The Vision of Pierce Plowman
About this text
Robert Crowley’s edition of William Langland’s (c.1332-86) well-known medieval allegorical poem Piers Plowman exploits the potential of the poem as a stimulus for Protestant reform. Crowley’s marginal annotations and summaries of each passus emphasise political and economic instability and the need for reform. The selection here is from Passus Six in which Piers and the penitents plough the half-acre. When some refuse to work, they are punished by Hunger, but once hunger is satisfied men return to idleness and the impending return of dearth is darkly predicted.
The vision of
Pierce Plowman, nowe the seconde tyme imprinted
by Roberte Crowlye dwellynge in Elye rentes in Holburne
Whereunto are added certayne notes and cotations in the
mergyne, gevyng light to the Reader. And in the begynning
is set a brefe summe of all the principal matters spoken of in
the boke. And as the boke is devided into twenty partes cal-
led Passus: so is the Summary divided, for every parte hys
summarie, rehearsynge the matters spoken of in eve-
ry parte. even in suche order as they
Imprinted at London by Roberte
Crowley, dwellyng in Elye rentes
in Holburne, The yere of
our Lord, M.D.L,
‘Cum privilegio ad imprimendum
PUBLISHED BY Roberte Crowley
The printer to the Reader
BEynge desyerous to knowe the name of the Autoure of thys most worthy worke. (gentle reader) and the tyme of the writynge of the same: I did not onely gather togyther suche aunciente co[m]pies as I could come by, but also consult such men as I knew to be more exercised in the studie of antiquities, then I my selfe have ben. And by some of them I have learned that the Autour was named Roberte langelande, a Shropshere man borne in Cleybirie, aboute viii. myles from Malverne hilles
For the tyme when it was written, it chaunced me to se an auncient copye, in the later ende whereof was noted, that the same copye was written in the yere of oure Lorde. M. iiii. C. and nyne, which was before thys presente yere, an hundred & xii, yeres. And in the seconde syde of the .lxviii. leafe of thys printed copye, I finde me[n]tion of a dere yere, that was in the yere of oure Lorde M. iii. hundred and .L. John Chichester than beyng mayre of London. So that this I may be bold to reporte, that it was fyrste made and written after the yeare of our lorde .M. iii. C. L. and before the yere .M, iiii. C. and .i [...] which meane space was six yeres. We may justly co[n]iect therfore. ye it was firste written about two hundred yeres paste in the tyme of Kynge Edwarde the thyrde. In whose tyme it pleased God to open the eyes of many to se hys truth, geving them boldenes of herte, to open their mouthes and crye oute agaynste the workes of darckenes, as dyd John Wicklyfe, who also in those dayes translated the holye Byble into the Englishe tonge, and this writer who in reportynge certayne visions and dreames, that he fayned hym selfe to have dreamed, doth most christianlie enstructe the weake, and sharplye rebuke the obstynate blynde. There is no maner of vice, that reygneth in anye estate of men, whyche thys wryter hath not godly, learnedlye, and wittilye, rebuked, He wrote altogither in miter: but not after ye maner of our rimers that wryte nowe adaies (for his verses ende not alike) but the nature of hys miter is, to have three wordes at the leaste in every verse which begyn with some one letter, As for ensample, the firste two verses of the boke renne upon . [...]. as thus.
In a somer season when sette was the Sunne
I shope me into shrobbes, as I a shepe were
The next runeth upon .H. as thus.
Inhabite as an Hermite unholy of werekes. & This thing noted the metre shall be very pleasaunt to reade. The Englishe is according to the tyme it was written in, and the sence somewhat darcke, but not so harde, but that it maye be understande of such as wyll not sticke to breake the shell of the nutte for the kernelles sake.
As for that is written in the xxxvi, leafe of thys boke concernynge a dearth the[n] to come, is spoke[n] by the knowledge of astronomie as may wel be gathered bi that he saith, Saturne sent him to tell, And that whych foloweth and geveth it the face of a prophecy, is lyke to be a thynge added by some other man than the fyrste autour, For diverse copies have it diverslye. For where the copie that I folowe hath thus.
