To telle yow al the condicioun
Of ech of hem, so as it semed me,
And whiche they weren and of what degree,
And eek in what array that they were inne;
And at a Knyght than wol I first bigynne.

from Geoffrey Chaucer – The Canterbury Tales (General Prologue) on Rap Genius

Meaning

The ordering of Chaucer’s pilgrims has produced a number of boring-ass theories.

Before The Canterbury Tales, there was a tradition of Estates Satire (essentially satirizing lords, priests etc.) in mediaeval times. Jill Mann, in Chaucer and the Mediaeval Estates Satire, says that Chaucer avoids the traditional order for this, which would run clergy, then laity, then women.

Michael Alexander, in Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, identifies the following organization:

1. Military

Knight, Squire, Yeoman

2. Clergy

Prioress, Monk, Friar

3. Bourgeois

Merchant, Clerk, Sergeant of the Law, Franklin, Five Guildsmen, Cook, Shipman, Doctor of Physic,
Wife of Bath

4. Petty Bourgeois

Miller, Manciple, Reeve

6. Church Officers

Summoner, Pardoner

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