early manuscript Canterbury Tales

Medieval Manuscripts

The Huntington possesses one of the largest collections of British medieval manuscripts in the Western Hemisphere. The majority of the Library’s medieval holdings were produced in England or in Europe for the English market. They include nearly 500 bound volumes of literary, historical, and religious materials, which contain about 2,000 separate texts. There are 55 Middle English volumes (1250–1500) of prose and verse, the most celebrated among these being the Ellesmere Chaucer, the Towneley Plays and Chester Plays, two autograph volumes of Thomas Hoccleve’s poetry, and the Stafford Gower.

English law is a strength that carries into the early modern and modern British collections. The Huntington is one of the few libraries in the United States that actively collects English medieval legal texts. Most noteworthy among the holdings is a statute book that includes the only 13th-century copy outside the British Isles of the penultimate draft of the 1215 Magna Carta. The Library also holds thousands of individual medieval deeds, indentures, charters, and court rolls.

The Huntington has a fine collection of medieval English liturgical manuscripts: Bibles, missals, psalters, and breviaries, of which the most important is the 11th-century Gundulf Bible. There are also 12 French Bibles from the 13th century and some 75 illuminated Books of Hours, including a prayer book illuminated by Simon Marmion and another from the Workshop of the Bedford Master.

Resource Guides:
Medieval Manuscripts Research Guide

Digital Resources:
Digital Scriptorium, includes Huntington medieval and Renaissance manuscripts

Banner image credit: Geoffrey Chaucer (-1400), Canterbury tales, between 1400 and 1410. EL 26 C 9. Purchased with the Bridgewater library from John Francis Granville Scroop Egerton, 3rd Earl of Ellesmere, through the agency of George D. Smith and Sotheby’s of London, 1917.