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Lollardy was a Late English Medieval religious reform movement ca. 1382-1430. The movement was influenced by the early scholarship, and lectures of an Oxford University don, John Wyclif, Ph.D., a major Latin scholar of the period, known for his own Biblical scholarship. The early movement came out of a series lectures on his Biblical research offered at Oxford University about 1380. The term Lollard was coined as a derisive term for its questionable religious interpretations.

John Wycliffe (1330?-1430)

John Wyclif, or Wycliffe(1330?-1384) was a prominent Latin scholar, theologian, biblical scholar, and Realist philosopher. Born in the Richmond area of Yorkshire, he may have been educated through local grants. He attended, and graduated from Oxford University with BA, MA, DD, and became a major Latin scholar, and instructor.

Wyclif would become Master of Balliol College (Oxford) ca. 1360-61?, and briefly as the possible Warden of Canterbury Hall (Oxford). He held various livings in the country after 1363. He was a Fellow of Merton College (Oxford) ca. 1371. He received a Doctor of Divinity degree from Oxford University in 1372.

Wyclif was a famous Biblical scholar of the period, a theologian, and a Oxford Don. His scholarly research placed an emphasis on the inward aspects of religion, and the mystical source of grace which the Bible revealed to all of God's People. Some of his scholarly research raised some old discussion points regarding some aspects of the Church traditions from a Biblical interpretation of the Early Church from the original Greek, and Latin texts. The discussion on the dichotomy of the Gospels of Early New Testament Church, and the rise of the early Roman State Church were not new issues to the Church.

It was during 1374, that the English Church and the Crown had legal recourse to resolve certain legal question of civil authority between Church and State. The Crown hired Wyclif, as a Latin scholar,to present his scholarly research findings on the question at hand to the Courts. Wycliffe submitted his scholarship supporting the legal positions of the English Crown's authority from his research. When the final judgement was rendered, the Crown prevailed in its legal position over the Church.

The legal decisions found in favor of the Crown, did not totally endear Wycliffe to some members of the Church, or to some of his own superiors of the Oxford University who may have not wish the additional attention. His critics call him the "King's Man" which gave Wycliff a certain new standing with the Crown which was appreciated, and possibly some additional benefits for Oxford University too? Due to his prior success, Wycliffe became a regular legal consultant for the Crown over time.

During the Late English Medieval period the Church was broad divided into two separate administrative groups: the religious groups, The Temporal Clergy and the Secular Clergy. The Secular Clergy were the basic public clergy that ministered that attended to their local parish churches, and cathedrals, etc., under the administration of their local Bishops. Unlike the Secular Clergy, the Temporal Clergy, the monks, friars, etc., belong to various Religious Orders that were under the control of the Holy See, rather than the local State Church, or their own local bishops.

Many of the Temporal Clergy, were not particular supportive of Wycliffe's early efforts against the Church, on behalf of the Crown. This sowed the early seeds of some discontentment. The old rag: "no good deed goes unpunished" might be said of the negative attitudes toward Wycliffe. These were some of the earliest, and most active critics from within the Church of Wycliffe. The Holy See had a vested interest to try, and keep their Temporal Clergy happy, as best they could during this period.

During Wycliffe's later years he was kept busy beyound his normal academic duties at Oxford University. Being a consultant for the Crown in their legal matters. There was the translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible into English, the Lollard Bible, as it was called, which was not popular in certain religious circles of the period. Wycliffe was also engaged in writing Biblical commentaries. Not unlike many universities of the period the research of its professors general did not not circulate outside of the university sphere. There might be some limited academic discussion in certain areas.

There was something of a common long standing &qout;tradition": between the English Church, and its institutions of higher learning. The Church would function as titular governors to oversee these private religious institution of learning, with some additional oversight coming from the Crown. But the regular day-to-day management, and their operations would be usually left in the hands of the current university administration, and its officers, staff, and its own secular clergy. Beyound his critics Wycliffe was still held in high esteem by the University.

