The Ellesmere Chaucer: Considered a prime authority for the text of The Canterbury Tales. The manuscript contains 23 illustrations, one appearing for each pilgrim who tells a tale. The artists' representation of the pilgrims closely follows Chaucer's description of them. The illustration shown is a depiction of Chaucer himself most likely made from a bust. It is the earliest known portrait of Chaucer.
The Knight The Knight is a perfect representative of his estate. Some scholars say he is too perfect to be true. He loves the chivalric virtues of 'trouthe, honour, fredom, and curteisie'. He has campaigned all over the world in Christian and heathen lands and was always victorious. Yet he is modest and polite. We are not given his name, nor do we get a description of his crest. He apparently did not fight in the Hundred Years' War.
The Squire The Squire is the Knight's son personifying all the courtly chivalric qualities which his father does not expose. He is young and lusty, takes great care of his outward appearance and is always busy of staying in his lady's grace. He can sing and dance, compose songs and write poetry. He is a brilliant horseman and has won some distinction on his first campaigns.
The Yeoman The Yeoman is the Knight's only servant, yet he is a freeman and not a serf. He is an expert woodsman dressed all in green. What is more, he is an excellent archer who knows how to handle the famous English long bow. He is fully equipped with sword and buckler, dagger and horn.
The Prioress The Prioress is called Madame Eglentyne. She is a very gentle lady who always tries to imitate courtly behavior. She has refined table manners and is always coy and polite. Her greatest oath is "By Sainte Loy". She talks French, although not the Parisian variety. She has three small dogs with her which she feeds with delicate bread. On her breast she wears a golden brooch with "Amor vincit omnia" engraved in it.
The Monk The Monk is an outrider, i.e. a monk who is allowed to leave the monastery to inspect the abbey's property. He is very fond of hunting, has several horses and good hounds. Besides hunting he likes good food, especially a fat roasted swan. He is bald headed and rather fat. His habit is of the best material and trimmed with fur, and his saddle and bridles are adorned with jingling bells.
The Friar The Friar is not a monk, but a member of one of the mendicant orders. He is wanton and merry and had to arrange more than one marriage for a girl whom he had known too closely. He is a professional confessor who prefers money to prayers as a penance. He is very familiar with the inns and taverns of the town and knew the rich ladies better than the lepers and almoners. His name is Hubert.
The Merchant The Merchant impresses the other pilgrims by all the status symbols of the rich and powerful rising middle class. He is excellently dressed and talks in a very serious manner. He is so shrewd in his business that nobody knows that he is deeply in debt. The narrator regrets the fact that he does not know the merchant's name.
The Clerk The Clerk represents the typical clericus, a student at Oxford. He spent all his money in books and learning. He would not take a benefice or any secular office. He is as thin as his horse and his clothes are all threadbare. He is a specialist in logic and moral philosophy and even owns a book of Aristotle. All his energy is set to one aim, namely 'and gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche'.
The Sergeant of the Law The Sergeant of the Law is presented as an excellent attorney. He makes no mistakes, since he knows all the statutes and cases since William the Conqueror by heart. He can draw up flawless legal documents of any kind and has often been judge at the Assize Courts. Yet he seems busier than he really was and is mainly interested in large fees and costly robes, although he does not wear his gown on the journey.
The Franklin The Franklin rides in the company of the Man of Law. He is a large landowner and very rich, although he is not of noble birth. He is the true son of Epicure indulging in good food and wines. In his house 'it snewed of mete and drynke'. He was often appointed as Knight of the Shire and as Sherriff. He is amiable and well-liked by his fellow pilgrims.
The Five Guildsmen The urban middle class is represented by a Haberdasher, a Carpenter, a Weaver, a Dyer and a Tapestry Maker. They are all dressed in the same livery as a sign of their membership to an important fraternity. They do not hesitate to show their wealth. Their daggers, belts and other equipment are made of the finest materials and richly decorated with silver. They have hired their own cook for the pilgrimage.
The Cook The Cook's name is Roger. He has been hired to prepare the meals for the five Guildsmen. He is a real chef - the best of his trade. He can boil, roast, bake and roast better than any other cook. His dishes are by far the best, especially his blancmanger, a sweet creamed chicken pie. Yet, it is a shame that he has an malignous ulcer on his shin, the pus of which might have the same color as some of his sauces.
The Shipman The Shipman is a dark, huge fellow from Dartmoor, who feels no mercy when he fights against any aggressor. The large dagger hanging under his arm is threatening enough. He is the owner and captain of a ship called 'Maudeleyne'. He is an expert sailor who knows all the ports and waters from the Mediterranean to the Baltic Sea. One of his favorite voyages is from Bordeaux to England transporting wine.
