John Ball was born in St. Albans, Hertfordshire. He eventually became the priest St James' Church in Colchester. John 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 St James' Church.
John Ball now became a travelling priest and gave sermons in local churches. While preaching in Norfolk the Bishop of Norwich ordered his imprisonment. After he was released he began touring Essex and Kent. When the Archbishop of Canterbury heard about this he gave orders that John Ball should not be allowed to preach in church. John Ball responded by giving talks on the village green.
The Archbishop of Canterbury now gave instructions that all people found listening to John Ball's sermons should be punished. When this failed to work, John Ball was arrested and sent to Maidstone Prison.
On 7th June, 1381, Ball was rescued from Maidstone Prison by rebels led by Wat Tyler. After ransacking the Archbishop of Canterbury's palace, the rebels began their march on London. When the rebels arrived at Blackheath it was estimated that there were about 30,000 people in Wat Tyler's army.
Ball was with Tyler when he carried out negotiations with Richard II at Mile End on 14th June. The following day Tyler was killed by William Walworth and the rebels, after being granted charters signed by the king, agree to leave London.
An army, led by Thomas of Woodstock, John of Gaunt's younger brother, was sent into Essex to crush the rebels. A battle between the peasants and the King's army took place near the village of Billericay on 28th June. The king's army was experienced and well-armed and the peasants were easily defeated. It is believed that over 500 peasants were killed during the battle.
King Richard with a large army began visiting the villages that had taken part in the rebellion. At each village, the people were told that no harm would come to them if they named the people in the village who had encouraged them to join the rebellion. Those people named as ringleaders were then executed.
The king's officials were instructed to look out for John Ball. He was eventually caught in Coventry. He was found guilty of high treason and was hung, drawn and quartered on 15th July, 1381.