Pilgrims' Responses to Knight's Tale
"Whan that the Knyght had thus his tale ytoold,
In al the route nas ther yong ne oold
That he ne seyde it was a noble storie
And worthy for to drawen to memorie,
And namely the gentils everichon." (I: 3109-13)
Note: "gentils" indicates a crucial estate division between non-noble freemen who rank below the lowest layers of the aristocracy and those "gentilfolk" who rank above it (i.e., here, the Knight, Squire, Prioress, Monk, and perhaps the Second Nun). The "gentils" contended with the nobles to be considered "taste-makers," arbiters of social propriety. The nobles claimed that authority by birth, but the gentils were familiar with the issues, styles, ideas, etc. because of their access to court fashions and language. No true "nobleman" or "noblewoman" rides with the pilgrims, i.e., from the bottom up, the barons and baronesses ("baronet" being a late modern "dumbing down" of nobility), viscounts and viscountesses, earls and countesses, marquesses and marchionesses, dukes and duchesses, princes and princesses, and the king and queen, at the top of the heap. They sometimes appear as characters in tales, but had they chosen to visit Becket's shrine, they would have traveled with their own retinues of tens and hundreds of courtiers.