Lollardy (Lollardism, Lollard movement) was a pre-
religious movement that existed from the mid-14th century to the
English Reformation. It was initially led by John Wycliffe, a Roman
Catholic theologian who was dismissed from the
University of Oxford
University of Oxford in
1381 for criticism of the Roman Catholic Church. The Lollards' demands
were primarily for reform of Western Christianity.
4 Representations in art and literature
5 See also
8 External links
Lollards' prison in Lambeth Palace
Lollard, Lollardi or Loller was the popular derogatory nickname given
to those without an academic background, educated (if at all) only in
English, who were reputed to follow the teachings of
John Wycliffe in
particular, and were certainly considerably energized by the
translation of the Bible into the English language. By the mid-15th
century, "lollard" had come to mean a heretic in general. The
alternative, "Wycliffite", is generally accepted to be a more neutral
term covering those of similar opinions, but having an academic
The term is said to have been coined by the Anglo-Irish cleric Henry
Crumpe, but its origin is uncertain. According to the Oxford English
Dictionary, it most likely derives from
Middle Dutch lollaerd
("mumbler, mutterer"), from a verb lollen ("to mutter, mumble"). It
appears to be a derisive expression applied to various people
perceived as heretics—first the
Franciscans and later the followers
of Wycliffe. Originally the Dutch word was a colloquial name for a
group of the harmless buriers of the dead during the Black Death, in
the 14th century, known as Alexians, Alexian Brothers or Cellites.
These were known colloquially as lollebroeders (
Middle Dutch for
"mumbling brothers"), or Lollhorden, from Old High German: lollon ("to
sing softly"), from their chants for the dead. Middle English
loller (akin to the verb loll, lull, the English cognate of Dutch
lollen "to mutter, mumble") is recorded as an alternative spelling of
Lollard, while its generic meaning "a lazy vagabond, an idler, a
fraudulent beggar" is not recorded before 1582.
Two other possibilities for the derivation of Lollard are mentioned by
the Oxford English Dictionary,
Latin lolium, the weedy vetch (tares), supposedly a reference to
Parable of the Tares
Parable of the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30);
after a Franciscan named Lolhard who converted to the Waldensian way,
becoming eminent as a preacher in Guyenne, then under English
domination, influencing lay English piety. He was burned at
the 1370s; coincidentally, a Waldensian teacher named Lolhard was
tried for heresy in Austria in 1315.
Map of Lollardy's influence. Areas of Lollardy's influence before the
death of Richard II are in green. Areas where
Lollardy spread in the
15th century are in red.
Lollardy was a religion of vernacular scripture. Lollards opposed
many practices of the Catholic church. Anne Hudson has written that a
form of sola scriptura underpinned Wycliffite beliefs, but
distinguished it from the more radical ideology that anything not
permitted by scripture is forbidden. Instead, Hudson notes that
"Wycliffite beliefs [stressed] the bible and [insisted] that it formed
the only valid source of doctrine and the only pertinent measure of
With regard to the Eucharist, later Lollards such as John Wycliffe,
William Thorpe, and John Oldcastle, taught a view of the real presence
of Christ in Holy Communion known as "consubstantiation" and did not
accept the doctrine of transubstantiation, taught by the Roman
Catholic Church in 1215. What is meant by consubstantiation is
that, contrary to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, Lollards
believed "that material bread still existed there". Wycliffe
believed that the bread and wine themselves were "materially unchanged
by the consecration", but he also believed that the consecration added
"the spiritual being of Christ" to the bread and wine.
They did not believe the church practices of baptism and confession
were necessary for salvation. They considered praying to saints and
honoring of their images to be a form of idolatry. Oaths, fasting, and
prayers for the dead were thought to have no scriptural basis. They
had a poor opinion of the trappings of the Catholic church, including
holy bread, holy water, bells, organs, and church buildings. They
rejected the value of papal pardons.
Special vows were considered
to be in conflict with the divine order established by Christ and were
regarded as anathema. 16th century martyrologist John Foxe
described four main beliefs of Lollardy: opposition to pilgrimages and
saint worship, denial of the doctrine of transubstantiation, and a
demand for English translation of the Scriptures.
