English Peasant Revolt
Today in Labor and Writing History July 15, 1381: The authorities executed Peasants Revolt leader John Ball by hanging, drawing and quartering. They later stuck his head on a pike and left it on London Bridge. Ball was a radical roving priest who routinely pissed off the Archbishop of Canterbury. As a result, they imprisoned him at least three times and excommunicated him. He helped inspire peasants to rise up in June of 1381, though he was in prison at the time. Kentish rebels soon freed him. The revolt came in the wake of the Black Plague and years of war, which the government paid for by heavily taxing the peasantry. Furthermore, the plague had wiped out half the population. He also inspired Wat Tyler and his rebels.
Ball and his followers were inspired, in part, by the contemporary poem, “Piers Plowman,” (1370-1390) by William Langland. Ball put Piers, and other characters from Langland’s poem, into his own cryptic writings, which some believe were coded messages to his followers. The poem, “Vox Clamantis,” (also 1380-1390) by John Gower, also refers to John Ball.
“Ball was the preacher, the prophet and teacher, inspired by a spirit of hell,
And every fool advanced in his school, to be taught as the devil thought well.”
Ball was also the main character in the anonymous play, “The Life and Death of Jack Straw,” (1593), which is about the Peasants’ Revolt. The socialist, William Morris, wrote a short story called “A Dream of John Ball.” And T. H. White writes about John Ball in “The Once and Future King,” (1958) by .
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Today in Labor History July 15, 1959: United Steel workers began the longest steel strike in the U.S., ending January 4, 1960.