Saturday, June 2, 2012

Occupy (Medieval) London! Part 1 (of 5)

The Peasants' Revolt of 1381

The statutes that attempted to restrict the peasant workforce to pre-Plague levels of wages, etc., did not please the lower classes. Social unrest needs a nucleus, however, a focus, and one was found in John Ball.

John Ball (c.1338-1381) was a priest and a "Lollard." (Lollardy, among other things, rejected the idea that the aristocracy were "better.") Ball's traveling roadshow of social equality did not please the Archbishop of Canterbury, who imprisoned Ball in the archbishop's palace in Kent, 30 miles southeast of London. This did not sit well with Ball's many fans, who broke him out of prison. He and they traveled toward London, and in a field in Blackheath, he preached an open-air sermon to a large crowd on a topic that became a motto for the lower class:
When Adam dalf [delved, digged], and Eve span, who was thanne a gentilman? 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... 
He concluded with exhortations to root out those who brought harm to the community: the lords of the realm, and the lawyers and justices and jurors. The crowd, roused to a frenzy, began the five-mile march to London.

[to be continued]

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