Letter to the Community in Essex

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John Ball's Letter to the Community in Essex
by John Ball (1338-1381)
A pastoral exhortation/sermon, possibly written in Spring 1381, preserved in the British Library, Royal MS 13.E.ix folio 287R

Littera Johannis Balle missa communibus Essexiae

Johon Schep, som tyme Seynte Marie prest of York, and now of Colchestre, greteth wel Johan Nameles, and Johan the Mullere, and Johon Cartere, and biddeth hem that thei bee war of gyle in borugh, and stondeth togidre in Godes name, and biddeth Peres Ploughman go to his werk, and chastise wel Hobbe the Robbere, and taketh with yow Johan Trewman and all hiis felawes, and no mo, and loke schappe you to on heved, and no mo.

Johan the Mullere hath ygrounde smal, smal, smal
The Kynges sone of hevene schal pay for al.
Be war or ye be wo;
Knoweth your freend fro your foo.
Haveth ynow, and seith "Hoo!"
And do wel and bettre, and fleth synne,
And seketh pees, and hold you therinne.
And so biddeth Johan Trewman and alle his felawes

(Modern English)
Littera Johannis Balle missa communibus Essexiae ("Letter of John Ball to the mass commons of Essex")

Johon Schep [a coded reference to Ball himself], some time Saint Mary priest of York, and now of Colchester, greeteth well Johan Nameless, and Johan the Miller, and Johon Cartere, and biddeth them that they be ware of guile in borough, and standeth together in Gods name, and biddeth Peres Plowman go to his work, and chastise well Hobbe the Robber, and taketh with you Johan Trueman and all his fellows, and no more, and look shape you to on heaved, and no more.

Johan the Miller hath yground small, small, small
The Kings son of heaven shall pay for all [a reminder of the Christian doctrine that says Jesus's sacrificial death on the cross redeems everyone, presumably including common people who are fed up and on the verge of making political trouble]
Be ware or ye be woe
Knoweth your friend fro your foe.
Haveth enough, and saith 'Ho!'.
And do well and better, and fleeth sin,
And seeketh peace, and hold you therein [that is: keep the peace]
And so biddeth Johan Trueman and all his fellows