Canterbury Tales: The Story of the Summoner

Summoners were agents of the courts of the church ("ecclesiastical courts") who summoned people to come to court when charges were filed against them. Because people were afraid of such charges, summoners could extort money from them, pretending that charges had been brought and accepting a bribe to buy their silence. The story you are about to read is about one such corrupt summoner. The pilgrim telling this story is a friar (this is "The Friar's Tale"), and another one of the pilgrims is a summoner, so you can imagine he is none too happy with this story about his profession.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Canterbury Tales unit. Story source: The Chaucer Story Book by Eva March Tappan (1908).

The Friar's Tale:
The Story of the Summoner

NOW it came to pass one day that a summoner wanted a little money, so he set out to summon an old widow. As he rode along by the forest, he saw riding before him a gay young yeoman with bright new bow and arrows. He wore a short coat of black and a hat with black fringe.

"Sir," said the summoner, "greeting and good cheer to you."

"Welcome," returned the stranger, "to you and to every good fellow and true. Whither go you under this green shade? Do you ride far today?"

"Oh, no," the summoner answered, "I am only going right here to collect a rent for my lord."

"Ah, you are a bailiff then?"

"Yes, truly," he replied, for he was ashamed to own that he was a summoner.

Then are we both bailiffs," said the yeoman. "I am a stranger in this part of the country, and I shall be glad of your acquaintance, and of your brotherhood, too, if so be you are of like wish. If you ever chance to come into my shire, you will find that I have plenty of gold and silver in my chest, and whatever of it you may need shall be your own, I promise you that."

The summoner thanked the stranger heartily. The two men grasped each other's hands and vowed to be sworn brethren to the last day of their lives, and then they rode on, talking pleasantly together.

The summoner was full of chatter, and he was never done with his questioning. "Brother," he asked, "where do you live? Where should I look for you if I would find you some other day?"

The yeoman replied to him smoothly and politely. "Far in the north country," he said, "where I hope, my brother, I shall some time see you. Before we separate, I will tell you the way so carefully that you will never miss my house."

Then the summoner introduced a new subject. "Now, brother," said he, "since you are a bailiff as well as I, I beg you to tell me some trick that will help me to get the most money from my office. No matter whether it is right or wrong, but tell me as a brother how you manage matters."

"Now by my truth, dear brother," replied the other, "I will tell you an honest tale. My lord is stingy and close-fisted, and I have a hard place. Therefore I live by getting just as much from every man as he can be made to give. I get my pay either by trick or by force, but I get it, you may depend upon that."

"That is my way, too," said the summoner. "I take everything I can lay hold of unless it is too heavy or too hot. I could not live in any other way, and there's one thing more: I won't tell of this in confession. We are well met, I am sure, but, dear brother, tell me your name, I pray."

The yeoman smiled a queer little smile. "Brother," said he, "do you really want me to tell you? Then here it is — I am a fiend, and my dwelling-place is hell. I am riding about to gather in whatever I can, for this is all my income. You don't care how you get your money, and neither do I. I would ride to the end of the earth for my prey."

"Ah," said the summoner, "how is this? I certainly thought you were a yeoman. You have a man's form as much as I. Do you have a form when you are at home in hell?"

"No, we have none there," the fiend replied, "but we can take one whenever we choose, or we can make any one think that we have the form of a man or an ape, or an angel for that matter. That is northing wonderful. A common juggler can cheat you, and surely I have more skill than he."

(700 words)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments for Google accounts; you can also contact me at