Facts in The Canterbury Tales

The General Prologue - The General Prologue 1
" Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,..."   (The General Prologue - The General Prologue)

Zephyr is the Greco-Roman god for the west wind, one of four directional wind gods in Greco-Roman mythology. He is generally winged, handsome, and young in artistic depictions. The god is generally portrayed as the personification of spring, holding or associated with unripe fruit. “Sweet breath” here refers to a wind commanded by Zephyr. By characterizing this breath as “sweet,” Chaucer creates an implicit connection between Zephyr blowing and spring approaching.

"white and red..."   (The General Prologue - The Squire)

White and red are a reference to Saint George’s cross, a red cross on a white background that crusaders adopted on their flags. Saint George was the warrior saint. If this squire is “embroidered” “white and red” it means that he bears the cross of Saint George on his uniform.

"Flanders, in Artois, and Picardy,..."   (The General Prologue - The Squire)

Flanders, Artois, and Picardy are provinces in Northern France. This reference suggests that the Squire has been on military expeditions. However, it also shows that he has not gone as far as his father, the Knight. Whereas the previous description focused on the honor, chivalry, and military prowess of the Knight, this description focuses more on the youth, strength, and beauty of the young squire.

" him there was his son, a youthful squire..."   (The General Prologue - The Squire)

In the military order of the feudal system, a squire is a knight’s attendant who ranks just below the knight. A squire was usually a young man of good birth who would eventually rise to the position of a knight. The “his” here refers to the Knight that the Narrator has just introduced. The squire is his son.

"On breast a Christopher of silver sheen..."   (The General Prologue - The Yeoman)

A medallion of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers. In legend, Christopher carried child Christ across a river, thus earning his name, which literally means "Christ carrier." Pilgrims and travelers often wore medallions of St. Christopher to incur his blessing on their journeys.

"very dignified appear..."   (The General Prologue - The Prioress)

Here the narrator focuses most of his description on the Prioress' table manners rather than traits of her religious devotion. Some have suggested that the Prioress' upper class etiquette suggests that she was a daughter of a noble family who was sent to a nunnery when she was unable to get married. In focusing on her upper class upbringing rather than her religious devotion, Chaucer satirizes this social practice.

"French..."   (The General Prologue - The Prioress)

French was the language of culture and law until about 1300, at which point English displaced it. The Prioress' ability to speak French demonstrates both learning and upper class culture.

"Hubert..."   (The General Prologue - The Friar)

The Friar is the only pilgrim besides the Wife of Bath who is given a first name. Hubert was an unusual name in Chaucer's time. Scholars remain puzzled and divided as to why Chaucer decided to name this character.

"He would the sea were held at any cost..."   (The General Prologue - The Merchant)

This means he wants the sea to be protected from pirates at any cost, since they negatively affect his profits. Middleburgh is a trading port in Holland that traded often with Orwell, its counterpoint in England. Chaucer uses this description to show that the Merchant is most concerned with trade and profits.

"That on his shin a deadly sore had he..."   (The General Prologue - The Cook)

In the 14th Century, when The Canterbury Tales is set, England suffered from the Black Death, also known as the bubonic plague, which claimed an estimated 200 million lives. The Cook's leg sore would've been indication enough that he was dying and would likely have infected some if not all of the other pilgrims on this journey before it ended.

"parson..."   (The General Prologue - The Parson)

A parson was a priest of an independent church. While vicars were priests that were monetarily supported by the Roman Catholic Church, a parson gained his revenue from the contributions of his parishioners.

"white coat and blue hood..."   (The General Prologue - The Miller)

In the 1300s peasants and members of the working class wore blue hoods because blue dye was cheaper and more easily accessible. Notice that this description of the Miller differs from previous descriptions of higher ranking characters. Where the narrator focused on details of dress at the beginning of the prologue, his description of the Miller is more concerned with facial features and strength rather than is clothing.

" ram...."   (The General Prologue - The Miller)

A ram was often a prize given to the winner of a wrestling match. Notice that most of the Miller's prologue demonstrates his strength rather than his wit.

"manciple..."   (The General Prologue - The Manciple)

The "Inns of Court" are four institutions that are responsible for legal education in London. A Manciple is an officer or public servant who is in charge of buying food and provisions for a college, Inn of Court, monastery etc.

"summoner..."   (The General Prologue - The Summoner)

In the 1300s, the Catholic Church would hire a summoner to call sinners before an ecclesiastic court. These spiritual crimes could be anything from adultery to heresy, and generally courts would excommunicate those found guilty.

"bridle reins..."   (The Knight’s Tale)

A bridle is a mechanism used to direct a horse. It consists of a metal piece that goes between a horse's teeth and a pair of straps that the horse's rider holds. By pulling the straps left or right the rider can direct the horse, and by pulling directly back the rider can stop the horse. This line simply means that the women will not stop crying until the riders stop their horses.

"bragget or as mead..."   (The Miller’s Tale)

The Blazon was a poetic tradition of the chivalric romance that defined a woman's perfection by focusing on each part of her body and comparing it to something pure. For example, her skin as white as snow. Here, the Miller uses the same poetic catalogue to describe the carpenter's wife. However, instead of comparing her to pure or elegant things, he compares her to common items associated with the low classes, such as mead.

"Saint Thomas..."   (The Wife of Bath’s Prologue)

In Catholicism, Saint Thomas the Apostle was one of Jesus's 12 Apostles. He initially doubted that Christ had been resurrected after his crucifixion. After making a confession of faith Thomas witnessed Jesus's body and was reaffirmed in his belief. This caused him to travel as far as India preaching the gospel and baptizing converts.

"HOLD..."   (The Nun’s Priest’s Prologue)

In the original order of the Canterbury Tales, "The Nun's Priest's Prologue" comes after the "Monk's Tale." The Monk's tale consists of 17 short, tragic stories based on historical events. Though the Monk claims that he has 100 stories to tell, the Knight stops him here because his stories were too sad. This once again establishes the Knight as the arbitrator and leader of the pilgrims, and demonstrates Chaucer's favorable attitude towards him.