Things I’ve Learned From The Canterbury Tales Part Two

In the description of the the franklin, one of the pilgrims, I came across a term I’ve skimmed over in the past when I’ve encountered it. I didn’t really have much of an idea of what a knight of the shire was, but the notes of my edition of The Canterbury Tales told me that it was a member of parliament and that Chaucer had been one. So I did a bit of reading.

Two knights were chosen to represent each county at a parliament. They were supposed to be elected, but usually they were chosen by the county’s sheriff. As representatives of people in a certain location, rather than invited directly by the king, they were in the Commons. Parliaments were called by the king, usually when he needed to raise money by means of taxes. They could meet anywhere in the country, depending on where the king was, but Westminster was often its location under Edward III and Richard II.

Chaucer was MP for Kent in the ‘Wonderful Parliament’ from 1 October to 28 November 1386. It met in the chapter house of Westminster Abbey. Chaucer was only an esquire, however, not a knight. Knights weren’t always keen to act as knights of their shires, finding the obligations burdensome. Men like Chaucer, however, who was the son of a merchant and would never be knighted, were often extremely happy to take their place in parliament, since it was a great honour for them. Chaucer was paid 4 shillings a day for attendance and was never an MP again.

The other thing that I learned from the description of the franklin is what an up-and-coming gentleman had for his breakfast. The franklin was fond of a sop in wine for his first meal of the day. A sop was a piece of bread and it was dipped into the wine. This was, apparently not an unusual way for people with the necessary means to break their fasts. The wine would have been fairly weak, as was the ale that people lower down the social scale had with their breakfasts.

The Canterbury Tales ed. Jill Mann
A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corèdon and Ann Williams
The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer by Derek Pearsall

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Life

14 responses to “Things I’ve Learned From The Canterbury Tales Part Two

  1. It was a completely different world back then…

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  2. I think wine and ale safer to drink than water back then.

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  3. As Fraggle says wine was safer so perhaps in these uncertain times we should start having wine for breakfast again. Better safe than sorry…

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  4. The Franklin’s Tale was my set Chaucer A Level text a very long time ago. I’m surprised at how much I can remember about the idea of courtly love, although nothing about bread dipped in wine for breakfast..

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  5. Great details in this post! Using my context clues, is MP short for “knight of the shire”?

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  6. Interesting!!!! That said, I can totally see carving off a hunk of bread, and dipping it in oil/baslamic vinegar with spice mix, for breakfast – however, now I’m brewing ‘small country wines’ on the counter and baking nearly everyday to keep the sourdough from overtaking my counter, I may need to try this way, out – LOL. Yes, I am being silly, in comments – BUT, LOVED the history shared here AND as always, me little brain learns of the past and thinks, “hmm…I’m descended from sturdy, European peasant stock across many regions – including the island known as Britannia – maybe I’ve been doing breakfast all wrong! Lord knows, I can’t stand to smell or “ingest’ fava beans from the mediterannian regions – – ” – – LOL – – Eat according to your inheritanced DNA is my motto – – 🙂

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    • My ancestors would have been drinking barely alcoholic ale with their breakfast, but I don’t think I’m going to walk in those particular footsteps,

      Liked by 1 person

      • yeah – since I’m a lightweight, should I do the same, it would mean a loss of productive activity for the entire day – LOL – fortunately, the ‘small countertop’ wines preserved from local plants and local to me yeasts – well – as long I don’t do ‘modern brewing’ and leave the sediment in – and don’t add copious amounts of sugars to make a high ABV, I believe, perhaps, breakfast of sourdough bread, dipped in fermented plants, (sediment included!) gives one a good dose of daily B & C vitamins, good gut flora and symbiotic yeasts into our systems – – without getting ‘hornswaggled’ before 9am – LOL – – I’ve been running experiments and testing with a refractometer – to see just how fast stuff turns around – how quickly it gets to a higher ABV – smells AND tastes like alcohol, etc., and to me? At this point? I still hearken back to a point made in many ‘traditional’ recipes AND modern brewing articles – – “Fermented beverages were ingested in a time when plain water wasn’t always safe – little did they know, if they had just boiled the water…..” AND the burgeoning industry of brewer’s yeast & probiotic supplements/specialty company offerings – I just always like to learn of the past and ponder – “So, exactly how did my ancestors manage to survive long days of work, minimal nutrition in the winters following bad crop/summer seasons & the black plague and be healthy enough to procreate, too?” – and small ale, daily bread/gruel/porridge (that was often left to soak to the night before, or sprouted in the field when mother nature’s whims interfered with harvest via rain storm, etc.,….). I’m still on the ‘journey of experimenting upon myself” – and maybe, I’ll kill myself with my experiments/trying – Just saying, I do such things, cuz it’s intriguing to me, and I DO appreciate those who share tidbits of history/their family lore, from here, there and yonder – – The NICE thing about doing such things the ‘old-very-old-fashioned’ way is – if it goes ugly, gets bad bacteria into it – it is IMMEDIATELY apparent and no way anyone can stand to smell, much less ingest, even if someone offers them a gazillion astrobucks – LOL – which is more comforting to me then ordering in a whole bunch of ‘modern, sterilized, ‘mixes’ that I have no clue what is in them or when their preservative ‘runs out’ and all hell breaks loose – LOL

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