Lollards in the English Reformation

History, radicalism, and John Foxe

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Susan Royal
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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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‘The author’s purpose is not so much to offer an account of Lollard history or of Foxe’s accounts of martyrs as it is to reveal the positive appropriation of Lollard views by Foxe and, through him, by English nonconformists. The particular genre of Royal's history is thus textual transmission and the Protestant reception history of the Lollard tradition. The author stresses Lollard critiques of Roman Catholic views of sacraments, priests, and tithes, and Lollard affirmation of the centrality of preaching. During the long English Reformation (1534–1660) radical Lollard critiques provided justification for advocates of reform. This analysis makes a solid contribution to the historiography of radical English Christianity.’
W. L. Pitts Jr.
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