The workes of Geffray Chaucer newly printed

The large number of early printings of Chaucer’s works testify to the early recognition of his importance as the foundation of English literature. William Caxton published the first editions of Troilus and Creseyde, The Parliament of Fowls, House of Fame, Queen Anelida and False Arcite, and most importantly, The Canterbury Tales. Caxton’s first edition of The Canterbury Tales is undated (about 1478). For his second edition, he benefited from feedback from a dissatisfied customer, who complained that “this book was not according in many places unto the book that Geoffrey Chaucer had made.” Caxton used the customer’s father’s much better manuscript and graced the volume with 26 woodcuts illustrating the pilgrims on horseback and sitting at supper with the host.

Caxton’s successors, Wynkyn de Worde and Richard Pynson, also published The Canterbury Tales. Pynson’s second edition in 1526 coincided with his printing of Troilus and Creseyde and The House of Fame. Several examples are found of the three works (and several non-Chaucerian pieces) bound together. Soon after, William Thynne, who was Henry VIII’s master of the royal household, made the first attempt to collect and critically edit the works of Chaucer by systematically comparing manuscripts in search of best text. For more than 250 years, Thynne’s was the standard text of The Canterbury Tales. However, his enthusiasm led him include in The Works of Geffray Chaucer more than twenty spurious works compared to eighteen genuine works. The book was first published by Thomas Godfray in 1532.

The Thynne edition of Chaucer’s Works was republished twice with only minor changes. In 1542, John Reynes and William Bonham reprinted the 1532 edition, but included “The Plowman’s Tale,” first printed by Godfray in 1535 and now thought not to be by Chaucer. For the next edition (ca. 1551), the only significant change was reordering of “The Plowman’s Tale” before, rather than after, “The Parson’s Tale.”

The present copy is an example of the third and last early Thynne edition of Chaucer’s Works, which was jointly published by four booksellers: William Bonham, Richard Kele, Thomas Petit, and Robert Toye.

Chrzanowski 1550c *

STC 7639

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675