Mini Middle English Tutorial

(Caxton’s Canterbury Tales)

Below is a Daniel Maclise oil painting of English merchant and printer William Caxton showing the first specimen of his printing to King Edward IV of England at the Almonry, Westminster Abbey. The “Almonry” was the building where William Caxton rented his printing shop on the grounds of the Westminister Abbey church in central London, England.

Painting of Caxton and King Edward IV by Daniel Maclise

On a British Library website there is a section on William Caxton—who is responsible for producing the first book printed in English. (On this “Fun Trivia” web page, you will see comments regarding the first book “published” in England versus the first book “printed” in English.)

William Caxton was born in Kent, England, about 20 years after Geoffrey Chaucer died in 1400, by estimates. Caxton published the first edition of The Canterbury Tales around 1476. Later, around the year 1483, Caxton published a second edition of The Canterbury Tales.

Caxton added “woodcuts” to this second edition, and made mostly minor changes to it; though some of the changes to the second edition effected the order in which the Tales are presented.

You can view the first and second editions of Caxton’s The Canterbury Tales separately—or you can compare them side-by-side—on this special British Library web page.

In 2002, a team from Keio University in Tokyo, Japan, digitally-photographed the pages of rare British Library first- and second-edition copies of The Canterbury Tales—that you can see on the special British Library page linked-to above.