In the prologue the poet, Chaucer, recounts how he encountered the pilgrims outside a tavern in London and decided to join the group on their pilgrimage to Canterbury.
It was a time when the western winds were bringing April showers that watered the roots of spring flowers. It was a time when the birds returned and began singing. It was a time when people longed to leave their hovels and cottages after a long winter for a little spring vacation. And what better excuse for a vacation than to travel to the shrine of a martyred saint. A popular destination was the shrine of Beckett to pay homage. But the more devout and daring of these people, known as Palmers, sought more distant shrines known in various places in the Holy Land. On their return to England they would present a palm frond as proof of their journey, thus becoming known as Palmers. The name Palmer pops up again in English Literature 200 years later in Edmond Spencer’s epic poem "The Faerie Queen." The poem is a allegory in which the character of Palmer represents Reason. A Palmer also makes an appearance in the 1820 historical novel Ivanhoe set in 12th century England. In the opening scene of that novel a group of knights seek the guidance of a Palmer that has just returned from the Holy Land. Apparently Palmers were known to be guides and well traveled people of the medieval times. So well known in fact that the name made its way into the literature of the day beginning with Chaucer.
Chaucer, a civil servant and poet, became known as the Father of English Literature. In the Youtube link below you can hear the reference to the well-traveled Palmers and hear how Middle English sounded way back in the day. Enjoy.