The Canterbury Tales The Man of Law's Tale
The Man of Law's tale begins with a company of traders making a journey to Rome from Syria. While in Rome, they meet the emperor's daughter, Constance, who was well known through the land for both her beauty and her good nature. When the returned to Syria, they told the Sultan stories of Constance and he immediately became enraptured with her. He desired to marry this wonder-girl, but received bad news from his advisors who told him that a Christian emperor could and would never allow his daughter to marry a Muslim. "Bitwene hir bothe lawes, that they sayn / They trowe that no cristene prince wolde fayn / Wedden his child under oure lawes swete / That us were taught by Mahoun oure prophete." Man of Law's Tale, l.88-91.
Thereupon those words, the Sultan decided to convert to Christianity with his baronets so that he could marry Constance. Upon conversion, the Roman Empire gave Constance to the Sultan in marriage much to her dismay, for she did not wish to live in a foreign country. Constance did accept the marriage, for she believes that women must be subject to men's decisions and rulings.
When the Sultan's mother, the Sultana, hears of Constance's actions, despite her happiness, she sends for her own council to never renounce the Islamic faith. She likens Constance to the biblical character of Eve who tempts others to sinful actions and plan to simply pretend to accept Christianity, meanwhile remaining true to their Muslim faith. They will host a feast celebrating the newly married couple, during which the Sultana will have every attendee killed. The great feast occurred and Constance was the only survivor of the massacre. She was then returned to Italy on a boat with food, but with no methods of navigation.
Constance lived on this small boat for years, surviving on Christian prayer, until it crashed on the shores of Northcumberland. She was found by the warden of a castle near the shores and refused to reveal her true identity to these strangers. The warden and his wife, Dame Hermengild were private pagan worshipers and eventually learned who Constance was from a blind Christian on the beach. Hermengild and her husband became Christians out of fear.
The lord of the castle, Alla king of Northcumberland, however, was at war with the Scots at this time. Influenced by Satan, a young knight fell in love with Constance, despite her refusal of his affections. This knight planned revenge against her one night and broke into her bedroom that she shared with Dame Hermengild. He slit Hermengild's throat and placed the knife next to Constance, framing her for the murder. The warden and Alla returned home to find Hermengild dead. The knight immediately accused Constance of the murder, yet nobody believed her to be guilty. Nonetheless, she was sentenced to death. Constance prayed for a miracle, for she believed herself to be innocent. Alla overheard her prayers and pleas and decided to have the Knight swear on a Bible that Constance is guilty. Upon doing so, he was struck down and his eyes burst. When Alla witnessed such a miracle, he immediately converted to Christianity and sentenced the knight to death instead of Constance.
Alla soon married Constance, much to his mother's, Lady Donegild, dismay. King Alla was away in Scotland soon after the marriage when Constance gave birth to their first child named Mauritius. Lady Donegild intercepted each letter from Constance to Alla and changed the content, stating that their new baby was evil and wicked. Alla returned the letter, vowing to love his child no matter what malevolence he brings, to which Lady Donegild changed that letter with one banishing Constance and the baby to the same boat which brought them to the shores.
Upon King Alla's return to the shores, he murdered his mother for her cruel intentions and malevolence. However, his actions did not save Constance, who was already living in another foreign kingdom where the warden's steward came aboard her ship and attempted to rape her. She was saved by his sudden drowning from the ship, most likely due to her faith in Christ.
The tale returns to the original story of the Sultan and the Sultana of Syria. In response to the massacre of his Christian men in Syria, the Emperor of Rome sent an army to the Sultan. On the way, a leading senator in the Roman army met Constance and brought her back to Rome. However, when she arrived home, nobody remembered her. At the same time, King Alla traveled to Rome to come to terms with the deaths and banishments of his mother and wife. The senator feasted with Alla and Mauritus and recognized him as vaguely familiar. Everyone was reunited with family: Constance with her father, and Alla and Constance who returned to England, and Mauritius (Maurice) who eventually became the emperor of Rome.