The Canterbury Tales The Clerk's Tale
The Clerk's tale opens with an extensive description of the Italian base of a mountain called Saluzzo. There lived a marquis named Walter who refused to marry until his townspeople convinced him to do so on one condition. He planned to choose his own wife and everyone must accept her with as high esteem as an emperor's daughter, despite her class or wealth. "Lat me allone in chesynge of my wyf, / That charge upon my bak I wole endure; / But I yow preye, and charge upon youre lyf / That what wyf that I take, ye me assure / To worshipe hir, whil that hir lyf may dure, / In word and werk, bothe heere and everywheere, / As she an emperoures doghter weere. Clerk's Tale, l.106-112.
One day while hunting, Walter stumbled upon Griselde, the humble daughter of Janicula, and he realized that he had found his wife. She was beautiful, virtuous, charitable, and courageous, and could pass for any nobility. On his wedding day, much to the town's surprise, Walter visited Janicula to ask for Griselde's hand in marriage. They were wed and Griselde's virtue spread throughout Saluzzo, as she gave birth to a baby girl. Soon after the child's birth, Walter decided to test his wife, for although he loved her, the public did not see the child's nobility and wished her dead. He told everyone that the baby was dead, secretly sending her to live with his sister, the Countess of Panago, in Bologna. Walter felt pity for his grieving wife and they soon gave birth to a boy, replacing the loss of the previous baby. Again Walter gave her the test and sent the child away because of its lack of supposed nobility. She said that she would agree to its death only if it would please him and she gave up all rights to her motherhood.
Walter continued to come up with more tests for his wife's loyalty, much to the public's surmise. They could not believe his harsh treatment of his wife and thought him a murderer of his own children. Walter next decided to present Griselde with a fake papal bull declaring Walter's necessity to take on a new wife. Griselde, once again, accepted her fate and protested her love for the marquis, solely requesting her dignity upon exodus from the palace. He did not even allow her clothing and she silently left the palace to return home with her father, naked and embarrassed.
Walter's sister, the Countess of Panago came to Saluzzo with Griselde's two children, alive. Griselde received a message from Walter of his new wedding and requested her to plan the event. Again, she complied with his wishes, for the new wife was more fair and virtuous than even she. Walter then revealed the truth. The supposed new wife was the first baby girl and that he was only testing Griselde's loyalty throughout the years. Griselde returned to the palace as Walter's wife and the two children were returned to their original parents, where the family now treated each other with respect and kindness.
The Clerk claims that the moral to his tale lies in the fact that he believes all women should be as steadfast and loyal as Griselde. Yet, they do not have to suffer necessarily to the extent that Griselde did over the years with Walter.