corner graphic   Hi,    
Facebook image
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 7 — Protestantism in England, From the Times of Wicliffe to Those of Henry VIII

Chapter 8 — Lollardism under Henry V and Henry VI

Resource Toolbox

 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24

 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11

Thomas Arundel succeeded by Henry Chicheley – The New Primate pursues the Policy of his Predecessor – Parliament at Leicester – More Stringent Ordinances against the Lollards – Appropriation of Ecclesiastical Possessions – Archbishop Chicheley Staves off the Proposal – Diverts the King's Mind to a War with France – Speech of the Archbishop – Henry V. falls into the Snare – Prepares an Expedition – Invades France – Agincourt – Second Descent on France – Henry becomes Master of Normandy – Returns to England – Third Invasion of France – Henry's Death – Dying Protestation – His Magnificent Funeral – His Character – Lollardism – More Martyrs – Claydon – New Edict against the Lollards – Henry VI. – Maltyrs in his Reign – William Taylor – William White – John Huss – Recantations.

THE martyrdom of Lord Cobham has carried us a little way beyond the point to which we had come in tracing the footprints faint and intermittent– of Protestantism in England during the fifteenth century. We saw Arundel carried from the halls of Lambeth to be laid in the sepulchral vaults of Canterbury. His master, Henry IV., had preceded him to the grave by only a few months. More lately Sir Roger Acton and others had expired at the stake which Arundel's policy had planted for them; and, last of all, he went to render his own account to God.

Arundel was succeeded in the primacy by Henry Chicheley. Chicheley continued in the chair of St. Anselm the same policy which his predecessor had pursued. His predecessor's influence at court he did not wield, at least to the same extent, for neither was Chicheley so astute as Arundel, nor was Henry V. so facile as his father; but he inherited Arundel's hatred of Lollardism, and resolved to use all the powers of his high office for its suppression. The persecution, therefore, still went on. The "Constitutions of Arundel," passed in the previous reign, had spread the net so wide that scarcely was it possible for any one who had imbibed the opinions of John Wicliffe to avoid being caught in its meshes. Besides, under the reign of Henry V., new and more stringent ordinances were framed to oppress the Lollards. In a Parliament held at Leicester (1414), it was enacted "that whoever should read the Scriptures in English, which was then called 'Wicliffe's Learning,' should forfeit land, cattle, goods, and life, and be condemned as heretics to God, enemies to the crown, and traitors to the kingdom; that they should not have the benefit of any sanctuary, though this was a privilege then granted to the most notorious malefactors; and that, if they continued obstinate, or relapsed after pardon, they should first be hanged for treason against the king, and then burned for heresy against God." [1]

While the Parliament stretched out one hand to persecute the Lollards, it put forth the other to despoil the clergy. Their wealth was enormous; but only the smallest fraction of it was given for the public service. The complaints on this head were growing louder every year. At this same Parliament of Leicester a storm was like to have burst out, had not the wit and policy of Henry Chicheley arrested the danger. The Commons reminded the king of the demand which had twice before been made in Parliament–first in Richard II.'S time (1394), and next in Henry IV.'s (1410)–relative to converting the lands and possessions of the clergy to the service of the State. "This bill," says Hall, "made the fat abbots to sweat; the proud priors to frown; the poor priors to curse; the silly nuns to weep; and indeed all her merchants to fear that Babel would down."

Though Henry had lent the clergy his power to burn Lollards, they were far from sure that he might not be equally ready to lend the Parliament his authority to rob the Church. He was active, bold, fond of display, lavish in his habits; and the wealth of the hierarchy offered a ready and tempting means of maintaining his magnificence, which Henry might not have virtue to resist. They thought of binding the king to their interests by offering him a wealthy gift; but the wiser heads disapproved the policy: it would be accounted a bribe, and might be deemed scarce decent on the part of men in sacred office. The Archbishop of Canterbury hit on a more likely expedient, and one that fell in with the genius of the king, and the aspirations of the nation.

