First printed edition of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer


The Canterbury Tales is a poetical work of 24 stories written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer in the years 1387 to 1400. 

Its enduring popularity led William Caxton, England's first printer, to choose it in 1476 as the subject for his first major piece of printing after setting up his workshop in the grounds of Westminster Abbey. It is generally accepted as the first substantial book to be printed in Britain. 

Caxton had learnt to print with movable type in Germany and Flanders. Seeing a business opportunity back home, he brought a team of skilled craftsmen and their equipment to Westminster. This included the type used to print this volume, which was modelled on the handwriting of the best Flemish scribes.

Full title:
Begin. [fol. 2 recto:] wHan that Apprill with his shouris sote And the droughte of marche hath p[er]cid ye rote, etc.
Printed book
Middle English
Geoffrey Chaucer, William Caxton
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

Related articles

A close reading of Chaucer's ‘The Merchant’s Prologue and Tale'

Article by:
Jenny Stevens
Gender and sexuality, Language and voice

Jenny Stevens introduces 'The Merchant's Prologue and Tale', exploring the way in which it combines literary genres and traditions, and refuses to give the reader a clear moral or message.

Middle English

Article by:
David Crystal
Language and voice

David Crystal explains how Middle English developed from Old English, changing its grammar, pronunciation and spelling and borrowing words from French and Latin.

Female ‘soveraynetee’ in Chaucer’s ‘The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale’

Article by:
Alexandra Melville
Faith and religion, Gender and sexuality

Alexandra Melville explores the character of the Wife of Bath and the ambiguity surrounding her outspoken views on marriage, power and religious doctrine.

Related collection items

Related people