Title Background

William Langland and John Ball

William Langland and John Ball

In this essay, Johnston examines the possibility that John Ball might have acquired PPl from a personal connection with the poet, or that he might have learned of the poem from living near the poet. To make this case, Johnston revisits the evidence that a William Rokele, priest in Easthorpe (Essex) was the author of PPl, adding new archival evidence of his own. He pays particular attention to the grammatical metaphor in C.3, where, he argues, the poet reveals anxieties about changing his name from Rokele to Langland. The essay then turns to the biography of John Ball, showing that he lived in Colchester, quite close to where William Rokele served as priest, in the early 1360s. And though this William Rokele may have left Essex for a new parish in Suffolk shortly before Ball was in Colchester, Johnston shows that Rokele maintained connections to Essex throughout his life, making it possible that Ball and Rokele could have become acquainted in any number of ways. In closing, Johnston suggests we look to the A text when considering what inspired the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, largely because that was the version that arose from Ball and Rokele’s time together in Essex. In light of this suggestion, he reads several moments from the A text as offering a radical social critique, arguing that such moments could well have found a sympathetic reader in Ball. In sum, then, this article offers speculations — based on new archival evidence and a reinterpretation of older evidence — accounting for the rebels’ knowledge of Piers Plowman in 1381.


Yearbook of Langland Studies, 30 (2016), 29–74.


Johnston, Michael