Creators: Scribes & Illuminators

The Ellesmere Chaucer was scribed by one person. Until recently, there was no definitive agreement as to who that person was. In 2004 Professor Linne Mooney was able to use handwriting samples from the El and other sources to accurately attribute the work to scrivener Adam Pinkhurst. Pinkhurst is also the known writer for the Hengwrt edition of the Tales. This discovery has shed light on one of Chaucer’s shorter works: Chaucer words unto Adam his scrivener. This poem features an angry author taking his scrivener to task for many mistakes which he must correct. It would seem that Chaucer had this conversation with Adam Pinkhurst in the course of writing one of his manuscripts.

Adam scrivener, if ever thee befall
Boece or Troilus for to write new,
Under thy longe locks thow maist have the scall,
But after my makinge thou write mor trew,
So oft a day I mot thy werke renewe
It to correct, and eke to rubbe and scrape,
And all is thorowe thy necligence and rape.

It is interesting to note, then, that Chaucer knew his scribe. This suggests that Chaucer may have had access and knowledge of the creation of the Hengwrt MS, created prior to the El. While we do not have an authorial version of the Tales, it is reassuring to know that Pinkhurst was most likely intimately aware of Chaucer’s intentions in writing the Tales. This also suggests that Pinkhurst's arrangement of the tales is likely one that Chaucer proposed or supported. This gives scholars and readers alike hope that the Tales we read today have not been altered or rewritten by the scribe.

The work of Margaret Rickert has led to the popular belief that three illuminators worked on the El. Stylistically, each illustrator brought something different to the table. The first illustrator painted the first sixteen portraits of the Tales. These portraits are relatively small and feature just the horse and the rider. The larger portraits are attributed to the second and third illustrators; the second was responsible for the portrait of Chaucer. Some believe that the third illustrator was actually an apprentice as his paintings are less detailed and slightly sloppy. Other differences include the placement of the pilgrims on their horses. The second and third illustrators placed their horses on grass; the first did not. It’s not known who decided to portray the pilgrims on horseback, but it would seem an obvious choice given the nature of the Tales. It is interesting to note that the horses oftentimes reflect the nature of their rider. For instance, the knight has a magnificent horse, while the more lowly characters have less dynamic animals.