One group of Lollards petitioned Parliament with The Twelve
Conclusions of the Lollards by posting them on the doors of
Westminster Hall in February 1395. While by no means a central
authority of the Lollards, the Twelve Conclusions reveal certain basic
Lollard ideas. The first Conclusion rejects the acquisition of
temporal wealth by Church leaders as accumulating wealth leads them
away from religious concerns and toward greed. The fourth Conclusion
deals with the Lollard view that the
Eucharist is a
contradictory topic that is not clearly defined in the Bible. Whether
the bread remains bread or becomes the literal body of Christ is not
specified uniformly in the gospels. The sixth Conclusion states that
officials of the Church should not concern themselves with secular
matters when they hold a position of power within the Church because
this constitutes a conflict of interest between matters of the spirit
and matters of the State. The eighth Conclusion points out the
ludicrousness, in the minds of Lollards, of the reverence that is
directed toward images of Christ's suffering. "If the cross of Christ,
the nails, spear, and crown of thorns are to be honoured, then why not
honour Judas's lips, if only they could be found?"
The Lollards stated that the
Catholic Church had been corrupted by
temporal matters and that its claim to be the true church was not
justified by its heredity. Part of this corruption involved prayers
for the dead and chantries. These were seen as corrupt since they
distracted priests from other work and that all should be prayed for
equally. Lollards also had a tendency toward iconoclasm. Expensive
church artwork was seen as an excess; they believed effort should be
placed on helping the needy and preaching rather than working on
expensive decorations. Icons were also seen as dangerous since many
seemed to be worshiping the icons more than God.
Believing in a universal priesthood, the Lollards challenged the
Church's authority to invest or deny the divine authority to make a
man a priest. Denying any special status to the priesthood, Lollards
thought confession to a priest was unnecessary since according to them
priests did not have the ability to forgive sins. Lollards challenged
the practice of clerical celibacy and believed priests should not hold
government positions as such temporal matters would likely interfere
with their spiritual mission.
Beginning of the Gospel of John from a pocket Wycliffe translation
that may have been used by a roving Lollard preacher (late 14th
Lollardy is denounced as a heresy (by the Roman Catholic
Church and the early pre-reformation Church of England), initially
Wycliffe and the Lollards were sheltered by
John of Gaunt
John of Gaunt and other
anti-clerical nobility, who may have wanted to use Lollard-advocated
clerical reform to acquire new sources of revenue from England’s
University of Oxford
University of Oxford also protected Wycliffe and
similar academics on the grounds of academic freedom and, initially,
allowed such persons to retain their positions despite their
controversial views. Lollards first faced serious persecution after
Peasants' Revolt in 1381. While Wycliffe and other Lollards
opposed the revolt, one of the peasants’ leaders, John Ball,
preached Lollardy. The royalty and nobility then found
Lollardy to be
a threat not only to the Church, but to English society in general.
The Lollards' small measure of protection evaporated. This change in
status was also affected by the 1386 departure of
John of Gaunt
John of Gaunt who
left England to pursue the Crown of Castile.
A group of gentry active during the reign of Richard II (1377–99)
were known as "Lollard Knights" either during or after their lives due
to their acceptance of Wycliffe's claims. Henry Knighton, in his
Chronicle, identifies the principal Lollard Knights as Thomas Latimer,
John Trussell, Lewis Clifford, John Peachey, Richard Storey, and
Reginald Hilton. Thomas Walsingham's Chronicle adds William Nevil and
John Clanvowe to the list, and other potential members of this circle
have been identified by their wills, which contain Lollard-inspired
language about how their bodies are to be plainly buried and permitted
to return to the soil whence they came. There is little indication
that the Lollard Knights were specifically known as such during their
lifetimes; they were men of discretion, and unlike Sir John Oldcastle
years later, rarely gave any hint of open rebellion. However, they
displayed a remarkable ability to retain important positions without
falling victim to the various prosecutions of Wycliffe's followers
occurring during their lifetimes.
