Title Background

William Langland. Authors of the Middle Ages 3.

William Langland. Authors of the Middle Ages 3.

Regarding the poet and his life, the information in the note in Dublin, Trinity Coll. MS. 212 (D.4.1), which identifies WL’s father and indicates his son bore a different surname, is supported by documented familial connections of the Despensers and the Rokayles, by independent sixteenth-century ascriptions that identify the author as Langlande, and by possibly authorial signatures in the poem. Since no locality called Langland in Shipton-under-Wychwood has been identified, the name might well be that of WL’s mother. The reference to “fyue and fourty wynter” in B.12.3 suggests that the author was born 1325-35, if the B text was composed in the 1370s; his death-date may have been between those proposed by Rickert and Skeat, with what seems an allusion to the 1388 Statute of Laborers in C.5.104 the latest datable reference in the poem. That the A text occupied WL’s attention in 1365-70 is attested by the earliest record of Edward III’s liaison with Alice Perrers from December 1364, and by a reference (A.4.111) to a time, 1367-70, when Urban V had removed the papacy to Rome. The earliest new allusion in B (13.268-70), according to Skeat, is to the mayoralty of John Chichester (1369-70), and a seeming allusion to William Jordan, O.P. (who drops out of the historical record after 1368) likewise argues for a date in the early 1370s. The latest allusions, both in B.Prol., refer to Bishop Brinton’s sermon of 1376 and the ceremony of Richard’s coronation, July 1377. WL may have worked on the C text throughout the 1380s, as is suggested by his reliance on the 1388 Statute of Laborers and his excision in C of B.9.110, perhaps an attempt to distance himself from John Ball’s association of salvation and marriage. That William received a university education is suggested by his knowledge of speculative grammar (an Oxford specialty), texts integral to the Oxford arts curriculum, and even specific university debates (e.g., that between Uthred of Boldon and William Jordan on the salvation of the heathen). Whatever his education, it appears to have been interrupted at some stage by the death of his providers — perhaps by the death of Hugh Despenser III in 1349. Later, if the depiction of Will in the poem can be taken as autobiographical, he either married or took a concubine, and served as an itinerant clerical bedesman. Appendices print the annals from the Dublin MS. and historical documents relating to S. de Rokayle, the ascriptions of John Bale, materials concerning John But, appropriations of PPl by the rebels of 1381, etc. MSS. of the three versions and printed editions are described.

Rev. Lister M. Matheson, YLS 8 (1994): 192-94.


Aldershot, Hants.: Variorum, 1993.


Hanna, Ralph, III.