William Langland

William Langland was probably born in Ledbury, Herefordshire in about 1332. Langland moved to London where he made his living by singing songs at rich men's funerals.

Langland also wrote poetry and is believed to be the author of The Vision Piers the Plowman. Written in West Midland dialect, the poem tells the story of Piers, a simple countryman. Langland was himself very poor and the poem provides a first-hand account of what life was like for ordinary people living in England during the 14th century. The poem also attacked the corruption of the nobility and leading members of the church.

The first version of The Vision of Piers Plowman appeared in 1362. Langland constantly worked on the poem and further versions were circulated in 1377 and 1395. Over sixty copies of the book have survived, which suggests that Langland's poem must have been extremely popular in the Middle Ages.

Langland may also have been the author of Richard the Redeless, a poem attacking the rule of Richard I. Langland died in about 1400.

Primary Sources

(1) William Langland, The Vision of Piers Plowman (c. 1365)

I can not perfectly say the Lord's Prayer as the priest sings it. But I know rhymes of Robin Hood and Randolph, earl of Chester.

(2) William Langland, The Vision of Piers Plowman (c. 1365)

Charged with children and overcharged by landlords, what they may spare they spend on milk/ or on meal to make porridge to still the sobbing of the children at meal time... The sadness of the women who live in these hovels is too sad to speak of or say in rhyme.

(3) William Langland, The Vision of Piers Plowman (c. 1365)

As weeds run wild on the dunghill, so riches spread upon riches give rise to all vices... The wealth of this world is evil to its keeper unless it be well spent.

(4) Hyman Fagan, Nine Days That Shook England (1938)

Both Langland and Chaucer saw things with the same eyes, but their vision was not the same kind. Nor did their ears hear the same things. As the one represents the mind of the wealthy, so does the other express the opinions of the poor.