1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lollards

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LOLLARDS, the name given to the English followers of John Wycliffe; they were the adherents of a religious movement which was widespread in the end of the 14th and beginning of the 15th centuries, and to some extent maintained itself on to the Reformation. The name is of uncertain origin; some derive it from lolium, tares, quoting Chaucer (C.T., Shipman’s Prologue):—

This Loller heer wil prechen us somwhat . . .
He wolde sowen som difficultee
Or springen cokkel in our clene corn”;

but the most generally received explanation derives the words from lollen or lullen, to sing softly. The word is much older than its English use; there were Lollards in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 14th century, who were akin to the Fratricelli, Beghards and other sectaries of the recusant Franciscan type. The earliest official use of the name in England occurs in 1387 in a mandate of the bishop of Worcester against five “poor preachers,” nomine seu ritu Lollardorum confoederatos. It is probable that the name was given to the followers of Wycliffe because they resembled those offshoots from the great Franciscan movement which had disowned the pope’s authority and set before themselves the ideal of Evangelical poverty.

The 14th century, so full of varied religious life, made it manifest that the two different ideas of a life of separation from the world which in earlier times had lived on side by side within the medieval church were irreconcilable. The church chose to abide by the idea of Hildebrand and to reject that of Francis of Assisi; and the revolt of Ockham and the Franciscans, of the Beghards and other spiritual fraternities, of Wycliffe and the Lollards, were all protests against that decision. Gradually there came to be facing each other a great political Christendom, whose rulers were statesmen, with aims and policy of a worldly type, and a religious Christendom, full of the ideas of separation from the world by self-sacrifice and of participation in the benefits of Christ’s work by an ascetic imitation. The war between the two ideals was fought out in almost every country in Europe in the 14th century. In England Wycliffe’s whole life was spent in the struggle, and he bequeathed his work to the Lollards. The main practical thought with Wycliffe was that the church, if true to her divine mission, must aid men to live that life of evangelical poverty by which they could be separate from the world and imitate Christ, and if the church ceased to be true to her mission she ceased to be a church. Wycliffe was a metaphysician and a theologian, and had to invent a metaphysical theory—the theory of Dominium—to enable him to transfer, in a way satisfactory to himself, the powers and privileges of the church to his company of poor Christians; but his followers were content to allege that a church which held large landed possessions, collected tithes greedily and took money from starving peasants for baptizing, burying and praying, could not be the church of Christ and his apostles.

Lollardy was most flourishing and most dangerous to the ecclesiastical organization of England during the ten years after Wycliffe’s death. It had spread so rapidly and grown so popular that a hostile chronicler could say that almost every second man was a Lollard. Wycliffe left three intimate disciples:—Nicolas Hereford, a doctor of theology of Oxford, who had helped his master to translate the Bible into English; John Ashton, also a fellow of an Oxford college; and John Purvey, Wycliffe’s colleague at Lutterworth, and a co-translator of the Bible, with these were associated more or less intimately, in the first age of Lollardy, John Parker, the strange ascetic William Smith, the restless fanatic Swynderly, Richard Waytstract and Crompe. Wycliffe had organized in Lutterworth an association for sending the gospel through all England, a company of poor preachers somewhat after the Wesleyan method of modern times. “To be poor without mendicancy, to unite the flexible unity, the swift obedience of an order, with free and constant mingling among the poor, such was the ideal of Wycliffe’s ‘poor priests’” (cf. Shirley, Fasc. Ziz. p. xl.), and, although proscribed, these “poor preachers” with portions of their master’s translation of the Bible in their hand to guide them, preached all over England. In 1382, two years before the death of Wycliffe, the archbishop of Canterbury got the Lollard opinions condemned by convocation, and, having been promised royal support, he began the long conflict of the church with the followers of Wycliffe. He was able to coerce the authorities of the university of Oxford, and to drive out of it the leading Wycliffite teachers, but he was unable to stifle Oxford sympathies or to prevent the banished teachers preaching throughout the country. Many of the nobles, like Lords Montacute and Salisbury, supported the poor preachers, took them as private chaplains, and protected them against clerical interference. Country gentlemen like Sir Thomas Latimer of Braybrooke and Sir Richard Stury protected them, while merchants and burgesses supported them with money. When Richard II. issued an ordinance (July 1382) ordering every bishop to arrest all Lollards, the Commons compelled him to withdraw it. Thus protected, the “poor preachers” won masses of the people to their opinions, and Leicester, London and the west of England became their headquarters.

