When Adam delved and Eve span

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

6 September 2014

A COMMUNIST PRIEST IN MEDIEVAL ENGLAND

“When Adam delved, and Eve span, who was then the gentleman? 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 thereforeI 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.”

Extract from a Sermon delivered at Blackheath in 1381 by John Ball, a revolutionary English priest, who was hanged as a traitor that same year after the failure of a popular uprising against the landed gentry and the crown. The sermon is cited in The Chronicles of England (1580) by the chronicler John Stow (1525-1605).

A similar citation confirming John Ball’s rebel-rousing egalitarianism is found in an earlier French text , Book 2 (1388) of the Chroniques of the French historian Jean Froissart (1337-1404):

“Et, se venons tout d’un père et d’une mere, Adam et Eve, en quoi poent il dire ne monstrer que il sont mieux signeur que nous, fors parce que il nous font gaaignier et labourer ce que il despendent? Il sont vestu de velours et de camocas fourés de vair et de gris, et nous sommes vesti de povres draps. Il ont les vins, les espisses et les bons pains, et nous avons le soille, le retrait et le paille, et buvons l’aige. Ils ont le sejour et les biaux manoirs, et nous avons le paine et le travail, et le pleue et le vent as camps, et faut que de nous viengne et de nostre labeur ce dont il tiennent les estas.”

The following English version of that passage is from p. 212 of Geoffrey Brereton’s translation of Froissart’s Chronicles, published by Harmonsworth: Penguin in 1968:

“If we all spring from a single father and mother, Adam and Eve, how can they claim or prove that they are lords more than us, except by making us produce and grow the wealth which they spend? They are clad in velvet and camlet lined with squirrel and ermine, while we go dressed in coarse cloth. They have the wines, the spices and the good bread: we have the rye, the husks and the straw, and we drink water. They have shelter and ease in their fine manors, and we have hardship and toil, the wind and the rain in the fields. And from us must come, from our labour, the things which keep them in luxury.”

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 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

  1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
  2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
  3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
  4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012) 
  5. Ladder  (21 June 2012)
  6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
  7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
  8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.

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