Wycliffs teachings and his disciples were now condemned

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                                  Lollardy after Wycliff

Wycliff's teachings and his disciples were now condemned. The development of Lollardy
can be seen in three phases, which often overlapped :-

A. In Oxford

Wycliff's earliest disciples were scholars at Oxford – Hereford, Purvey, Aston, Repton, etc.
They contributed to Lollardy in two principal ways :-

1.   The Production of Lollard Writings
a.   Two English Bibles – one in 1382 and the other in 1395 'the Lollard Bible'.
b.   Lollard Tracts in the vernacular – some translations of Wycliff's Latin works, some new

2.    The Spread of Lollard Teaching
     When banished from Oxford by Archbishop Courtenay in 1382, they took their teaching
     to various regions :-
    Repton carried the teaching, probably, to Leicester where some active groups produced
     lay preachers such as William Smith and William Swinderby. Later he abjured (i.e.
     renounced on oath) Lollardy and became Bishop of Lincoln.
    Aston evangelized along the Welsh border.
    Hereford was active in Worcester and in Nottingham.
    Purvey taught the cloth workers in Bristol.
    Swinderby, leaving Leicester, evangelized along the South Wales border, making
     converts wherever he went. Sir John Oldcastle was probably one of these converts.

Wycliffite teaching did persist in Oxford for a time. St. Edmund's Hall was a centre for such
teaching and two of her Principals were disciples. However, in 1411, Archbishop Arundel
imposed new regulations and in 1413, the Principal of St. Edmund's, Peter Payne fled to
Bohemia and, consequently, took Wycliff's teaching to Hus. The last traces of Lollardy in
Oxford were crushed.

B. Up to 1431 Political Involvement

This had gentry support. Wycliff had worked closely with John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster,
and may possibly have influenced some of the gentry. Some could have been influenced by
Wycliff's disciples.

Contemporary chronicles speak of a group of ten Lollard knights closely associated with the
courts of Richard II and Henry IV. These included Sir John Oldcastle, Sir Lewis Clifford, Sir
Richard Sturry, Sir Thomas Latimer, Sir William Neville, Sir John Clanvow, Sir John
Montague and Sir John Cheyne. These had had military careers, were educated men and
often gave protection to Lollard teachers and hid their writings.

In 1395, the Lollards presented to Parliament 'Twelve Conclusions'. This petition stated :-
"The essence of the worship which comes from Rome consists in signs and ceremonies, and
not in the effectual ministry of the Holy Ghost: and therefore it is not that which Christ has
ordained. Temporal things are distinct from spiritual things: a king and a bishop ought not to
be one and the same person" (1). They wanted Parliament to abandon a variety of things
which included :-

1.  The temporal (worldly) possessions of the Church.
2.  The priesthood 'which is not that priesthood which Christ ordained for his apostles'.
3.  The law of chastity applied to priests.
4.  Transubstantiation – 'the pretended miracle of the sacrament of bread drives all men but
    a few to idolatry'.
5. Exorcism and blessings performed over inanimate objects – e.g. wine, bread, water, oil,
    salt. These 'are the genuine performances of necromancy'.
6. Clerics holding civil positions – 'all … should occupy themselves with their own charge
    and no other'.
7. Special prayers for the dead – 'false foundation of alms'.
8. Pilgrimages, prayers and offerings made to blind crosses or roods … are pretty well akin
    to idolatry. [Note: a rood = 'Christ's cross; a cross or crucifix, especially at the entrance
    to a church chancel (i.e. choir stalls)].
9. Auricular confession 'with its pretended power of absolution exalts the arrogance of
    priests. The Treasury of Merits was also denounced.
10. Manslaughter in war – 'is expressly contrary to the New Testament'.

Little notice of these was taken in Parliament but the Church, including the Pope, was
alarmed and some arrests were made.

In 1399, Henry IV deposed Richard II with the help of Archbishop Arundel. His position was
insecure and he needed the Church's backing as he was apprehensive of the influence of
preachers. Consequently, in 1401, the 'De Haeretico Comburendo' Act was passed. This
forbade :-
i. All unlicensed preaching.
ii. The making or writing of books contrary to the Catholic faith.
iii. Conventicles (i.e. house meetings) or schools.

All those possessing condemned books were to surrender them. Anyone refusing to abjure
or convicted as a relapsed heretic was to be burnt at the stake by the secular authority –
Lollardy was regarded as 'a civil and treasonable crime as much as an offence against the

William Sawtre, a chaplain, recanted in 1399 but arrested for teaching Lollardy, was burnt at
Smithfield on royal orders. He had stated that "instead of adoring the cross, he adored the
Christ on the cross" (2).

In 1407, Archbishop Arundel examined William Thorpe, a priest who affirmed his beliefs:
i.     The authority and rule of Scripture;
ii.    The supreme office of every priest is to preach;
iii.   No Biblical warrant for tithes;
iv.    Denied the value of oaths;
v.     Denied the value of confessions to priests.

Also at the Convocation at Oxford in 1407 two conclusions were reached :-
 No preaching was to be done without the bishop's formal authorization;
 No new translations of the Bible into English were to be permitted.

In 1410, John Badby, a tailor of Evesham, was burnt.