The organization must have been strong in numbers, but only those who were seized for heresy are known by name, and it is only from the indictments of their accusers that their opinions can be gathered. The preachers were picturesque figures in long russet dress down to the heels, who, staff in hand, preached in the mother tongue to the people in churches and graveyards, in squares, streets and houses, in gardens and pleasure grounds, and then talked privately with those who had been impressed. The Lollard literature was very widely circulated—books by Wycliffe and Hereford and tracts and broadsides—in spite of many edicts proscribing it. In 1395 the Lollards grew so strong that they petitioned parliament through Sir Thomas Latimer and Sir R. Stury to reform the church on Lollardist methods. It is said that the Lollard Conclusions printed by Canon Shirley (p. 360) contain the substance of this petition. If so, parliament was told that temporal possessions ruin the church and drive out the Christian graces of faith, hope and charity; that the priesthood of the church in communion with Rome was not the priesthood Christ gave to his apostles; that the monk’s vow of celibacy had for its consequence unnatural lust, and should not be imposed; that transubstantiation was a feigned miracle, and led people to idolatry; that prayers made over wine, bread, water, oil, salt, wax, incense, altars of stone, church walls, vestments, mitres, crosses, staves, were magical and should not be allowed; that kings should possess the jus episcopale, and bring good government into the church; that no special prayers should be made for the dead; that auricular confession made to the clergy, and declared to be necessary for salvation, was the root of clerical arrogance and the cause of indulgences and other abuses in pardoning sin; that all wars were against the principles of the New Testament, and were but murdering and plundering the poor to win glory for kings; that the vows of chastity laid upon nuns led to child murder; that many of the trades practised in the commonwealth, such as those of goldsmiths and armourers, were unnecessary and led to luxury and waste. These Conclusions really contain the sum of Wycliffite teaching; and, if we add that the principal duty of priests is to preach, and that the worship of images, the going on pilgrimages and the use of gold and silver chalices in divine service are sinful (The Peasants’ Rising and the Lollards, p. 47), they include almost all the heresies charged in the indictments against individual Lollards down to the middle of the 15th century. The king, who had hitherto seemed anxious to repress the action of the clergy against the Lollards, spoke strongly against the petition and its promoters, and Lollardy never again had the power in England which it wielded up to this year.

If the formal statements of Lollard creed are to be got from these Conclusions, the popular view of their controversy with

the church may be gathered from the ballads preserved in the Political Poems and Songs relating to English History, published in 1859 by Thomas Wright for the Master of the Rolls series, and in the Piers Ploughman poems. Piers Ploughman’s Creed (see Langland) was probably written about 1394, when Lollardy was at its greatest strength; the ploughman of the Creed is a man gifted with sense enough to see through the tricks of the friars, and with such religious knowledge as can be got from the creed, and from Wycliffe’s version of the Gospels. The poet gives us a “portrait of the fat friar with his double chin shaking about as big as a goose’s egg, and the ploughman with his hood full of holes, his mittens made of patches, and his poor wife going barefoot on the ice so that her blood followed” (Early English Text Society, vol. xxx., pref., p. 16); and one can easily see why farmers and peasants turned from the friars to the poor preachers. The Ploughman’s Complaint tells the same tale. It paints popes, cardinals, prelates, rectors, monks and friars, who call themselves followers of Peter and keepers of the gates of heaven and hell, and pale poverty-stricken people, cotless and landless, who have to pay the fat clergy for spiritual assistance, and asks if these are Peter’s priests. “I trowe Peter took no money, for no sinners that he sold. . . . Peter was never so great a fole, to leave his key with such a losell.”

In 1399 the Lancastrian Henry IV. overthrew the Plantagenet Richard II., and one of the most active partisans of the new monarch was Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury and the most determined opponent of Lollardy. Richard II. had aided the clergy to suppress Lollardy without much success. The new dynasty supported the church in a similar way and not more successfully. The strength of the anti-clerical party lay in the House of Commons, in which the representatives of the shires took the leading part. Twice the Commons petitioned the crown to seize the temporalities of the church and apply them to such national purposes as relief of taxation, maintenance of the poor and the support of new lords and knights. Their anti-clerical policy was not continuous, however. The court party and the clergy proposed statutes for the suppression of heresy, and twice at least secured the concurrence of the Commons. One of these was the well-known statute De heretico comburendo passed in 1401.

