1902 Encyclopedia > The Lollards

The Lollards




THE LOLLARDS were the English followers of John Wickliffe, and were the adherents of a religious movement which was widespread in the end of the 14th and begin-ning of the 15th centuries, and which to some extent maintained itself on to the Reformation. The name is of uncertain origin : it has been traced to a certain Walter Lollard, but he was probably a mythical personage ; some derive it from lolium, tares, quoting Chaucer (O. T., Ship-man's Prologue)—

" This Lollere here wol prechen us somwhat . . . He wolde sowen some difficulté Or sprengen eokkle in oure 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 as early as 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 sen ritu Lollardorum confeederatos. It is probable that the name was given to the followers of Wickliffe because they resembled those offshoots from the great Franciscan movement which had disowned the pope's authority and separated themselves from the mediaeval church. 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 mediaeval 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 Wickliffe and the Lollards, were all protests against that decision. Hildebrand's object was to make church government or polity in all respects distinct from civil government—no civil ruler to touch churchman or church possession for trial or punish-ment, taxation or confiscation ; and, in the hands of his successors who followed out his principles, the church became transformed into an empire in rivalry with the kingdoms, and of somewhat the same kind, only that its territories were scattered over the face of Europe in diocesan domains, convent lands, or priests' glebes, its taxes were the tithes, its nobles the prelates. Francis of Assisi had another ideal. Christians, he thought, could separate themselves from the world, in imitation of Christ, by giving up property, and home, and country, and going about doing good and living on the alms of the people. For a time these two ways of separation from the world lived on side by side in the church, but they were really irreconcilable ; Hildebrand's church required power to en-force her claims, and money, land, position, were all sources of power. Church rulers favoured the friars when they found means of evading their vows of absolute poverty, and gradually there came to be facing each other in the 14th century a great political Christendom, whose rulers were statesmen, with aims and policy of a worldly ambi-tious type, and a religious Christendom, full of the ideas of separation from the world by self-sacrifice and of parti-cipation in the benefits of Christ's work by an ascetic imitation, which separated itself from political Christianity and called it anti-Christ. Wickliffe's whole life was spent in the struggle, and he bequeathed his work to his followers the Lollards. The main practical thought with Wickliffe 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. Wickliffe 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 I of the church to his company of poor Christians ; but his followers, who were not troubled with need of theories, 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, who in poverty went about doing good.





Lollardy, was most flourishing and most dangerous to the ecclesiastical organization of England during the ten years after Wickliffe'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. Wickliffe 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, Wickliffe's colleague at Lutter-worth, 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, Eichard Waytstract, and Crompe; and there must have been a large number of preachers who itinerated through England preaching the doctrines of their master. Wickliffe had organized in Lut-terworth 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 Wickliffe's ' poor priests' (cf. Shirley, Fase. 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 wherever they could be heard without detection. The Oxford university and many nobles supported them. Lord Montacute, Lord Salisbury, Sir Thomas Latimer of Braybrooke, and several others had chaplains who were Lollardist preachers ; whilst many merchants and burgesses assisted the work with money. The organization must have been strong in numbers, but only the names of those have come down to us who were seized for heresy, 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 litera-ture was very widely circulated,—books by Wickliffe 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 E. Stury to reform the church on Lol-lardist 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 Borne was not the priest-hood 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 i possess the jus episcopate, and bring good govern-ment 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 indul-gences 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 ar-mourers, were unnecessary and led to luxury and waste. These Conclusions really contain the sum of Wickliffite teaching ; and, if we add that the principal duty of priests is to preach, and that the worship of images and going on pilgrimages are sinful, 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, arid 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 betgathered from the ballads preserved in the collection of Political Poems and Songs relating to English History, published in 1859 by Mr Thomas Wright for the Master of the Rolls series, and in the Piers Ploughman poems. Piers Ploughman's Greed (see LANG-LAND) was probably written about 1394, when Lollardy was at its greatest strength; the ploughman of the Greed 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 Wickliffe'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 plough-man with Ids 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 after all. " 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 Eichard II., and one of the most active partisans of the new monarch was Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury and the most determined opponent of Lollardy. It has been alleged that Henry won his help by promising to do his utmost to suppress the followers of Wyclif, and this much is certain, that when the house of Lancaster was firmly established upon the throne the infamous Act De comburendo hereticos was passed in 1400, and church and state combined to crush the Lollards. John Purvey was seized; William Sautrey (Chartris) was tried, condemned, and burned. 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 Eomish clergy. Jak Upland (John Countryman) took the place of Piers Ploughman, and upbraided the clergy, and especially the friars, for their wealth and luxury. Wickliffe 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 Eome, . . . and to he assoiled of the vow of povertie."





