The Lollards

Article excerpt

The Lollards. By Richard Rex. [Social History in Perspective.] (New York: Palgrave. 2002. Pp. xv, 188. $65.00 hardback, $21.95 paperback.)

The stated aspiration of this short volume, by the Tudor historian Richard Rex, is to replace K. B. McFarlane's fifty-year-old survey of Lollardy, John Wycliffe and the Beginnings of English Non-Conformity. Unlike McFarlane's study, it is not based on original research, but is a synthesis of secondary literature in which Rex seeks to demonstrate that Lollardy was an insignificant dissident movement which had little impact on late medieval English Catholicism. The first of his five chapters, on the late medieval church, draws heavily on the work of Eamon Duffy and emphasizes the strength of traditional Catholic devotional practices among the laity. The second chapter, on John Wyclif, plays down the radical nature of his theology and is skeptical of his connections to the duke of Lancaster and the royal government. Although it was highly damaging to Wyclif, Rex insists that the Peasants' Revolt had little to do with Lollard teachings, since "none of the surviving accounts of the peasants' grievances and demands betrays any dissatisfaction with the religious services offered by the Catholic Church" (p. 52).

The third chapter, on the early diffusion of Lollardy, takes account of some recent advances made in the subject, but ignores others. Wyclif's academic followers receive scant attention, and Rex places little stock in either the gentry's patronage of Lollard preachers or its participation in the uprising of 1414. He is similarly unimpressed by the large corpus of extant Lollard texts, many of which he suggests belonged to orthodox Catholics, and doubts that Lollard book production was well organized or that the rise of a literate lay culture was an important factor in the spread of heretical doctrine. …


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