have reproduced the text of O accurately to this point and then, for some reason, worked less carefully subsequently (cf. Robinson’s suggestions with regard to the MSS relationships in Gen Pro, 501-end, which reverses this pattern (Robinson 2000, “Analysis Workshop,” 3.1.3). At the end of MerT (fol. 152v), the scribe left the rest of that page blank. (The lower half of 152v is now filled with a memorandum of Andrew Brereton). Having anticipated that a link/prologue and the first twelve lines of the tale would not fit on the space remaining on fol. 152v (or perhaps lacking those lines in the copytext), the scribe apparently continued copying from VI(F)721 at the top of the present fol. 154r, leaving the join for a later date, at which time the Sq-Fk Link was adapted for the purpose and it, along with the first lines of FkT, were copied on an inserted singleton, fol. 153, with an ample amount of casting off to fill out the folio (Doyle and Parkes 1979, p. xxxi; Manly-Rickert 1940 I: 271-2).

Quire [22] is also anomalous, likely owing to the late acquisition of SNT. The quire is double the usual length, the scribe apparently having become aware in the midst of the quire that copytext for SNT was to be made available. The fact that the ink changes color (to a darker shade) for the text of SNT, while it is the same shade in the texts preceding and following (FkT and CLPro & T), suggests that although provision was made for SNT through the expansion of the quire, the scribe did not in fact copy that text until some time later (Doyle and Parkes surmise that it was not until after work on Section IV was complete that the scribe returned to SNT [1979, p. xxxi]). It must have been too late to restructure the quire so that it would contain only the end of FkT, allowing SNT and ClT to be copied on a separate gatherings of appropriate size. Instead, the scribe completed FkT on the first added recto (fol. 165r) and left the rest of that page blank (which the Banestar family later filled with their records). The color of ink indicates that the scribe then began to copy ClPro at the top of what was originally the fifth verso (fol. 173v). As Doyle and Parkes observe, the explicit for FkT is added by someone other than the scribe, probably the same hand as that of the running heads and the glosses in PsT (1979, pp. cccii, xliii).

Section V, although currently ordered to follow Mel, signals that MancT should have been the previous text. This was accomplished through an erasure in IX(H)1 (on fol. 235r), with “Mau[n]ciple” being substituted for whatever underlay it originally.[7]


Blue initials (2-line, extending above the first line of text for several more lines) with red penwork mark the openings of tales, prologues, and links. Blue paraphs mark lesser textual divisions and glosses. The opening page of CT (fol. 2r) begins with a 7-line initial W in blue, gold, and an orange-red. The text is surrounded by a full border–bars of the same colors, decorated with knots and trefoils–although the heading (Here bygynnyth the Book of the tales of Cauntbury), in a goldish-brown ink, is above, and in places overlapped by, the top bar (a color facsimile appears as the frontispiece in the Variorum facsimile; Manly-Rickert [1940 I: 567] and Doyle and Parkes [1979, p. xxxix] offer brief descriptions and both link the style of the illumination on fol. 2r to that in El).


(LALME LP 6400, London. Labeled “Type III” by Samuels (1983a, p. 24), and localized in London, the language is identical in most respects to that of El (cf. Ramsey 1982, 1986, and the replies to Ramsey: Samuels 1983b and Smith 1988bl; see also Smith 1995, which includes an appendix of Scribe B’s spelling practices in El). Peter Robinson discerns a “group of common words in which Hengwrt/Ellesmere share spellings with -oo-, which are found almost nowhere else”: dooth, namoore, and moore. “These, and many more instances,” Robinson observes, “reinforce the impression of a careful, almost pedantic, consistency in this scribe’ application of a single spelling system” (1999, pp. 209-10; see also (Robinson 2000, “Analysis Workshop,”, 3.4.2). See also the discussion by Simon Horobin on this CD-ROM.

Tale Order

Present order: I(A) III(D) VII(B2)ef IX(H) II(B1) V(F)a IV(E)b V(F)b VIII(G)a V(E)a VI(C) VII(B2)abcd X(I) (to 1180)

There are good reasons to believe that VII(B2)ef IX(H) (Section II) were intended to follow II(B1) V(F)a IV(E)b V(F)b VIII(G)a IV(E)a VI(C) VII(B2)abcd (Section IV): Section II begins with the Mel-Mk link, and Section V, in its first line, signals that the MancT was the previous text (and the reading has been altered to make that link).




