A catalogue of Western manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries and selected Oxford colleges

MS. Bodl. 686

Summary Catalogue no.: 2527

The Canterbury Tales; England, 1430s


Language(s): Middle English, South Worcestershire dialect (Simon Horobin, The Language of the Chaucer Tradition, pp. 147–8); with some Latin

1. (fols. 1r–184v)
Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales
Incipit: Whan that april with his showres swote | The drouth of March hath perced the rote
Explicit: In which into þis day in noble wyse | Men don to Crist and to his seint seruise
DIMEV 6414

Ends with the Second Nun’s Tale.

(fols. 1r–11v)
The General Prologue
Incipit: Whan that april with his showres swote | The drouth of March hath perced the rote
Explicit: And by gan with right a mery chere | His tale a noon and seide as þe may here

I.637–8 omitted.

DIMEV 6415
(fols. 11v–40r)
The Knight’s Tale
Rubric: Hic incipit fabula Militis
Incipit: Whilom was as olde stories tellen vs | Ther was a duk þat hight Teseus
Explicit: ⟨Thus endeth pa⟩lamon and emelye | And god save al þis feire companye

I.1291–5, 2655 omitted.

DIMEV 6530
(fols. 40r–40v)
The ‘Knight-Miller link’
Rubric: Hic incipit prohemium fabule molendinarij
Incipit: Whan þat the knight hadde þis his tale tolde | In al þe companye nas þer yonge ne olde
Explicit: Avyseth you and put me out of blame | And eek men shal not make ernest of game

I.3155–6 omitted.

DIMEV 6427
(fols. 41r–48r)
The Miller’s Tale
Incipit: ||As brode as is þe boos of a bokelyr | Hir shoes were laced vpon hir legges hye
Explicit: And Nicholas was skalded in þe towte | Þis tale is don god save al þe rowte
Final rubric: Here eneth þe Millers tale

I.3187–265 lost; 3721–2 omitted; 3335–6 reversed.

DIMEV 6537
(fols. 48r–49r)
The Reeve’s Prologue
Rubric: And begynneth þe prologe of þe Reues tale
Incipit: Whan folke han laughen at þis nyce cas | Of Absolon and hende Nichola
Explicit: He kan wel in myn ye seen a stalke | But in his owne he ne kan seen a balke
DIMEV 6307
(fols. 49r–54r)
The Reeve’s Tale
Rubric: Here begynneth the Reues tale
Incipit: At Trompyngton nat ferre fro cantebrigge | Ther goth a brok and over þat a brygge
Explicit: Save al þis company grete and smale | Thus have y quyt þe Miller in my tale
Final rubric: Here endeth the Reues tale
(fols. 54r–54v)
The Cook’s Prologue
Rubric: And here begynneth the prolage of þe Cookes tale
Incipit: The Coke of london while þe Reve spake | ffor Ioy him þought he claued him on his bake
Explicit: And ther with al he lough and made cheere | And seyd his tale as ye shal after heere
DIMEV 5238
(fols. 54v–55v)
The Cook’s Tale
Rubric: Here begynneth the Cookes tale
Incipit: A prentys whilom dwelled in oure sitee | And of a crafte of vitallers was he
Explicit: A wife he hadde that helde her contenaunce | A shoppe and ever sche pleyed for his sustenaunce | What thorowe hym selfe and his felawe þat sought | Vnto a myschefe bothe þey were broght | The tone y dampned to preson perpetually | The tother to deth for he couthe not of clergye | And therfore yonge men lerne while ye may | That with mony dyvers thoghtes beth prycked al þe day | Remembre you what myschefe cometh of mysgouernaunce | Thus mowe ye lerne worschep and come to substaunce | Thenke how grace and governaunce hath broght hem a boune | Many pore mannys son chese state of þe towne | Euer rewle the after þe beste man of name | And god may grace þe to come to þe same
Final rubric: Here endeth the Cokes tale

Forty-five alliterating couplets are added throughout the text, including the twelve final lines transcribed above: six lines following I.4382; eight lines following 4388; two lines following 4390; six lines following 4398; four lines following 4410; and four lines following 4412.

