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§ 43. The Lollards.

Although the impulse which Wyclif started in England did not issue there in a compact or permanent organization, it was felt for more than a century. Those who adopted his views were known as Wycliffites or Lollards, the Lollards being associated with the Reformer’s name by the contemporary chroniclers, Knighton and Walsingham, and by Walden.626626    In 1382 Repyngdon was called Lollardus de secta Wyclif, and Peter Stokes was referred to as having opposed the "Lollards and the sect of Wyclif," Fasc., 296. Knighton, II. 182, 260, expressly calls the Wycliffians Lollards, Wycliviani qui et Lollardi dicti sunt. The former term gradually gave way to the latter, which was used to embrace all heretics in England.

The term Lollards was transplanted to England from Holland and the region around Cologne. As early as 1300 Lollard heretics were classed by the authorities with the Beghards, Beguines, Fratricelli, Swestriones and even the Flagellants, as under the Church’s ban. The origin of the word, like the term Huguenots, is a matter of dispute. The derivation from the Hollander, "Walter Lollard," who was burnt in Cologne, 1322, is now abandoned.627627    Fredericq, I. 172. A certain Matthew, whose bones were exhumed and burnt, is called Mattaeus Lollaert. Fred., I. 250. For documents associating the Lollards with other sectarists, see Fred., I. 228, II. 132, 133, III. 46, etc. Contemporaries derived it from lolium,—tares,—and referred it to the false doctrine these sectarists were sowing, as does Knighton, and probably also Chaucer, or, with reference to their habit of song, from the Latin word laudare, to praise.628628    So Jan Hocsem of Liége, d. 1348, who in his Gesta pontiff. Leodiensium says, eodem anno (1309) quidam hypocritae gyrovagi qui Lollardi sive Deum laudantes vocabuntur, etc. Fred., I. 154. Chaucer, in his Prologue to the Shipman’s Tale, says:—
   This loller here wol prechen us somewhat

   He wolde sowen some difficulte

   Or sprenge cokkle in our clene corn.
The most natural derivation is from the Low German, lullen or einlullen to sing to sleep, whence our English lullaby. None of the Lollard songs have come down to us. Scarcely a decade after Wyclif’s death a bull was issued by Boniface IX., 1396, against the "Lullards or Beghards" of the Low Countries.

The Wycliffite movement was suppressed by a rigid inquisition, set on foot by the bishops and sanctioned by parliament. Of the first generation of these heretics down to 1401, so far as they were brought to trial, the most, if not all, of them recanted. The 15th century furnished a great number of Lollard trials and a number of Lollard martyrs, and their number was added to in the early years of the 16th century. Active measures were taken by Archbishop Courtenay; and under his successor, Thomas, earl of Arundel, the full force of persecution was let loose. The warlike bishop of Norwich, Henry Spenser, joined heartily in the repressive crusade, swearing to put to death by the flames or by decapitation any of the dissenters who might presume to preach in his diocese. The reason for the general recantations of the first generation of Wyclif’s followers has been found in the novelty of heresy trials in England and the appalling effect upon the accused, when for the first time they felt themselves confronted with the whole power of the hierarchy.629629    Cheyney, p. 436 sqq.

In 1394, they were strong enough to present a petition in full parliament, containing twelve Conclusions.630630    Gee and Hardy, pp. 126-132. Fasc., pp. 360-369. See Gairdner, I. 44-46 These propositions called the Roman Church the stepmother of the Church in England, declared that many who had priestly ordination were not ordained of God, took up the evils growing out of enforced celibacy, denied Christ’s material presence in the eucharist, condemned pilgrimages and image-worship, and pronounced priestly confession and indulgences measures invented for the profit of the clergy. The use of mitres, crosses, oil and incense was condemned and also war, on the ground that warriors, after the first blood is let, lose all charity, and so "go straight to hell." In addition to the Bible, the document quotes Wyclif’s Trialogus by name.

