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Main > English folktales > Fairy tale "King John and the Abbot of Canterbury"

King John and the Abbot of Canterbury

In the reign of King John there lived an Abbot of Canterbury who kept up grand state in his Abbey. A hundred of the Abbot's men dined each day with him in his refectory, and fifty knights in velvet coats and gold chains waited upon him daily. Well, King John, as you know, was a very bad king, and he couldn't brook the idea of any one in his kingdom, however holy he might be, being honoured more than he. So he summoned the Abbot of Canterbury to his presence.

The Abbot came with a goodly retinue, with his fifty knights-at-arms in velvet cloaks and gold chains. The King went to meet him, and said to him, "How now, father Abbot? I hear it of thee, thou keepest far greater state than I. This becomes not our royal dignity, and savours of treason in thee."

"My liege," quoth the Abbot, bending low, "I beg to say that all I spend has been freely given to the Abbey out of the piety of the folk. I trust your Grace will not take it ill that I spend for the Abbey's sake what is the Abbey's."

"Nay, proud prelate," answered the King, "all that is in this fair realm of England is our own, and thou hast no right to put me to shame by holding such state. However, of my clemency I will spare thee thy life and thy property if you can answer me but three questions."

"I will do so, my liege," said the Abbot, "so far as my poor wit can extend."

"Well, then," said the King, "tell me where is the centre of all the world round; then let me know how soon can I ride the whole world about; and, lastly, tell me what I think."

"Your Majesty jesteth," stammered the Abbot.

"Thou wilt find it no jest," said the King. "Unless thou canst answer me these questions three before a week is out, thy head will leave thy body;" and he turned away.

Well, the Abbot rode off in fear and trembling, and first he went to Oxford to see if any learned doctor could tell him the answer to those questions three; but none could help him, and he took his way to Canterbury, sad and sorrowful, to take leave of his monks.

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