The Rebellion of Sir John Oldcastle (1414)

Sir John Oldcastle, who was born around 1378 of a good Hertfordshire family and who
converted to Lollardy early in life, became Lord Cobham in 1408. He had served with dist-
inction in France both Henry IV (1399-1413) and his son Henry V (1413-1422). Challenged
by churchmen on his beliefs, he refused to recant when tried before Archbishop Arundel. He
was excommunicated and imprisoned, King Henry V himself intervening to give him time to
recant. He escaped, however, and took refuge with a Lollard bookseller in Smithfield where
he planned to kidnap the royal family at Christmas and overthrow the government. He
summoned Lollards and sympathizers to join him from his estates in the Welsh marches and
Kent and from Lollard communities in Bristol, the Midlands, the Chilterns and Essex. The
uprising was quickly suppressed, about 40 were immediately executed and orders to exterm-
inate all traces of Lollardy were issued. Oldcastle went into hiding. In 1414 and 1415, Henry
V offered him a pardon but he did not respond. In 1417, he was captured and executed.
This rebellion saw the end of the politically influential support of gentry and knights.

From 1414, a much more severe campaign against heretics was carried out since they were
now considered as potential traitors.
(Note: in Bohemia, rebellion against the German overlords had broken out after Hus' burning
and church property was destroyed. This revolt lasted until 1434.)

Yet Lollardy continued to thrive, especially in East Anglia, the west of England and London.
Great stress was laid on Bible reading and study.

After 1429, the Bishop of Norwich was particularly active in hunting out Lollards and persec-
ution in London led to the burning of 3 priests – one in 1428, one in 1430 and one in 1431.

In 1431, persecution possibly stimulated the abortive rebellion under William Perkins, a
weaver of Abingdon. He planned to overthrow the government and substitute a Lollard
government financed by a partial disendowment of the Church but he was betrayed and
executed. From this time political revolutionary ideas faded out and Lollardy became
completely religious.

C. An Underground Church

Lollardy "the creed of unlettered or semi-literate laymen who placed their trust about
everything in the Bible" (3).

The War of the Roses (1455-1471)

The only official mention of Lollards during the rest of the century appear in records of trials,
recantations and burning. Most Lollards preferred to abjure (abjure = to reject publicly and
finally) rather than burn but records show that faith was widespread and continued to grow.

Books were always important to the Lollards: the Bible, Wycliff's vernacular works, The
Wicket and tracts by his followers. In 1414, the Bishop of London found Lollards who were
makers and distributors of books. Two of these were put to death.

Lollardy remained entrenched in Bristol, London, Norwich, Salisbury and especially in the
Chilterns and Thames Valley. In 1450, James Willis, a literate weaver of Bristol, settled in
Henley and revived the movement in the Chilterns. In Kent, Lollardy flourished around
Tenterden where in 1438, five men were burnt at the stake.

These Lollards were known for their :-

     Scorn of priests;
     Denial of transubstantiation;
     Love of the Scriptures – many learnt great passages by heart, especially the Epistle of

Bishop Reginald Pecock

Evidence of the continuing vigour and appeal of Lollardy is seen in the attempt by Bishop
Pecock to confute their errors. He was a graduate of Oxford who was ordained in 1422 and
became Master of Whittington College in London in 1431. He was made Bishop of St.
Asaph in 1444 (still resident in London) and Bishop of Chichester in 1450. He sought to
convince the Lollards in a number of books. He argued against their belief in the absolute
authority and infallibility of Scripture claiming that man's reason is the highest authority.
However, he was to be accused of heresy himself and in 1457 tried and forced to abjure
some of his beliefs.

Lollardy continued to thrive. In 1462, James Willis was burnt and in 1474, John Goose.
From the 1490s the number of Lollards persecuted multiplied rapidly (Note: travelling
evangelists). The Bishop of Lincoln was so troubled by Lollards that he produced extracts of
an old tract against them.

Henry VII showed himself more zealous against heretics than his predecessors. Lollard
communities were found all over the country and were especially strong in the cloth-working
areas of the Chilterns, Bristol and Yorkshire. Lollards listened eagerly to the sermons of
Dean Colet in St. Paul's after 1505.

Persecution in the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII

    In 1506-7, 45 were accused in the Chilterns.
    In 1511 around 50 were accused in Kent.
    Between 1510-18 about 100 were accused in London.
    During the same period 1510-18, over 100 were accused in the Newbury area.
    In 1494, the 80-year-old Joan Boughton of good social standing had been burnt. She
     was the mother of Lady Young, wife of a former Lord Mayor, who also died at the stake.

Lollards of the Sixteenth Century

Unlike Luther, they highly valued James' Epistle and they gave no special place to Paul and
justification by faith. They continued to be heirs of Wycliff in challenging church authority
and order by appeal to Scripture and the Christian right and ability to understand it for daily
life. They were essentially non-conformists. They probably helped to distribute Tyndale's
and Luther's writings.


1.     E. Robertson; John Wycliffe Morning Star of the Reformation (Basingstoke, Hants:
       Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1984); p. 69.
2.     E. Robertson; John Wycliffe Morning Star of the Reformation (Basingstoke, Hants:
       Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1984); p. 72.
3.     G.H.W. Parker;


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