The Canterbury Tales: Setting & Time Period

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

''The Canterbury Tales,'' written by Geoffrey Chaucer, is a story about a group of people making a pilgrimage to see the shrine of a martyr. During the time of this story, it was the late 14th century, and England was in the midst of turmoil.

The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales, written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the late 14th century, is the story of a group of people on their way to see the shrine of the martyr of Saint Thomas Becket. Although they don't know each other, they decide to travel together. On their travels they tell each other stories and tales to pass the time and to win a free dinner when they are on their way back. The host who proposes this arrangement states that each person in their pilgrimage should tell four tales, two on the way to the shrine and two on the way back. Whoever has the best tales will win, and everyone else must pay for their dinner.

The tales are a variety of lustful tales, stories of wicked men and women, and prose laced with religious themes. There are 31 travelers, but only 24 tales, so people believe that Chaucer never really finished his manuscript.

Before he wrote the novel, Chaucer worked as a soldier and diplomat for the son of King Edward III. Chaucer also worked in other diplomatic and administrative positions that were appointed by the king. He started to write The Canterbury Tales in his last few years of this work, but then he retired and continued writing. He died in 1400, and his work was not published until 1478.


There were three main influences in England during this time period. The first was religion. The church had a large hold on the population. People were required to work church land one to two days a week without pay, keeping them from earning money tilling and farming their own land. Religion was the way of England, and the traditions kept the women in the home and the men out working for king and country. Morality was not always followed by the church, but it was still used as a piece of manipulation, and children were expected by the church, no matter how young the wife was.

Hundred Years' War

During this time, the Hundred Years' War was also in full swing. France and England had been in conflict since 1337, which was costing the country money and men. This was exacerbated because the Black Death had also gone through England killing a large percent of the population, meaning that there were not a lot of men to go around. This affected women like the Wife of Bath in Chaucer's Tales, who went through five husbands.

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