From about 1390 to 1425, we hear of the Lollards in all directions, so that the contemporary chronicler was able to say that of every two men found on the roads, one was sure to be a Lollard.631631    Knighton, II. 191. With the accession of Henry IV. of Lancaster (1399–1413), a severe policy was adopted. The culminating point of legislation was reached in 1401, when parliament passed the act for the burning of heretics, the first act of the kind in England.632632    De comburendo haeretico, Gee and Hardy, pp. 133-137. The statute referred to the Lollards as a new sect, damnably thinking of the faith of the Church in respect to the sacraments and, against the law of God and the Church, usurping the office of preaching. It forbade this people to preach, hold schools and conventicles and issue books. The violators were to be tried in the diocesan courts and, if found guilty and refusing to abjure, were to be turned over to the civil officer and burnt. The burning, so it was stipulated, was to be on a high place where the punishment might be witnessed and the onlookers be struck with fear.

The most prominent personages connected with the earliest period of Wycliffism, Philip Repyngdon, John Ashton, Nicolas Hereford and John Purvey, all recanted. The last three and Wyclif are associated by Knighton as the four arch-heretics.

Repyngdon, who had boldly declared himself at Oxford for Wyclif and his view of the sacrament, made a full recantation, 1382. Subsequently he was in high favor, became chancellor of Oxford, bishop of Lincoln and a cardinal, 1408. He showed the ardor of his zeal by treating with severity the sect whose views he had once espoused.

John Ashton had been one of the most active of Wyclif’s preachers. In setting forth his heretical zeal, Knighton describes him as "leaping up from his bed and, like a dog, ready to bark at the slightest sound." He finally submitted in Courtenay’s court, professing that he "believed as our modur, holy kirke, believes," and that in the sacrament the priest has in his hand Christ’s very body. He was restored to his privileges as lecturer in Oxford, but afterwards fell again into heretical company.633633    Knighton, II. 171 sqq., gives the recantation in English, the Fasc., p. 329, in Latin. John Foxe’s accounts of the Lollard martyrs are always quaintly related. Gairdner is the fullest and best of the recent treatments. For his judgment of Foxe, see I. 159, 336 sqq. He ascribes to him accuracy in transcribing documents. The articles in the Dict. of Natl. Biog. are always to be consulted.

Hereford, Wyclif’s fellow-translator, appealed to Rome, was condemned there and cast into prison. After two years of confinement, he escaped to England and, after being again imprisoned, made his peace with the Church and died a Carthusian.

In 1389, nine Lollards recanted before Courtenay, at Leicester. The popular preacher, William Swynderby, to whose sermons in Leicester the people flocked from every quarter, made an abject recantation, but later returned to his old ways, and was tried in 1891 and convicted. Whether he was burnt or died in prison, Foxe says, he could not ascertain.

The number suffering death by the law of 1401 was not large in the aggregate. The victims were distributed through the 125 years down to the middle of Henry VIII.’s reign. There were among them no clergymen of high renown like Ridley and Latimer. The Lollards were an humble folk, but by their persistence showed the deep impression Wyclif’s teachings had made. The first martyr, the poor chaplain of St. Osythe, William Sawtré, died March 2, 1401, before the statute for burning heretics was passed. He abjured and then returned again to his heretical views. After trying him, the spiritual court ordered the mayor or sheriff of London to "commit him to the fire that he be actually burnt."634634    Gee and Hardy give the sentence and the Fasc. the proceedings of the trial. It is a matter of dispute under what law Sawtré was condemned to the flames. Prof. Maitland, In his Canon Law, holds that It was under the old canon practice as expressed in papal bulls. The statute De comburendo was before parliament at the time of Sawtre’s death. The charges were that he denied the material presence, condemned the adoration of the cross and taught that preaching was the priesthood’s most important duty.

Among other cases of burnings were John Badby, a tailor of Evesham, 1410, who met his awful fate chained inside of a cask; two London merchants, Richard Turming and John Claydon at Smithfield, 1415; William Taylor, a priest, in 1423 at Smithfield; William White at Norwich, 1428; Richard Hoveden, a London citizen, 1430; Thomas Bagley, a priest, in the following year; and in 1440, Richard Wyche, who had corresponded with Huss. Peter Payne, the principal of St. Edmund’s College, Oxford, took refuge in flight, 1417, and became a leader among the Hussites, taking a prominent part as their representative at the Council of Basel. According to Foxe there were, 1424–1480, 100 prosecutions for heresy in Norwich alone. The menace was considered so great that, in 1427, Richard Flemmyng, bishop of Lincoln, founded Lincoln College, Oxford, to counteract heresy. It was of this college that John Wesley was a fellow, the man who made a great breach in the Church in England.

