Norman Blake Editions of The Canterbury Tales


The Norman Blake Editions will be a series of online editions which present full diplomatic transcriptions of seven manuscripts of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales

Project Status:

In Progress




University of Sheffield
Bishop Grosseteste University College Lincoln
University of Leicester
University of Oxford


British Isles, digital edition, English studies, manuscripts, medieval period, online resource, poetry, transcriptions



Project Description

During late 2010 and throughout 2011 the Humanities Research Institute will develop a series of online editions called The Blake Editions of the Canterbury Tales, in honour of Professor Norman F Blake, formerly the Head of the Department of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Sheffield.


The Blake Editions will be a series of online editions which present full diplomatic transcriptions of seven manuscripts of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. These manuscripts will be as follows:

  • Cambridge University Library Dd 4.24
  • British Library Additional 35286
  • British Library Lansdowne 851
  • A four-text edition containing National Library of Wales Aberystwyth Peniarth 392D (“Hengwrt”), San Marino California Huntington Library El 26 C9 (“Ellesemere”), Oxford Corpus Christi College 198 and British Library Harley 7334
  • A Multitext edition containing all seven manuscripts.
  • Additionally, there will be an edition containing all witnesses of The Franklin’s Tale.

All technical realisation will be conducted by the HRI at Sheffield and the publisher will be HRI Online Publications. All editions will be available online, free of charge.


The individual manuscript editions will be slightly different to the multitext edition and it will be for the user to decide whether they want to consult the texts as individual editions or via the multitext version.

The individual manuscript editions will reflect the relevant editor’s own view of what an edition of that manuscript should be, in terms of the representation of the text and the accompanying critical apparatus and scholarship, but generally we expect each individual manuscript edition to comprise the following content and functionality:

  • The text of the manuscript, transcribed diplomatically.
  • A linguistic concordance.
  • Scholarly articles which focus on aspects such as provenance, codicology, palaeography, linguistics and significance within The Canterbury Tales textual tradition.

The multitext edition, on the other hand, will be more utilitarian. It will simply provide access to all eight manuscript transcriptions with the facility to conduct searches and generate line-by-line comparisons of the textual variants within each manuscript.

In the multitext edition, the user will be able to determine which manuscripts are compared, line by line, and in which order. As part of the development process the HRI will be conducting some usability testing to determine the intuitive interface for this.

The multitext edition will also include a feature called ‘Edition Builder’, targeted at students but possibly of value to scholars too, whereby users will be able to construct their own edition of The Canterbury Tales by selecting their own words and spellings from the body of available evidence. This will include the facility to construct their own tale order.


The Blake Editions of the Canterbury Tales, in particular the multitext edition, does not set out to be all things to all people. We are not seeking to present copious amounts of background information, or to provide users with every text analysis tool and functionality that one could conceivably ever want.

Our intention is simple: to make the texts available to the public.

It will be for others within the community to then take these texts forward, and Sheffield will seek to facilitate re-use of its data for strictly non-commercial purposes by making the texts publicly available in their native XML format and, eventually, by developing an API.

Eventually we would like to see our transcriptions being embedded, perhaps dynamically through the use of an API, within a range of learning resources which promote online scholarly communities. Sheffield will provide guidance as to how this can be done in practice.

Finally, we hope that The Blake Editions of the Canterbury Tales will, at long last, realise the vision of its original Director, Professor Norman Blake, and democratise the debates about editing the text of The Canterbury Tales.

Historical Background

Where do The Blake Editions come from?

During the 1990s the British Academy and the Arts & Humanities Research Board funded a project called The Canterbury Tales Project, directed by Professor Norman Blake.

The project produced a number of CD-ROMs published by Cambridge University Press and Scholarly Digital Editions, such as The Wife of Bath’s Prologue on CD-ROM, The General Prologue on CD-ROM and the Hengwrt Manuscript CDs.

The project originated at Sheffield and then, in a second phase of funding and upon Norman Blake’s retirement, the project transferred to De Montfort University.

The Sheffield phase of the project ran from 1994 to 1999. The Sheffield phase included work by Estelle Stubbs, Michael Pidd, Simon Horobin, Claire Thomson, Linda Cross and Orietta Da Rold. In total the Sheffield team transcribed eight manuscripts in their entirety and the majority of seven further manuscripts in addition to all witnesses of the Franklin’s Tale. This represents about 330,000 words. On average the transcription of each manuscript was proofread three times. None of this work has been made available to the public before.

It is this body of data – the manuscripts which were transcribed at Sheffield under the directorship of Professor Norman Blake – which will constitute The Blake Editions of the Canterbury Tales.

The Blake Editions is not a continuation of The Canterbury Tales Project and it is not affiliated to, representative of or in any way related to The Canterbury Tales Project.


Financially supported by the Humanities Research Institute

Transcriptions originally funded by the British Academy and the Arts & Humanities Research Board

Advisory Editors

  • Prof. Jeremy Smith (University of Glasgow)
  • Prof. Derek Pearsall (University of York)
  • Dr Oliver Pickering (University of Leeds)

Editors and Project Team

  • Dr Orietta Da Rold (University of Leicester)
  • Dr Simon Horobin (University of Oxford)
  • Dr Claire Thomson (Bishop Grosseteste University College, Lincoln)
  • with contributions from Linda Cross
  • Dr Estelle Stubbs (Research Associate – University of Sheffield)
  • Michael Pidd (Digital Director – University of Sheffield)
  • Ryan Bloor (Developer – University of Sheffield)