The Aristocrat's World

Back to the Home Page

Chaucer & His World
The Aristocratic World
The Churl's World
The Clerk's World
The Townsperson's World
A Woman's World
Discussion Points
Theory & Genre
How to Guide
To listen to the characters and read the medieval text (with modern translation) - requires Flash Player 6 , and either a set of headphones or speakers.


Introduction - Aristocratic World

This is the first of two pages. This page contains descriptions of each character, and a plot summary of the tales associated with each one (if they exist). If you click on the notepad symbol, you will hear Chaucer's description, as given in the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales (in a modern translation) a transcript of the reading is also provided as well as the original medieval text for comparison.

The second page contains background information about the aristocratic world as well as a collection of associated images.


The Knight - The Squire - The Yeoman - *The Man of Law

*The Man of Law, an Inn-trained lawyer, worked in both rural and urban locations, for local lords and for town councils and citizens, and could just as easily be included in the 'town' section.


The Knight

Listen to the Knight and read the text Listen and Read

The knight has served his lord in Europe, and on crusade - he has fought at Alexandria, in Lithuania, Prussia and Russia, in Spain and North Africa. He has fought in fifteen battles and three duels, and killed his enemy every time. Though he is distinguished, he is prudent and humble, loving chivalry and honour, truth and courtesy - he has never been rude to anyone in his life. He wears a tunic of coarse cloth, stained by the rust from his coat of mail, and he rides a good (but not richly dressed) horse - he has just arrived from his latest campaign.

The Knight's Tale

The Knight’s Tale is the story of Palamon and Arcite, two royal Theban youths pulled out of a heap of corpses when Duke Theseus of Athens destroys their city. Theseus takes them back to Athens, with his wife Hippolyta and her sister Emelye, and imprisons them both for life in a tower. One day each of them sees and falls in love with Emelye. From being sworn brothers, they become sworn enemies. Arcite is eventually released, but he cannot bear to be without Emelye, so he returns to Athens as a servant. His military qualities are such that he rises to be squire of Theseus’s chamber. Palamon escapes, and accidentally meets Arcite, who challenges him to fight for Emelye. By chance, Theseus sees the pair fighting whilst out hunting, and orders them to gather one hundred followers each, to fight in a tournament. The winner will marry Emelye. The tournament takes place, and Arcite is the winner, but the god Saturn causes his horse to stumble, fatally wounding Arcite, who later dies. Some time later, Palamon is married to Emelye by Theseus, and returned to Thebes as its ruler.

Go to Discussion points Discussion Points
Go to theory & Genre Theory and Genre - 1 | 2

(Castle Rising, Norfolk, at one time prison to Isabella, widow of Edward II and mother of Edward III

Back to the top of the page

The Squire

Listen to the transcript and read the text Listen and Read

The squire is the knight's son, twenty years old, full of life and madly in love - so much so that he doesn't sleep much. He is courteous and lowly, serving his father at table, and he has fought in Flanders and Northern France, for the love of his lady. He wears a short gown embroidered with flowers, with long, wide sleeves (very fashionable), and his curly hair looks as if it has been pressed. He rides well and looks good on a horse, and can dance, sing and write songs.

The Squire's Tale

The Squire’s Tale is an exotic story concerning the visit of a strange messenger to the court of King Cambyuskan (Genghis Khan). The messenger brings gifts of a brass horse, a mirror which can show whether the holder is friend or foe and will show a woman who holds it the identity of her future husband, and a magic ring which enables the wearer to hear the language of birds. The ring is given to Canace, the king’s daughter, who goes out into the forest wearing it. She meets a hawk, who tells her of her treatment at the hands of an unfaithful and cruel lover. Canace comforts her, and then the tale is broken off

Go to Discussion points Discussion Points
Go to Theory & Genre Theory and Genre

Bird Women Howden

go to the top of the page

The Yeoman

Listen to the Yeoman and read the text Listen and Read

The yeoman is the squire's servant, and has been into battle with him. He carries a sheaf of well-made peacock feathered arrows, a dagger and a small shield and a large bow, and he wears an archer's arm-guard. He also carries a horn, so Geoffrey thinks he is a forester. His hair is closely cropped, his face brown, and he wears a green coat, with a silver image of St. Christopher on his chest.

He does not tell a tale.

Go to theory and Genre Theory and Genre

St Sebastian shot to death by 15th-century English longbowmen, wearing their padded tunics, or 'jakkes'

Back to the top of the page

The Man of Law

Listen to the transcript and Read the text. Listen and Read

The Man of Law is prudent and wise - he is in demand at St. Paul's porch. There is no busier man anywhere, though he seems busier than he is - he is an assize judge, by patent of the king. He is full of excellence, judicious and very dignified. By means of his knowledge he has gained many fees and robes. There is no greater land-buyer anywhere, and he has managed to gain all his land in freehold. He has a yearbook with all case law since William I's time, and he can draw up absolutely flawless legal documents; he knows every statute by heart. He rides by himself, in a parti-coloured coat, with a belt of striped silk.

The Man of Law's Tale

In The Man of Law’s Tale, a group of Syrian merchants return to their Sultan from Rome, telling him of the beauty of the emperor’s daughter, Constance. The Sultan determines to marry her, and becomes Christian in order that her father will agree to this. An unwilling Constance travels to Syria, but the Sultan’s mother arranges for the Sultan and all who will not become Muslims to be killed at the wedding feast. Constance is set adrift in a boat, and is washed ashore in Northumbria, where she is given shelter by the local constable and his wife, Hermengild. She will not say who she is. Hermengild is murdered by a knight who wishes to seduce Constance, and she is blamed for the death. Brought before King Aella for trial, she is saved by a miracle, and the knight is struck dead. Aella himself marries her, and they have a son, named Maurice. Then Aella’s mother arranges for the king to be told that the child is monstrous, and to appear to order Constance’s further exile. She is cast adrift again, and this time is cast ashore back in her native Italy, where she is rescued by a senator and his wife. They do not recognise Constance, although she is their niece. Constance arranges for Maurice to attend a feast given by her father, and he recognises the family likeness. King Aella is the guest of honour, and he is reunited with his wife and son. Soon afterwards, Aella dies, and Constance remains with her friends in Rome for the rest of her life. Her son Maurice becomes emperor on the death of her father.

Go to Discussion points Discussion points
Go to theory and genre Theory and Genre

On to the next page...

Back to the top of the page

The Aristocratic World
The Churl's World
The Clerk's World
The Townspeople's world
A Woman's World
Chaucer and his world