There was once a Knight named Arveragus in the land of Brittany. He was brave and prosperous and he wished to make his life complete by taking a suitable wife. He decided to marry a fair maiden named Dorigen, provided she would make a vow with him that they would respect each other and practice patience towards each other’s behavior and words.
After they were married, the Knight had to travel to distant lands in order to obtain more wealth. In his absence, his wife Dorigen soon became depressed and mourned her husband’s absence. She felt lonely in her castle on the coast of rocky France and she would spend many an hour contemplating life while gazing at the waves crashing on the rocks at the foot of the cliff. Her wealthy neighbor often invited her to join in the parties that he hosted, but she always refused until one day in May she was persuaded to attend a picnic.
Aurelius, the neighbor, decided he would confess his love for Dorigen, but she repelled his advances. However, he was persistent and in a joke, she said should would agree to his advances if he could remove all the rocks from the coast of Brittany. Despondent, Aurelius prayed to Apollo to send a flood to cover the rocks. Eventually, Arveragus returned home and husband and wife were happy again in each other’s company.
Meanwhile, Aurelius’ brother new of a man who had deciphered a book of magic and on payment of '1,000 would cast a spell that would clear the coast of rocks. The deed was performed and Aurelius asked Dorigen to keep her promise. She was much grieved at this outcome and confided in her husband what had happened. The noble Knight told his wife that she must keep her promise even though it was made in jest, and this would deeply grieve and wound him. However, Aurelius, hearing of the sacrifice and nobility of Arveragus could not force himself to take Dorigen, and he sent the woman back to her husband.
Aurelius then found that he did not have enough gold to pay the '1,000, but the brother’s friend, learning that the bargain was not completed, forgave Aurelius the debt.
The Franklin poses the question at the end – Who was the finest gentleman in the story?