Lay Preaching and the Lollards of Norwich Diocese, 1428-1431

LollardsLay Preaching and the Lollards of Norwich Diocese, 1428-1431

Simon Forde

Leeds Studies in English: n.s. 29, (1998), 109-26.


The following case-study of Lollards in Norwich diocese is in two parts. The basis for the study is a collection of records of heresy trials in the diocese of Norwich from 2 1428 to 1431. This collection offers us a picture of the community life of these Lollards and possible evidence of such lay Christians preaching. This is problematic because scholars today are influenced by modern, and largely Protestant,’ ideas about preaching which themselves have their roots in the late medieval Western Church. Modern scholars may restrict their understanding of what constitutes preaching to formal sermons by designated persons in a church, churchyard or other public sites, such as market-places; the laity would be excluded from this activity because for much of the medieval period they were explicitly not permitted to preach.

Moreover, those who recorded the acts of any lay persons who might think they were preaching were themselves usually representatives of the ecclesiastical authorities and reinforced this narrow, orthodox definition of who in fact could preach. I shall seek to demonstrate that preaching cannot be restricted to such formal situations. Rather, preaching should, I argue, be considered as one of a range of acts that form part of the transmission of the faith and the living of the gospel. This allows us to identify what might constitute preaching in the eyes of unorthodox or heterodox people, and having done this I shall turn to look for specific evidence from Norfolk in the early fifteenth century. What we find is a tightly-knit community of Lollard believers offering an excellent picture of how they practised and disseminated their faith. It is an intriguing glimpse into the daily life of the period and the varying forms of social relationships and means of communication in that society.


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