The Sompnour, or Summoner, who, according to
the party of
pilgrims, was an officer whose duty was to summon delinquents to appear
in ecclesiastical courts.
In later times he became known as the
Our particular individual was a somewhat quaint
"He was a gentle hireling and a kind; A better fellow should a man
In order that the reader may understand his
picture, it must be explained that his peculiar headgear is duly
by the poet.
"A garland had he set upon his head, As great as if it
for an ale-stake."
One evening ten of the company
stopped at a
village inn and
be put up for the night, but mine host could only accommodate five of
The Sompnour suggested that they should draw lots, and as he had
had experience in such matters in the summoning of juries and in other
ways, he arranged the company in a circle and proposed a "count
Being of a chivalrous nature, his little plot was so to arrange that
men should all fall out and leave the ladies in possession.
gave the Wife of Bath a number and directed her to count round and
the circle, in a clockwise direction, and the person on whom that
fell was immediately to step out of the ring.
The count then began
at the next person.
But the lady misunderstood her instructions, and
selected in mistake the number eleven and started the count at
As will be found, this resulted in all the women falling out in turn
instead of the men, for every eleventh person withdrawn from the circle
is a lady.
"Of a truth it was no fault of
mine," said the
day to the
company, "and herein is methinks a riddle.
Can anyone tell me what number
the good Wife should have used withal, and at which pilgrim she should
have begun her count so that no other than the five men should have
Of course, the point is to find the smallest number that
will have the desired effect.