Treason and Heresy
July 15, 1381: John Ball is executed. He was born around 1338 and was an English Lollard priest. This was a religious reform movement led by John Wycliffe, a prominent theologian who was dismissed from the University of Oxford due to his unorthodox preaching. The demands of Western Christianity were supported by many without academic backgrounds, such as John Ball. The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, also called Wat Tyler’s Rebellion or the Great Uprising, spread across much of England. The rebels were led by Tyler, Ball, John Wrawe, and William Grindecobbe. The Black Death and years of war had led to a decreased workforce and high taxes on the overworked commoner. Ball preached to these poor commoners.
The “hedge priest” (meaning he wandered from village to village and preached without benefit of having his own parish) spread Wycliffe’s message of social equality. He moved about the country and gained a reputation as an engaging speaker with a message dear to the commoners’ hearts. His radical preaching had already brought him into conflict with the Archbishop of Canterbury who had excommunicated him years before. From 1366 on, it was forbidden for him to preach and for others to listen to him. All Ball did was take his preaching outside established churches and preach, in the commoners’ native English rather than church Latin, in the yards outside the buildings. Ball was imprisoned in Maidstone, Kent when the revolt began.
Shortly after the Revolt began, peasants came and helped Ball escape from his prison. He went to an open field at Blackheath, an area southeast of London, and gave a welcome sermon. (See excerpt in quotes below.) After he was done speaking and the rebels dispersed, he was once again taken into custody. He was brought to trial at Coventry and unlike previous times, he was permitted to speak at his trial. He was still found guilty of treason and heresy. He was sentenced to death at the age of 42 or 43.
On this day, with King Richard II in attendance, Ball was hanged, drawn, and quartered. The execution took place at St. Albans. The brutal and excruciating method of execution was saved for those guilty of high treason against the King. After his death, Ball’s head was stuck on a pike and displayed at London Bridge. His quartered corpse was displayed in four different towns, but the names have been lost. Ball gave a voice to the disenfranchised and unheard lower classes at a time when the aristocracy was completely out of touch with the masses. The many poor people were hoping to bring an end to lords’ rights to use them as unpaid labor.
When Adam delved and Eve span (Delved meaning dug the fields, and span meaning spun fabric), 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. – all from John Ball’s sermon at Blackheath
Also on this day: What Does it Say? – In 1799, the Rosetta Stone was discovered.
Vast Wasteland – In 1976, the term “couch potato” was first used.
Pacific Aero Products – In 1916, the company that would become Boeing was incorporated.
Mozilla – In 2003, the Mozilla Foundation was established.
Forgotten – In 1910, Alzheimer’s disease was first described.