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The Puzzle Of The Prioress


The Prioress, who went by the name of Eglantine, is best remembered on account of Chaucer's remark, "And French she spake full fair and properly, After the school of Stratford-atté-Bow, For French of Paris was to her unknow." But our puzzle has to do less with her character and education than with her dress. "And thereon hung a brooch of gold full sheen, On which was written first a crownéd A." It is with the brooch that we are concerned, for when asked to give a puzzle she showed this jewel to the company and said: "A learned man from Normandy did once give me this brooch as a charm, saying strange and mystic things anent it, how that it hath an affinity for the square, and such other wise words that were too subtle for me. But the good Abbot of Chertsey did once tell me that the cross may be so cunningly cut into four pieces that they will join and make a perfect square; though on my faith I know not the manner of doing it."

It is recorded that "the pilgrims did find no answer to the riddle, and the Clerk of Oxenford thought that the Prioress had been deceived in the matter thereof; whereupon the lady was sore vexed, though the gentle knight did flout and gibe at the poor clerk because of his lack of understanding over other of the riddles, which did fill him with shame and make merry the company."

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