(fols. 56r–57r)
The Introduction to the Man of Law’s Tale
Rubric: Here folowen the wordes of the hoost vnto the man of lawe
Incipit: Oure host saugh wel þat þe bryght sonne | þe ark of his artificial day hath y ronne
Explicit: I speke in prose and let hym rymes make | And with þat word he with a sory chere | Bygan his tale as ye may after here
Final rubric: Here enden the words of the hoost vnto the man of lawe
DIMEV 4315
(fols. 57r–57v)
The Man of Law’s Prologue
Rubric: Here begynneth the prologe of the tale of the man of lawe
Incipit: O hateful harme condicioun of povert | With thurst with cold with hunger so confounded
Explicit: Nere þat a Marchaunt gon is many a yere | Me taught a tale which þat ye shal here
DIMEV 3929
(fols. 57v–70v)
The Man of Law’s Tale
Rubric: Here begynneþ þe tale of þe man of lawe
Incipit: In surrie whilome dwelt a compaigny | Of chapman riche & therto sadde and trewe
Explicit: Ioy after wo gouerne vs in his grace | And kepe vs all þat byn in this place
Final rubric: Here endeth the tale of Custaunce
DIMEV 2587
(fols. 70v–80v)
The Wife of Bath’s Prologue
Rubric: Here begynneþ þe prologe of þe wife of Bathe
Incipit: Experience thogh non auctorite | Were in þis worlde is right y now for me
Explicit: If I have licence of þis worthi frere | Yis dame quod he telle forth and I wol heere
Final rubric: Here endeth the Prolage of the wyfe of Bathe

III.408, 462, 575–84, 609–12, 619–26, 717–20 omitted.

DIMEV 1242
(fols. 81r–85v)
The Wife of Bath’s Tale
Rubric: And here begynneth her tale
Incipit: In the olde dayes of Kyng arthoure | Of which þat Britons speke grete honoure
Explicit: And olde and angry nygardys of dispence | God sende hem sone verray pestellence
Final rubric: Here endeth the Wyfes tale of Bathe

III.1088, 1110–17 inserted at foot.

DIMEV 2618
(fol. 86r)
The Friar’s Prologue
Rubric: Here begynneth þe prologe of þe freris tale
Incipit: This worthi lymytour this noble frere | He made al wey a lowryng chere
Explicit: And after þis he seide vnto þe ffrere | Tel forth youre tale leve maister deere
Final rubric: Here endeth the Prologe of the ffreres tale
DIMEV 5802
(fols. 86v–90v)
The Friar’s Tale
Rubric: And here begynneth hys tale
Incipit: Whilome ther was dwellyng in my contre | An Erchdeken a man of high degre
Explicit: And prayeth þat thes sumpnours hem repente | Of her misdedis er þat the fende hem hente
Final rubric: Here endeth the ffreres tale
DIMEV 6536
(fols. 91r–91v)
The Sommoner’s Prologue
Rubric: And here begynneth the Somnours tale
Incipit: This somnoure n his storopes high he stode | Vpon þis frere his hert was so wodde
Explicit: God save you alle save þis cursed frere | My prologe wol y ende in þis manere
Final rubric: Here endeth the prolage of the Somnours tale
DIMEV 5756
(fols. 91v–98v)
The Summoner’s Tale
Rubric: And begynneþ his tale
Incipit: Lordings þer is in yorkeshire as y gesse | A mershcontre called holdernesse
Explicit: And Iankin hath ywonne a new gowne | My tale is don we ben almost at toune
Final rubric: Here endeth þe Somnours tale

III.1955, 2153 inserted at foot.

DIMEV 3255
(fols. 98v–99v)
The Clerk’s Prologue
Rubric: And begynneþ þe prohemium of þe clerke of Oxonforddes Tale
Incipit: Sir clerk of Oxenforde oure host seyde | ye ride as koy and stylle as doth a Mayde
Explicit: Save þat he wol conueyen his matere | But this his tale which þat ye may here
DIMEV 4860
(fols. 99v–114r)
The Clerk’s Tale
Incipit: Ther is at þe west syde of ytaille | Doun at þe rote of vesulus þe colde
Explicit: Be ay of chere as light as lefe on lynde | And late him care and wepe and wrynge and wayle

IV.1072–8 omitted.