By 1380, Wyclif had started to publish copies of his own texts not in Latin, the language of scholars, but rather in English. This was a very novel approach in 1380. His works openly questioned various aspects of the Church, and its clergy "for form over substance". His opinions were now available to any who might read standard English not just limited to the university Latin scholars. Some of the current Church authorities had serious misgiving about making these text available to other than academics, and scholars.

In 1381 Wyclif had begun his own translation of the Vulgate Bible from the Latin into the English language while he was housed at Queens College, Oxford. He translated large sections of the Old Testament, and the Gospels.Nicholas of Hereford (d. 1420?) was a close friend and university colleagues who helped Wyclif with some of his translations, and other works. John Purvey (ca. 1353-ca. 1428) a close associate of Wyclif at Oxford. who helped to completed the translation of the Bible for publication in 1388.

While Wycliffe was working on his monumental English translation of the Vulgate Bible, he may have became interested in an old point of discussion that had been raised since the Early Church. The question was an apparent dichotomy between the primary message of the Gosples and the "Good News", and the establish of the new Roman State Church under Constantine as a secular institution and its organizational goals within the framework of the Good News. These early texts might have provided new insights for Wycliffe for some potential Church reforms.

Some of Wycliffe's biblical research asked opinions on certain aspects of certain traditional Church practices that might be considered inconsistent with his own scholarship from the readings of these early texts. Issues regarding religious pilgrimages, private religions images and shrines were controversial issues of his scholarship. Even his scholarly research on the Eucharist and the Doctrine of Transubstantiation would raise questions for academic discussion. Of course, the old question of attending to the sick, poor, the homeless, needy, the children, in the Church were raised. Even the secular clergy and the Church's administration did not escape the scope of his scholarly research. For all of these probing Biblical research, Wycliffe was still held in rather high regard for his biblical scholarship by the University, and other institutions of higher learning of the day as academic questions.

Apart from his published own writing in English on the New Testament, and the Church, Wycliff began a series of lectures discussion these concepts. Wycliffe organized a small select group of advanced students, and friend to discuss these topics, in greater academic details, and personal opinions. This small group of special members would come to provide the early nucleus of what would become known as the core of Lollard teachings. There were similar later groupings who did not receive the same level of personal refinement into his teachings.

Wycliffe would find some additional early support in the personage of Sir John of Gaunt(1340-1399), The Duke of Lancaster, the younger son of King Edward III. The primary source from his critics came from the Royal household.


Unfortunately for Wyclif, the University of Oxford fell under the scrutiny of the Church of England, and ultimately the Roman Church itself. from 1377-78, but luckily he fell between the cracks of the "Great Schism" then raging in Europe. Two different Popes had been elected putting the authority of the Holy See of the Roman Catholic Church at risk.

Wyclif's work for the Crown was not favorable to the Church and its authority, he won him little favor from the Church administration, or amongst its local bishops. His own status at Oxford University was directly influenced by the Church authorities that might terminate his position. Wyclif was able to garner a certain amount personal protection from his association with the Royal Household under Richard II.

By 1380, Wyclif had started to publish copies of his own texts not in Latin, the language of scholars, but rather in English. This was a very novel approach in 1380. His works openly questioned various aspects of the Church, and its clergy "for form over substance". His opinions were now available to any who might read standard English not just limited to the university Latin scholars. Some of the current Church authorities had serious misgiving about making these text available to other than academics, and scholars.

In 1381 Wyclif had begun his own translation of the Vulgate Bible from the Latin into the English language while he was housed at Queens College, Oxford. He translated large sections of the Old Testament, and the Gospels.Nicholas of Hereford (d. 1420?) was a close friend and university colleagues who helped Wyclif with some of his translations, and other works. John Purvey (ca. 1353-ca. 1428) a close associate of Wyclif at Oxford. who helped to completed the translation of the Bible for publication in 1388.

