Walter, an Italian nobleman, choses for his wife Griselda, the daughter of the poorest peasant in his realm, who agrees not only to marry him, but never to begrudge his slightest wish. A weakness in his character drives Walter to put Griselda to terrible tests: first, he sends away their first child, a daughter, giving the impression that she will be put to death; second, he sends away their second child, a son, giving the same impression; third, he sends her back to her father, telling her that he has decided to marry another, younger woman; fourth, he recalls Griselda to serve as the handmaiden for his new wife.
Griselda says nothing by way of complaint, except to beg Walter not to treat his new wife as harshly as he treated Griselda herself. Finally Walter breaks, admits that the young girl he pretended he was going to marry is actually their daughter, now grown up. He also concedes that his harsh testing of Griselda has been unnecessary, and he compliments Griselda on her perfect patience. They live happily thereafter.
NOTE: The clerk protests several times during the tale that Walter was behaving with unwarranted suspicions of Griselda's obedient nature; he also interprets the tale in an Epilogue, saying that such docile behavior in a real woman would be intolerable.