DIMEV 5573
(fol. 114r)
The ‘Clerk’s Endlink’/‘The Host’s Stanza’
"This worthi clerke whan ended was his tale | Oure host seide and swore by goddes bones | Me were lever than a barel ale | My wife at home hedde harde þis legende ones | This is a gentile tale for þe nones | As to my purpose wist ye my wille | But thing þat wol nat be lete it be stille"
Final rubric: Here endith the tale of the Clerke of Oxenforde
DIMEV 5801
(fols. 114r–114v)
The Merchant’s Prologue
Rubric: Here begynneth the prologe of þe Merchantz tale
Incipit: Wepyng and waillyng care and oþer sorow | I koow you on eve and on morow
Explicit: Gladly quod he but of myne owne sore | ffor sory herte I telle may namore
Final rubric: Here endeth þe prologe of þe Merchantes
DIMEV 6185
(fols. 114v–129r)
The Merchant’s Tale
Rubric: And here begynneth hys tale
Incipit: Whilom þer was dwellyng in lumbardy | A worthy knyght þat boren was of payuy
Explicit: Thus endeth here my tale of Ianuarye | God blesse vs and his moder seynt marie
Final rubric: Here endeth the Merchaunts tale of Ianuarie

IV.2280 omitted; 2288 follows 2279 and recurs in its proper place.

DIMEV 6535
(fol. 129v)
The ‘Merchant’s Endlink’
Rubric: And here begynneth þe prologe of þe Squyers tale
Incipit: Ey goddes mercy seide oure hoost þo | Now such a wyf y prey god kepe me fro
Explicit: And eke my witte suffiseth not þer to | To tellen alle wherefor my tale is do
(fol. 129v)
The ‘Squire’s Headlink’
Incipit: Squyer come nere yf it youre wylle be | And sey somwhat of love for certes ye
Explicit: Haue me excused yef y speke amysse | My wille is good and lo my tale is this
Final rubric: Here endeth þe prologe of þe Squyers tale
DIMEV 5024
(fols. 129v–137v)
The Squire’s Tale
Rubric: And here begynneth hys tale ffulle
Incipit: At Sarry in the londe of Tartarye | Ther dwelled a kyng that werryed Russie
Explicit: And after wol y speke of kambalo | That faught in lystes with þe brethren two

V.669–672 lost; 288 inserted at foot.

(fols. 138r–148v)
The Franklin’s Tale
Incipit: And forto lede þe more in blisse hir lyves | Of his fre wille he swore hir as a knyght
Explicit: Now telleth me er þat ye ferther wende | I kan namore my tale is at an ende
Final rubric: Here endeth the ffrankeleyns tale

V.709–28 (Prologue), 726–43 lost; 1013, 1455–6. 1493–8, omitted; 1286–9 inserted at foot.

DIMEV 2476
(fols. 148v–152r)
The Physician’s Tale
Rubric: And here after begynneth the Phisiciens tale
Incipit: Ther was as telleth Thitus liuius | A knyght þat called was virginius
Explicit: þer fore y rede you þis counsel take | fforsaketh synne er synne you forsake
Final rubric: Here endeth the Phisiciens tale
DIMEV 5599
(fols. 152r–152v)
The ‘Host’s Words’/‘Physician-Pardoner Link’
Rubric: And begynneth þe mery talkyng of þe hoost to þe Phisicien and þe pardoner
Incipit: Owre hoost gan to swere as he were wode | harrow quod he by nailes and by blode
Explicit: I graunte I wyis quod he but y mote þinke | Vpon somme honeste þing while y drynke

VI.297–8 omitted.

DIMEV 4314
(fols. 153r–154v)
The Pardoner’s Prologue
Rubric: Here begynneth the Prologe of þe pardoners tale
Rubric: Radix omnium malorum est cupiditas ad Timotheum 6º
Incipit: Lordinges quod he in chirche whenne y preche | I peyne me to han an hauten speche
Explicit: Which y am wonte to preche for to wynne | Now holde youre pees my tale y wol bygynne
Final rubric: Here endeth the Prologe of the Perdoners tale
DIMEV 3251
(fols. 154v–161)
The Pardoner’s Tale
Rubric: And here begynneth his tale
Incipit: In flaundres whilome was a compaignye | Of yonge folke þat hauntedden folye
Explicit: And as we deden lete vs lagh and pley | Anon they kiste and riden forth hir wey
Final rubric: Here endeth the Perdoners tale

VI.669 omitted; spurious line inserted at foot to follow 670.

