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In this Nineteenth-century illustration, John Wycliffe is shown giving the Bible translation that bore his name to his Lollard followers

Lollardy was the political and religious movement of the Lollards from the mid-14th century to the English Reformation. The term Lollards refers to the followers of John Wycliffe,[1] a prominent theologian who was dismissed from the University of Oxford in 1381 for criticism of the traditional church, especially his doctrine on the Eucharist. Its demands were primarily for reform of Western Christianity.


It taught the concept of the "Church of the Saved", meaning that Christ's true Church was the community of the faithful, which overlapped with but was not the same as the official Church of Rome. It taught a form of predestination. It advocated apostolic poverty and taxation of Church properties. Other doctrines include consubstantiation in favour of transubstantiation , although some of its followers went further. A Lollard blacksmith in Lincolnshire declared that he could make "as good a sacrament between ii yrons as the prest doth vpon his auter (altar)".[2]


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 energised by the translation of the Bible into the English language. By the mid-15th century the term 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 background.

The term was coined by the Anglo-Irish cleric, Henry Crumpe, but the origin of the term is uncertain. Four possibilities suggest themselves:

  1. 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";
  2. the Latin name lolium (Common Vetch or tares, as a noxious weed mingled with the good Catholic wheat);
  3. 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;
  4. the Middle English loller, "a lazy vagabond, an idler, a fraudulent beggar", likely a later usage.

The Dutch derivation is the most likely, due to the influence on Lollardy of the informal lay communities, originating in Deventer in Overijssel around the teaching of Gerhard Groote, in the last two decades of the 14th century; but the Latin lolium (tares) is an interesting alternative.


Map of Lollardy's influence

Although Lollardy can be said to have originated from interest in the writings of John Wycliffe, the Lollards had no central belief system and no official doctrine. Likewise, being a decentralized movement, Lollardy neither had nor proposed any singular authority. The movement associated itself with many different ideas, but individual Lollards did not necessarily have to agree with every tenet. Some Lollards may have shown traces of Antitrinitarian tendency, though some nineteenth century writers overemphasized this because they misconceived the ground of the Lollard rejection of the worship of the human Christ. In this, the Lollards were no different to other Protestants. Like most Protestants they worshipped Christ in his divine nature alone, refusing the adoration which the Roman Catholic offers to his human nature also.[3] Reginald Pecock (1390-1460) sought to stay the Lollard movement by setting aside ecclesiastical infallibility, and taking the appeal to Scripture and reason alone.

Fundamentally, Lollards were anticlerical, meaning that they disapproved of the corrupt nature of the Western Church and the belief in divine appointment of Church leaders. Believing the Roman Catholic Church to be perverted in many ways, the Lollards looked to Scripture as the basis for their religious ideas. To provide an authority for religion outside of the Church, Lollards began the movement towards a translation of the bible into the vernacular which enabled more of the English peasantry to read the Bible. Wycliffe himself translated many passages until his death in 1384.

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 Sacrament of 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 in the Church. As Anne Hudson states in her Reformation Ideology, "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?" (306).

The Lollards stated that the Roman 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. Lavish church fixtures were seen as an excess; they believed effort should be placed on helping the needy and preaching rather than working on lavish decoration. Icons were also seen as dangerous since many seemed to worship the icon rather than God, leading to idolatry.

Believing in a lay priesthood, the Lollards challenged the Church’s ability to invest or deny the divine authority to make a man a priest. Denying any special authority to the priesthood, Lollards thought confession unnecessary since a priest did not have any special power to forgive sins. Lollards challenged the practice of clerical celibacy and believed priests should not hold political positions since temporal matters should not interfere with the priests’ spiritual mission.

Believing that more attention should be given to the message in the scriptures rather than to ceremony and worship, the Lollards denounced the ritualistic aspects of the Church such as transubstantiation, exorcism, pilgrimages, and blessings. These focused too much on powers the Church supposedly did not have and led to a focus on temporal ritual over God and his message.

The other Conclusions deal with gospel teachings against killing as punishment for a crime (capital punishment), rejection of religious celibacy, and belief that members of the Clergy be accountable to civil laws. The Conclusions also rejected pilgrimages, ornamentation of churches, and religious images because these were said to take away from the true nature of worship: focus on God. Also denounced in the Conclusions were war, violence, and abortion.[4] Outside of the Twelve Conclusions, the Lollards had many beliefs and traditions. Their scriptural focus led Lollards to refuse the taking of oaths. Lollards also had a tradition of millenarianism. Some criticized the Church for not focusing enough on Revelation. Many Lollards believed they were near the end of days, and several Lollard writings claim the Pope to be the antichrist. In actuality, Lollards did not believe that any one Pope, as a human being, was the antichrist. They believed that the papal system as a whole, however, embodied the prophecy of the antichrist.


Beginning of the Gospel of John from a pocket Wycliffe translation that may have been used by a roving Lollard preacher (late 14th century)

Immediately upon going public, Lollardy was attacked as heresy. At first, Wycliffe and Lollardy were protected by John of Gaunt and anti-clerical nobility, who may have been interested in using Lollard-advocated clerical reform to create a new source of revenue from England’s monasteries, as Henry VIII would finally succeed in doing. The University of Oxford also protected Wycliffe and allowed him to hold his position at the university in spite of his views on the grounds of academic freedom, which also gave some protection to the academics who supported it within that institution. Lollardy first faced serious persecution after the Peasant’s 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 just to the Church, but to all the English social order. The Lollards' small measure of protection evaporated. This change in status was also affected by the removal of John of Gaunt from the scene, when he left England in pursuit of the throne of Castile, which he claimed through his second wife.

