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ADAM PINKHURST was a scribe during Chaucer’s time, the late 1300s and early 1400s. The Hengwrt Chaucer, c. 1400, is the earliest known example of Chaucer’s most famous work, The Canterbury Tales. Another, the Ellesmere Chaucer, is more grand in presentation, but slightly later than the Hengwrt. Since the 1930s, palaeographers have thought that the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts, together with other Chaucer works, were the product of an unnamed Scribe B.

Imagine, then, the excitement on Tuesday, July 20, 2004, when England’s Guardian newspaper proclaimed “Chaucer’s Sloppy Copyist Unmasked After 600 Years.” Scribe B was Adam Pinkhurst!


Today and tomorrow in Parts 1 and 2, I glean tidbits from Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World, by Christopher De Hamel, Penguin Press, 2017.

Who Outted Pinkhurst? Pinkhurst’s revealer wasn’t a musty old English palaeographer, but an American woman. As described by Christopher De Hamel, “The discovery was quite rightly credited to Linne R. Mooney, an American originally from Maine who now teaches in the English department at the University of York.”

De Hamel continues, “Instead of being delighted, as I expected, there was resentment that a relative outsider, an American indeed, was being feted as the expert on matters so quintessentially English.… The gentle world of university common rooms can be very cruel.”

A Welsh Visit. De Hamel notes, “The National Library of Wales (or Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru) is really one of the most magnificently inaccessible outposts of learning in the British Isles.”

The Hengwrt Chaucer is a treasure of the National Library of Wales, located in the Welsh seaside town of Aberystwth.

De Hamel describes, “Aberystwyth is at least a five-hour car journey from London, depending on traffic. There are no airports closer than Birmingham or Manchester. By rail, which was how I travelled, even the quickest route takes three and a quarter hours from Birmingham…. through Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury and then across the entire width of central Wales, calling on tiny stations with ancient-sounding names like Caersws, Machynlleth, Dovey Junction, and Borth. It is a landscape of neat green fields and solitary stone farmhouses, all like something from a model railway of long ago.”

The National Library of Wales was established in 1907.

Upon arrival, “I explained to a pleasant fair-haired receptionist on duty that I had come to see Maredudd ap Huw, curator of manuscripts. She replied in English, of course, but she telephoned him in Welsh. There followed a long conversation, with earnest glances in my direction. I have no idea what was being discussed but I imaged her warning him of this very odd visitor with a dangerous look and messy hair….”

Then she smiled sweetly, and Maredudd “could not have been more helpful or welcoming.”

A Hengwrt Encounter. De Hamel explains that Hengwrt means “Old Hall” in Welsh, the manuscript named for its home in the sixteenth century. The Hengwrt Chaucer, 11 1/2 x 8 1/4 in., is written on parchment, though paper was also available to scribes in 1400. Its modern binding is high-quality morocco leather with plated straps ending in silver rings.

”Whan that Averyll wt his shoures soote…”

De Hamel observes, “The most immediately striking aspect of the manuscript as it survives now is that every upper outer margin has been replaced…. Parchment is a protein, edible to rodents.” When the book was rebound in 1956, fresh parchment replaced the damaged corners.

“I see the glimmerings,” De Hamel writes, “of a children’s story in there somewhere called The Rat Who Ate the Hengwrt Chaucer.

Tomorrow in Part 2, we encounter Chaucer possibly chiding—or was he just teasing?—a scribe named Adam. Might this scribe be Adam Pinkhurst? ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019

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