Title Background

The Clerical Career of William Rokele

The Clerical Career of William Rokele

In this essay, Johnston expands upon an earlier article about the life of William Rokele (‘William Langland and John Ball’, Yearbook of Langland Studies, 30 [2016], 29–74), who has been suggested as the author of PPl. He details new evidence from manorial court rolls that specifically narrows down the window in which this Rokele held his first two benefices. Johnston show that he held his first benefice, at Easthorpe, from the early 1350s until 1354–55, following which he held the benefice of Redgrave until 1363–64. These dates align with recent suggestions by others that this same Rokele was priest at Newton from 1363 until 1368–69. After surveying the evidence for Rokele’s clerical career, Johnston then turns to evidence about the poem’s dates and connections to London, arguing that Rokele’s biography fits with this evidence. If Rokele were the poem’s author, much of the A text would have been written while he was a rural priest. Nothing in the poem itself would contradict authorship by such a person, for only the B and C texts are definitively the products of a London poet. If Rokele is the author, then he had to have moved to London before beginning his expansion of the poem into B—again, the dates would allow this. In particular, the B text’s reference to the mayoralty of Chichester in 1370 marks the time when he began expanding A into B. Since 1368–69 is when the trail of Rokele’s clerical career goes cold, if he is the author it would have to have been in these years that he relocated to London. This dating would explain why the B and C texts are so much more London-centric than A was. Johnston’s argument is ultimately not that he thinks we have discovered who wrote PPl; rather, he intends that this new information demonstrate that Rokele’s candidacy is reasonable and is the best case we currently have for PPl’s authorship. (MJ)


Yearbook of Langland Studies, 33 (2019), 111–25


Johnston, Mike