Doyle and Parkes suggest that one of the supplementary hands in Hg, designated by them as “Hand F,” “is very like Thomas Hoccleve’s hand.” Doyle and Parkes have also identified Hoccleve as “Scribe E,” a collaborator with Scribe B in the Trinity Gower. However, since some of Hoccleve’s “most characteristic letter forms are absent from words in Hg” they leave the question “open.” The possibility that Hengwrt’s Hand C may have copied British Library MS Arundel 38 (Regiment of Princes) adds to the suspicion of an early Hoccleve connection with Hg (Doyle and Parkes 1979, p. xlvi).

The earliest evidence of ownership is that of a signature on fol. 87r: “ffouke Dutton Huius ly(bri) est possesoer.” The name is erased but still visible under UV light. Manly-Rickert (1940 I: 279-81) find a “Fulke Dutton” who was a “rich draper of Chester and a great purchaser of monastic property,” who “was mayor in 1537, 1548, 1554,” and died in 1558 (a date Doyle and Parkes suggest as appropriate to the handwriting and that “[t]he penwork knots and underline would not be inappropriate for someone who became mayor of the city” [1979, p. xlvii]). “Of the same period, and certainly well after 1534 when it was initiated by law, are the cancellations of the word “Pope” and the insertion of “bishop” or “byshop” on on fol. 115r, on fol. 169v, on fol. 170r, on fol. 173r by a current hand somewhat resembling that on on fol. 43v” (Doyle and Parkes 1979, p. xlviii). On fol. 125v is “R Wryne” incorporated with a notary’s knot, and above that, in the same hand, “Maria mater [omnium] virtutum” (a response to “oure lady” in line 978 of MLT). Manly-Rickert are likely correct in attributing these inscriptions to “Ralph Wrine, recorder of Chester in 1535/6, 1540, and perhaps longer” (1940 I: 281; (citing the Record Society for Lancashire and Cheshire, 51: 43, 26). Ownership in Chester and Wales is also supported by the Brereton family records of five births entered on the fol. 128v (a verso left blank following the end of MLT on fol. 128r), where it is recorded that John Brereton was “Christened att | St Petteres Church in Chester” and that Frances, Richard, and Ann were born “at llanver | neare carnarvon.”

On fol. 145v, perpendicular to the text, in the margin, is: “Joh[ann]es Barcomsted gen[erosus] huius libri | magister et verus et solus possessor | T[este] G N” (sixteenth century?). The Banestar/Bannester family also recorded the births of five family members on fol. 165r (in the blank half-page left at the end of the FkT in the double-sized quire enlarged to accommodate the inclusions of SNT). Manly-Rickert detail additional evidence of the MS’s “presence in Chester in the later 16 C” (1940 I: 281). In the margin of fol. 44r is “ Gilbart Nelsoun”; Seymour cites a Gilbert Nelson who “was named with John Banastre his cousin (d. 1582) in the will of his brother William, a London grocer, formerly of Mawdesley, Cheshire, in 1603/4” (1997, 34; citing the Index of Wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury... 13) On fol. 171v, in the margin, are “James pratri”[?] (or “Fratr[i]s”[?]) and “Willm Dymmocke.”

Despite the excellence of much of Manly and Rickert’s provenance scholarship, they were lead astray by their interpretation of a drypoint inscription on fol. 13v (photograph taken with ultraviolet light). Their reading of this fifteenth-century inscription “is ‘builth’. This (Buelt, Bwilth, etc.) is the name of a town in Wales, about 16 miles north of Brecon. In Chaucer’s time and long before it was one of the castles of the Mortimers; but in 1404, because of their part in the Glendower Rebellion, it reverted to the Crown and remained in the King’s hands until 1438, when it was granted to Richard, Duke of York, as heir of the Mortimers” (1: 282). Accepting their reading, Ramsey concocted an elaborate scenario whereby Hg was produced for Lewis Chaucer as a gift from his father, that Thomas Chaucer took the Hg scribe–whom Ramsey differentiates from the El scribe–with him to Wales, that this scribe copied the Merthyr MS (Me), and that Lewis Chaucer, having himself arrived in Wales by 1403 (Carmarthen, where the Life Records record a payment was made to Thomas and “Ludowicus” Chaucer), stayed there “to serve the crown, perhaps in Bwilth Castle after ‘it reverted to the crown’ in 1404” (Ramsey 1994, 478-479; 523). Ramsey’s theory disregards the work of Doyle and Parkes, however, who read this same evidence from a different perspective: “The word written by dry point on fol. 13v and read by Manly and Rickert (1940 I: 282) as the Welsh place name builth should in fact be seen the other way up as smug or snug” (1978, p. xlvii).