A more refined and readable English edition of the Bible was published in 1390, not quite as literal a translation from the Vulgate. It was this 1390 edition that would become known as the Lollard Bible. Copies of this "Lollard Bible" became available to a large segment of the public that could not have afford them in England until 1408. These would become prized family treasures for generations.

Wyclif was quite open in his own opinions of what were considered as some current errours within the Church based on his own scriptural research. He was reluctant to tone down his rhetoric, or to take more politically correct positions. His writing on the Eucharist were officially condemned by current the University authorities, and by the English Church by the Archbishop of Canterbury, which formed the basis of eventual fall from grace of the movement by Church authority.

The early civil support for the Crown over the Church of England in Court laid the seed of discontent amoung the temporial clergy, the monks and friars, who basically reported only to the Holy See, and not the authority of the bishop's of the Church of England. The Rev. Wycliff, who was seen as the "King's Man" was distrusted, and considered disloyal by many. The new English "Lollard Bible" rather then the Latin Vulgate Bible was a sore point for some.

Lollardy as a sect, an out grow of some of Wycliffe's writings, was becoming extremely popular within Oxford University, and the community itself. Lollard sermons were now commonly heard from the pulpits of many churches in the Oxford area. Some University officials were reported to be in sympathy with the sect, and its views. The Chancellor of the University was called to London to report on the state of affairs.

The Archbishop of Canterbury began to exercise greater authority over the operations of the University after May of 1382. This was a major departure from a former "hands off policy",which the current University officials were greatly distressed and railed against. The Crown for their part was also concerned with the current reform philosophy in Oxford and expressed their own displeasure, and worked against the University authority.

On July 13, 1382, Wyclif was officially banished from Oxford University proper, and was instructed to leave the community.

Along with Wyclif, three other Oxford dons were also dismissed. Nicholas Hereford, Repyngton, and John Aston were all early students, and supporters. Hereford set off for Rome to attempt an audience with the Pope. Both Hereford and Repyngton would later recant, and become faithful servants of the Church of Rome. John Aston recanted his views, only to became a dedicated preacher and missionary to the cause.

Lollardy was openly condemned by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1382. A number of Wyclif's old friends and supporters at Oxford were eventually arrested, and forced to recant their own Lollard beliefs. Both "town and gown" felt the ire of the Church authorities towards any Lollard leanings in its community.

Many of these first generation Lollards converts would later persecute by their second generation brethren. The Church was still held in great respect and fear by many of the first generation Lollards supporters that recanted in Oxford.

Wycliffe began to lose his support among the English nobility with religious writings for reforms, especially regarding his opinions Eucharist which were condemned by the Church. Sir John of Gaunt (1340-1399) an early supporter of some of Wycliff view's on church wealth might not wish to broach any hint of a possible visit from the Church authorities. The Peasant's Uprising of 1381 also had its impact on the nation at large. Wyclif was himself surprisingly left unassailed during this period of condemnation probably due to his own Royal patronage during this period.

Wyclif retired to the rectory at Lutterworth (a Crown supported parish) and continued his scholarly writings unabated. How active the scholar might have been in his public support during these later years, may need more research. He died there after a second stroke in 1384. It may be that the scholar and academic within him may have concluded that this writing were the best gift that he could leave to future generations? After 600 years they are still being read, and studied.

Lollards or Wycliffites

Groups of lay preachers, Poor Priests, or Mummers strolled the English countryside ca. 1382-1409. They preached a new reformed Christian doctrine based on the scholarly writings of John Wyclif, D.D. Lollards promoted the reading of the Holy Scripture in the vernacular as the means for knowing the true Word of God. Personal faith, and Divine elections were common central issues. Lollards also promoted the equality of the sexes including women preachers.

Lollards questioned the current state of the Roman Church, and the Church of England by extension criticized for many of its current practices and for its wealth. There was a anti-clerical bent, and a questioning of Church authority note in their message.

The term Lollard came into general usage by 1387, and may been used as early as 1382. The word Lollard may possibly come from the Dutch word for mumble"Lollaert". They were also sometimes known as Wycliffites.