DIMEV 2502
(fols. 161–166)
The Shipman’s Tale
Rubric: And begynneth þe Shipmannes tale
Incipit: A marchant whilome dwelled at seint Denys | þat riche was for which men hilde him wys
Explicit: þus endeth my tale and god vs sende | Taylyng ynow vnto oure lyves ende
Final rubric: Here endeth þe Shypmannes tale

VI.47–8 omitted.

(fols. 166–166v)
The ‘Shipman-Prioress Link’
Rubric: Herken þe now the mery wordes of the hoost
Incipit: Wel seyd by corpus dominus quod oure host | Now longe mote þou sayle by þe coost
Explicit: And next if so were þat ye wolde | Gladly quod she and seyde as ye shal here
DIMEV 6206
(fols. 166v–167r)
The Prioress’s Prologue
Rubric: Here begynneth the prohemium of the Prioresse tale
Incipit: O lorde o lorde þy name how meruelous | Is in this large worlde ysparde quod she
Explicit: Right so fare I and þerfore y you pray | Gydeth my songe þat I of you shal sey
Final rubric: Here endeth the prohemium
DIMEV 3970
(fols. 167r–170r)
The Prioress’s Tale
Rubric: And here begynneth the pryores tale of Alma redemptoris mater
Incipit: Ther was in asye in a grete citee | Amonges Cristen folke in Iuerye
Explicit: On vs his grete merci multiplye | ffor reuerence of his moder Marye Amen
Final rubric: Here endeth the pryoresse tale

VII.556–7 reversed.

DIMEV 5601
(fol. 170r)
The Prologue to Sir Thopas
Rubric: Behold the mery talking of þe hoost to þe Chaucer
Incipit: When seide was al þis miracle euery man | As sobre was þat wonder was to see
Explicit: ye þat is gode quod he now shal we here | Some deynte þing me thinketh by his chere
DIMEV 6401
(fols. 170r–172v)
The Sir Thopas
Rubric: Nexte foloweþ Chaucers tale of Thopas And here begynneth his tale
Incipit: Listenneth lordynges in gode entent | And y wol telle verement
Explicit: As dide þe knyght ser percyvelle | So worthi vnder wede | Tyl on a day

VII.805, 887 omitted.

DIMEV 3097
(fols. 172v–173v)
The ‘Thopas-Melibee Link’
Rubric: Here the hoost stynteth Chaucer of his tale of Thopas And biddeth hym telle a nother tale
Incipit: Namore of þis for goddes dignite | Quod oure host for þou makest me
Explicit: After þe whiche þis myry tale y write | And þerfore herkeneth what y shal you sey | And lete me tellen as my tale y prey
Final rubric: Here endeth Chaucers tale

Two spurious lines follow VII.966 introducing Manciple’s Tale.

DIMEV 3700
(fols. 173v–176v)
The Manciple’s Tale
Rubric: And begynneþ A lytel Tretis of þe Crowe
Incipit: When phebus dwelt in þis worlde a doun | As olde bokes maken mencioun
Explicit: Where so euer þou come among high or lowe | Kepe wel þi tonge and þinke wel on þe crowe
Final rubric: Here endeth the tale of þe Crowe

IX.209–10 omitted; 319–20 reversed.