Religious and secular authorities strongly opposed Lollardy. A primary
opponent was Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by
Henry le Despenser
Henry le Despenser of Norwich, whom the chronicler Thomas
Walsingham praised for his zeal. King Henry IV (despite being John
of Gaunt's son) passed the
De heretico comburendo in 1401, which did
not specifically ban the Lollards, but prohibited translating or
owning heretical versions of the Bible and authorised death by burning
John Oldcastle being burnt for insurrection and Lollard heresy.
By the early 15th century, stern measures were undertaken by Church
and state which drove
Lollardy underground. One such measure was the
1410 burning at the stake of John Badby, a layman and craftsman who
refused to renounce his Lollardy. He was the first layman to suffer
capital punishment in England for the crime of heresy.
Main article: Oldcastle Revolt
John Oldcastle, a close friend of
Henry V of England
Henry V of England and the basis for
Falstaff in the
Shakespearean history Henry IV, Part 1, was brought to
trial in 1413 after evidence of his Lollard beliefs was uncovered.
Oldcastle escaped from the
Tower of London
Tower of London and organized an
insurrection, which included an attempted kidnapping of the king. The
rebellion failed, and Oldcastle was executed. Oldcastle's revolt made
Lollardy seem even more threatening to the state, and persecution of
Lollards became more severe. A variety of other martyrs for the
Lollard cause were executed during the next century, including the
Amersham Martyrs in the early 1500s and
Thomas Harding in 1532, one of
the last Lollards to be made victim. A gruesome reminder of this
persecution is the 'Lollards Pit' in Thorpe Wood, now Thorpe Hamlet,
Norwich, Norfolk, where men are customablie burnt.
Lollards were effectively absorbed into
Protestantism during the
English Reformation, in which
Lollardy played a role. Since Lollards
had been underground for more than a hundred years, the extent of
Lollardy and its ideas at the time of the Reformation is uncertain and
a point of debate. Ancestors of
Blanche Parry (the closest person to
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I of England for 56 years) and of
Blanche Milborne (who
raised Edward VI and Elizabeth I) had Lollard connections.
However, many critics of the Reformation, including Thomas More,
associated Protestants with Lollards. Leaders of the English
Reformation, including Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, referred to Lollardy
as well, and Bishop Cuthbert of London called
"foster-child" of the Wycliffite heresy. Scholars debate whether
Protestants actually drew influence from
Lollardy or whether they
referred to it to create a sense of tradition.
Despite the debate about the extent of Lollard influence there are
ample records of the persecution of Lollards from this period. In the
Diocese of London there are records of about 310 Lollards being
prosecuted or forced to abjure between 1510 and 1532. In Lincoln 45
Lollardy were heard in 1506–07 and in 1521 there were
50 abjurations and 5 burnings of Lollards. In 1511 Archbishop Warham
presided over the abjuration of 41 Lollards from Kent and the burning
The extent of
Lollardy in the general populace at this time is
unknown, but the prevalence of
Protestant iconoclasm in England
suggests Lollard ideas may still have had some popular influence if
Huldrych Zwingli was not the source, as
Lutheranism did not advocate
iconoclasm. Lollards were persecuted again between 1554 and 1559
during the Revival of the
Heresy Acts, under the Catholic Mary I of
England, which specifically suppressed heresy and Lollardy.
The similarity between Lollards and later English
such as the Baptists, Puritans, and Quakers, also suggests some
continuation of Lollard ideas through the Reformation.
Representations in art and literature
The Church used art as an anti-Lollard weapon. Lollards were
represented as foxes dressed as monks or priests preaching to a flock
of geese on misericords. These representations alluded to the
story of the preaching fox found in popular medieval literature such
as The History of
Fox and The Shifts of Raynardine. The
fox lured the geese closer and closer with its words until it was able
to snatch a victim to devour. The moral of this story was that foolish
people are seduced by false doctrines.
General Prologue of the Wycliffe Bible
Jerome of Prague
Piers Plowman tradition
^ Roberts, Chris (2006), Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind
Rhyme, Thorndike Press, ISBN 0-7862-8517-6 .
