John Ball (Classroom Activity)

John Ball (Classroom Activity)

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John Ball was born in St Albans in about 1340. Twenty years later he was working as a priest in York. He eventually became the priest St James' Church in Colchester. Ball believed it was wrong that some people in England were very rich while others were very poor. Ball's church sermons criticising the feudal system upset his bishop and in 1366 he was removed from his post as the priest of the church.

Ball now had no fixed job or home and he became a travelling priest and gave sermons, whenever he found "a few people ready to listen, by the roadside, on a village green or in a market place, he would pour forth fiery words against the evils of the day and particularly the sins of the rich." John Ball was highly critical of the way the church taxed people and urged them not to pay their tithes. He also believed that the Bible should be published in English.

While preaching in Norfolk, Henry le Despenser, the Bishop of Norwich, ordered the imprisonment of John Ball. After he was released he began touring Essex and Kent. During this time he became known as the "mad priest of Kent". He was released but it was not long before he was once again back in prison.

In 1379 Richard II called a parliament to raise money to pay for the continuing war against the French. After much debate it was decided to impose another poll tax. This time it was to be a graduated tax, which meant that the richer you were, the more tax you paid. For example, the Duke of Lancaster and the Archbishop of Canterbury had to pay £6.13s.4d., the Bishop of London, 80 shillings, wealthy merchants, 20 shillings, but peasants were only charged 4d.

The proceeds of this tax was quickly spent on the war or absorbed by corruption. In 1380, Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury, suggested a new poll tax of three groats (one shilling) per head over the age of fifteen. "There was a maximum payment of twenty shillings from men whose families and households numbered more than twenty, thus ensuring that the rich paid less than the poor. A shilling was a considerable sum for a working man, almost a week's wages. A family might include old persons past work and other dependents, and the head of the family became liable for one shilling on each of their 'polls'. This was basically a tax on the labouring classes."

The peasants felt it was unfair that they should pay the same as the rich. They also did not feel that the tax was offering them any benefits. For example, the English government seemed to be unable to protect people living on the south coast from French raiders. Most peasants at this time only had an income of about one groat per week. This was especially a problem for large families.

John Ball toured Kent giving sermons attacking the poll tax. When the Archbishop of Canterbury, heard about this he gave orders that Ball should not be allowed to preach in church. Ball responded by giving talks on village greens. The Archbishop now gave instructions that all people found listening to Ball's sermons should be punished. When this failed to work, Ball was arrested and in April 1381 he was sent to Maidstone Prison. At his trial it was claimed that Ball told the court he would be "released by twenty thousand armed men". Ball was later accused of being the main figure responsible for the Peasants' Revolt that took place that summer.

Why are those whom we call lords, masters over us? How have they deserved it? By what right do they keep us enslaved? We are all descended from our first parents, Adam and Eve; how then can they say that they are better than us... At the beginning we were all created equal. If God willed that there should be serfs, he would have said so at the beginning of the world. We are formed in Christ's likeness, and they treat us like animals... They are dressed in velvet and furs, while we wear only cloth. They have wine, and spices and good bread, while we have rye bread and water. They have fine houses and manors, and we have to brave the wind and rain as we toil in the fields. It is by the sweat of our brows that they maintain their high state. We are called serfs, and we are beaten if we do not perform our task... Let us go to see King Richard. He is young, and we will show him our miserable slavery, we will tell him it must be changed, or else we will provide the remedy ourselves. When the King sees us, either he will listen to us, or we will help ourselves. When we are ready to march on London I will send you a secret message. The message is "Now is the time. Stand together in God's name".

At this time flourished master John Wycliffe, rector of the church of Lutterworth in the county of Leicestershire. He was a most eminent doctor of theology in those days, unrivalled in scholastic disciplines and held as second to none in philosophy. He especially strove to surpass the talents of others by the subtlety of his learning and the depth of his intelligence, and to produce opinions at variance with those of other men. He introduced many beliefs into the church which were condemned by the catholic doctors of the church, as will appear later.

John Wycliffe had as his precursor John Ball, just as Christ's precursor was John the Baptist. Ball prepared the way for Wycliffe's opinions and, as is said, disturbed many with his own doctrines, as I have already mentioned.... Now on his appearance Master John Wycliffe had John Ball to prepare the way for his pernicious findings. The latter was the real breaker of the unity of the church, the author of discord between the laity and clergy, the indefatigable sower of illicit doctrines and the disturber of the Christian church.

For many years John Ball had preached in a foolish manner, mixing evil with the good word of God, and had become popular with the ignorant people.

