A 14th century English itinerant priest
who was a leading figure in the Peasants' Revolt which followed the decimation of the Black Death
. He was made a priest
by the dissenter John Wyclif
, and helped spread his teaching that as the first Christian
s were dirt poor
, so should the current Church
be, and took exception to the vast amounts of money and power it commanded.
Reverend Ball lived during the Hundred Years War, as well as the Black Death, and these two events contributed to the massive social upheaval England experienced at the time. The Black Death first hit England in 1348-1349, killing 1/3 to 1/2 of the population, according to different estimates. This caused an increase in peasants' bargaining power, as there were less neighbors on hand who could offer to work for less. Naturally, the ruling class took measures to stem these effects, and instituted wage controls in 1351. Subsequent outbreaks of the Plague occurred in 1362 and 1369, further exacerbating the situation, and landlords began to assert their "ancient manorial rights."
During this time, the serfs became more and more militant, and were led most noticably by Wat Tyler. Ball, being a preacher and a particularly powerful orator, was essential to their cause, but he was excommunicated by Rome in 1376 due to his opposition to so much of the church's practice. Since he was also considered a threat by the government of England, and was no longer protected by his position with the church, he was subsequently imprisoned by John of Gaunt, the power behind the throne at the time.
In 1380, the poll tax was increased, leading to more dissension among the peasants. Before the days of the telephone, the internet, and even widespread literacy, these serfs were organized enough through word of mouth to coordinate a widespread action on June 10, 1381. Under the leadership of Wat Tyler, they captured Essex, Kent and Canterbury, releasing scores of prisoners, including John Ball. It was his oratory, along with dozens of other factors, which persuaded them to advance to London.
When the fourteen year old king Richard II (who of course held little or no real power) refused to meet with Tyler, the impromptu militia stormed many of the seats of royalty in London, and burned Savoy Palace - home of John of Gaunt. On June 14, Richard II addressed the peasants in an attempt to restore order, and promised to "abolish serfdom, feudal service, market monopolies, and restrictions on buying and selling." But when Tyler arrived to commence negotiations, he was literally stabbed in the back; and the king's troops then attacked the peasants, 8000 of them killing 1500.
John Ball escaped on that day, but was apprehended about a month later. He was brought to St. Albans, where he was "hanged, drawn and quartered," as the English never did feel that one means of death was enough.
John Ball saint mary priest, greteth well all maner of men,
and biddeth them in the name of the trinitie father,
son, and holy ghost, stand manlike together in truth,
and helpes truth, and truth shal helpe you:
Now reigneth pride in price,
couetise is holde wyse,
lechery without shame,
glotony without blame:
envy reigneth with treason,
and slouth is taken in great season.
God doe boote, for nowe is time!
-John Ball's Letter
"When Adam delved and Eve span,
who was then the gentleman?"