In This Article The Lollards and John Wyclif

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Collected Studies
  • Essay Collections
  • Bibliographies
  • Wyclif’s Thought and Influence
  • Debate over Lollardy’s Significance and Impact
  • Lollard Belief and Practice
  • Regional Studies
  • Individual Lollards
  • Lollard Opponents
  • Lollardy and Women
  • Lollard Book Production and Circulation
  • Lollard Writings
  • Sources of Lollard Writings
  • Vernacular Writing, Lay Education, and Censorship
  • Lollardy and Middle English Literature
  • Lollard Discourse

Medieval Studies The Lollards and John Wyclif
by
Fiona Somerset, Derrick Pitard
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0073

Introduction

Lollards, also known as Wycliffites, were members of a religious movement inspired by the Oxford don John Wyclif (b. c. 1330–d. 1384). Although Wyclif was never placed on trial during his lifetime, Gregory IX had declared him a heretic in 1377, and a series of condemnations beginning in 1381 labeled his views as heretical or erroneous, while heresy investigations pursued his followers for holding or teaching them. Although Wyclif was posthumously condemned at the Council of Constance in 1415, groups accused of holding views that resemble Wyclif’s appear to have persisted (certainly they were intermittently investigated by bishops) up until the English Reformation. Topics strongly disputed among scholars include (1) the extent to which lollards were organized as a movement or thought of themselves as a religious sect, (2) the conformity between their views and Wyclif’s, (3) their numbers and geographical spread, (4) the coherence of lollard thought between regions and over time, and (5) the degree to which lollards anticipated or “prepared the ground” for the English Reformation. Regardless, all concur that the written record of lollardy and its persecution is very extensive. Sources include contemporary and later narrative accounts (especially that of Knighton), condemnations and heresy trial records (including those of trials in Norwich, Kent, and Coventry), writings by Wyclif’s opponents (including Netter and Pecock), Wyclif’s own writings, and a great many manuscripts, most of their contents still unprinted, containing vernacular and a few Latin writings associated with the lollard movement. Although trial records and writings by opponents are preserved to a greater or lesser extent for every heretical group in Antiquity and the medieval period, the large number of books owned or written by Wyclif or his followers and still extant despite the movement’s persecution is very unusual, and still in need of much further study.

General Overviews

The studies listed here provide a starting point for further work. Hudson 1988 provides a comprehensive overview of all the sources for the study of lollardy. Catto 1992 surveys the early development of the movement at Oxford. Ghosh 2002 analyzes Wyclif’s and Wycliffite biblical interpretation. McSheffrey 2005 considers what trial records can reveal about the religious practice of later lollards. Forrest 2005 explains how heresy was investigated in medieval England. Lahey 2009 introduces Wyclif and his intellectual context. Hornbeck 2010 attempts to define and chart the development of key tenets of lollard belief.

  • Catto, Jeremy I. “Wyclif and Wycliffism at Oxford 1356–1430.” In The History of the University of Oxford. Vol. 2, Late Medieval Oxford. Edited by J. I. Catto and Ralph Evans, 175–261. Oxford: Clarendon, 1992.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199510122.003.0005E-mail Citation »

    A detailed account of the careers of Wyclif and his associates and followers at Oxford during the period in which Wyclif’s ideas, and the university’s resistance toward outside interference in its internal affairs, have left the greatest bulk of written records.

  • Forrest, Ian. The Detection of Heresy in Late Medieval England. Oxford Historical Monographs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199286928.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    Examines the development, circulation, and implementation of legislation designed to address heresy in late medieval England. The most thorough modern account of how inquisitorial procedures developed elsewhere in Europe were adapted to the situation in England, and of how the English church and secular hierarchy attempted to respond to the threat of heresy as they perceived it.

  • Ghosh, Kantik. The Wycliffite Heresy: Authority and the Interpretation of Texts. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    E-mail Citation »

    Examines arguments about scriptural hermeneutics both in Latin and English from the 1370s to 1420s, ranging from Wyclif’s On the Truth of Holy Scripture and the English Wycliffite Sermons to the writings of Wyclif’s opponents William Woodford, Nicholas Love, and Thomas Netter.

  • Hornbeck, Patrick. What Is a Lollard? Dissent and Belief in Late Medieval England. Oxford Theological Monographs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    E-mail Citation »

    Addresses, in turn, lollard attitudes to salvation, the Eucharist, celibacy and marriage, priesthood, and the papacy, comparing the evidence provided by heresy trials with attitudes evident in Wyclif’s and lollard writings. Contends that doctrinal variation should provoke sustained analysis of the social aspects and development of dissenting thought in England, rather than being seen as a reason to dismiss it from attention.

  • Hudson, Anne. The Premature Reformation: Wycliffite Texts and Lollard History. Oxford: Clarendon, 1988.

    E-mail Citation »

    The most detailed and influential study of the movement, and the first broad survey of the writings and books of Wyclif’s followers. Argues that Wycliffism was a coherent movement whose tenets remained remarkably consistent as they were disseminated from academic circles to lay readers, from the late 14th century through to the English Reformation.

  • Lahey, Stephen E. John Wyclif. Great Medieval Thinkers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195183313.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    A highly accessible introduction to Wyclif’s life, thought, and writings.

  • McSheffrey, Shannon. “Heresy, Orthodoxy, and English Vernacular Religion 1480–1525.” Past and Present 186.1 (February 2005): 47–80.

    DOI: 10.1093/pastj/gti001E-mail Citation »

    Examines the religious practice and reading of later lollard communities, as revealed by trial records. Shows that the many overlaps and interchanges between lollard and mainstream reading and practice complicate any simple, oppositional understanding of the relationship between “heresy” and “orthodoxy.”

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