Medieval English Poetry
Geoffrey Chaucer: Canterbury Tale from the Man of Law
14th century, Middle English. Numerous printed copies.
The senator’s wife was her aunt, although she did not recognise Constance and indeed had no idea who she was.
Ten years have elapsed since Constance was first set upon the sea in an open boat without sail or provisions. But –
Now let us stinte of Custance but a throw and speke we of the Romain Emperour, that out of Surrie hath by lettres knowe the slaughtre of Cristen folk... – but let us leave Constance for a moment and speak of the Emperor of Rome. He has learned by the transmission of letters from Syria of the dreadful slaughter of the Christians and the dishonour done to his daughter Constance by the wicked sultaness. For which reason this Emperor quickly sent his senator with royal instructions, and with many other great lords, God knows, to take vengeance upon the Syrians. They burned, killed and brought many Syrians to grief; but having vented their spleen sufficiently, they made ready to sail homewards again to Rome.
This senator sailed home in victory and met, as the story says, a drifting boat in which the Emperor’s daughter Constance was sitting in great discomfort and distress. He had no idea who this woman was, nor why she was drifting alone in a boat, and she refused to tell him her name. So the senator brought her to Rome and gave her to his wife, along with her young son, and with the senator she led her life. She lived for a long time with the senator and his wife, doing good and working hard. The senator’s wife was her aunt, although she did not recognise Constance and indeed, had no idea who she really was.