The most effectual course, said the archbishop, in a synod at London, of averting the impending storm, is to find the king some other business to employ his courage. We must turn his thoughts to war; we must rouse his ambition by reminding him of the crown of France, descended to him from Edward III. He must be urged to demand the French crown, as the undoubted heir; and if refused, he must attempt the recovery of it by arms. To cause these counsels to prevail, the clergy agreed to offer a great sum of money to defray the expenses of the war. They further resolved to give up all the alien priories [2] in the kingdom, to the number of 110, the lands of which would considerably increase the revenues of the crown. [3]

This policy, being approved by the synod at London, was vigorously advocated by the primate in the Parliament at Leicester. The archbishop, rising in the House, addressed the king as follows:–"You administer justice to your people with a noble equity; you are illustrious in the arts of a peaceful government: but the glory of a great king consists not so much in a reign of serenity and plenty, in great treasures, in magnificent palaces, in populous and fair cities, as in the enlargement of his dominions; especially when the assertion of his right calls him out

to war, and justice, not ambition, authorizes all his conquests. Your Highness ought to wear the crown of France, by right descended to you from Edward III., your illustrious predecesssor." The speaker went on, at great length, to trace the title, and to establish its validity, to the satisfaction, doubtless, of the audience which he addressed; and he wound up his oration by a reference to the unprecedentedly large sum which the liberality of the clergy had placed at the service of the king, to enable him to make good his title to the crown of France.

The primate added, "Since therefore your right to the realm of France is so clear and unquestionable; since 'tis supported by the laws both of God and man; 'tis now your Highness' part to assert your title, to pull the crown from the heads of the French usurpers, and to pursue the revolt of that nation with fire and sword. 'Tis your Highness' interest to maintain the ancient honor of the English nation, and not, by a tame overlooking of injurious treatment, give your posterity an occasion to reproach your memory." [4] No one present whispered into the speakds ear the conjuration which our great national poet puts into the mouth of King Henry–

"God doth know how many, now in health,
Shall drop their blood in approbation
Of what your reverence shall incite us to:
Therefore take heed how you impawn our person;
How you awake the sleeping sword of war:
We charge you, in the name of God, take heed;
For never two such kingdoms did contend
Without much fall of blood; whose guiltless drops
Are every one a woe, a sore complaint,
'Gainst him whose wrongs give edge unto the swords
That make such waste in brief mortality." [5]

The project met with the approval of the king.

To place the fair realm of France under his sceptre; to unite it with England and Scotland–for the king's uncle, the Duke of Exeter, suggested that he who would conquer Scotland must begin with France–in one monarchy; to transfer, in due time, the seat of government to Paris, and make his throne the first in Christendom, was an enterprise grand enough to fire the spirit of a monarch less ambitious and valorous than Henry V. Instantly the king set about making preparations on a vast scale. Soldiers were levied from all parts of England; ships were hired from Holland and Flanders for the transport of men and ammunition. Money, provisions, horses, carriages, tents, boats covered with skins for crossing rivers–everything, in fine, requisite for the success of such an enterprise was provided; and the expedition was now ready to be launched.

But before striking the blow a feint was made at negotiation with France. This was conducted by Archbishop Chicheley, the very man with whom war was a foregone conclusion; and, as might have been foreseen, the attempts at conciliation came to nothing, and hostilities were now commenced. The king, crossing the Channel with an army of 30,000 men, landed on the coast of France. [6] Towns were besieged and taken; battles were fought; but sickness setting in among the soldiers, and winter coming on, the king deemed it advisable, in order to preserve the remnant of his army, to retreat to Calais for winter quarters. On his march he encountered the French host, which four times outnumbered his own, now reduced to 10,000. He had to fight the terrible battle of Agincourt. He conquered on this bloody field, on which, stretched out in death, lay the flower of the French nobility. Leaving the vultures to give them burial, Henry resumed his march, and held on his way to England, [7] where, tidings of his victory having preceded him, he was welcomed with acclamations. Archbishop Chicheley had succeeded in diverting the mind of the king and Parliament from their projected attempt on the possessions of the clergy; but at what a price!

