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Now Is the Time: John Ball

Documentary about 14th-century preacher John Ball, whose words and beliefs galvanised the people of England into unprecedented revolutionary action.

'When Adam Delv'd and Eve Span
Who was then the Gentle Man'

These words have been attributed to John Ball, a 14th-century radical priest.

In this programme, Melvyn Bragg goes in search of a man about whom little is known but whose words and beliefs galvanised the ordinary people of this country into unprecedented revolutionary action. Not only that, but he has been a marker through the centuries for other radicals - men and women determined to challenge the status quo and question injustice.

He was a lone voice for many years, preaching his doctrine in the south east of England, persecuted by the Church authorities he despised. But it wasn't until 1381 that John Ball's radical fire took hold, when he joined forces with Wat Tyler in Kent and led the Peasants' Revolt - misnamed as the participants were by no means all peasants or villeins. Thousands of men and some women quickly moved across the counties of the south east, destroying everything that represented those aspects of government they hated, and then just as swiftly moving on to the capital.

In London, they combined forces with many of the disgruntled city dwellers, met up with the king and made their demands. It was a moment in our history that was to terrify and influence the ruling classes for centuries to come. The words of John Ball - one of the first to communicate a political message to the people in English - have helped shape revolts and political thought for the last seven hundred years. Above all, they have been a beacon for what can be achieved if the power of radical idealism is harnessed to deep popular anger. A simple priest was able to terrorise a tight hierarchy that up to this point had controlled and enslaved thousands of the common people.

1 hour

Last on

Fri 29 Aug 2014 00:50

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Role Contributor
Series Editor Melvyn Bragg
Producer Gillian Greenwood
Director Gillian Greenwood


  • Sat 2 Aug 2014 21:00
  • Fri 29 Aug 2014 00:20
  • Fri 29 Aug 2014 00:50

The power of speech

BBC Radio 4: In Our Time

BBC Radio 4: In Our Time

Listen to Melvyn Bragg discussing the history of ideas on Radio 4's In Our Time.