Lollards and Their Influence in Late Medieval England

By Fiona Somerset; Jill C. Havens et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

Fiona Somerset

Since the late 1960s, the field of Lollard (or Wycliffite 1) studies has undergone nothing less than an explosion in scholarly activity. The current vitality in the field began from the pioneering researches of scholars such as Anne Hudson, who first began to investigate in detail the large volume of mostly vernacular texts left behind by the movement, in the process doing no less than to establish Wycliffite studies as a sub-specialty within the field of medieval English literature, and Margaret Aston, who has undertaken wide-ranging studies of the beliefs and practices of Lollards based in detailed study of their own writings as well as those of their contemporary observers and opponents, in the process helping to increase historians' respect for Wycliffite ideas. 2 Many scholars in both disciplines have by now followed their lead, both in their willingness to draw upon the methodologies of both history and literary study in order to address their topic, and in their revisionist bent: as is appropriate to the study of a heresy, this is a field in which established ideas are always open to question.

New work on Wycliffism has not merely revolutionised an existing field of study: it has created a new one, where scholars of history and literature have met, and drawn upon one another's methods, in order to edit, study, and interpret a body of texts and records which had previously, especially in English departments, received little attention. The field is now firmly established as an important aspect of the study of medieval England, and within the past ten years or so in particular, Lollard studies have not only entered the mainstream, but come to occupy a central place. Not only is it common now for graduate students to write theses focused in whole or in part on Wycliffite texts or manuscripts, but many well-known scholars not originally trained in this area have become interested in exploring what our

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1
The terms "Lollard" and "Wycliffifite" have sometimes been used to distinguish unlearned lay followers at greater remove from the movement's core from university-trained followers of Wyclif; but in this book, as in nearly all recent scholarship, the terms will be used interchangeably. Scase's and Cole's new investigations of the early history of the words "loller" and "lollard" (see below, 19―36 and 37―58) may bring some reconsideration of this practice, which has been standard for some time: see Anne Hudson (713, 2―4).
2
Readers curious about early developments in the years from the mid-sixties to the present are directed especially to these collected essays: Margaret Aston (43), Anne Hudson (67). Other significant early contributions include James Crompton (440); James Crompton (438); Steven Halasey (623); K.B. McFarlane (934); J.A.F. Thompson (1189). See also Anne Hudson's Preface to this volume, 1―8.

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