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Anomalous Medieval Egalitarian gets Tortured to Death Anniversary.

July 15, 2014

John Ball

Another anniversary. July 15th 1381. John Ball is judicially murdered – tortured to death in the presence of Richard II. Ball had been a priest, excommunicated for preaching that social classes are a human not a divine invention. An leading figure in the Peasants’ Revolt (Poll Tax Riots writ large), Ball may have been responsible for the rhyme:
“When Adam Delved and Eve spanne, thenne who was the gentilmanne?”
Humans are one species.  Go back far enough and the basis of hereditary privilege falls apart.  He went on to preach as follows….
“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.”

Following a ceasefire in the great Peasant’s Revolt of summer 1381, precocious teenager Richard II had promised the peasants that their grievances would be addressed, but as soon as he regained the whip hand (literally) he revoked his word declaring that “Villains ye are, and villains shall remain”. Like many monarchs, he took the view that he and God enjoyed a special relationship that allowed him to pretend to make deals with his subjects that were breakable at will. However, when he tried to apply this principle to the aristocracy later in his reign, he ended up being deposed and murdered himself.

Oddly enough, Richard II was a man out of time in his own way.  He seems to have espoused a seventeenth-century Divine Right theory of absolute monarchy centuries too early.  He was not someone who knew how flatter local magnates and keep people on side with reasonable accommodations.

John Ball was hung, drawn and quartered shortly after the failure of the peasants’ rising, the king himself an enthusiastic spectator according to some accounts. The big mistake of the rebel leaders was trusting the king. Never trust anyone who thinks they are answerable only to God.

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2 Comments
  1. Richard II was deposed and murdered. So, at least the wheel of fate rolled over him eventually. jp

  2. Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom and commented:

    “When Adam delved and Eve spanne, thanne who was the gentilmanne?” R.I.P. John Ball

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