The Lollards and social and religious reform

The Lollards and social and religious reform

By Doris Haddock

Access: History Vol. 1:2 (1998)

Introduction: Lollardy, the indigenous Proto-Protestant movement that evolved in the late fourteenth century from the teachings of John Wycliffe, was the first widespread heretical sect in England. It was of great concern to both Church and State authorities for over forty years until the suppressive and repressive actions that they instigated forced it underground. Lollardy was essentially a religious reform movement but one whose tenets held ramifications for the entire structure of English society. Although throughout Europe previous individuals and groups who were desirous of religious reform had indicated discrepancies between Biblical teachings and Church practice, their challenges had been “not to the church as a body but to abuses within it: the call was not to another church but to the revivification of the existing one, which remained the only one”. In comparison, although Lollardy also criticised clerical abuse of power and position, it denied Church authority in a range of areas, particularly with regard to its authority as the sole determiner of salvation and its right to hold temporal power and possessions. The movement’s adherents engaged in a range of activities that challenged the authority and structure of the Church, and because the Church was such an integral part of society, these activities were also a challenge to society’s structure. This aspect was strenuously and effectively promoted by the Church as a means of encouraging secular authorities to act against the Lollards and dissuading potential followers from joining the sect. In this paper, the process of the merger will be examined through: an analysis of Lollard doctrine and the resultant activities that held inherent social implications; the allegations made by the movement’s enemies that created fear in the secular community that Lollardy was a threat to social regulation and harmony; and the resultant legislative changes which finally categorised Lollardy as subversion.

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