In the earlier stages of Lollardy, when the court and the clergy managed to bring Lollards before ecclesiastical tribunals backed by the civil power, the accused generally recanted and showed no disposition to endure martyrdom for their opinions. They became bolder in the beginning of the 15th century, William Sawtrey (Chartris), caught and condemned, refused to recant and was burnt at St Paul’s Cross (March 1401), and other martyrdoms followed. The victims usually belonged to the lower classes. In 1410 John Badby, an artisan, was sent to the stake. His execution was memorable from the part taken in it by the prince of Wales, who himself tried to reason the Lollard out of his convictions. But nothing said would make Badby confess that “Christ sitting at supper did give to His disciples His living body to eat.” The Lollards, far from daunted, abated no effort to make good their ground, and united a struggle for social and political liberty to the hatred felt by the peasants towards the Romish clergy. Jak Upland (John Countryman) took the place of Piers Ploughman, and upbraided the clergy, and especially the friars, for their wealth and luxury. Wycliffe had published the rule of St Francis, and had pointed out in a commentary upon the rule how far friars had departed from the maxims of their founder, and had persecuted the Spirituales (the Fratricelli, Beghards, Lollards of the Netherlands) for keeping them to the letter (cf. Matthews, English Works of Wyclif hitherto unprinted, Early Eng. Text Soc., vol. lxxiv., 1880). Jak Upland put all this into rude nervous English verse:

Freer, what charitie is this
To fain that whoso liveth after your order
Liveth most perfectlie,
And next followeth the state of the Apostles
In povertie and pennance:
And yet the wisest and greatest clerkes of you
Wend or send or procure to the court of Rome,
. . . and to be assoiled of the vow of povertie.”

The archbishop, having the power of the throne behind him, attacked that stronghold of Lollardy the university of Oxford. In 1406 a document appeared purporting to be the testimony of the university in favour of Wycliffe; its genuineness was disputed at the time, and when quoted by Huss at the council of Constance it was repudiated by the English delegates. The archbishop treated Oxford as if it had issued the document, and procured the issue of severe regulations in order to purge the university of heresy. In 1408 Arundel in convocation proposed and carried the famous Constitutiones Thomae Arundel intended to put down Wycliffite preachers and teaching. They provided amongst other things that no one was to be allowed to preach without a bishop’s licence, that preachers preaching to the laity were not to rebuke the sins of the clergy, and that Lollard books and the translation of the Bible were to be searched for and destroyed.

When Henry V. became king a more determined effort was made to crush Lollardy. Hitherto its strength had lain among the country gentlemen who were the representatives of the shires. The court and clergy had been afraid to attack this powerful class. The new king determined to overawe them, and to this end selected one who had been a personal friend and whose life had been blameless. This was Sir John Oldcastle, in right of his wife, Lord Cobham, “the good Lord Cobham” as the common people called him. Henry first tried personal persuasion, and when that failed directed trial for heresy. Oldcastle was convicted, but was imprisoned for forty days in the Tower in hope that he might recant. He escaped, and summoned his co-religionists to his aid. A Lollard plot was formed to seize the king’s person. In the end Oldcastle was burnt for an obstinate heretic (Dec. 1417). These persecutions were not greatly protested against; the wars of Henry V. with France had awakened the martial spirit of the nation, and little sympathy was felt for men who had declared that all war was but the murder and plundering of poor people for the sake of kings. Mocking ballads were composed upon the martyr Oldcastle, and this dislike to warfare was one of the chief accusations made against him (comp. Wright’s Political Poems, ii. 244). But Arundel could not prevent the writing and distribution of Lollard books and pamphlets. Two appeared about the time of the martyrdom of Oldcastle—The Ploughman’s Prayer and the Lanthorne of Light. The Ploughman’s Prayer declared that true worship consists in three things—in loving God, and dreading God and trusting in God above all other things; and it showed how Lollards, pressed by persecution, became further separated from the religious life of the church. “Men maketh now great stonen houses full of glasen windows, and clepeth thilke thine houses and churches. And they setten in these houses mawmets of stocks and stones, to fore them they knelen privilich and apert and maken their prayers, and all this they say is they worship. . . . For Lorde our belief is that thine house is man’s soul.” Notwithstanding the repression, Lollardy fastened in new parts of England, and Lollards abounded in Somerset, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Lincoln and Buckinghamshire.

The council of Constance (1414–1418) put an end to the papal schism, and also showed its determination to put down heresy by burning John Huss. When news of this reached England the clergy were incited to still more vigorous proceedings against Lollard preachers and books. From this time Lollardy appears banished from the fields and streets, and takes refuge in houses and places of concealment. There was no more wayside preaching, but instead there were conventicula occulta in houses, in peasants’ huts, in sawpits and in field ditches, where the Bible was read and exhortations were given, and so Lollardy continued. In 1428 Archbishop Chichele confessed that the Lollards seemed as numerous as ever, and that their literary and preaching work went on as vigorously as before. It was found also that many of the poorer rectors and parish priests, and a great many chaplains and curates, were in secret association with the Lollards, so much so that in many places processions were never made and worship on saints’ days was abandoned. For the Lollards were hardened by persecution, and became fanatical in the statement of their doctrines. Thomas Bagley was accused of declaring that if in the sacrament a priest made bread into God, he made a God that can be eaten by rats and mice; that the pharisees of the day, the monks, and the nuns, and the friars and all other privileged persons recognized by the church were limbs of Satan; and that auricular confession to the priest was the will not of God but of the devil. And others held that any priest who took salary was excommunicate; and that boys could bless the bread as well as priests.

