Stothard's picture of the Canterbury Pilgrims was commissioned by Robert Cromek (1770-1812) in 1806 and was inspired by The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400). It aroused the lasting resentment of William Blake (1757-1827), who understood Cromek to have commissioned Stothard after seeing a sketch of the subject in his studio; he accused Cromek and Stothard of exploiting his own ideas. Stothard in turn was offended and the affair led to a permanent estrangement.
It is unlikely that Blake's accusations were well-founded. The frieze-like composition may well have been inspired by the Elgin marbles which, amid much public excitement, were being unpacked at the time Stothard was developing his designs. Stothard chose to split the long composition into groups. Each is dominated by a prominent figure in Chaucer's text: the Host, the Squire, Chaucer, the Wife of Bath, and the Cook.