The Canterbury Tales, a popular folktale of the Anglo-Saxons, is derived from Old English origins. It consists of seven tales set during the period immediately following the death of King Canute. The stories are much different than the works that originally inspired them and were written during the eleventh century. They include “The Treachery of Arthur”, “The Haunting of Hill and Field”, “The Fall of the House of Lancaster”, “The Mystery of the Three-White Dogs”, “The Bishop of Rochester”, and “The Mystery of the Bedlam.”
The first tale in the collection is titled “The Adventure of the Three Friars.” This story takes place in Yorkshire and tells the story of how the three friars live in a poor field. One day, a strange traveler is welcomed into their community. The traveler is apparently a monk of God, named Ulf.
At this time, Britain was ruled by kings, or “the Kings of England” as they were known in the early sixteenth century. They governed over their subjects by virtue of their royal birth. Most of the Kings were descended from the House of Wessex, which was based in Kent. The Royal family had political power, but they were not independent of the state. As a matter of fact, many of the Kings would use the church to support their throne.
Canute, a son of King Ethelbert of Kent, who was killed at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, succeeded to the throne of England. As part of his consolidation of his rule, he imposed Christianity on the entire country.
Canute was forced to resort to his own methods of enforcing his church through canon law. He ordered the breaking of many devotional rules set forth by the Saxons such as the custom of everyday feasting. He also had the abbot of Canterbury exiled for refusing to renounce Christianity.
It was during this time that the three friars in the Canterbury Tales decided to flee to Canterbury to escape the persecution and intolerance that they felt from King Canute. The three men decided to remain in the area until the arrival of Canute’s brother, Eadwig, who was on his way to the throne. Eadwig came and decided to make peace with the Friars.
On his way to the throne, Eadwig stopped at Canterbury to rest. The friars noticed the abbot was missing so they hid him in a cave to await his return. The abbot was still too ill to travel and the friars took him to Eadwig.
When Canute returned from a very long trip to France, he forced the abbot to renounce Christianity. The abbot and several other monks fled to York. Canute ordered that all of the friars be arrested and hanged in order to punish them for fleeing to England. Some of the fourteenth century versions of the Canterbury Tales, the prologue worksheet, and other works were dedicated to these three men.