^ cf. English lullaby, and the modern Dutch and German lallen "to
babble, to talk drunkenly".Digitales Wörterbuch der deutschen
Sprache, entry for "lallen"
^ Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press .
^ TJ van Bright. The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the
Defenseless Christians (1660). Third English Edition. 1886. Translated
by Joseph F. Sohm. Herald Press, Scottsdale, Pennsylvania.
^ a b Aston, Margaret (1996). "
Lollardy - Oxford Reference".
Encyclopedia of the Reformation. ISBN 978-0-19-506493-3.
Retrieved 2017-05-31. – via
^ Hudson 1988, p. 280.
^ Walker, Greg (6 February 2013). Reading Literature Historically:
Drama and Poetry from Chaucer to the Reformation. Edinburgh University
Press. p. 152. ISBN 9780748681037.
^ Hornbeck, J. Patrick (10 September 2010). What is a lollard?:
dissent and belief in late medieval England. Oxford University Press.
p. 72. ISBN 9780199589043.
^ Hudson 1988, p. 281.
^ Hudson 1988, p. 282.
^ Gasse, Roseanne (1996-01-01). "Margery Kempe and Lollardy".
Magistra. Retrieved 2017-05-30. – via HighBeam
^ Walker, Greg (1993-05-01). "Heretical Sects in Pre-Reformation
England". History Today. Retrieved
2017-05-30. – via
^ Hudson 1988, p. 306.
^ Walsingham. Historia Anglicana. 2. p. 189. .
^ Richardson 2007, pp. 87–89.
^ Rackham, Oliver (1976). Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape.
JM Dent & Sons. pp. 137–38. ISBN 0-460-04183-5. .
^ Richardson 2007, pp. 10–11, 87–89.
^ Potter, R. "Documents on the changing status of the English
Vernacular, 1500–1540". RIC. Retrieved March 11, 2008. .
^ Dickens, AG (1959). Lollards & Protestants in the Diocese of
York, 1509–58. A&C Black. ISBN 9780907628057. .
^ Benton, Janetta (January 1997). Holy Terrors: Gargoyles on Medieval
Buildings. Abbeville Press. ISBN 978-0-7892-0182-9. , p. 83
Duffy, Eamon (1992), The Stripping of the Altars, Yale University
Hudson, Anne (1988), "The Ideology of Reformation", The Premature
Reformation: Wycliffite Texts and Lollard History, Oxford: Clarendon
Lowe, Ben (2004), "Teaching in the 'Schole of Christ': Law, Learning,
and Love in Early Lollard Pacifism", Catholic Historical Review, 90
(3): 405–38, doi:10.1353/cat.2004.0142 .
Lutton, Robert (2006),
Lollardy and Orthodox Religion in
Pre-Reformation England, Woodbridge and Suffolk, UK: Boydell and
McFarlane, KB (1952), The Origins of Religious Dissent in
Rex, Richard (2002), The Lollards: Social History in Perspective, New
York: Palgrave .
Richardson, Ruth Elizabeth (2007), Mistress Blanche, Queen Elizabeth
I's Confidante, Logaston Press .
———; Richardson, TG, Blanche Parry .
Robson, John Adam (1961). Wyclif and the Oxford Schools: The Relation
of the "Summa de Ente" to Scholastic Debates at Oxford in the Later
Fourteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
edit & trans. Shannon McSheffrey and Norman Tanner, ed. (2003).
"Lollards of Coventry, 1486–1522". Royal Historical Society.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Camden Fifth Series 23.
McSheffrey, Shannon (2005). "Heresy, Orthodoxy and English Vernacular
Religion 1480–1525". Past and Present. 186 (1): 47–80.
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
The Lollard Society — society dedicated to providing a forum for the
study of the Lollards
BBC radio 4 discussion from In Our Time. "John Wyclif and the
Lollards". (45 mins)
Beliefs condemned as heretical by the Catholic Church
Arianism (Anomoeanism, Semi-Arianism)
Gnosticism (Manichaeism, Paulicianism, Priscillianism, Naassenes,
Ophites, Sethianism, Valentinianism)
Protestantism (Arminianism, Calvinism, Lutheranism)
Community of the Lady of All Nations