The Lollards, A Lost Cause?!

In his book from 1838, George Stokes claims;
that the ideas of John Wycliffe and the Lollards were “the rising sun of the
reformation,” he argues this based on the relation between Wycliffe’s ideas and
those of Jan Hus and other reformers in the Late medieval period. In this
article I will try to assess the lost cause of the Lollards, and at the same
time see who and what they were, and why their cause fall under the category of
Lost cause.

The movement of the Lollards, or Lollardy, was
an early English reformation movement which to a great extent was based on the Oxford trained scholar, philosopher and preacher John Wycliffe (c. 1328-1384), who together with many of his contemporaries believed that the Church had to great a power, and was too interested in worldly matters and wealth, while neglecting their obligations towards the believers. Unlike the papal church Wycliffe meant that one either was predestined to be saved or to be condemned,
in other words he believed in the church of the saved. The Lollards believed
that the power of the church and their authority came not from Rome, but
from the Holy Scripture, and that anyone who believed and lived in grace could
perform the sacraments, which technically meant that there was no need for
religious specialists after this. Unlike the Catholic Church, did the Lollards
believe that the basis of their faith came from the scripture, and started to
translate the Bible into English so that those literate in English would be
able to read and understand its words. This idea in itself was not a new idea;
after all, King Alfred had already in the ninth century translated parts of the
Psalms into English. The Lollardian effort to translate had a far greater
impact on Europe than in the early medieval effort. For this idea was adopted
by other reformers, such as Luther and Jan Hus, and formed the basis for
developing the reformed churches in Europe.  Other central ideas among the Lollards was the believe that during the Eucharist the bread and the wine did not turn into the blood and body of Christ, but it was rather a consubstantiation, which means it’s a symbolic act, they were also pro iconoclasm, which means they were against religious images and art for it could lead to idolatry instead of worshiping of God. The Lollards also believed that a priest did not have the power to forgive sins, and that the priesthood did not have a special position in the society, and therefore should not live in celibacy, not was the performance of the mass important to the Lollards, but rather the message of the text, which is why translated the Bible so that it could be accessible to a greater audience.

The Lollardian ideas spread from the circle of Wycliffe into the nobility and the lower classes, especially during the peasant’s revolt of 1381, a revolt that Wycliffe and his closest allies opposed, while the Lollards priest John Ball (c. 1338-1381) preached the Lollards ideas to the lower orders in England, this lead to the first serious persecutions against the Lollards, and many nobles and royals is said to see the movement as a radical and working against the English social order…

The prosecution of the Lollards continued until the English reformation when their movement and ideas were incorporated into the English Protestantism, although in the 15th and years leading up to the reformation the prosecution became severe, after the rebellion of Sir John Oldcastle against Henry V and the
church the Lollards risked being burned to the stake for their beliefs, the
last burning happened in 1532, in Chesham when Thomas Harding was burned for being a Lollards.

The incorporation and adaptation of lollardy into other reform movements in Europe and in England, as well as the prosecution against its members lead to an end of the “pure” Lollard movement, their idea of a pure church, as well as the meddling with the peasant’s revolt and the revolt of Oldcastle, as well as their status of heretics led to their fall and enrolment in our list of “Lost causes” which after all is the theme of this month.


Imsen, Steinar, Europa 1300-1550, (Oslo, 2nd Ed. 2000)

Stokes, George., The Lollards,(London, 1838)

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