Priest, leader of the English Peasants' Revolt; d. Saint Albans, c. July 15, 1381. First heard of at York, where he was probably attached to the Benedictine abbey of St. Mary's, he later removed to Colchester. simon islip, archbishop of Canterbury, excommunicated him sometime between 1362 and 1366, and Archbishops simon langham (1366) and simon of sudbury (1376) confirmed the sentence, but Ball nevertheless continued to preach both in churches and out of doors and to circulate rhyming letters embodying radical views. Arrested in 1381, he was in the archbishop's prison at Maidstone, Kent, when the peasants' revolt started. Released by the rebels, he proceeded with them to Canterbury, Rochester, and Blackheath, where he incited them to murder nobles and lawyers, using the text, "When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?" His advocacy of complete social equality probably inspired some of the peasants' demands. Ball was among those who entered the Tower of London and murdered Sudbury. He was present at the young King Richard II's interview with Wat Tyler at Smithfield. Subsequently he fled, was captured at Coventry, brought before Richard, condemned for treason, and executed. Modern writers question Ball's sanity. His views were partly John wyclif's, especially on withholding tithes from unworthy clergy, but his confession linking Wyclif with the revolt is unquestionably fraudulent.
Bibliography: thomas walsingham, Historia Anglicana, ed. h. t. riley, 2 v. (Rerum Britannicarum medii aevi scriptores 28.1; 1863–64) 2:32–34. Fasciculi zizaniorum, ed. w. w. shirley, (ibid. 5; 1858). j. gairdner, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900 1:993–94. h. b. workman, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques 6:392. g. m. trevelyan, England in the Age of Wycliffe (new ed. London 1909; repr. 1948) 183–255. g. r. owst, Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England (2d ed. New York 1961), passim. a. b. steel, Richard II (Cambridge, Eng. 1941; repr. 1963) 58–91. w. l. warren, "The Peasants' Revolt," History Today 12 (1962) 845–53; 13 (1963) 44–51.
[r. w. hays]
John Ball, d. 1381, English priest and social reformer. He was one of the instigators of the Peasant's Revolt of 1381 (see under Tyler, Wat). He was an itinerant for many years, acting independently of the influence of John Wyclif and advocating ecclesiastical poverty and social equality. Excommunicated in 1376, he was in prison at Maidstone when the rebels released him in 1381. After the dispersal of the rebels, Ball was captured at Coventry. He was taken to St. Albans, where he was hanged, drawn, and quartered. He is perhaps best remembered for giving currency to the couplet "When Adam delved and Eve span/Who was then the gentleman?" William Morris wrote one of his works on utopian socialism under the title The Dream of John Ball.