The Rokeles: An Index for a ‘Langland’ Family History
Almost all modern readings of PPl assume that we must take the autobiographical passages in B and C at face value, or adopt an ‘affected agnosticism’ about L’s real circumstances beyond the information in the early fifteenth-century note in Trinity College, Dublin MS 212, which identifies him as the son of Stacy de Rokele (p. 85). While the poem’s autobiographical passages depict L as an impoverished cleric in minor orders, the Trinity MS note identifies him with a prominent and widespread noble family. Adams argues that the abundant documentary evidence concerning the Rokeles serves to illuminate L’s circumstances, and by extension his ‘upper-class worldview’ (p. 86). L’s elite status explains the patronage that secured his education (mentioned in the C autobiographical passage, but also evidenced by the learning on display in his poem), and it also explains his ‘obvious “Tory” bias’ (p. 88). L may have taken the name ‘Langland’ because he was illegitimate, or as a reference to the strip of land a ploughman ploughs, or because (as suggested by an indictment from 1385) it was a nickname he used in life. The chapter concludes with an index of the Rokeles from the late eleventh century to the early fifteenth.
The Cambridge Companion to Piers Plowman, ed. by Andrew Cole and Andrew Galloway (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 85-96.