DIMEV 6390
(fols. 176v–178r)
The Prologue of the Second Nun’s Tale
Incipit: The ministre and þe norice vnto vices | Which þat men clepe in englissh ydlenesse
Explicit: And brennynge euer in cherite ful briȝht | Now have y you declared what she hight
Final rubric: And here begynneth þe Nonnes tale
DIMEV 5405
(fols. 178r–184v)
The Second Nun’s Tale
Incipit: Þis mayden bright Cecilie as hir lyfe seith | Was comen of Romains and of noble kynde
Explicit: In which into þis day in noble wyse | Men don to Crist and to his seint seruise
Final rubric: Here endeth the Nonnes tale of the storye of the blessed lyfe and Martirdome of the glorious virgine and Martir seynte Cecile translated in to englysshe tonge
DIMEV 5729.4
Poems by or ascribed to John Lydgate
(fols. 184v–186r)
John Lydgate, Verses on the Kings of England
Rubric: Here begynneþ a lytel Tretis made and compyled in Balade be Dan Iohn Lydgate Monke of Bury of al the kynges þat hath regned sethen Wyllian Conquerour
Incipit: This mighti William duke of normandie | As bokes olde maketh mencioun
Explicit: Now lord send hym siche gouernaunce | Long to reioyse & reigne in his ryght
Final rubric: Here endeth the tretis of alle the kynges whiche hath regned in this lande sethen þe tyme of William the Conquerour
DIMEV 5731
(fols. 186r–187v)
John Lydgate (attrib.), Stans puer ad mensam
Rubric: Here begynneth the godely tretis of þe Norture atte þe table compiled in Balade be Dan Iohn Lydegate. Monke of Bury
Incipit: My dere sonne first þi selfe enhable | With þyn hert to vertuous disciplyne
Explicit: If ought be amys in worde sillable or dede | Put al þe defaute vpon Iohn lidgate
DIMEV 3588
(fols. 187v–188v)
John Lydgate, Dietary
Rubric: Here begynneth a neodful Tretis for mannes helthe of his body compiled and made compen in Balade be Dan Iohn lydgate Monke of Bury
Incipit: For helth of body kover for colde þin hede | Ete no rawe mete take gode hede herto
Explicit: Of maister Antony nor of maister hugh | To all indifferent Rihest dietarie
DIMEV 1356
(fols. 190r–190v)
John Lydgate, Riȝt as the crabbe goth forward
Rubric: Here begynneþ þe Tretis of þe Crabbe
Incipit: This worlde is ful of stableness | Ther is þer inne no variaunce
Explicit: þe heuenly signe maketh demonstraunce | Right as þe Crab goth forewarde
Final rubric: Hererendeth þe tresi of þe Crabbe
DIMEV 5792
(fols. 190v–191v)
John Lydgate, Rammeshorne
Rubric: And begynneþ a tretis of þe rammeshorne
Incipit: Al rightwesnesse doth now procede | Sitte crowned lich an Emperesse
Explicit: þus eche estate is gouerned in sothnesse | Conueyed by lyue right as arammes horne
Final rubric: Here endeth a sotil compiled reson of þe Crabbe
(fols. 191v–193r)
John Lydgate (attrib.), A wikked tong wol alway deme amis
Rubric: And here begynneþ a resoun de fallacia mundi
Incipit: Considere wel with euery circumstaunce | Of what estate euer þat þou be
Explicit: Chastiseth þe revers and of wysdom doth þis | Voydeth youre heryng from al þat sey amys
DIMEV 1070
(fols. 193v–200r)
John Lydgate, Life of St Margaret
Rubric: Here begynneth þe prologe of þe holy seynt seyn Margarete compendiously compiled in balade by lydgate Dan Iohn Monke of Bury. Anno viii henr viᵗⁱ
(fols. 193v–194v)
Incipit: At the reuerence of seint margarete | My purpos is hir lyf to compile
Final rubric: Here endeth þe prologe of Seynt Margarete
Rubric: And nexte folowyng begynneth hir storye
Explicit: Til atte last in vertu complet gode | ffor cristes sake she shedde hir herte blode
Final rubric: Here endeth þe life of seynte Margarete
(fols. 200v–204r)
John Lydgate, Legend of St. George
Rubric: And begynneth þe lyfe of the glorious martir seint George
Incipit: S ye folkes þat here present be | Which of þis story shal haue inspeccoun

The opening illuminated initial provides ‘S’ for ‘O’.

Explicit: Was brennt vnwarly by consumpsioun | As he repeired home to his mansioun
Final rubric: Here endeth the lyfe of seynt George.
DIMEV 4108
(fols. 204r–208v)
John Lydgate, Fifteen Joys and Sorrows of Our Lady
Rubric: And here begynneth þe prologe of þe xv Ioyes of our ladye
Incipit: Be twene mydnyght and þe fressh morowe grey | Nat longe agon in herte ful pensife
Final rubric: Here endeþ þe prolog of þe xv Ioyes & begyneþ þe tale
Explicit: To þat entent ydo the forth directe | Where þu failest þat men shal þe correcte
Final rubric: Here endeth the xv heuynes of oure lady
(fols. 209r–216r)
John Lydgate, Dance of Macabre
Rubric: Here begynneþ a tretis of the daunce of Poulys otherweyes called Makabre
Incipit: Hec scriptura deus pompam luxumque relegat | Inque choris nostris ducere festa monet | Creatures ye þat be resonable | The life desiryng whiche is eternal
Explicit: Sit Iugiter cuncti sapientes vinere certent | Vt velut inferni sit metuenda palus
Final rubric: Here endeth a tretis of the daunce of Poules otherweyes called Makabre
DIMEV 4105

