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Ball, John

Ball, John (d. 1381). Contemporary chroniclers saw John Ball as the evil genius behind the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. Very little is known about this man, who in a letter ascribed to him referred to himself as formerly a priest of St Mary's, York, and then of Colchester. A member of the ecclesiastical underworld, he had been formally prohibited from preaching in 1366. Early in 1381 his attacks on the established church order led to his excommunication and imprisonment at Maidstone in Kent, from where the rebels released him. He was soon linked by chroniclers with lollardy, but his preaching during the revolt, with its egalitarian message, was in a well-established tradition. After the rising, Ball was sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered.

Michael Prestwich

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Ball, John

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.

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