Coinage and other measurements

There are many references to medieval coinage in The Pardoner's Prologue and Tale:

  • ‘An hundred mark' was £66.66, a large sum of money in Chaucer's time (l.102)
  • ‘pens' were pennies (l.114)
  • ‘florins' were gold coins worth a third of a pound (a large amount in the fourteenth century) (l.482)
  • ‘nobles' were gold, like florins, also worth one third of a pound (l.619)
  • ‘sterlinges' were silver pence (we still have the word ‘sterling')
  • A ‘grote' was a silver coin worth four pence (l.657)
  • ‘busshels': a bushel was a unit of measurement, equal to 36.6 litres or eight gallons (l.483)

The love of money

CoinsThe Pardoner talks openly of making money, subverting the idea of genuine Christian donations to the charitable work of the church (an ‘offre in Goddes name' l.98) into a scam to fund himself. He encourages the pilgrims to ‘offren … nobles or pens'. Chaucer is scathing in his depiction of the Pardoner's greed in The General Prologue, highlighting his lack of concern for the poor people he fleeces:

‘ … with thise relikes, whan that he fond
A povre person dwelling upon lond,
Upon a day he gat him moore moneye
Than that the person gat in monthes tweye;' (GP l.33-6)

The Pardoner's entire narrative is a demonstration of how he seeks to ‘wynne' money, illustrating the ‘coveitise' or avarice of both his characters and himself.

The attraction of wealth is reinforced by the presentation of the treasure found by the rioters in the Tale (l.482-7):

‘florins fine of gold, y-coined rounde … so faire and brighte',

It is a ‘precious hoord' and desire for the ‘tresor' quickly overpowers the youths. 

The Pardoner seems to echo his characters' lust for wealth, calling for an offering of:

‘nobles or sterlinges,
Or elles silver brooches, spoones, ringes.' (l.619-20)

Even his fellow pilgrim, the Friar, is depicted in The Summoner's Tale as only asking for a penny or half penny.

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