History, radicalism, and John Foxe

This book addresses a perennial question of the English Reformation: to what extent, if any, the late medieval dissenters known as lollards influenced the Protestant Reformation in England. To answer this question, this book looks at the appropriation of the lollards by evangelicals such as William Tyndale, John Bale, and especially John Foxe, and through them by their seventeenth-century successors. Because Foxe included the lollards in his influential tome, Acts and Monuments (1563), he was the most important conduit for their individual stories, including that of John Wyclif (d. 1384), and lollard beliefs and ecclesiology. Foxe’s reorientation of the lollards from heretics and traitors to martyrs and model subjects portrayed them as Protestants’ spiritual forebears. Scholars have argued that to accomplish this, Foxe heavily edited radical lollard views on episcopacy, baptism, preaching, conventicles, tithes, and oaths, either omitting them from his book or moulding them into forms compatible with a magisterial Reformation. This book shows that Foxe in fact made no systematic attempt to downplay radical lollard beliefs, and that much non-mainstream material exists in the text. These views, legitimised by Foxe’s inclusion of them in his book, allowed for later dissenters to appropriate the lollards as historical validation of their theological and ecclesiological positions. The book traces the ensuing struggle for the lollard, and indeed the Foxean, legacy between conformists and nonconformists, arguing that the same lollards that Foxe used to bolster the English church in the sixteenth century would play a role in its fragmentation in the seventeenth.

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This chapter lays out the case for re-evaluating the role of the lollards in the English Reformation. In particular, it argues that a fresh look at John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (1563) will show that a wealth of non-mainstream material is present in the text, despite general historiographical agreement that Foxe elided radical material in order to make the lollards appear more like proto-Elizabethan-era Protestants. The chapter also elucidates the monograph’s scope, methodology, and aims. It offers a historiographical foundation for the book. It also shows how this study might produce fruitful observations within the studies of puritanism and early modern tolerance.

in Lollards in the English Reformation

This chapter details who the lollards were and, more importantly for this study, who they were according to early evangelicals and later Protestants. It looks at the figure of John Foxe himself, introducing his most acclaimed work, Acts and Monuments. It then untangles the winding and often problematic study of the relationship between lollards and evangelicals in modern times, and the second part goes on to elucidate how medieval dissenters were understood by sixteenth-century evangelical historians. These two parts are separate but intimately related: the modern study of the relationship between lollards and later evangelicals has been highly influenced by the words of those evangelicals who saw a relationship with the lollards.

in Lollards in the English Reformation

From its very origins lollardy had been associated with the subversion of the natural order of the commonwealth. This chapter evaluates the successes and failures of this rehabilitation effort and its legacy in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. To put the drive towards the rehabilitation of the lollards’ reputation in context, the first section of this chapter briefly explains how Anabaptism threatened to undermine the relationship between the emerging evangelical movement and the government. Two subversive theological beliefs ascribed to the lollards, communitarianism and pacifism, came dangerously close to Anabaptist ideas, forcing evangelicals to mollify their tenor in print. The chapter next details the sixteenth-century project of evangelical historians to correct what they saw as a smear job by corrupt medieval chroniclers, and also explains that this effort was only effective to an extent in the seventeenth century, as confessional allegiances drove interpretation. The last section in the chapter sees the evangelicals move from a defensive position to go on the offensive. Through their connections to the lollards, the Protestants claimed a direct association with Christ, blamed the Roman church for disorder within the realm, and critiqued ungodly monarchs.

