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The Canterbury Tales: Novel Summary: The Sergeant-at-law's tale

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The Sergeant-at-law's tale

The Sergeant-at-law learned a tale about the evils and woes of poverty from a merchant friend who had died. 
Syrian merchants decided to travel to Rome, and they lived in Rome for a while, until they learned about the Roman Emperor's lovely daughter Constance.  The virtue and beauty of Constance was well known, and the Syrian merchants related her beauty to the Sultan of Syria when they returned from Rome.  The Sultan of Syria fell instantly in love with her.  The lovesick Sultan decided to become baptized in order to win her favor, and then he married Constance. 
On her way to Syria, Constance wept with fear and sadness because she had to leave her family. 
The Sultan's mother, angry at her son's betrayal of his religion, plots to destroy her son by pretending to be Christian.  The Sultan's mother invites her son and daughter-in-law to a feast, and kills everyone there, except for Constance.  The supporters of the sultan's mother send Constance off in a boat with some food and clothes, but no companions.  Constance floats for a long time and lives off the food stored in the boat.  Constance finally landed in Northumberland England.  The governor of the castle area rescues her, but she hides her identity, pretending that the long voyage has caused amnesia.  Constance befriends the governor's wife, Lady Hermengyld, and converts the lady to Christianity.  Lady Hermengyld hides this from her husband until Constance urges her to tell him, at which point he converts as well. 
An evil young knight of the area falls in love with Constance, and because her purity is strong, he frames her for Lady Hermengyld's murder that he commits.  The knight places the knife in Constance's hand, and she is brought to trial before the king.  She pleads her innocence even as the knight lies to convict her. The king asks the knight to swear on a bible that Constance is guilty, and when he does, he is killed instantly.  The crowd and the king convert to Christianity on the spot.  The king then marries Constance. 
The king's mother, Donegild, plots to destroy Constance.  Meanwhile, Constance has a child and names him Maurice.  A messenger sends an announcement of the birth to Donegild, who changes the contents of the letter to say that the child is grotesque and devilish, and sends the letter to her son the king, who has been away.  The king weeps, but decides to treat his wife and child well until he can return to visit them.  Donegild ruins this letter as well, writing that Constance should be banished.  Constance is sent on a ship with more provisions than the last ship, but with only she and her son.
The king returned home soon after Constance was banished, and after weeping for the loss of his wife and child, has his mother Donegild killed.  The king is filled with grief.  Meanwhile, Constance and her son arrive in another town, and a castle sentry attacks them, but he is drowned when he struggles with Constance, by the protection of God.
Meanwhile, the Emperor, Constance's father, takes revenge on the Syrians and wages a bloody war.  One of his senators comes across Constance's boat, and rescues her, and takes she and her son back to Rome to live a prosperous life.  Constance's husband comes to Rome to ask forgiveness for killing his mother Donegild, and he is invited to dinner with the Senator where he is reunited with Constance, and she realizes that he was not to blame for her exile, and Constance is reunited with her father.  Maurice eventually becomes Emperor of Rome.
Her husband and she live happily for only a short time, because he dies soon after they are reunited. 

 The Canterbury Tales Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


 The Canterbury Tales Study Guide (Choose to Continue)

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