Wednesday, July 16, 2008

John Ball on Blackheath

Following the last post on the peasants' revolt, Andrew pointed out that John Ball Primary School in Blackheath must be named after the radical preacher who made a famous speech at Blackheath in 1381.

Our knowledge of John Ball, as with the rest of the revolt, comes from largely hostile contemporary sources. Froissart - A French chronicler of the period - wrote." And so long they went forward till they came within a four mile of London, and there lodged on a hill called Blackheath... The unhappy people of Kent, Essex, Sussex and Bedford began to stir, because, they said, they were kept in great servage. And in the beginning of the world, they said, there were no bondmen; wherefore they maintained that none ought to be bond, without he did treason to his lord; for they were neither angels nor spirits, but men formed to the similitude of their lords; saying why should they then be kept so under like beasts? The which they said they would no longer suffer. For they would be all one, and if they laboured or did anything for their lords, they would have wages therefore... And they had a captain called Walter Tyler, and with him in company was Jack Straw and John Ball: these three were chief sovereign captains, but the head of all was Walter Tyler, and he was indeed a tiler of houses, an ungracious patron."

John Ball was apparently a preacher, excommunicated from the Church for his radical views, who was freed from Maidstone Prison by the rebels at the start of the revolt. Ball's speech on Blackheath has been translated as follows: "When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may ( if ye will ) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty." Ball was hanged, drawn and quartered in the presence of the King, having been arrested in Coventry after the revolt.
William Morris wrote his novel 'A Dream of John Ball' in 1888, from which the above illustration is taken.

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