Virtually nothing is known of the poet who wrote Piers Plowman. At one time, in fact, there was some debate about whether a single author or perhaps as many as five were responsible for the three separate versions of the poem. That controversy has since ended, and scholarship has established a single author for all three versions.
That author’s name was almost certainly William Langland. Two fifteenth century manuscript notes attribute the poem to Langland, and there is a line in the B Text that seems to be intended as a cryptogram of the poet’s name: “’I haue lyued in londe’, quod [I], ’my name is longe wille.’” One manuscript declares that Langland was the son of a certain Stacey (Eustace) de Rokayle, who later held land under the Lord Despenser at Shipton-under-Wychwood in Oxfordshire; in all likelihood, Langland’s father was a franklin. It has been conjectured that Langland was illegitimate, but the difference in surname is no real reason to assume this, such differences being common in the fourteenth century. Langland was not born in Oxfordshire but rather in Shropshire, at Cleobury Mortimer, some eight miles from the Malvern Hills that serve as the setting for the first two visions in Piers Plowman. Because the B Text is dated with some accuracy c. 1377 and because the poet in the B Text declares himself to be forty-five years old, the date of Langland’s birth has been set at about 1332.
Whatever else is “known” about the author’s life is conjectured from passages in the poem that describe the narrator’s life and is based on the assumption that the narrator, “Will,” and the poet Langland are one and the same. In the C Text, the poet speaks of having gone to school, and most likely he was...
(The entire section is 723 words.)