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Lollards

LOLLARDS

Lollards is the name given to the English followers of John wyclif, the Oxford theologian and heretic who died in 1384. A derogatory term, it was meant to convey the attributes of a lollaerd (in Middle Dutch, a mumbler) and a loller (in Middle English, an idler). At first the sect was confined to a small group of educated priests, such as Nicholas hereford, Philip repington, and John Aston, who had known Wyclif at Oxford and had been attracted by his radical views on lordship, grace, the Sacraments, and the temporal power of the papacy. In 1382, however, the Archbishop of Canterbury, William courtenay, moved swiftly and firmly to suppress the activities of these Oxford scholars, and in consequence the sect was soon deprived of its vigorous intellectual leaders, and passed into the hands of the more discontented and less literate elements of English society. Such poorly educated, unlicensed preachers as William Swinderby, who for one reason or another had failed to obtain a benefice, then formed the backbone of the movement. Many laymen, including burgesses, small freeholders, artisans, and tradesmen, were attracted by its nonconformist doctrines, and while it would be unrealistic to suppose that these gave much thought to Wyclif's theological ideas, many were seriously perturbed by the practical shortcomings and laxity of church dignitaries, religious corporations, mendicants, and secular clergy in their midst, not to mention the scandal that the contemporary western schism gave to all the faithful. Thus from the first the movement provided a focal point for the more reactionary antipapal and anticlerical elements within the country, but it also included many sincerely religious people, however illinformed or self-opinionated. On the whole there were few Lollards among the nobility and lesser gentry, for two reasons: first, heresy was by then an offense in English common law, so that if indicted, the higher ranks of society stood to lose more; second, the Lollard belief that dominion or lordship should be exercised only by those in a state of grace appeared to the nobility as a threat to their feudal authority. The one notable exception in this class was the Lollard knight, Sir John Oldcastle, who was finally hanged as a traitor and heretic in 1417. Thus proscribed, discredited, and leaderless, the sect gradually disintegrated and after 1431 ceased to exist effectively. Being popular among semiliterate people, the movement had a literature of its own. Tracts and sermons echoing Wyclif's ideas in simple, forceful English passed rapidly and enthusiastically among Lollards throughout the country, although a more permanent achievement was the English translation of the Bible by Wyclif's followers, which became known as the Lollard Bible.

See Also: hussites.

Bibliography: j. gairdner, Lollardy and the Reformation in England, 4 v. (London 190813) 1:1242. j. wyclif, Selected English Writings, ed. h. e. winn (London 1929). m. deanesly, The Significance of the Lollard Bible (London 1951). k. b. mcfarlane, John Wycliffe and the Beginnings of English Nonconformity (New York 1953). v. h. h. green, The Later Plantagenets (London 1955) 191209. m. e. aston, "Lollardy and Sedition, 13811431," Past and Present, 17 (1960) 144. j. a. f. thomson, The Later Lollards 14141520 (New York 1966). m. aston and r. colin, eds., Lol- lardy and the Gentry in the Later Middle Ages (Stroud, Eng. 1997). j. i. catto, "Wyclif and Wycliffism at Oxford 13561430," in The History of the University of Oxford, v. 2, ed. b. harrison (Oxford 1992) 175261. m. aston, Lollards and Reformers: Images and Literacy in Late Medieval Religion (London 1984).

[l. macfarlane]

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