Fourteenth Century Verse & Prose

By Kenneth Sisam | Go to book overview

XI
JOHN WICLIF

D. 1384.

Like Richard Rolle, Wiclif was a Yorkshireman by birth. Of his career at Oxford little is known until 1360, when he is described as 'master of Balliol'. From Balliol he was presented to the living of Fillingham, and, after a series of preferments, he accepted in 1374 the rectory of Lutterworth, which he held till his death in 1384.

Wiclif's life was stormy. His acknowledged pre-eminence as a theologian and doctor in the University did not satisfy his active and combative mind. 'False peace', he said, 'is grounded in rest with our enemies, when we assent to them without withstanding; and sword against such peace came Christ to send.' He lacked neither enemies nor the moral courage to withstand them.

At first, under the powerful patronage of John of Gaunt, he entered into controversies primarily political, opposing the right of the Pope to make levies on England, which was already over- burdened with war-taxation, and to appoint foreigners to English benefices. On these questions popular opinion was on his side.

He proceeded to attack the whole system of Church government, urging disendowment; rejecting the papal authority, which had been weakened in 1378 by the fierce rivalry of Urban VI and Clement VII; attacking episcopal privileges, the established religious orders, and the abuse of indulgences, pardons, and sanctuary. Still his opinions found a good deal of popular and political support.

Then in 1380 he publicly announced his rejection of the doctrine of transubstantiation. From the results of such a heresy his friends could no longer protect him. Moderate opinion became alarmed and conservative after the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. Richard II was no friend of heretics. John of Gaunt, himself unpopular by this time, commanded silence. And in 1382

-115-

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Fourteenth Century Verse & Prose
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction ix
  • The Texts xlv
  • Select Bibliography xlvi
  • I - Robert Mannyng of Brunne's Handlyng Synne Begun 1303 1
  • II - Sir Orfeo 13
  • III - Michael of Northgate's Ayenbyte of Inwyt 32
  • IV - Richard Rolle of Hampole 36
  • V - Sir Gawayne and the Grene Knight About 1350-75. 43
  • VI - The Pearl 57
  • VII - The Gest Hystoriale of the Destruction of Troy 68
  • VIII - Piers Plowman (1362-1400) 76
  • IX - Mandeville's Travels 94
  • Epilogue. 104
  • X - The Bruce Written in 1375 by John Barbour. 107
  • XI - John Wiclif 115
  • XII - John Gower D. 1408. 129
  • XIII - John of Trevisa's Translation of Higden's Polychronicon 1387. 145
  • XIV - Political Pieces 151
  • XV - Miscellaneous Pieces in Verse 162
  • XVI - The York Play 'Harrowing of Hell' 171
  • Xvii the Towneley Play of Noah 185
  • Notes 204
  • Appendix the English Language in the Fourteenth Century 265
  • A Middle English Vocabulary 293
  • Glossary 297
  • Index of Names. 455
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