In 1997, Pidd, Stubbs, and Thomson observed that the fifteenth-century red crayon inscription on fol. 85v, read by Manly and Rickert (1940 I: 282) as “Stokes[?],” was not to be found on close inspection of the MS (1997, p. 62). I had made no reference to the inscription in my earlier descriptions of Hg (1996; 2000) for the simple reason that I had not been able to detect it either, and had encountered similar disconnects between Manly-Rickert’s accounts and my own firsthand observations (see, for example, my discussion of the drawing with the inscription “hocden” reported by Manly-Rickert in their account of Ad3 [Mosser 2000, description of of Ad3]). What I had not done, and what Pidd, Stubbs, and Thomson did do, was consult the rotographs (BL MS Facs. 405) or microfilms of them. The inscription is indeed visible in those earlier facsimiles. Ian Doyle, after consulting his notes that he made on examination of the MS in July 1975, reports that on that occasion he was able to make a “clear would-be facsimile of the ‘Stokes’ inscription, the third and last letters left uncertain” (correspondence from A. I. Doyle July 1997). Whatever has caused the inscription to disappear must have occurred after July 1975 (indeed, Doyle reports that Daniel Huws was still able to observe the inscription clearly in September 1975); perhaps, as Doyle tentatively suggests, the photographic processes to which Hg was subjected for the production of the Variorum facsimile (1979) were the culprit? Pidd, Stubbs, and Thomson suggest a possible identification, Richard de Stokes (ca. 1330-1401?), but he is likely too early unless he lived well beyond 1401.

Hg is included in a 1658 catalogue of manuscripts belonging to Colonel Robert Vaughan, of Hengwrt, Merionethshire. In 1859, a descendent, Sir Robert Williames Vaughan left the MS to W. W. E. Wynne, of Peniarth. Sir John Williams acquired the MS from the estate of Wynne’s son, W. R. M. Wynne and subsequently donated it to the National Library of Wales in 1909 (Manly-Rickert 1940 I: 282-3).


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1.I would like to acknowledge, with gratitude, the help provided by the following people at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth: Daniel Huws, R. W. McDonald; Gwyn Jenkins, Keeper, Department of Manuscripts; Emyr Edwards, Superintendent, Department of Manuscripts; Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan, Assistant Archivist, Dept of Manuscripts. .
2.As Hanna argues (1989, n. 14), we cannot be certain that the original quire was not a six, and that ten leaves, rather than eight, were inserted.
3.The signature consists of a vertical stroke, that is slightly off the perpendicular, with a horizontal cross-stroke that extends only slightly to the left of the ascender, but on fol. 188r, where it is best seen, extends somewhat further and is nearly as long as the ascender.
4.The o is higher up on the page and the D (i.e., majuscule “eth”, if that is what it is) is at the lower edge, directly below the o.
5.1979, p. xlvi. For a facsimile of the hand in HM 111, see Dutschke 1989, vol. 2, fig. 83.
6.My re-examination of the MS in July 1995 did not discover this greyish tinge. There may be a slight reddish hue in this section, but the parchment is greyish throughout the MS.
7.Several attempts to recover the underlying reading have been made with UV light, all unsuccessful. On 15 July, 1997, Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan, of the National Library of Wales, and I tried again with the Video Spectral Comparator, again with unhappy results.
8.Samuels (1983b, p. 46) “hazards” the dating “ca. 1402-1404 for Hg.” Since the date of Chaucer’s death is believed to be 1400, that seems a reasonable terminus post quem, although Hanna suggests that Hengwrt was copied from “in vita drafts” (1989: 74-5), thus raising the possibility that Hg could be even earlier than 1400.