Home  »  Volume II: English THE END OF THE MIDDLE AGES  »  § 25. William Langland

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

I. “Piers the Plowman” and its Sequence

§ 25. William Langland

What shall we say of the name, William Langland, so long connected with the poems? One MS. of the C-text has a note in a fifteenth century hand (but not early):

  • Memorandum, quod Stacy de Rokayle, pater Willielmi de Langlond, qui Stacius fuit generosus et morabatur in Schiptone under Whicwode, tenens domini le Spenser in comitatu Oxon., qui praedictus Willielmus fecit lkibrum qui vocatur Perys Ploughman.
  • Another fifteenth century note in a MS. of the B-text says: “Robert or William langland made pers ploughman.” And three MSS. of the C-text (one, not later than 1427) give the author’s name as “Willelmus W.” Skeat is doubtless right in his suggestions that the name Robert arose from a misreading of C, XI, 1; but he and Jusserand find in B, XV, 148:
  • I have lyved in londe, quod I, my name is long wille,
  • confirmation of the first note quoted above. It is possible, however, that this is really the source of the name. Curiously enough, this line is omitted by C, either because he wished to suppress it or because he did not regard it as significant. Furthermore, Pearson showed pretty conclusively that, if the author was the son of Stacy de Rokayle (or Rokesle) of Shipton-under-Wychwood, his name, if resembling Langland at all, would have been Langley. If this were the case, Willelmus W. might, obviously, mean William of Wychwood, as Morley suggested, and be merely an alternative designation of William Langley—a case similar to that of the Robertus Langelye, alias Robertus Parterick, capellanus, who died in 19 Richard II, possessed of a messuage and four shops in the Flesh-shambles, a tenement in the Old Fish-market and an interest in a tenement in Staining-lane, and who may, conceivably, have had some sort of connection with the poems. It is possible, of course, that these early notices contain a genuine, even if confused, record of one or more of the men concerned in the composition of these poems. One thing, alone, is clear, that Will is the name given to the figure of the dreamer by four, and, possibly, all five, of the writers; but it is not entirely certain that A really meant to give him a name. Henry Bradley has, in a private letter, called my attention to certain facts which suggest that Will may have been a conventional name in alliterative poetry.