What answer to the Queen's riddle is the knight given in "The Wife of Bath's Tale"?

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A knight must find the answer to the Queen's riddle: What do women desire most in all the world? If he doesn't, then he'll be executed as a rapist and will lose his head on the block. The knight has no choice, then, but to venture far and wide in...

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A knight must find the answer to the Queen's riddle: What do women desire most in all the world? If he doesn't, then he'll be executed as a rapist and will lose his head on the block. The knight has no choice, then, but to venture far and wide in his epic quest to keep his head where nature intended it. He traverses the length and breadth of the kingdom, stopping numerous women along the way, young and old, to ask them what it is that women desire most of all.

Unfortunately for the knight he gets several different answers from the women he asks. Some say women want money most of all, others say sex. Still others insist that happiness is the thing, whereas others are equally adamant that it's good looks, remarriage, flattery, or the freedom to do as one pleases.

It's not looking good for the knight as he approaches an ugly old crone, who promises to give him the answer to his question on condition that he pledge himself to her. The knight reluctantly agrees, and the hag accompanies him to the royal court, where she reveals to the assembled throng the answer to the Queen's riddle. What woman want most of all is to be in charge of their husbands and lovers.

To the knight's horror, the old hag then asks her to marry him. He duly obliges, but is far from happy about it. On their wedding night, the knight's new wife asks him whether he'd prefer a wife who was ugly and loyal or pretty and unfaithful. The knight ponders for a while before choosing the first option, whereupon the ugly old crone turns into a beautiful young woman.

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In "The Wife of Bath's Tale," a young knight is facing being beheaded after raping a maiden. At the queen's suggestion, his life will be spared if he can solve her riddle:

What is the thing that women most desire?
Beware the axe and say as I require.

She provides him time to consider his answer, and he goes off in search of the truth. This proves quite difficult, for he can't find a place "in country or town in which there seemed to be / Any two people willing to agree." Women give him answers ranging from wealth, honor, and pleasure, to gorgeous clothes, fun sex, and numerous husbands. He finally comes upon a group of ladies dancing, but when he approaches, they all dissolve into one old woman. Desperate, he decides to ask for her insights.

The old woman assures him that she knows the solution to the riddle but makes him promise to do whatever she asks in return for the knowledge. He agrees. When the two appear at court, the young knight provides the answer to the riddle: Women want power over their husbands.

The queen acknowledges that this is the correct answer. Staying true to his promise, the young knight does what is next asked of him by the old woman: he marries her. This sets up a riveting ending, proving that the knight has learned from the lesson of the riddle and has transformed from the man who initially took advantage of a maiden.

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Canterbury Tales by Geoffery Chaucer was written in 1392, but not published until 1475.  It is a compilation of 24 captivating tales.  One of the most famous is "The Wife of Bath's Tale." The story is one of crime, punishment, penance, and karma.

The crime consists of a young lady being raped by one of the King's less-than-noble knights.  His punishment is determined not by the King, but by the Queen. She gives the knight one year and a day to come up with the correct answer to her question. His penance is to fulfill a promise to the woman who finally supplies him with the elusive answer. 

The Queen's question was, "What is it that women most desire?" The knight diligently sought the answer from a wide variety of fair maidens.  

The answer, "A wife most desires sovereignty over her husband" was supplied by an ugly hag who demanded the knight marry her in exchange for the answer to the riddle.

The knight was relieved to be able to supply the Queen with the correct answer, even if it meant that his "blushing bride" would be an unsightly crone.  However, karma stood true.  Once he submitted and accepted his wife, she became a truly stunning maiden and they lived a full and happy life.

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