He strongly attacked the wealth and authority of the Church and deliberately stirred people up against churchmen. He darkened the area for many years and so he was tried and convicted by the clergy, who imprisoned him for life in Maidstone gaol.

But the rebels broke into the prison and brought him out and made him go with them, since they wanted to make him an archbishop.

For twenty years and more Ball had been preaching continually in different places such things as he knew were pleasing to the people, speaking ill of both ecclesiastics and secular lords, and had rather won the goodwill of the common people than merit in the sight of God. For he instructed the people that tithes ought not to be paid to an incumbent unless he who should give them were richer than the rector or vicar who received them; and that tithes and offerings ought to be withheld if the parishioner were known to be a man of better life than his priest; and also that none were fit for the Kingdom of God who were not born in matrimony. He taught, moreover, the perverse doctrines of the perfidious John Wycliffe, and the insane opinions that he held, with many more that it would take long to recite.

Therefore, being prohibited by the bishops from preaching in parishes and churches, he began to speak in streets and squares and in the open fields. Nor did he lack hearers among the common people, whom he always strove to entice to his sermons by pleasing words, and slander of the prelates. At last he was excommunicated as he would not desist and was thrown into prison, where he predicted that he would be set free by twenty thousand of his friends. This afterwards happened in the said disturbances, when the commons broke open all the prisons, and made the prisoners depart.

And when he had been delivered from prison, he followed them, egging them on to commit greater evils, and saying that such things must surely be done. And, to corrupt more people with his doctrine, at Blackheath, where two hundred thousand of the commons were gathered together, he began a sermon in this fashion: "When Adam delved, and Eve span, who was then a gentleman."

And continuing his sermon, he tried to prove by the words of the proverb that he had taken for his text, that from the beginning all men were created equal by nature, and that servitude had been introduced by the unjust and evil oppression of men, against the will of God, who, if it had pleased Him to create serfs, surely in the beginning of the world would have appointed who should be a serf and who a lord. Let them consider, therefore, that He had now appointed the time wherein, laying aside the yoke of long servitude, they might, if they wished, enjoy their liberty so long desired. Wherefore they must be prudent, hastening to act after the manner of a good husbandman, tilling his field, and uprooting the tares that are accustomed to destroy the grain; first killing the great lords of the realm, then slaying the lawyers, justices and jurors, and finally rooting out everyone whom they knew to be harmful to the community in future. So at last they would obtain peace and security, if, when the great ones had been removed, they maintained among themselves equality of liberty and nobility, as well as of dignity and power.

And when he had preached these and many other ravings, he was in such high favour with the common people that they cried out that he should be archbishop and Chancellor of the kingdom, and that he alone was worthy of the office, for the present archbishop was a traitor to the realm and the commons, and should be beheaded wherever he could be found.

The common people had as their leader a chaplain of evil disposition named John Ball, who advised them to get rid of all the lords, archbishops, bishops, abbots and priors... and their possessions should be divided among the people.

A crazy priest in the county of Kent, called John Ball... told the peasants that the nobility should not have great power over the the common people... John Ball had several times been confined in the Archbishop of Canterbury's prison for his absurd speeches... It would have been better had he locked him up for the rest of his life, or even had him executed... for as soon as he was released, he went back to his former errors.

The wretched men of London began to rebel and meet together. They then sent messages to the other rebels that they ought to come to London, where they would find the city open to receive them and many supporters. They said that they would bring so much pressure on the King that all bondmen would be made free.

This promise excited the rebels of Kent, Essex, Sussex and Bedford and so they came towards London. They numbered sixty thousand and their leader was called Wat Tyler and he had Jack Straw and John Ball with him. These were the leaders, but the chief one was Wat Tyler, who was a tiler of roofs and a low person.

On Saturday 13 July Robert Tresilian sentenced John Ball, after hearing of his scandalous and confessed crimes, so drawing, hanging, beheading, disembowelling and - to use the common words - quartering: he had been taken by the men of Coventry and on the previous day brought to St Albans and into the presence of the king whose majesty he had insulted so gravely. His death was postponed until the following Monday by the intervention of Lord William Courtenay, bishop of London, who obtained a short deferment so that Ball could repent for the sake of his soul.

Questions for Students

Question 1: Explain the views held by John Ball. Which source in this unit was the most useful to you in answering this question?

Question 2: Who was blamed for John Ball's unusual beliefs?

Question 3: Did the authors of sources 3, 4, 6 and 7 agree with the opinions expressed by John Ball? Select passages from the sources to support your answer.

Question 4: Do you think the artists who produced sources 1 and 5 provide an accurate portrait of John Ball?

Question 5: Did John Ball want rapid or gradual change? Did he want these changes to be local or national?

