History Module

Other Historical Articles

For a book exploring the social background and possible audience of Piers Plowman:

Gervase, Mathew. "Chapter IX." The Court of Richard II. London: John Murry, 1968. 83-91.

Here Lister explores the contrast of the estates system in Medieval England to the changes made by the evolving market economy as presented by Langland.

Lister, Robin. "The Peasants of Piers Plowman and Its Audience." Peasants and Countrymen in Literature. a Symposium Organized by the English Department of the Roehampton Institute. Eds. Kathleen Parkinson and Priestman Martin. London: Roehampton Institute of Higher Education, 1982. 71-90.

A Jstor article on the historical placement of Piers.

Hatcher, John. "England in the Aftermath of the Black Death." Past and Present .144 (1994): 3-35.

 

1. General Historical Informatin About Piers Plowman

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Piers Plowman contains allusions, or probable allusions, to a number of historical events: the murder of Edward II, the pestilences of 1348, 1361, and 1376 (The Black plague), King Edward's wars, the Treaty of Bretigny, and the accession of Richard II all of which help to date it.

Religous Influence

"L[angland]'s view on the fate of the rightous heathen are completely in acccord with the common theological teaching of his time (cf. Marcett 1938[153]). Salvation needs faith and baptism: but Christ died for all, and no adult is damned but by his own fault. The theological answer to this dilemma was in the theory of devine inspiration leading the infidel of good will to faith; and in two substitutes for baptism- by blood (martyrdom) and by fire (Baptism of Holy Ghost)." This sentiment is reflected in lines KD 12.213 and KD 12.286.

see article: Dunning, T.P. "Langland and the salvation of the heathen." MAE 12 (1943): 45-54.

In addition to its historical and religous allusions Piers Plowman exerts its own influence in history. While the poem conveys conservative values with regard to the class system in 14th century England, it was quoted, for instance, in the second letter of John Ball during the peasant revolt of 1381. While Langland explores common medieval themes, John Ball took quotes out of context in order to serve his own ends.

 


Littera Iohannis Balle Missa Communibus Estsexie

(The Letter of John Ball to the Essex Council)

Iohan shep, som-tyme seynte marie prest of york, and now of Colchester, Greteth wel Iohan nameless & Iohn the mullre and Iohon cartre, and biddeth hem thei bee war of gyle [treachery] in borugh, and stondeth to-gidere in godes name, and biddeth Pers ploughman/ go to his werk and chastise wel hobbe the robbre; taketh with yow Iohn Trewman and alle hijs felawes and no mo, and loke schappe you to on heued and no mo.

Iohan the mullere hath y-grounde smal, smal, smal.

The kynes sone of heune schal paye for al.;

Be war or the be wo.

Knoweth your freend fro your foo.

Haueth y-now & seith hoo!

And do wel and bettre and fleth synne,

And seketh pees and hold yow ther-inne.

And so biddeth Iohan trewaman and alle his felawes.

 

 

2. John Ball and the 1381 Peasant's Revolt

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John ball was a traveling preacher in the late Middle Ages who advocated social reform. Eventually it became a crime even to listen to him preach. John Ball was drawn, hanged, and beheaded in front of King Richard II at St Albans on the Ides of July for his involvement in the revolt of 1381. His body was quartered and sent to four cities across England, presumably as a warning to those who might share his beliefs. His use of a reference to Piers Plowman in his second letter to the council at Essex may have been part of the reason Langland felt it necessary to revise his poem, generating a more conservative, what we call" C" text.

 


For more information see in Jstor articles:

Tristram, E. W.. "Piers Plowman in English Wall-Painting." The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 31.175 (1917): 135-140.

D'Evelyn , Charlotte. "Piers Plowman in Art." Modern Language Notes 34.4 (1919): 247-249.

These have been classified by art historians as "warnings to Sabbath breakers" or "Christ as Piers Plowman"

See if you can pick out the instruments of labor depicted by medieval Christian artists

Ampney St. Mary's Parish Gloucestershire, EnglandDuxney (St. John's)Cambridgeshire, EnglandWest Chillington, Sussex Chichester, EnglandHessett, Suffolk St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, England

 

3. Wall Paintings

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A common theme in the fourteenth century is redemption through hard work. The class system was maintained by the belief that God assigns each a role in society and for the good of the community you worked hard at your assigned tasks. This philosophy was perpetuated both in "The Vision of Piers Plowman" and on local parish walls.

It has been argued that these churches bear plebeian artists renderings of Piers Plowman, or at least sentiments expressed in Langland's text.