Lollards and Their Influence in Late Medieval England

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

Are All Lollards Lollards?

Andrew E. Larsen

Ralph de Tremur was a heretic with a long career as a troublemaker. Having studied for a few years at Oxford, he resigned his living at Warleggan as a rector, but subsequently returned to Warleggan, despoiled the new rector of his goods and burned down the man's house. Some years later, Tremur began teaching in the diocese of Exeter that the bread and wine of the sacraments were not transmuted into the body and blood of Christ, a teaching popular enough to attract a secret following, according to a letter written by John Grandisson, the bishop of Exeter. According to witnesses, Tremur ridiculed both St. Peter and St. John and said of the Eucharist "You foolishly adore the work of your hands. For what else does the priest do but gape over a piece of bread and breathe on it?” Motivated apparently by this attitude, he broke into a church, stole a pyx and burned the host it contained. He escaped capture by the bishop of Exeter by going to London, where he vanishes from the records. 1 Ralph de Tremur appears, on the surface, to fit the profile of a typical Lollard, offering a good example of the anticlericalism and rejection of transubstantiation that are often seen as the chief characteristics of Wyclif's followers. The only problem with identifying Tremur as a Lollard is that these events took place in the 1330s and 50s, at least two decades before John Wyclif's teaching attracted notice. 2 Tremur's case highlights several important issues in the historiography of English heresy which, while individually of minor importance, combine to offer a serious challenge to the current interpretation of the Lollards. Heresy was somewhat more widespread in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century England than has often been acknowledged, and the lack of attention to this fact has encouraged scholars to lump non-Lollard heretics in with genuine Lollards.

The first of the issues illustrated by Tremur's case is quite simply the fact that heresy existed in England long before the advent of the Lollards. In the

My thanks go to the editors of this volume, who offered many invaluable suggestions for this essay.

____________________
1
Tremur's actions can be traced in The Register of John de Grandisson, ed. F.C. Hingeston- Randolph (London: Bell, 1894), 2.621―2, 627, 660, 715, 1147―9, 1180, 1303, and 3.1285. See also Margaret Aston (283, 34 n.20).
2
However, as Aston points out, Tremur's uncle held the living of Lifton, Devonshire, from which later came the Lollard preacher Lawrence Bedeman. There is no known direct connect between Tremur and Bedeman, but the coincidence is intriguing; Aston (283, 35 n.20).

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