Question 6: How was John Ball punished for his role in the Peasants' Revolt? Why was the punishment delayed?

Answer Commentary

A commentary on these questions can be found here.

John Ball (Classroom Activity) - History

John Ball (Classroom Activity) - History

Edward III became king of England at the age of fifteen in 1327 at the disposition of his father Edward II in 1328 Edward III was married and had his first son, Edward the Black Prince, in 1330. Until this time, the government was primarily in the hands of his mother Isabella and Roger de Mortimer however, in 1330 Edward took control of the government forcing his mother to retire and killing Mortimer. Attempting to solidify the English areas only led to trouble and in 1337 a series of wars (called the Hundred Years Wars from 1337-1453) began, which existed throughout Edwards' reign and after.

The Black Death hit England in 1348-49 and killed nearly a third of the population. Labor became scarce and wages rose sharply. In 1351, Parliament passed a statute controlling wages which caused unrest in the peasantry. Another plague struck in 1362 and again in 1369. Added frustration came when landlords began "asserting their ancient manorial rights." In 1375 a truce was signed with France, but unrest still prevailed. Poor health and eventual death of his son and the strength of his brother John of Gaunt led to Edward's death in 1376.

John Ball was excommunicated in 1376 for his advocacy of "ecclesiastical poverty and social equality" for priests in direct opposition to the church's ideas and he was imprisoned at Maidstone by John of Gaunt. The next year Edward II died and Richard became king in 1377 at the age of 10, but John of Gaunt was in control and there was much parlaying for power among the lords in court. finally rebellion of the peasants occurred in 1380 when the poll tax was increased and the peasants rebelled.

The Peasant's Revolt of 1381 began at Essex and quickly spread to Kent, where Wat Tyler was chosen leader. As they captured Canterbury and went on to London, their numbers increased as they freed many from prisons, including John Ball, who, being a priest, was an important addition to their cause. His enthusiasm in their cause and his persuasive nature encouraged the peasants into London. tyler tried unsuccessfully to talk with the king (who was being controlled by others, chiefly John of Gaunt), which resulted into a mob of peasants storming many royal houses and burning Savoy Palace, the residence of John of Gaunt. On June 14, 1381, Richard II met with the rebels at Miles End and agreed to "abolish serfdom, feudal service, market monopolies, and restrictions on buying and selling."

But this was short-lived because some of the rebels, led by Tyler, continued their plundering, captured the Tower of London, killing the archbishop of Canterbury and other officials. Tyler presented more demands but this time was challenged to a duel by the mayor of London Tyler was mortally wounded and the peasants were quickly dispersed. Angry over the continued destruction and killing after their initial agreement, Richard revoked the earlier grants. John ball was taken to St. Albans, "where he was hanged, drawn, and quartered."

The Dream of John Ball was written by William Morris in 1888 the poem contrasts the ugliness of the machine world with the poetry and beauty of the Middle Ages, even though the particular period in which Ball lived had little beauty.

South American Exhibit opens at Zoo completing Phase I of Zoo Master Plan. Steve Van Andel chaired this campaign.

With assistance from John Boyles and Mr. Fables restaurants, Zoo Society establishes the John Ball Zoo Society Wildlife Conservation Fund.

This was also a year of tragedy for the Zoo. Gayle Booth, a young dedicated zoo keeper, was killed by the Zoo&rsquos male jaguar. This was a terrible loss to Gayle&rsquos family, friends, and all of us at the Zoo. Safety became the most important priority in building future exhibits as it was shown that a flaw in the exhibit design allowed the cat to gain access to the keeper portion of the building.


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John Ball

A millwright from Frederick County, Virginia, Ball was hired to work at George Washington's mill in December of 1769. Ball was the son of William Ball of Lancaster County and was married to Sarah Ellen Payne in 1767. John Ball later served as a captain in the Fauquier militia. His eldest son, William, may have been the William Ball who was hired by Washington to rebuild his mill in 1791. 1

1. The Diaries of George Washington, 2:204 & 204n.

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Mount Vernon is owned and maintained in trust for the people of the United States by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, a private, non-profit organization.

We don't accept government funding and rely upon private contributions to help preserve George Washington's home and legacy.

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6 comments on &ldquo ‘If There Is No Struggle…’: Teaching a People’s History of the Abolition Movement &rdquo

I was a little apprehensive about using this lesson because I teach special education students (mostly ED) and was worried that it would hard for them to connect with the information. I was very quickly proven to be worried for no reason! I was so excited by their level on engagement and understanding of the topic that I thought about the lesson’s out come over my entire Thanksgiving break.