The case of William Thorpe, who was tried in 1397 and again before Arundel, 1407, is of interest not only in itself, but for the statements that were made in the second trial about Wyclif. The archbishop, after accusing Thorpe of having travelled about in Northern England for 20 years, spreading the infection of heresy, declared that he was called of God to destroy the false sect to which the prisoner belonged, and pledged himself to "punish it so narrowly as not to leave a slip of you in this land."635635    The proceedings are given at great length by Foxe and by Bale, who copied Tyndale’s account. Sel. Works of Bp. Bale, pp. 62-133. Thorpe’s assertion that Wyclif was the greatest clerk of his time evoked from Arundel the acknowledgment that he was indeed a great clerk and, by the consent of many, "a perfect liver," but that many of the conclusions of his learning were damned, as they ought to be.

Up to the close of the 14th century, a number of laymen in high position at court had favored Wycliffism, including Sir Lewis Clifford, Sir Richard Stury and Sir John Clanvowe, all of the king’s council, Sir John Cheyne, speaker of the lower house, the Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas Erpingham and also the earl of Salisbury.636636    Walsingham, II, 244; Knighton, II. 181; Chron. Angl., p. 377. This support was for the most part withdrawn when persecution took an active form. With Sir John Oldcastle, otherwise known as Lord Cobham from his marriage with the heiress of the Cobham estate, it was different. He held firm to the end, encouraged the new preachers on his estates in Kent, and condemned the mass, auricular confession and the worship of images. Arundel’s court, before which he appeared after repeated citations, turned him over to the secular arm "to do him to death." Oldcastle was imprisoned in the Tower, but made his escape and was at large for four years. In 1414, he was charged with being a party to an uprising of 20,000 Lollards against the king. Declared an outlaw, he fled to Wales, where he was seized three years later and taken to London to be hanged and burnt as a traitor and heretic, Dec. 15, 1417.637637    Walsingham, II. 328, says he was hung as a traitor and burnt as a heretic. Usk p. 317 , reports he "was hung on the gallows in a chain of iron after that he had been drawn. He was once and for all burnt up with fierce fire, paying justly the penalty of both swords." The Fasciculi give a protracted account of Sir John’s opinions and trial. Judgments have been much divided about him. Fuller speaks of him "as a boon companion, jovial roysterer and yet a coward to boot." Shakespeare presents him in the character of Falstaff. See Gairdner, I. 97 sq. John Foxe saw in him "the blessed martyr of Christ, the good Lord Cobham."

It is a pleasant relief from these trials and puttings-to-death to find the University of Oxford in 1406 bearing good testimony to the memory of its maligned yet distinguished dead, placing on record its high sense of his purity of life, power in preaching and diligence in studies. But fragrant as his memory was held in Oxford, at least secretly, parliament was fixed in its purpose to support the ecclesiastical authorities in stamping out his doctrine. In 1414, it ordered the civil officer to take the initiative in ferreting out heresy, and magistrates, from the Lord chancellor down, were called upon to use their power in extirpating "all manner of heresies, errors and lollardies." This oath continued to be administered for two centuries, until Sir Edward Coke, Lord High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire, refused to take it, with the name Lollard included, insisting that the principles of Lollardy had been adopted by the Church of England.638638    Summers, p. 67.

Archbishop Chichele seemed as much bent as his predecessor, Arundel, on clearing the realm of all stain of heresy. In 1416 he enjoined his suffragans to inquire diligently twice a year for persons under suspicion and, where they did not turn them over to the secular court, to commit them to perpetual or temporary imprisonment, as the nature of the case might require. It was about the same time that an Englishman, at the trial of Huss in Constance, after a parallel had been drawn between Wyclif’s views and those of the Bohemian, said, "By my soul, if I were in your place I would abjure, for in England all the masters, one after another, albeit very good men, when suspected of Wicliffism, abjured at the command of the archbishop."639639    Loserth, Wiclif and Hus, p. 175.

Heresy also penetrated into Scotland, James Resby, one of Wyclif’s poor priests, being burnt at Perth, 1407, and another at Glasgow, 1422. In 1488, a Bohemian student at St. Andrews, Paul Craw, suffered the same penalty for heresy.640640    Mitchell: Scottish Reformation, p. 15. The Scotch parliament of 1425 enjoined bishops to make search for heretics and Lollards, and in 1416 every master of arts at St. Andrews was obliged to take an oath to defend the Church against them.