The archbishop, having the power of the state behind him, attacked that stronghold of Lollardy the university of Oxford. In 1406 a document appeared bearing to be the testimony of the university in favour of Wickliffe; 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 Constitiitiones Thomse Arundel intended to put down Wickliffite 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. He next attempted to purge the nobility of Lollardy. The earlier leaders had died, but there was still one distinguished Lollard, Sir John Oldcastle, in rjght of his wife Lord Cobham, "the good Lord Cobham " of the common people, who had been won to pious living by the poor preachers, and who openly professed the common Lollard doctrines. His chaplain, one of the itinerating preachers, was seized, then his books and papers were taken and burnt in the king's presence, and later he was indicted for heresy. It is said that at first he recanted, but the abjuration, said to be his, may not be authentic. In the end he was burnt for an obstinate heretic. 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, vol. ii. p. 244). But Arundel could not prevent the writing and distribution of Lollard books and pamphlets. Two appeared just 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 persecu-tion, 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."

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 peas-ants' huts, in sawpits, and in field ditches, where the Bible was read and exhortations were given, and so Lollardy continued. In 1428 Archbishop Chichele con-fessed that the Lollards seemed as numerous as ever, and that their literary and preaching work went on as vigor-ously as before. It was found out 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 if not stamped out 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 Avar and capital punish-ment are lawful. When these points are compared wdth 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 Peeock's list, save that on capital punishment, are to be found in the Conclusions; and, although many writers have held that Wickliffe'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 back to Wickliffe himself. Peeock's idea was that all the statements which he was prepared to impugn came from three false opinions or "growings," 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 (vol. i. p. 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 Ruysbroeek, who accepted the teachings of Nicholas of Basel, and formed themselves into the association of the Friends of God.

The question remains—What was the connexion between the Lollard movement and the Reformation in England ? Many writers make Lollardy the forerunner of Reformation teaching; others, like Mr <3airdner, relying on the facts that the persecution of the Lollards did not rouse the English nation in the way that the martyrdom of Huss excited the Bohemians and that Lollardy had almost faded out of sight in the beginning of the 16th century, admit only a casual connexion between the two awakenings. The problem is scarcely one which can be settled by counting the numbers of Lollards convicted at different periods from the beginning to the end of the 15th century, or by pointing to the enthusiasm or indifference of the mass of the English nation to Lollard doctrines. The English Reformation down to the middle of Elizabeth's reign was much more a political than a religious move-ment with the great proportion of English people. Lollardy in its most essential and invariable characteristics had much more in common with mediaeval religious revivals than with Reformation piety, and Lollard preaching must have had much more resemblance to that of Ockham and his recusant Franciscans than that of Luther, Calvin, or Peter Martyr. But Lollardy did one thing for England which other mediaeval revivals did not do for the lands in which they arose ; it made the Bible familiar to the people in their mother 1 tongue, and this must have been a positive preparation for the English Reformation of no ordinary power. May not the great peculiarity of the English Reformation on its religious side, the repeated attempts to give a good version of the Bible from the original tongues into English, by Tyndale, Coverdale, Taverner, Cranmer, the Genevan refugees, and Parker, with the revisions and combinations of these various translations, on to our present authorized version, have come from the fact that Lollard Bible-men, as Pecock calls them, had made a good English Bible a necessity for an English reformation of religion.

Literature.—Lechler, Johann von Wiclif, 2d vol. 1S73: Shirley, Fasciculus Zizaniorum, Master of the Rolls Series. 1858; Babington's edition of Pecock's Repressor of over much blaming of the Clergy, 2 vols.. Master of the Rolls Series, 1860; Matthew, The English Works of John Wyclif, Early English Text Society, 1880 ; Wright, Political Poems and Songs, Master of the Rolls Series, 2 vols., 1859; J. Gairdner and J. Spedding, Studies in English History, 1881; Foxe's Book of Martyrs \ Holler's Anna von Luxemburg, 1871. (T. M. L.)



The above article was written by Rev. T. M. Lindsay, D.D., Professor of Church History, Free Church College, Glasgow.



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