The students did an amazing job creating their autobiographies! The students really connected with the abolitionist characters that they created and were able to take those emotions and ideas into the second part of the lesson where they voted on various issues brought to the AASS. I had students who are typically hard to get engaged jumping out of their seats with excitement while waiting for their turn to speak. Most of the time, I have a really hard time getting the students to write more then a few sentences, their autobiographies were a complete exception. I even had to ask a few to wrap it up!

The mock meeting itself brought a much higher level of thinking for my students and they all had the realization of the complexity of ending slavery. I heard several time “this is hard” when it came to make a final decisions, which just goes to show that they were understanding the issues were not cut and dry. The students were also able to connect some of the topics to their modern day equivalents, such as civil rights and marriage equality. I feel like it really outlined the importance of the abolitionist movement and it’s continuing impact on history. It also taught them to work together in order to make an informed decision, respect other ideas, and look at problems from all sides. —Nicole Stonestreet, high school social studies teacher, Midlothian, VA

December 2014 we need these teaching guides to establish a base for action and to teach the history that this is not the first time for the actions we have seen recently in the headlines. We have the opportunity to improve our defiance, outrage and strategies.

This is so important – all people need to know the history and never to forget it.

I think this is wonderful. I hope people all around the country will climb on board.

I had my students take on the personas of real and imaginary people who attended Rev John Allen’s meeting in Philadelphia that actually took place to discuss the Colonization back to Africa movement. I added to the discussion, the issue of whether to fight slavery violently or non-violently, referencing the anger of the original Fugitive Slave Act of 1796. Each student was to take a position of both matters, prepare for the meeting, and argue their position. After, I had them reflect on how they felt about their positions and if anyone had changed their minds, how, and why? It ended up being one of the most eye-opening and gratifying activities for both the students and me.

CTE teaching tips

Other resources

    : an online resource from the Faculty Innovation Centre, University of Texas at Austin
  • Flipped classroom strategies from Turn to Your Neighbour: The Official Peer InstructionBlogFlipped Classroom Experience in Engineering: a video presentation by Dr. Maud Gorbet from Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo
  • Faculty Focus: Looking for "Flippable" Moments in Your Class, Understanding the Flipped Classroom : Educause Learning Initiative white paper , by Bates, J. E., Almekdash, H., & Gilchrest-Dunnam, M. J. (2016).

This Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: In-class activities and assessment for the flipped classroom. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.

Feedback requested! Have you used the strategies in a Tip Sheet? Do you have questions or suggestions? Let us know!

John Ball

John Kirkpatrick and Sydney Carter sang the latter's song John Ball in 1981 on the Plant Life LP Lovely in the Dances: Songs of Sydney Carter .

Dave Webber sang John Ball in 1993 on his and Anni Fentiman's album Together Solo . They noted:

This character from English History was a radical Priest and was imprisoned for his incitement of the people leading up to the Peasants Revolt in 1381.

The &ldquoWaterdaughters&rdquo (Lal Waterson and her daughter Maria, and Norma Waterson and her daughter Eliza Carthy) recorded Sydney Carter's carol John Ball in 1998. It was included as a bonus track on the CD re-release of A True Hearted Girl and in 2004 on the Watersons' 4CD anthology Mighty River of Song . This may well be Lal Waterson's last published recording.

Sydney Carter, best known for having written the lyrics to Lord of the Dance, wrote John Ball in 1981 to commemorate the six hundredth anniversary of the Peasant's Revolt (1381 also called &ldquoWat Tyler's Rebellion&rdquo). John Ball himself was a priest who found in Wycliffe's translation of the Bible into English new hope for an egalitarian England. [Note. Both Walsingham's Historia Anglicana and the Chronicon Angliae claim that John Ball, priest, taught the &ldquoperverted doctrine&rdquo (perversa dogmata) and the &ldquofalse ravings&rdquo (insanias falsas) of John Wyclif, whom Walsingham elsewhere describes as &ldquovetus hypocrita, angelus Sathanae, antichristi praeambulans&rdquo (an old hypocrite, Satan's angel, a walking antichrist) as well as a heretic with &ldquodampnatas opiniones.&rdquo See Chronicon Angliae , ed. E. M. Thompson (Rolls Series 64, 1874), p. 281 Historia Anglicana , ed. H. T. Riley (Rolls Series 28.1), 2:32. For another setting of this theme, see the moral lyric beginning &ldquoWhen adam delf & eue span, spir, if thou wil spede&rdquo from Cambridge Univ. MS Dd. 5. 64, III (fols. 35v-36r), as printed in Religious Lyrics of the XIVth Century , ed. Carleton Brown and rev. G. V. Smithers, 2 nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1957), pp. 96-97 Index § 3921. The theme is proverbial. See Whiting, Proverbs, § A38.] Some modern scholars claim that the few fragments of John Ball's verse that survive are, in fact, the first flowering of political poetry and protest song in English. He is, in a sense, the direct literary ancestor of such modern figures as Woody Guthrie, Allen Ginsberg, Ewan MacColl, and Bob Dylan. Ball's most famous poetic assertion, referred to in Carter's song, is:

Whan Adam dalf, and Eve span,
Wo was thanne a gentilman?
[When Adam dug, and Eve spun,
Who was then the gentleman?]