The level of John Wyclif's personal involvement in the early Lollard movement is still being researched. After 1384, Wyclif's former secretary and friend, John Purvey (1353?-1428?) became the public titular leader of the new reform movement supported by former students and friends of Wyclif in the Oxford area. Additional support soon found among both the rich and the common folk outside the University environments.

The Lollards were basically a religious, and social reform movement that some have referred to it as the First Reformation. Early support came from among the wealthy classes who had supported, and advanced laws for the confiscation of Church property under Richard II (1377-99). They wanted to reduce the power and the wealth of the Church in England for their own financial reasons, and they were willing to add their supported to the Lollards, or anyone else that supports their common goals.

Lollard positions and reforms also found some support at Court. But with the death of King Richard II,(1377-1399), Lollard support would gradually waned at Court. By 1400, the Catholic Church's positions were finding increased support at Court under the new king, King Henry IV(1399-1413). The Church increased their campaign against the Lollard, including their various reforms and policies to the State, or the Church, including any of their supporters. The new king quickly backed the winning political side.

The Lollard Bible was soon banned by 1407. These became prized family treasures for Lollard families. Many prominent Lollards especially any former Oxford associates were arrested, or sent to prison. John Purvey was arrested in 1390 and sent to prison. He recanted in 1410, and took a parish appointment. He resigned his parish in 1413 and returned to the former Lollard cause.

Nicholas of Hereford was a Fellow of Queen's College during the period Wyclif began work on his English Bible translation from the Vulgate. He was an early convert to Lollardy, he was banished from Oxford along with Wyclif. He was imprisoned for a time, and then recanted about 1391. He became associated with Hereford Cathedral about 1394.

Lollards would become subject to the new legal statute De Haeretico Comburendo (1401) which authorized the burning of heretics in England. Lollards were soon being persecuted for their beliefs under the new statue. William Sawtrey (d.1401) is often cited as the first Lollard martyr to be burned at the stake in 1410. His death caused many of the early Lollards to recant, or reconsider their views. Interesting enough Sawtrey was not himself condemned under De Haeretico Comburendo (1401).

John Foxes' (1516-1587) monumental work Acts and Monuments of these latter and perilous days ... (1563) records the deaths of the England martyrs burned at the stack including Lollards. Men such as: John Badby, William Taylor, William Swinderby, and John Aston were recorded for future generations.

Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham 1378-1417

Sir John Oldcastle (1378-1414) came from a prominent Hertfordshire family. He is primarily remembered as a prominent figure of the Lollard movement, and as a Lollard Knight. His early career was in the military where became acquainted with, and a friend of the young Prince Henry, later King Henry V. In 1404, he became a member of Parliament Hertfordshire. A well placed marriage in 1408, elevated him, and his fortune as Lord Cobham, and to the House of Lords. Oldcastle may have become a Lollard convert about this period. Some Church authorities took an interest in his religious leaning, but the new King Henry V was known to be old friend, which provided some general assistance.

The possible ownership of a book with some Lollard views became of point of contention for the Archbishop of Canterbury. After some legal arguments Oldcastle agreed to a trial, which he was promptly convicted and sentenced in 1415. While awaiting his execution he escaped from the Tower of London. He escaped his prison with some assistance , and promptly became the most wanted man in England.

While on the run, Oldcastle decided to organize active Lollard resistance against the Crown, now that he was still free. There would be number planned attempts against the Royal Family, and the officials of the Church of England, and the House of Lords over the next few years while Oldcastle was still at large. The goal was to topple the current government, and replace it with a kinder, more democratic government with social reforms, including the Church of England. A number of plans were contemplated with little real success. The last major organized attempt in Sept. 1417, the plans were leaked, and the last vestiges of any real Lollard resistance were quietly quashed.

Oldcastle was finally tracked down with his last good fight. He was captured, and quickly taken to London. He was sentenced to death at Saint Gile's Field. He was hanged,and burned at the same time. There was a question at the time if he was still alive during the burning, or not? Oldcastle is often called the last martyr of Lollardy.