Physical Description

Form: codex
Support: parchment
Extent: ii + 217 + ii leaves
Dimensions (leaf): 385 × 245 mm.
Foliation: Modern foliation, omitting 190.


1-58 (fols. 1-40), 68–1 (fols. 41-47; 1st excised), 7–178 (fols. 48-135), 188–1 (fols. 136-142; 3rd excised), 19–268 (fols. 143–207), 278–1 (fols. 208-214; 8th excised), 286–3 (fols. 215-217; 3rd, 4th, 6th excised, with two stubs between fols. 216/217, one following fol. 217). Cathwords framed in scrolls at the right foot of final leaves of quires. Quire signtures: ‘a’–‘z’, followed by abbreviations for ‘&’, ‘con’, ‘est’, and the words ‘est’ and ‘amen’.


Ruled in violet ink, 39–40 long lines, ruled space 245 × 110 mm.


Gothic cursiva antiquior: Late Medieval English Scribes understands it as the work of a single scribe working over a period of time, but Manly/Rickert, The Text of the Canterbury Tales (1940), 1:64–70 suggest it should be understood as the work of three scribes, at fols. 1–96, 96–167, and 167–end.


Historiated initial depicting Chaucer or another pilgrim, fol. 1r, with acanthus scrolls displaying gilded inscriptions, ‘Pencer de may pencer de may’, ‘Ihesu Marri ladi help’, ‘In God is al mi trust in God’, ‘As fortune fausit as fortune fausit’ (Cf. Pächt and Alexander iii. 890, pl. LXXXV.)

Tales, prologues, and links open with filigree borders.

Rubrics, paraphs, and running heads in red, using blue as an alternating colour. Versals shaded with a yellow wash.


Brown tanned calf over laminated pulpboard.


Origin: 1430s ; English

Provenance and Acquisition

Possibly made for the Beauchamp family, earls of Warwick. Kathleen Scott, Later Gothic Manuscripts (London, 1996), 2:250, suggests that the historiated initial on fol. 1r and borders is by an illuminator that also contributed to New York, Morgan Library and Museum, MS M.893, which she believes to have been made in London in the 1430s or early 1440s. Manly-Rickert, 1:69-70 further note a fifteenth-century drypoint inscription, ‘Belyham’, ‘Belchiam’, or ‘Belthiam’ (head of fol. 139r), which they suggest is a form of the Beauchamp name.

Inscribed in red crayon, ‘Iho’ (fol. 21r), fifteenth century; ‘Memorandum that Ihon’ (fol. 217v).

Inscribed in drypoint, ‘gryfyn’ (fol. 6r), fifteenth century.

Inscribed, ‘Thomas Smythe the hathe’ and ‘his lovyng ffrend no Willm s’ (fol. 173r), sixteenth century. Manly-Rickert, 1:69 note marriages between the families of Sir John Smythe (d. 1547) and Edward Griffin (d. 1569). Not the same hand as ‘My well beloyed frynd’ (fol. 152r), sixteenth century.

George Upton (d. 1608/9), MP for Wells: inscribed, ‘This is George Vpton His book’ (fol. 55r, written vertically along the fore-edge). His wife, Frances Upton, inscribed ‘Frauncis Vpton’ (fol. 106r). A George Upton is listed as a Bodleian benefactor, having donated four pounds to library before 1601.

Likely acquired in 1618–20; first appears in the 1620 catalogue, ‘C.7.11’. Former shelfmark ‘Bod. 660’ (fol. 1r).

Record Sources

Description by Andrew Dunning (August 2020), drawing on earlier published descriptions. Previously described in the Summary Catalogue:

Digital Images

Digital Bodleian (full digital facsimile)
Digital Bodleian (8 images from 35mm slides)


Last Substantive Revision

2022-08-03: Andrew Dunning Revised with consultation of original.