[Note: Walsingham and especially Froissart describe how Ball preached egalitarian doctrine.]

The implication here, of course, is that the existence of a landed gentry and a noble class have no justification in Scripture and should be overthrown. Ball was executed in 1381 for his efforts in behalf of English working people, and he has since become something of a folk hero. Victorian poet and artist William Morris wrote a story called &ldquoThe Dream of John Ball&rdquo that used Ball as a focal point for Morris's own intense socialism.

Grace Notes (Maggie Boyle, Lynda Hardcastle, and Helen Hockenhull) sang John Ball in 2001 on their Fellside CD Anchored to the Time . Lynda Hardcastle noted:

I found this Sydney Carter song in a children's music book ( Tinderbox , A&C Black) during a concerted effort to find something more up-tempo. John Ball was a priest and one of the leaders in the Peasant's Revolt in the 14 th century. He preached common property, equality and the extermination of the nobility(!). All men, he said, originated from Adam and Eve. He is quoted as saying &ldquoWhen Adam delf and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?&rdquo John Ball was imprisoned, excommunicated and finally hanged in 1381. Sydney Carter has written a number of rousing songs and when we tested this at our local folk club (The Famous Bacca Pipes in Keighley) the great chorus singers there certainly raised the rafters.

This video show Grace Notes singing John Ball at the Ram Club, Thames Ditton, Surrey in February 2011:

Danny Spooner sang John Ball on his 2008 CD Brave Bold Boys . He noted:

John Ball was written in 1981 by Sydney Carter to commemorate the 600 th anniversary of the Peasants' Revolt in England in 1381. John Ball was a priest and follower of Wycliffe, in whom he saw the hope of an egalitarian England. Ball was accused of &ldquoperversa dogmata and insanias falsas&rdquo (perverse doctrine and false ravings). His studies of Wycliffe's English translation of the Bible had led him to believe that nowhere did it advocate monarchy or aristocracy. He was imprisoned for preaching these ideas but was released by the peasants as they marched on London. Unfortunately, the rebellion was defeated and John Ball died for his beliefs. His attitude towards a hierarchical nobility was summed up in a beautiful couplet which he wrote:

When Adam dalf, and Eve span,
Wo was thann a gentleman?

Chris Wood and Karine Polwart sang John Ball in 2008 on Wood's CD Trespasser and on his anthology Albion .

Jon Boden sang John Ball as the 22 January 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

The Melrose Quartet (Nancy Kerr, James Fagan, and Jess and Rich Arrowsmith) sang John Ball live at the Cheltenham Folk Festival in February 2011. this recording was included in November 2011 on their EP Live at Cheltenham . This video shows another live performance, at the Met Main Stage at the Homegrown Festival in Bury in November 2014:

The choir Freshly Ground sang John Ball in 2013 on their WildGoose CD The Good Red Earth . Issy Emeney noted:

Written in 1981 by Sydney Carter to commemorate 600 years since the Peasant’s Revolt. John Ball was a priest and leader in the rebellion, and suffered the standard fate&mdashhe was hanged, drawn and quartered.

Sound Tradition sang John Ball in 2014 on their CD Blackbird . They commented in their liner notes:

John Ball was a 14 th century hedge priest (a roving preacher). Seen as a major threat to the establishment, Ball's striving for social equality and reforms in Western Christianity was rewarded by his execution in 1381. This song, written in 1981 to commemorate the 600 th anniversary of the Peasants' Revolt, is taken from his most well-known text, John Ball's Sermon Theme: &ldquoWhen Adam dalf and Eve span, Who was thane a gentilman?&rdquo

And this video shows Ange Hardy and Steve Pledger singing John Ball at Upton Village Hall in November 2014 with a very cheeky last verse:

Watch the video: Sing John Ball (July 2022).


  1. Ladd

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  2. Druce

    This seems like a good idea to me. I agree with you.

  3. Tobyn

    It seems to me that it has already been discussed.

  4. Vudogar

    I think very interesting topic. Let's Talk with you in the PM.

  5. Marn

    I doubt it.

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