After the disastrous results of the failed Oldcastle's Uprising of 1414,knightly patronage for reforms waned, and with it came renewed suppression under King Henry V.

At the Council of Constance (1415), Wyclif and his writings were condemned by Pope John XXIII (Pisan line). Renewed religious persecutions of suspected Lollards soon followed in England. In 1428 under the supervision of Bishop Fleming of Lincoln, Wyclif's bones were dug up, burned, and cast into the River Swift by order of the Church. Lollards had already begun to go underground across England. Somewhat ironically speaking Bishop Fleming had been a colleague and supporter of Wyclif while at Oxford University as a young man.

There was another attempted Lollard uprising in 1431. Lollard communities once again went underground. There is good information that Lollardy did continue to survive in England.

p>The English Church actively continued in its efforts to root out and destroy Lollard influence wherever it could be found. During the reign of Henry VIII between 1486-1522 there were at least twelve or more Lollardy trials. Prosecution as a Lollard was often a catch all term for many types of heresy during this period including some who may have held various reformed ideals or Lutheran views.

Local pockets of Lollard influence and tradition continued into the Sixteenth Century. Even as late as 1521, John Longland (1473-1547) ,Bishop of Lincoln, was engaged in launching sweeps for suspected Lollard communities near Amersham, Buckshire. A Royal Proclamation of 1529 speaks of "malicious and wicked sets of heretics and Lollards...".

We can identify some of the more popular Lollard areas about 1530: Coventry, Chiltern Hills, Essex, Kent, London, Norwich, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire. The Church of England was active in prosecuting any heresy it could find in these areas.

The term "Known Men" has been used to describe Lollards of this period. During Christmastide in 1550 a group of individuals were arrested at a conventicle at Bocking (Essex). Among these were Henry Hart, a known Lollard. Members of this group came to be known as "Freewillers" a possible offshoot of Lollardy. As late as 1555, a man from York was prosecuted as a Lollard. [Editor Note: Freewill Men section]

Wyclif's philosophy and his scholarly writings brought him into conflict with the status quo. He actively supported the Crowns' temporal authority over the Church in various civil matters. His own scholarship questioned some of the current stated policies of the Roman Church in the light of his own research on the Bible, and the Early Church. The Church temporal also vied with the State, and the Monarchy for its share of the material pie, so to speak, and to maintain its exclusive rights as the Church of St. Peter.

Wyclif's own personal involvement in the Lollard movement is still an open question. He would seem to have been a man of letters, a respected scholar and theologian. Wycliff was active in his own writings, and discussion of his Biblical scholarship in the university setting. He seems to have been sincere in his personal convictions of his research , but as an active reformer? Maybe having spread his teaching, and gained some followers at the university may have been all that mattered in the long run? It is still a rather open question if he engaged in any active role in the early movement, or not?

The active Lollard movement itself is generally credited to have begun about 1382. Wycliffe was basically retired, and in poor health living at Lutterworth by this time. During 1384 Wyclif had died of a second stroke not knowing the final impact of his teachings.

Lollard influences have continued to linger in English society. The following is a rather short list of some primary themes, and reforms that the Lollards actively preached on: Anticlericalism, Freewill, personal religion, anti-pilgrimages and religious images, questions of the true nature of the Eucharist, confessions to a priest and an emphasis on reading of the Bible by lay people in the vernacular were commonly held perspectives that found expression in other later dissident voices and groups regarding Church.

The Lollards movement would influenced the Catholic Church to consider some reforms. The movements influence was felt into Scotland, and even Bohemia. Jan Hus (d.1415), a prominent Czech reformer died at the stake for heresy. A five year long Czech religious movement against the Roman Church by the Hussite movement established a state Bohemian Church. The English Reformation was influences by many Lollard traditions, and the introduction of Lutheran views under Edward VI. Even the puritans may have fell from this same tree.

The question of how long Lollardy lasted in England may not be the right question. Rather should we be asking if it even really left English society?


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