Saturday, 8 March 2008

The Lollard Movement

In response to Joan's request, a few notes on the Lollard movement. It grew out of dissatisfaction with the corruption of the medieval Catholic Church. However, while some critics remained within the Church and (for example) supported new and more austere religious orders, the Lollards developed a range of beliefs that were regarded as heresy.

The founder of the movement is usually said to be John Wycliffe who, among other things, translated the Bible into English. Some people think that the movement actually started before Wycliffe, but it is at times hard to distinguish Lollardy from straightforward desire for reform.

Lollards did not all believe the same things. Typically they favoured the disendowment of the Church; they disapproved of swearing, at a time when most people were pretty liberal with profane oaths; they usually denied the virtue of pilgrimages or images; most denied transubstantiation; they denied the authority of priesthood and the importance of blessings or other ritual; they saw no need for clerical celibacy; some argued that priests and secular rulers had no authority unless they were in a state of grace. Extremists in the movement argued that property should be held in common.

In the early years they were supported by John of Gaunt and other nobles, who were far from opposed to stripping the Church of its vast property. However Wycliffe's denial of transubstantiation was a bridge too far for most. Nevertheless an influential group of Lollard knights were to be found at Richard II's court. These included Sir Thomas Latimer, Sir John Trussel, Sir Lewis Clifford, Sir John Peachey, Sir Richard Storey, Sir Reginald Hilton, William Nevil and John Clanvowe.

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. Richard II was absent in Ireland at the time, and was greatly angered. He threatened to execute the Lollard members of his court unless they retracted their opinions. However, he did not. Indeed the well-known Lollard Sir John Montagu (or Montacute, take your pick) later Earl of Salisbury, remained high in his favour to the end of his reign.

Henry IV allowed the passage of the famous Statute De heretico comburendo. During his reign two Lollards were burnt, a priest and a layman. Ironically Richard II had questioned Henry's loyalty to the Church. It is probable Henry was influenced by his important supporter Archbishop Arundel, who was a strong opponent of the Lollards.

Henry V had a Lollard friend, Sir John Oldcastle - once Henry became king, Oldcastle was involved in a significant Lollard revolt against him. The rising was crushed. Oldcastle was captured and executed by being both hanged and burnt at the same time! (This was quite separate from the Cambridge conspiracy, although it appears there was an attempt to draw Lollards into the latter.)

Lollardy did not die out, of course, it was merely driven underground. There were a few isolated executions under the Lancastrian and Yorkist kings, and in Tudor times the movement was subsumed into Protestantism. It was left to Henry VIII and Mary I to make the most use of Henry IV's Statute.

8 comments:

Joansz_R3 said...

Brian, thank you for taking this side road. I find these philosophical differences fascinating and a peek into the thinking (and iconoclasm) of the time.

I first became aware of the Lollards when I saw a public TV show called Battle of the Bible on the Secrets of the Dead series.

Joan

Joansz_R3 said...

I appears the link to Battle of the Bible I tried to embed didn't take. Here it is: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/case_bible/index.html

Lynn Irwin Stewart said...

Thanks Brian -- I never had a clear view about the Lollards (and didn't bother to look them up so that's my fault) so that helped a lot. Why were they called "Lollards"?

Brian said...

Wiki suggests the following meansings for Lollard - take your pick.

the Dutch word, lollaerd, meaning someone who mutters, a mumbler. This is also related to the Dutch word, lull or lollen, as in "a mother lulls her child to sleep", or "to sing or chant";
the Latin lolium, tares (as a noxious weed mingled with the good Catholic wheat);
after the Franciscan, Lolhard, who converted to the Waldensian way, becoming eminent as a preacher in Guienne. That part of France was then under English domination, influencing lay English piety. He was burned at Cologne in the 1370s;
the Middle-English loller, "a lazy vagabond, an idler, a fraudulent beggar", likely a later usage; influenced (spuriously?) by Chaucer's use of the term in The Canterbury Tales.

Brian

Joansz_R3 said...

I looked up Lollard in the Concise OED (on line) and they only ascribe to the Dutch origin: "— ORIGIN originally a derogatory term, derived from a Dutch word meaning ‘mumbler’." The American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition also cites that origin.

Since all the possible origins are demeaning, it makes me think that this was an attempt at discrediting the philosophy to eliminate competition.

I know this is too early for our man Richard III, but didn't he own a copy or at least have studied the Lollard bible? I wonder what its influence on him might have been, if any.

Brian said...

I'm not sure, Joan, whether Richard's English Bible was a Wycliffe translation. It was allowed to have an English Bible, but only with the permission of the Bishop. This was usually only granted to people high in society or to scholars. The Church was wary of ordinary folk undertaking their own analysis of Scripture, and when you think of the revolution brought about by printed Bibles being made available, the Bishops were, from their POV, justified in their fears!

Joansz_R3 said...

I just looked up Lollard in Richard III's Books and learnd he owned a copy of a bible in English which Sutton and Fuchs also calls a Lollard. Richard inscribed in the margin of the calendar: "A vo[us] me ly Gloucestre. It's housed at the New York City Public Library.

According to Sutton and Fuchs, he owned this book from when he was a teen--an influential time of life.

Brian said...

That's very interesting Joan. My impression of Richard (as with his mother Cecily and sister Margaret) is that his piety tended to the ascetic end of the scale. In some ways this was similar to Lollard philiosophy, yet with a clear rejection of their unorthodox doctrine. Of course that's a gross simplification! I'm sure there are Ricardian articles written around this, though I can't bring one to mind right now.