From England Lollardy passed into Scotland. Oxford infected St Andrews, and we find traces of more than one vigorous search made for Lollards among the teaching staff of the Scottish university, while the Lollards of Kyle in Ayrshire were claimed by Knox as the forerunners of the Scotch Reformation.

The opinions of the later Lollards can best be gathered from the learned and unfortunate Pecock, who wrote his elaborate Repressor against the “Bible-men,” as he calls them. He summed up their doctrines under eleven heads: they condemn the having and using images in the churches, the going on pilgrimages to the memorial or “mynde places” of the saints, the holding of landed possessions by the clergy, the various ranks of the hierarchy, the framing of ecclesiastical laws and ordinances by papal and episcopal authority, the institution of religious orders, the costliness of ecclesiastical decorations, the ceremonies of the mass and the sacraments, the taking of oaths and the maintaining that war and capital punishment are lawful. When these points are compared with the Lollard Conclusions of 1395, it is plain that Lollardy had not greatly altered its opinions after fifty-five years of persecution. All the articles of Pecock’s list, save that on capital punishment, are to be found in the Conclusions; and, although many writers have held that Wycliffe’s own views differed greatly from what have been called the “exaggerations of the later and more violent Lollards,” all these views may be traced to Wycliffe himself. Pecock’s idea was that all the statements which he was prepared to impugn came from three false opinions or “trowings,” viz. that no governance or ordinance is to be esteemed a law of God which is not founded on Scripture, that every humble-minded Christian man or woman is able without “fail and defaut” to find out the true sense of Scripture, and that having done so he ought to listen to no arguments to the contrary; he elsewhere adds a fourth (i. 102), that if a man be not only meek but also keep God’s law he shall have a true understanding of Scripture, even though “no man ellis teche him saue God.” These statements, especially the last, show us the connexion between the Lollards and those mystics of the 14th century, such as Tauler and Ruysbroeck, who accepted the teachings of Nicholas of Basel, and formed themselves into the association of the Friends of God.

The persecutions were continued down to the reign of Henry VIII., and when the writings of Luther began to appear in England the clergy were not so much afraid of Lutheranism as of the increased life they gave to men who for generations had been reading Wycliffe’s Wickette. “It is,” wrote Bishop Tunstall to Erasmus in 1523, “no question of pernicious novelty, it is only that new arms are being added to the great band of Wycliffite heretics.” Lollardy, which continued down to the Reformation, did much to shape the movement in England. The subordination of clerical to laic jurisdiction, the reduction in ecclesiastical possessions, the insisting on a translation of the Bible which could be read by the “common” man were all inheritances bequeathed by the Lollards.

Literature.Fasciculi Zizaniorum Magistri Johannis Wyclif cum Tritico, edited for the Rolls Series by W. W. Shirley (London, 1858); the Chronicon Angliae, auctore monacho quodam Sancti Albani, ed. by Sir E. Maunde Thompson (London, 1874); Historia Anglicana of Thomas Walsingham, ed. by H. T. Riley, vol. iii. (London. 1869); Chronicon of Henry Knighton, ed. by J. R. Lumby (London, 1895); R. L. Poole, Wycliffe and Movements for Reform (London, 1889); R. Pecock, Repressor of overmuch Blaming of the Clergy (2 vols., London, 1860); F. D. Matthew, The English Works of John Wyclif (Early English Text Society, London, 1880); T. Wright, Political Poems and Songs (2 vols., London, 1859); G. V. Lechler, Johann von Wiclif, ii. (1873); J. Loserth, Hus und Wycliffe (Prague, 1884, English translation by J. Evans, London, 1884); D. Wilkins, Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae, iii. (London, 1773); E. Powell and G. M. Trevelyan, The Peasants’ Rising and the Lollards, a Collection of Unpublished Documents (London, 1899); G. M. Trevelyan, England in the Age of Wycliffe (London, 1898, 3rd ed., 1904); the publications of the Wiclif Society; H. S. Cronin, “The Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards,” in the English Historical Review (April 1907, pp. 292 ff.); and J. Gairdner, Lollardy and the Reformation in England (1908).  (T. M. L.)