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  • Adam Pinkhurst, Geoffrey Chaucer, and the Hengwrt Manuscript of the Canterbury Tales
  • Simon Horobin

Since Linne R. Mooney’s identification of the scribe of the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts as the professional scribe Adam Pinkhurst, scholars have been debating the nature of this scribe’s relationship with Chaucer.1 The presumption that Pinkhurst is the Adam Scriveyn castigated by Chaucer for his “negligence and rape” (“Wordes,” 7) led Mooney to claim that Pinkhurst was working for Chaucer in the 1380s, and copying the first drafts of Troilus and Criseyde and Boece as described in that poem: “The scribe of Hengwrt and Ellesmere had been Chaucer’s ‘owne scriveyn’ from as early as the mid-1380s.”2 However some scholars have questioned the identification of Pinkhurst with the Adam of the poem, or argued that the poem could have been written much later and that the relationship between Pinkhurst and Chaucer need not have been a longstanding one. Alexandra Gillespie has raised these issues in a recent article, pointing out that the close personal relationship between poet and scribe implied by the naming of Adam as Chaucer’s “owne scriveyn” is based upon a reading of the heading to the poem that is likely to have been composed by the scribe and compiler John Shirley, who copied it into his anthology, now Cambridge, Trinity College MS R.3.20, rather than by Chaucer himself.3 Gillespie argues that the reference to Troilus and Boece, upon which an early date for Pinkhurst’s association with Chaucer depends, need not [End Page 351] refer to specific acts of copying. The reference to these texts in the poem may have been governed by metrical constraints, or because of their concern with questions of mutability. Concluding her reading of this poem in the light of Mooney’s identification, Gillespie writes: “This essay notices that Chaucer does not make the statement that Adam is his ‘owen’ scribe himself; it notices that the poem on which much of Mooney’s argument in her Speculum article depends does not describe a close but rather an ambivalent relationship between Chaucer and ‘Adam’; and it notices that it does not describe the copying of Boece or Troilus in the 1380s, or the Canterbury Tales at any time.”4

The dating of Chaucer’s first employment of Pinkhurst is thus of considerable significance for our understanding of the nature of the relationship between poet and scribe, and for our assessment of the surviving manuscripts copied by Pinkhurst. If the relationship began early on, then the Hengwrt manuscript of the Canterbury Tales, likely the first of the scribe’s extant copies, could have been produced under the poet’s direct supervision following a process of lengthy collaboration, as is suggested by Mooney: “The readings in Hengwrt and Ellesmere, then, are likely the closest we can come in the surviving materials to Chaucer’s own authorial version of the Tales.”5 Even if the poet did not supervise the production of Hengwrt, or the later Ellesmere manuscript, the possibility that Pinkhurst knew of Chaucer’s plans for the work accords special authority to those copies over all other witnesses: “This identification means that he would probably have known the poet’s ideas about The Canterbury Tales as a whole through close contact with him in the late 1380s and 1390s.”6

So how did Chaucer and Pinkhurst meet? Can this important introduction be dated? Mooney suggests that the link between Chaucer and Pinkhurst may have been John Organ, a prominent mercer whose appointment as collector of the customs overlapped with Chaucer’s stint as controller from 1376 to 1386.7 As controller Chaucer was obliged to keep the records in his own hand, but a busy and important official like Organ would certainly have employed a deputy to keep his records on his behalf. Mooney suggests that Pinkhurst, who copied the Mercers’ guild account book during Organ’s period as master of the guild, could have been employed by Organ to copy his accounts at the wool custom. This [End Page 352] presents us with a plausible scenario, although the Mercers’ accounts in Pinkhurst’s hand only begin in 1391, after the time...


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