in Lollards in the English Reformation

When mentioning the lollard legacy in the work of Coverdale, Foxe and others, nearly all modern scholars, assert that these medieval heretics provided historical evidence of God’s approval. But remarkably few lollard deaths conformed to the literary tropes and exemplary models of the early church. Although several high-profile lollards were executed, they had been condemned as traitors, and many lollard records were cut off after trial, leaving evangelical chroniclers unsure how these so-called heretics had died. This chapter addresses this tension, and demonstrates how Foxe moulded the lollards into martyrs – whether they died suffering or not. By recounting in excruciating detail the trials, imprisonments, abjurations, and penance of the lollards, Foxe shifted focus away from the constancy of the martyr and towards the cruelty of the bishops who interrogated them. In particular, it shows how Foxe perceived the ecclesiastical oath to be an abuse of power, especially the ex officio oath. Due largely to Foxe’s success in establishing the lollards as true martyrs, post-Reformation Protestants rarely questioned their martyrological value, and this paved the way for discontented religious advocates to appropriate the lollards in line with the trials of their own religious traditions.

in Lollards in the English Reformation
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Every one of the seven traditional sacraments of the medieval church was called into question or even rejected wholesale by some lollards. And while a rejection of transubstantiation characterised most lollard critiques of Catholic eucharistic theology, in fact trial records – and indeed Foxe’s Acts and Monuments – suggest a wide diversity of opinion among the dissenters with regard to the efficacy and value of the sacraments as a whole. This chapter examines lollard beliefs on the sacraments as mediated by Foxe in order to delineate Foxe’s editorial practices. The first section details how the lollards articulated their disappointment with nearly all the constituent parts of the traditional sacramental framework. From there, it turns to the two sacraments that reformers upheld as valid: the Eucharist and baptism. Although a staunch rejection of transubstantiation unsurprisingly passed muster with Foxe, the range of views concerning baptism – which included even a blunt rejection of its efficacy – forced Foxe into an uncomfortable position. Baptism, then, serves as a case study in order to scrutinise Foxe’s editorial practices, determining that he was inconsistent with his deletions.

in Lollards in the English Reformation

This chapter analyses lollard views of the priesthood and tithing found in Foxe’s Acts and Monuments. It begins by looking at the nature of the lollard critique of clergy, revealing that despite the nuanced categories modern scholars have given to ‘anticlericalism’ (including distinctions between ‘literary anticlericalism’, ‘hyperclericalism’, and ‘antisacertodalism’), Foxe’s portrayal of the priesthood is dominated by calls for an abolition of a separate priestly class. It then hones in on two radical concepts in the lollard narratives: clerical disendowment and the notion of temporal possessions more generally, and the idea of episcopacy. Beyond the ministers themselves, Foxe’s book describes a range of opinions concerning the tithes which maintained them, from scepticism to outright denunciations. It confirms that these ideas, preserved by Foxe’s tome, offered historical precedents for separatists and puritans as well as conformists in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

in Lollards in the English Reformation

This chapter evaluates lollard views on preaching and conventicling preserved in Foxe’s Acts and Monuments. It begins by surveying the variety of lollard views regarding preaching, which was, for the majority of Foxe’s lollards, inextricably linked to the role of the priest. It also investigates the role of conventicles in lollard ecclesiology, as presented in Foxe’s text. The chapter pays close attention to the martyrologist’s editorial choices, moving from radical material he allowed to remain intact or even strengthened by a marginal comment, to beliefs he attempted to mitigate, moving finally to an opinion he cut out altogether. From there, it discusses the late-sixteenth- and seventeenth-century readings of these lollard practices, and closes by arguing that lollard views on preaching and conventicling provide a good litmus test for evaluating the way Foxe selectively edited Acts and Monuments.

in Lollards in the English Reformation
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This short section draws together the three main sections of the book to consolidate the arguments about the significance of the lollards in the English Reformation. This memory was indelibly imprinted on the English Reformation because the lollards were immortalised in Foxe’s Acts and Monuments as spiritually enlightened forbears. Rather than mould their beliefs to fit the Elizabethan religious settlement of his own day, Foxe’s textual tolerance meant that the ‘Book of Martyrs’ acted as a vector for radical religious ideologies. These ideologies, conveyed and seemingly authorised by the revered John Foxe, acted as historical exemplars for later Protestant nonconformists, thus establishing the lollards as an inherently subversive element in the English Reformation.

in Lollards in the English Reformation