Neither England nor France had yet seen the end of this sad and very sanguinary affair. The English king, now on fire, was not the man to let the enterprise drop half achieved; and the policy of the primate was destined to develop into yet other tragedies, and yet more oceans of French and English blood. Henry made a second descent upon France (1417), the mutual hate and fierce contentions of the French factions opening the gates of the kingdom for his entrance. He passed on through the land, marking in blood the line of his march. Towns besieged, provinces wasted, and their inhabitants subjected to the horrors of famine, of rapine and slaughter, were the scenes which presented themselves around his steps. He made himself master of Normandy, married the king's youngest daughter, and after a time returned once more to his own land. [8]

Soon affairs called King Henry again to France. This time he made a public entry into Paris, accompanied by his queen, Catherine, [9] on purpose to show the Parisians their future sovereign. France was no nearer recognising his alleged right to reign over it; and Henry began, as before, to besiege its towns and slaughter its children, in order to compel a submission which it was

clear would not be voluntarily given. He was thus occupied when an event took place which put an end to his enterprise for ever; he felt that the hand of death was upon him, and he retired from Cosne, which he was besieging, to Vincennes, near Paris. The Dukes of Bedford and Gloucester, and the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick, when his end approached, came to his bedside to receive his instructions. He addressed them, protesting that "neither the ambitious desire of enlarging his dominions, nor of winning vain renown and worldly fame, had moved him to engage in these wars, but only the prosecution of his just title; that he might in the end attain to a perfect peace, and come to enjoy those parts of his inheritance which to him of right belonged; and that, before the beginning of the same wars, he was fully persuaded by men both wise and of great holiness of life, that upon such intent he might and ought both begin the same wars, and follow them till he had brought them to an end justly and rightly, and that without all danger of God's displeasure or peril of soul." [10] After making a few necessary arrangements respecting the government of England and France, he recited the seven penitential psalms, received the Sacrament, and so he died, August 31st, 1422.

The magnificence of his funeral is thus described by the chronicler:–"His body, embalmed and enclosed in lead, was laid in a chariot royal, richly appareled with cloth of gold. Upon his coffin was laid a representation of his person, adorned with robes, diadem, scepter, and ball, like a king; the which chariot six horses drew, richly trapped, with several appointments: the first with the arms of St. George, the second with the arms of Normandy, the third of King Arthur, the fourth of St. Edward, the fifth of France, and the sixth with the arms of England and France. On this same chariot gave attendance James, King of Scots, the principal mourner; King Henry's uncle, Thomas, Duke of Exeter; Richard, Earl of Warwick; " and nine other lords and knights. Other lords carried banners and standards.

"The hatchments were carried only by captains, to the number of twelve; and round about the chariot rode 500 men-at-arms, all in black armor, their horses barbed black, and they with the butt-ends of their spears upwards."

"The conduct of this dolorous funeral was committed to Sir William Philip, Treasurer of the King's household, and to Sir William Porter, his chief carver, and others. Besides this, on every side of his chariot went 300 persons, holding long torches, and lords bearing banners, bannerds, and pennons. With this funeral appointment was he conveyed from Bets de Vincennes to Paris, and so to Rouen, to Abbeville, to Calais, to Dover; from thence through London to Westminster, where he was interred with such solemn ceremonies, mourning of lords, prayer of priests, and such lamenting of commons, as never before then the like was seen in England," [11] Tapers were kept burning day and night on his tomb, till the Reformation came to put them out.

Henry V. had not a few great qualities which, in other circumstances, would have enabled him to render services of great value and lasting benefit to his nation. His strength of character was attested by his conquest over his youthful passions and habits when he came to the throne. He was gentle in disposition, frank in manners, and courageous in spirit, he was a lover of justice, and showed a desire to have it purely administered. He ate temperately, passed but few hours in bed, and in field exercises displayed the strength of an athlete. His good sense made him valuable in council; but it was in marshalling an army for battle that his genius especially shone.

Had these talents and energies been exercised at home, what blessings might they not have conferred upon his subjects? But the fatal counsel of the archbishop and the clergy diverted them all into a channel in which they were productive of terrible mischiefs to the country of which he was the rightful lord, and to that other which he aspired to rule, but the crown of which riot all his valor and toil were able to place upon his head. He went down into the grave in the flower of his age, in the very prime of his manhood, after a reign of ten years, "and all his mighty projects vanished into smoke." [12] He left his throne to his son, an infant only a few months old, bequeathing to him along with the crown a legacy of complications at home and wars abroad, for which a "hundred Agincourts" would not have compensated. This episode of Henry and his wars with France belongs to the history of Protestantism, springing as it does directly out of the policy which was framed for arresting it.

While these armaments and battles were going forward, how fared it, we return to ask, with the new opinions and their disciples in England? Did these great storms root out, or did they shelter, the seed which Wicliffe had sowed, and which the blood of the martyrs who came after him had watered and caused to spring up? They were a protection, we are disposed to think, on the whole, to the infant Protestantism of England. Its adherents were a humble, unorganised company of men, who shunned rather than courted observation. Still we trace their presence in the nation, as we light, in the ecclesiastical records of their age, at brief intervals of time, upon a stake, and a Lollard sealing his testimony thereat.

