Those who believe that a picture is worth a thousand words may find some images of Chaucer and the pilgrims illuminating. Click on the thumbnail images for enlargements.
Early Portraits of Geoffrey Chaucer
The Ellesmere Manuscript, one of the two earliest surviving manuscripts of The Canterbury Tales (the other is the Hengwrt Ms.), was probably made shortly after Chaucer's death in 1400. (For more complete descriptions, see Schwartz Library and Benson.) We can thus presume that its portrait of Chaucer the pilgrim bears a resemblance to Chaucer the man:
Thomas Hoccleve (c.1368-c.1450), who knew Chaucer, included a portrait of him in his Regiment of Princes (1412):
Another contemporary (or near contemporary) portrayal of Chaucer is found in the frontispiece to Troilus and Criseyde in CCCC MS 61 (1399-1413):
Early Manuscript Pages and Canterbury Pilgrims
The Ellesmere Manuscript, now owned by the Huntington Library, is generally considered the best and most authoritative remaining manuscript for the Canterbury Tales. Here's a facsimile image of its opening to the General Prologue:
The Ellesmere Manuscript also has detailed drawings of the other Canterbury pilgrims described in the General Prologue. These are found on the pages containing their prologues and tales. Here are a couple of examples:
For more early images of the Wife, see Anniina Jokinen's Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale in Images.
For several other facsimile images of the Ellesmere Manuscript, visit the Ellesmere Manuscript website of the Schwartz Library of Long Island University's C.W. Post campus.
This image of the opening of the General Prologue from the Hengwrt Manuscript, generally considered to be second only to the Ellesmere in terms of its quality, is from the Scholarly Digital Edition edited by Estelle Stubbs:
Another excellent Canterbury Tales manuscript is the Lansdowne MS 851. Here is an image of its opening page of the General Prologue:
Manuscripts and Early Printed Editions
Oxford University's Corpus Christi College MS 198 (c.1410-1420) is an early Canterbury Tales manuscript available online in facsimiles. Although its quality is high, it is incomplete and has no illustrations of pilgrims. Because the first leaf is missing, it begins at line 73, but the rest of the General Prologue is available in high-resolution images (see folios 2r-12v). These are quite large (about 3.5 mg per page) and take a long time to load for computers without high-speed connections, but for those interested in medieval script, they are a valuable resource:
William Caxton was the first English printer, and his 1476 and 1483 editions of the Canterbury Tales are among the first books ever printed in the English language. The British Library presents the two editions side by side, the major difference being that the 1483 edition added woodcuts.