Lollardy was strongly resisted by both the religious and secular authorities. Among those opposing it was Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury. King Henry IV (despite being John of Gaunt's son) passed the De heretico comburendo in 1401, not specifically against the Lollards, but prohibiting the translating or owning of the Bible and authorising the burning of heretics at the stake.

Sir John Oldcastle being burnt for insurrection and Lollard heresy

In the early 15th century, Lollardy went underground after more extreme measures were taken by the Church and State. One measure was the burning at the stake of John Badby, a layman and artisan who refused to renounce his Lollard views. His was the first execution of a layman in England for the crime of heresy.

The Lollard Knights were a group of gentry active during the reign of Richard II, known either during their lives or after for an inclination to the religious reforms of John Wycliffe. Henry Knighton, in his Chronicle, identifies the principal Knights as Sir Thomas Latimer, Sir John Trussel, Sir Lewis Clifford, Sir John Peachey, Sir Richard Storey, and Sir 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 from 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. What is remarkable about them is how long they managed to hold important positions without falling victim to any of the several prosecutions of the followers of Wycliffe during their lifetimes. Unfortunately, Henry IV turned out to be a very enthusiastic opponent of the Lollards, and through legislation such as the Act De haeretico comburendo of 1401, showed himself virulently opposed to any such sentiments.

Sir John Oldcastle, a close friend of King Henry V (and the basis for Falstaff in the Shakespearean history Henry IV) was brought to trial in 1413 after evidence of his Lollard beliefs was uncovered. Oldcastle [5] escaped from the 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 the persecution of Lollards became more severe. A variety of other martyrs for the Lollard cause were executed over the following century, including Thomas Harding who died at White Hill, Chesham, in 1532, one of the last Lollards to be persecuted. A gruesome reminder of this persecution is the 'Lollards Pit' in Thorpe Wood, Norfolk, where men are customablie burnt.[6]

Lollards were effectively absorbed into Protestantism during the English Reformation, in which Lollardy played a role. Since Lollardy 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. It is of interest that ancestors of Blanche Parry, the closest person to Queen Elizabeth I for 56 years, and of Lady Troy who brought up Edward VI and Elizabeth I had Lollard connections.[7] 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 Lutheranism as the "foster-child" of the Wycliffite heresy.[8] Whether Protestants actually drew influence from Lollardy or whether they referred to it to create a sense of tradition is debated by scholars. The extent of Lollardy in the general populace at this time is also unknown, but the prevalence of Protestant iconoclasm in England suggests Lollard ideas may still have had some popular influence if Zwingli was not the source, as Lutherans did not advocate iconoclasm. The similarity between Lollards and later English Protestant groups such as the Baptists, Puritans and Quakers also suggests some continuation of Lollard ideas through the Reformation.

See also


  • Duffy, Eamon. The Stripping of the Altars. Yale University Press, 1992.
  • Hudson, Anne. The Premature Reformation: Wycliffite Texts and Lollard History. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988.
  • McFarlane, K B. The Origins of Religious Dissent in England. 1952.
  • Rex, Richard. The Lollards: Social History in Perspective. New York: Palgrave, 2002.
  • Lollards of Coventry, 1486-1522, ed. and trans. Shannon McSheffrey and Norman Tanner, Camden Fifth Series 23 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press for the Royal Historical Society, 2003).
  • Shannon McSheffrey, "Heresy, Orthodoxy and English Vernacular Religion 1480–1525," Past & Present, 186, 2005, № 1, 47-80.
  • Robert Lutton, Lollardy and Orthodox Religion in Pre-Reformation England (Woodbridge and Suffolk, U.K.: Boydell and Brewer, 2006).
  • Lowe, Ben. "Teaching in the 'Schole of Christ': Law, Learning, and Love in Early Lollard Pacifism.” Catholic Historical Review 90, no. 3 (2004): 405-438.


  1. Chris Roberts, Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind Rhyme, Thorndike Press,2006 (ISBN 0-7862-8517-6)
  2. Confession of William Ayleward, Register of Bishop Chedworth of Lincoln, Lincoln Archive Office REG 20, fol. 61r.
  3. Alexander Gordon; Heads of English Unitarian History; 1895; p.14.
  4. "Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards." Wikisource
  5. Richardson, Ruth Elizabeth, 2007 'Mistress Blanche, Queen Elizabeth I's Confidante', p 87-89
  6. Rackham, Oliver (1976) Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape. Pub. J.M.Dent & Sons. ISBN 0-460-04183-5. P. 137 -138.
  7. Richardson 2007, p 10-11, 87-89
  8. Documents on the changing status of the English Vernacular, 1500-154 (retrieved 3/11/08)

External links

cs:Lollardi gl:Lollardismo ja:ロラード派 no:Lollardisme pt:Lollardismo ru:Лолларды sr:Лоларди sv:Lollarder uk:Лолларди