The Black Ellesmere Shipman

Chaucer describes the Shipman in the General Prologue The Canterbury Tales as possibly from Dartmouth in Devon, as armed with a dagger, as lacking a “nice” conscience, and as experienced in the weathers, harbors, and tides from Sweden to Spain. He also describes him as brown from the sun, “The hoote somer hadde maad his hewe al broun” (CT, I, 394). The Ellesmere portraitist follows Chaucer in depicting the dagger, which hangs from a strap about his neck so that it is directly under his arm and easy to grab (Figure 1). He also depicts the Shipman as dark or black. Rather than the fair or brown hair that the other pilgrims have, he gives the Shipman tightly curled black hair and a forked curly black beard.