Subversive Historian – 07/15/09

John Ball and the Peasants’ Revolt

Back in the day on July 15th, 1381, John Ball, a radical priest and prominent leader of the Peasants’ Revolt in England, was executed in the presence of King Richard II. The uprising from below, one of the most significant events in medieval history, commenced following the imposition of a new poll tax to finance war against France. Already a veteran of imprisonment, Ball had been a thorn in the side of the established order, especially the Archbishop of Canterbury, for two decades. With a certain class-consciousness he joined Wat Tyler and Jack Straw in leading the Peasants’ Revolt by agitating feudal serfs into insurrection. When the rebels reached London, negotiations ensued, as did betrayal when Tyler was stabbed during a meeting with Richard II. The wound proved to be fatal to both Tyler and the revolt. Ball tried to keep the insurrection aflame until he himself met his fate before the king.

Noted for his charisma in rhyme, Ball preached a sermon at Blackheath the day before marching on London. Addressing his rebel ranks, the man noted by land-owners as “the mad priest,” provocatively pondered the nature of inequality asking, “When Adam delved and Eve span. Who was then the gentleman?


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