John Ball

Article from the 1911 Encyclopedia

JOHN BALL (d. 1381), an English priest who took a prominent part in the peasant revolt in 1381. Little is known of his early years, but he lived probably at York and afterwards at Colchester. He gained considerable fame as a preacher by expounding the doctrines of John Wycliffe, but especially by his insistence on the principle of social equality. These utterances brought him into collision with the archbishop of Canterbury, and on three occasions he was committed to prison.

He appears also to have been excommunicated, and in 1366 all persons were forbidden to hear him preach. His opinions, however, were not moderated, nor his popularity diminished by these measures, and his words had a considerable effect in stirring up the rising which broke out in June 1381. Ball was then in prison at Maidstone; but he was quickly released by the Kentish rebels, to whom he preached at Blackheath from the text, "When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then a gentleman?" He urged his hearers to kill the principal lords of the kingdom and the lawyers; and he was afterwards among those who rushed into the Tower of London to seize Simon of Sudbury, archbishop of Canterbury. When the rebels dispersed Ball fled to the midland counties, but was taken prisoner at Coventry and executed in the presence of Richard II. on the 15th of July 1381. Ball, who was called by Froissart "the mad priest of Kent," seems to have possessed the gift of rhyme.

He undoubtedly voiced the feelings of the lower orders of society at that time.

See Thomas Walsingham, Historia Anglicana, edited by H. T. Riley (London, 1863-1864); Henry Knighton, Chronicon, edited by J. R. Lumby (London, 1889-1895); Jean Froissart, Chroniques, edited by S. Luce and G. Raynaud (Paris, 1869-1897); C.

E. Maurice, Lives of English Popular Leaders in the Middle Ages (London, 1875); C. Oman, The Great Revolt of 1381 (Oxford, 1906).

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