The Doctor of Medicine The Doctor of Medicine has a special love for gold, of which he gained a great amount during the Black Death. He is a perfect doctor knowing everything about humourology and astrology. He has studied all the medical authorities of his times and can quote them by heart, but he does not know much of the Bible. He seems to be in league with the apothecaries and druggists of the town so that they augment each other's profit.
The Wife of Bath Dame Alison is the good Wife of Bath who is slightly overdressed and deaf on her left ear. She is an excellent weaver and claims to be respected in her parish. She is an expert in love and married life, since she has been married five times. She is also an expert in pilgrimages, since she has visited all famous shrines and holy places: three times she was in Jerusalem, she has seen Rome and Santiago, and even Cologne.
The Parson The poor Parson is very rich in morals and religious thought. In contrast to some of his fellow pilgrims, however, he is no hypocrite. He is the perfect example of a true Christian who distributes his last penny to the poor. What is more, he follows the righteous way first, and then he teaches it as a model in church:'But Cristes loore and his apostles twelveHe taughte, but first he followed it hymselve.'
The Plowman The Plowman is the poor Parson's brother in blood and in spirit. Like his brother he represents the ideal Christian living the life of charity and love. He is a small tenant farmer who regularly pays his tithes and helps his neighbors whenever they are in need. He does not accept money for his good deeds, but does them for Christ's sake. He is poorly dressed and rides on a pitiable mare. He tells no story.
The Miller Robin, the Miller is 'a stout carl', a 'thikke knarre', that is to say, he is short shouldered and strongly built in bones and muscles. He wins every wrestling match and can run in a door with his head. He has a red beard, huge nostrils and a wart on his nose. He is always drunk and usually cheats his customers. When he speaks, he most often uses bawdy language. He is playing the bagpipes on the pilgrimage.
The Manciple The Manciple is a steward for a law school, one of the Inns, or a dormitory for the lawyers. He is in charge of purchasing the food for his masters. Although he is not an educated man, he is so shrewd that he can deceive the learned scholars and has been able to gain a considerable sum for himself by his little frauds.
The Reeve Oswald, the Reeve has been the manager of a large estate in Baldswell, Norfolk, since his lord was twenty years old. He is a carpenter and very thin and quite tall. He has his beard and hair cut very short and is a choleric man. Therefore the serfs and workers on the estate fear him dreadfully. Although he is generously rewarded for his efficient service by his lord, he nevertheless deceives him.
The Summoner The Summoner is a church official who summons accused sinners before the archdeacon's or bishop's court. He is a lecherous man with an ugly skin disease. He eats garlic and drinks strong wine. He would not refuse to be bribed and overlook a sinner's misdeed. He is closely related to all young girls of the diocese, as he knows everything about their moral behavior. He wears a garland and a cake-buckler.
The Pardoner The Pardoner has just returned from Rome with his license to sell pardons and indulgences. He is a friend of the corrupt Summoner. He has yellow flaxen hair, a high-pitched voice and will never grow a beard. He is a successful relic seller who can make people believe that some pig's bones are the relics of a famous saint. He is styled 'a noble ecclesiaste' who could make 'the peple his apes'.
The Host The Host is called Harry Bailey and is the owner of the Tabard Inn in Southwark where the pilgrims assemble for the journey. He is a friendly and jovial man who is respected by the pilgrims. He suggests the story-telling game and acquires the function of the master of the game during the pilgrimage. However, he does not tell a story himself, therefore his portrait is not presented in the manuscript.
The Second Nun The Nun accompanies the Prioress on her pilgrimage. Therefore she is usually called the Second Nun. She apparently functions as the Prioress's secretary and later tells the story of St. Cecilia. The Second Nun is not portrayed in detail by the narrator.
The Nun’s Priest The Prioress travels with a veritable entourage. Apart from her secretary she is accompanied by three priests. They are not depicted by the narrator, although one of them will later tell The Nun's Priest's Tale about the cock Chaunticleer, his hen Dame Pertelote, and the Fox Doun Russell.
Chaucer Chaucer, the pilgrim, should not be confused with Chaucer, the author, or Chaucer, the real person. In the General Prologue. Chaucer, the Pilgrim, is associated with the last five pilgrims, the so-called 'rogues-group'. Later Chaucer, the author, lets Chaucer, the pilgrim, tell two more or less successful stories.
The Canon’s Yeoman The Canon's Yeoman is introduced after the Second Nun has told her tale. Two men rapidly approach the pilgrims, a Canon and his Yeoman. The Host asks them, if either could tell a tale and the Canon's Yeoman immediately starts talking about the Canon's life, who is a master of alchemy and secret sciences. The Canon seems to be ashamed and departs, while his Yeoman goes on with his tale.