The Chaucer 'Canterbury Tales' manuscript at Petworth

A photo of an open page of The 'Canterbury Tales' Chaucer manuscript at Petworth

Housed in a display case in the North Gallery, the illuminated Chaucer manuscript of the 'Canterbury Tales' with its decorative initials and borders is certainly a sight to behold but one you can also read below.

Please note the Chaucer manuscript is not on display during the winter months but you can take a look at the manuscript online using the link below.

The illuminated manuscript of Geoffrey Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales' on vellum, was created in the 1420s, only 30 years after the original was written, making it one of the very earliest surviving texts of Chaucer's masterpiece.

This version was handwritten by a single scribe, we know this because the handwriting remains the same throughout. The scribe would have had the arduous task of copying out every word and detail from another version in order to create a new one.

Preserving the manuscript

Any book can be easily damaged especially ones that are over 600 years old. To preserve the illuminated manuscript for everyone to see it's kept inside a display case and turned occassionally.

Turning the pages not only allows you to see a different feature, including some very intricately detailed pages, whenever you visit but also ensures that the manuscript is kept in prime condition by evenly distributing the weight. Turning the pages also gives our conservation team the time to check for any damage.

Read the digital version

Because the manuscript is so delicate you can flick through the manuscript online instead. Please follow these links to read the first 300 pages and the second 300 pages.

Family connections

The manuscript bears the arms of Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland but it's likely the copy was commissioned by his grandfather, the 2nd Earl of Nortumberland because his wife was Eleanor Neville, Geoffrey Chaucer's grand-niece.