In the thirteenth century political poems were written chiefly in Latin or French. In the fourteenth century a steadily growing tendency to use English witnesses the increased interest of the people in politics and social questions. The fullest collections are those edited by T. Wright, Political Songs of England (John to Edward II), Camden Society, 1839; and Political Poems and Songs ( Edward III to Richard III), Rolls Series, 2 vols., 1839-61.
The selections A and B are from the poems of Laurence Minot, of which the best edition is the third by J. Hall, Oxford 1914. Minot was a better patriot than a poet, and his boisterous contempt for the Scots and French reflects the spirit of England in the early days of Edward III's greatness.
The empty phrases in which the anonymous piece C abounds do not disguise a note of despair. The long war with France was becoming more and more hopeless. The plague that added to its miseries had carried off Henry, first Duke of Lancaster, in 1361. The Black Prince, to whom the nation looked for guidance, had died in 1376. The inglorious old age of Edward III ended in the following year. But there remained the hope, soon to be falsified, that the boy king Richard II would steer the ship of state to safety.
D is the earliest text of the letter which John Ball addressed to the Essex members of the Great Society of Peasants on the eve of the revolt of 1381. It shows how deep an impression the characters and allegorical form of Piers Plowman had made on the oppressed serfs and labourers, and it gives some idea of the vague and incoherent thinking that brought ruin on their enterprise. Ball, who had defied established authority all his