The Two Thomas Compworths
To Thomas Compworth, an esquire of Thrupp (in Kidlington), Oxfordshire, belongs the dubious distinction of being the first layman convicted of heresy in late medieval England. As an early member of the gentry converted to Wycliffite doctrine, and as a link between the gentry and Wyclif's disciples in the Oxford colleges, he is an important figure in Lollard history. Although the role of the gentry as sponsors of Lollard book production and itinerant preachers in the later fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries is now widely accepted, 1 much remains to be discovered about the extent of gentry support, and the nature of their interaction with each other and with the Oxford academics who carried on Wyclif's work. An examination of Compworth's life and career could potentially shed light on these questions, and he has understandably attracted the attention of a number of historians of the Lollard heresy. 2 No biographical study has yet appeared, however, and he remains still a shadowy figure. Found all too rarely in extant records, he is, moreover, difficult to distinguish from his son of the same name, a successful Northamptonshire lawyer. 3
Exploiting new archival findings, this essay will attempt to disentangle the activities of the father from those of his son and ascertain the place of both Thomas Compworths in the history of the Lollard heresy in their counties of residence: Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire. Wycliffitism was particularly strong in these counties, which, together with neighbouring
I am grateful to Dr. Simon Payling for several of the references cited below, and to Dr. Hannes Kleineke for his assistance with the map.