The Ellesmere Chaucer is a beautiful and elaborately decorated manuscript of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Created between 1400 and 1405, it contains what is believed to be a portrait of Chaucer as well as miniature paintings of 23 of the fictional pilgrims who tell stories in order to enliven the journey from London to Canterbury.
In The Canterbury Tales, a group of pilgrims—ranging from the “verray parfit gentil knyght” to the poor Oxford scholar, the outspoken Wife of Bath, and the earthy Miller—participate in a storytelling contest as they make their way to Canterbury Cathedral on a traditional springtime pilgrimage. Their varied walks of life are reflected in equally varied literary forms, from sermons and legends of the saints to courtly romances, animal fables, and bawdy stories. This manuscript is the most complete version of the work from the turn of the 15th century and a primary source for all subsequent editions of The Canterbury Tales.