And when you se the sunne amisse, & thre monkes heads
And a mayde have the maistrye, and multiply by eyght,
Some other have
Three shyppes and a shefe, wyth an eight folowynge
Shall brynge bale and battell, on both halfe the mone
Nowe for that whiche is written in the .l, leafe, co[n]cernyng the suppresson of abbayes, the Scripture there alledged, declareth it to be gathered of the juste judgment of God, who-wyll not suffer abomination to raigne unpunished. Loke not upon this boke therfore, to talke of wonders paste or to come but to emend thyne owne misse, whych thou shalt fynd here moste charitably rebuked The spirite of god geve the grace to walke in the way of truthe to Gods glory, & thyne owne soules healthe So be it,
1.1. The fourthe part, called Passus quartus,
The fourth parte begynneth in the first syde of the xvii. leafe, and endeth in the fyrst side of the twentieth, It declarith how the king wylled Conscience to kysse Mede, Howe Conscie[n]ce wolde have Reasons advise, How Conscience was sent in haste to fetche Reason, The maner of Reasons ridyng, What co[m]pany folowed hym, How the king receyved Reason, How Peace complaineth upon Wronge, How Wytte and Wisedome went about to brybe the kyng, How the kyng committed Wronge to pryson, Howe Mede stopped Peaces mouth, Reaso[n]s advise in punishyng Wrong That Lawyars should leade a fielde dunge, How the [Page] kynge cheketh men of lawe, for takyng brybes, And howe reason taketh upon hym to rule the realme
1.2. The fyfte parte, called Passus quintus.
The fyfte parte begynneth in the laste syde of the twentieth leafe, and endeth in the laste syde of the .xxx. It declareth howe Reason proveth that Pestilences come for synne, That due correction muste be hadde, That Abbayes shoulde be suppressed, What is true Pilgrimage, What satisfaction men were wonte to make, The workes of Envie, Howe Enuy repenteth Howe Wrath teacheth the Fryers, That Gregorye wold not suffer wome[n] to heare confession, What maner of thing Covetise is, What restitution Covetous men use, That yll gotten goodes, should be wyckedly spente. That suche as be Patteners in the ill goten goddes: shal also be parteners in makyng restitution, What true repentaunce is, What a Byshops charge is, What maner of men be commune drounckardes What maner a thynge, a droncken man is, And how he repenteth, What Slouth is, and how he repenteth Howe thefte repenteth, Howe Repentaunce conforteth them all, That a greate multitude went to seke Truth, That the plowman is Trueths serva[n]t, That Pierce teacheth the waye to Truethes house, Who is Truethes portar, and what maydens Truth hath.
1.3. The sexte parte called Passus sextus.
The syxte parte begynneth the first syde of the .xxxi. leafe, and endeth in the first syde of the .xxxvi. It declareth [Page] howe women shoulde be occupied, Who should defende the church of Christe, Howe knightes should behave them selves, Whoe is Pierces wyfe, Howe Pierce maketh his testament. Howe sturdy beggers muste be answered, Howe the wastoure fought with Pierce, Howe Pierce playned hym to a knight, How Pierce prayed hunger to revenge him, What maketh loyterers worke, Howe beggers may be made work Who suffer hunger, Howe hunger teacheth Pierce plowman a diete, Howe pore folke fede hunger, And that there shoulde shortely come an other derth to punishe such as were not content wyth inough.
1.4. The seventh parte called Passus septimus
The seventhe parte begynneth in the firste side of the .xxxvi. leafe, and endeth in the seconde syde of the xxxix. It declareth what pardon is graunted to the plowman and his helpers, What Marchauntes shoulde do, That menne of lawe shoulde take no money, howe menne shoulde geve almes, That patiente Povertie hathe like pardon with the plowmanne, Howe Pierce reasoned wyth a blinde prieste, Howe Daniel expou[n]deth the dreames, of Nabugodonosor, Howe Jacob expounded Josephs dreame, And that to truste for salvation in workes, is but a vayne thing
1.5. The eyght parte, called Passus Octauus.
The eyghte parte begynneth in the laste side of the xxxix. leafe, and endeth in the seconde syde of the .xli. It declareth howe Pierce went to seke Dowel, How he reproveth the Fryers for saying that dowel dwelte [Page] wyth them, Howe the Frier proveth by a similitude, that a juste man sinneth seven times a daye, and sayth hys minde of frewyl, Howe thought enstructeth him of dowell, dobet, and dobest, And howe wytte (who wyl none excesse) met wyth Pierce, Of whom Pierce desiered to learne what Dowel, Dobet, and Dobest were.