(ca. 1382-1430) The Lollards were a heretical sect whose ideas were based on the principles of oxford theologian John Wycliffe (ca. 1330-1384) Lollardism is the only heresy to have flourished in medieval England. It is often said to be the only native heresy, though that viewpoint has been challenged recently.
Frustrated in his career, Wycliffe began advocating radical church reform, including an insistence on the Bible as the source of grace and ultimate authority, as well as a renunciation of priestly tithes and ecclesiasti
cal holdings. He also supported the right of the Crown to levy taxes on church holdings. This garnered him powerful court supporters, including Richard II, the Black Prince, and John of Gaunt. Wycliffe also promoted lay education, particularly citing the need for a vernacular translation of the Bible. He began a translation in 1381 and had most of the Old Testament and the Gospels completed before his death in 1384. Lol-lardism grew apart from Wycliffe's positions after his death. In particular, practitioners came to reject all spiritual practices not found in the Bible, including the sacraments, and to sanction the priesthood of all believers.
Lollardism was political from its inception, having its basis in Wycliffe's discontent with his career, and its initial alignment was with state funding. As Wycliffe grew more radical—for example, rejecting the doctrine of transubstantiation (the belief that bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ)—the aristocracy distanced themselves from Lollards, while the gentry and artisan classes moved to embrace it. Many of the anticlerical points raised during the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 were attributed to Lollardism, and it became feared as a synonym for anarchy and a basis for rebellion. Henry IV was particularly vigorous in his efforts to suppress Lollardism, though it continued to be prosecuted into the 16th century.
Lollardism deeply affected English literature. In particular, the first complete translation of the Bible into English was a major accomplishment that kindled the laity's desire to be educated. The widespread influence of the movement is also noticeable in popular literature, such as William Langland's Piers Plowman, as well as other works within the Piers Plowman tradition or related to it, including Pierce the Plowman's Crede, Mum and the Sothsegger, and Richard the Redeless. Another Lollard text, Jack up Lande, was erroneously attributed to Geoffrey Chaucer in the 16th century, even being published as a "lost" Canterbury Tale. Though that was disproved, Chaucer's works contain allusions to Lollardism, such as the Host's exclaimation in the epilogue to "The Man of Law's Tale: "'I smelle a Lollere in the wynd', quod he . . . This Lollere heer wil prechen us somewhat" (ll. 1173, 1177).
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