Between 1450–1517, Lollardy was almost wholly restricted to the rural districts, and little mention is made of it in contemporary records. At Amersham, one of its centres, four were tried in 1462, and some suffered death, as William Barlowe in 1466, and John Goose a few years later. In 1507, three were burnt there, including William Tylsworth, the leading man of the congregation. At the crucial moment he was deserted by the members, and sixty of them joined in carrying fagots for his burning. This time of recantation continued to be known in the district as the Great Abjuration. The first woman to suffer martyrdom in England, Joan Broughton, was burnt at Smithfield, 1494, as was also her daughter, Lady Young. Nine Lollards made public penance at Coventry, 1486, but, as late as 1519, six men and one woman suffered death there. Foxe also mentions William Sweeting and John Brewster as being burnt at Smithfield, 1511, and John Brown at Ashford the same year. How extensively Wyclif’s views continued to be secretly held and his writings read is a matter of conjecture. Not till 1559 was the legislation directed against Lollardy repealed.

Our knowledge of the tenets and practices of the Lollards is derived from their Twelve Conclusions and other Lollard documents, the records of their trials and from the Repressor for over-much Blaming of the Clergy, an English treatise written by Dr. Pecock, bishop of Chichester, and finished 1455. Inclined to liberal thought, Bishop Pecock assumed a different attitude from Courtenay, Arundel and other prelates, and sought by calm reasoning to win the Lollards from their mistakes. He mentioned the designation of Known Men—1 Cor. 14:38, 2 Tim. 2:19—as being one of old standing for them, and he also calls them "the lay party" or "the Bible Men." He proposed to consider their objections against 11 customs and institutions, such as the worship of images, pilgrimages, landed endowments for the church, degrees of rank among the clergy, the religious orders, the mass, oaths and war. Their tenet that no statute is valid which is not found in the Scriptures he also attempted to confute. In advance of his age, the bishop declared that fire, the sword and hanging should not be resorted to till the effort had been made "by clene wit to draw the Lollards into the consent of the true faith." His sensible counsel brought him into trouble, and in 1457 he was tried by Archbishop Bouchier and offered the alternative of burning or public recantation. Pecock chose the latter, and made abjuration at St. Paul’s Cross before the archbishop and thousands of spectators. He was clothed in full episcopal robes, and delivered up 14 of his writings to be burnt.641641    Among these works was the Provoker, in which Pecock denied that the Apostles had compiled the Apostles’ Creed. See Introd. to Babington’s Ed. of the Repressor in Rolls Series, and art. Pecock in Dict. Natl. Biog., XLIV. 198-202. He was forced to resign his see, and in 1459 was, at the pope’s instance, remanded to close confinement in Thorney Abbey. His Repressor had been twice burnt in Oxford.

There seems to have been agreement among the Lollards in denying the material presence of Christ in the eucharistic bread and in condemning pilgrimages, the worship of images and auricular confession. They also held to the right of the people to read the Scriptures in their own tongue.642642    Knighton, II. 155, complains of the Lollards having the Scriptures in the vulgar tongue. Such a translation he said the laity regarded as melior et dignior quam lingua latina. The expression, God’s law, was widely current among them, and was opposed to the canon law and the decisions of the Church courts. Some denied purgatory, and even based their salvation on faith,643643    So Walsingham, II. 253. the words, "Thy faith hath saved thee," being quoted for this view. Some denied that the marriage bond was dependent upon the priest’s act, and more the scriptural warrant and expediency of priestly celibacy.644644    Summers, p. 60, speaks of an unpublished Lollard MS. of 37 articles which deal with clerical abuses, such as simony, quarrelling, holding secular offices, oaths, the worship of images, the eucharist and papal authority.

Lollardy was an anticipation of the Reformation of the sixteenth century, and did something in the way of preparing the mind of the English people for that change. Professed by many clerics, it was emphatically a movement of laymen. In the early Reformation period, English Lutherans were at times represented as the immediate followers of Wyclif. Writing in 1523 to Erasmus, Tonstall, bishop of London, said of Lutheranism that "it was not a question of some pernicious novelty, but only that new arms were being added to the great band of Wycliffite heretics."645645    Trevelyan, p. 349.


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