An Overlooked Piers Plowman Excerpt and the Oral Circulation of Non-Reformist Prophecy c. 1520–55, c. 1520–55
This essay brings to light a wild excerpt of PPl B.6’s ‘hunger prophecy’, from London, British Library, MS Additional 60577 (the ‘Winchester Anthology’), that has to date flown almost entirely under the critical radar, and that brings into focus a remarkable body of evidence for Tudor-era reception and circulation of the poem. At least four, and probably five, independent productions juxtapose or draw particular attention to two of the poem’s ‘prophecies’: the ‘monks’ heads’ passage included in the ‘Winchester Anthology’, and one of the warnings that a king shall come to correct the religious from either B.10.315f. or B.19.465f. These productions are MS G, which calls the poem ‘The Prophecies of Piers Plowman’; the excerpts in the Sloane anthology of political prophecy; Churchyard’s broadside Davy Dycars Dreame; Crowley’s 1550 editions; and the Winchester text, whose scribe most likely also preached a sermon that both accuses Protestants of desiring to devour men’s wives, daughters, and servants, and, like L’s ‘king shall come’ prophecies, expounds the king’s title as supreme head of the church. These ‘prophecies’, the essay argues, circulated orally, and were not assumed to be Protestant or even reformist in character. While it might be true that most references to PPl in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries associate it with reforming views or even Wycliffism, most of the productions of PPl itself occupied an entirely different plane. (LW)
YLS, 21 (2007), 119–43.