First published in serial format in the ‘Commonweal’ journal from 1886, Morris’s ‘A Dream of John Ball’ is a novel about the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. Like Morris’s utopian novel ‘News from Nowhere’, the story involves a time travelling dream narrative where a protagonist from Morris’s time visits medieval England at the height of the revolt.
The novel’s protagonist meets the rebel priest John Ball and they discuss how feudalism and rural life are being replaced by industrial urban expansion. Morris depicts the middle ages as a golden age where peasants were happy and protected from exploitation by their guilds. In this way he recasts the Peasants' Revolt as a socialist revolution against the rising tide of capitalist servitude.
After its success in the Commonweal, the story was published in book form by Reeves and Turner in 1888. The book featured an engraved frontispiece by Edward Burne-Jones which was also included in the Kelmscott Press edition, seen here. Morris’s Kelmscott Press printed 300 copies of the book on hand-made paper and 11 copies on vellum. This paper copy was presented to Morris by his friend Aglaia Coronio, a well-established bookbinder, embroiderer and art patron.
Burne-Jones’s illustration was reused on other socialist material including as a print called ‘Labour’ in the Daily Chronicle and on a Socialist banner from the 1890s (William Morris Gallery F432).