OnAugust 17, 1415, John Claydon, a currier in London, was brought before Henry, Archbishop of Canterbury. In former years, Claydon had been in the prison of the Fleet on a charge of heresy. He was set free on abjuring his opinions. On this his second apprehension, he boldly

confessed the faith he had denied aforetime. One of the main charges against him was his having in his house many books written in English, and in especial one book, called the Lanthorn of Light. This book was produced against him by the Mayor of London, who had taken possession of it, along with others, when he apprehended him. It was bound in red leather, written on parchment, in a good English hand, and Claydon confessed that it had been made at his own cost and charges, and that he often read in it, for he found it "good and healthful for his soul." The mayor said that the books he found in the house of Claydon "were, in his judgment, the worst and most perverse he ever did read or see." He was sentenced as a relapsed heretic, and delivered to the secular power. Committed to the fire at Smithfield, "he was there meekly," says Fox, "made a burnt-offering to the Lord." He is said by some to have had a companion at the stake, George Gurmyn, with whom, as it came out on his examination, he had often communed about the matters of their common faith. [13]

The year after the martyrdom of Claydon, the growth of Lollardism was borne testimony to by Archbishop Chicheley, in a new edict which he issued, in addition to those that his predecessor, Arundel, had enacted. The archbishop's edict had been preceded by the Act of Parliament, passed in 1414, soon after the midnight meeting at St. Giles-in-the-Fields, which made it one and the same thing to be a Lollard and to be a traitor. The preamble of the Act of Parliament set forth that "there had been great congregations and insurrections, as well by them of the sect of heresy commonly called Lollardy, as by others of their confederacy, to the intent to annul, destroy, and subvert the Christian faith, and also to destroy our Sorereign Lord the King, and all other manner of Estates of the Realm of England, as well spiritual as temporal, and also all manner of policy, and finally the laws of the land." These simple men, who read the Scriptures, believed what they taught, and assembled in secret places to worship God, are painted in the Act as the most dangerous of conspirators–as men aiming at the destruction of society itself, and so are to be hunted out and exterminated. Accordingly, the Act goes on to enjoin that all judges, justices, and magistrates shall take an oath to make inquisition for Lollards, and that they shall issue warrants for their apprehension, and delivery to the ecclesiastical judges, that they may "be acquit or convict by the laws of holy Church." [14]

This paved the way for the edict of the primate, which enjoined on his suffragan bishops and their commissaries a similar pursuit of heretics and heresy. In pointing out whom he would have apprehended, the archbishop undesignedly gives us the true character of the men whom Parliament had branded as conspirators, busy plotting the destruction of the Christian religion, and the entire subversion and ruin of the commonwealth of England. And who are they? Men of immoral life, who prowl about with arms in their hands, and make themselves, by their lawless and violent courses, the terror of the neighborhood in which they live? No. The men on whose track the primate sets his inquisitors are the men who "frequent conventicles, or else differ in life and manners from the common conversation of other Catholic men, or else that hold any either heresies or errors, or else that have any suspected books in the English tongue"– "Wicliffe's learning" for example–in short, "those heretics who, like foxes, lurk and hide themselves in the Lord's vineyard." The personal search of the bishop and archdeacon, or their commissaries, was not, the archbishop judged, enough; they were to supplement their own diligence by calling to their aid certain of the "honestest men, to take their oath upon the holy evangelists, that if they shall know or understand any such" they should report them "to our suffragans, or archdeacons, or to their commissaries." [15]

These edicts raise the curtain, and show us how numerous were the followers of Wicliffe in England in the fifteenth century, and how deep his teaching had gone into the hearts of the English people. It is only the choice spirits of the party who come into view at the stake. The greater part hid their Lollardism under the veil of an outward conformity, or of an almost entire seclsion from the world; or, if apprehended on a charge of heresy, they quailed before the terrible alternative offered them, and preferred submission to the Church to burning. We may be permitted to draw a covering over their weakness, and to pass on to those whose stronger faith doomed them indeed to the fire, but won for them a place by the side of the ancient "worthies" on the great roll of renown. [16]

The first martyr under Henry VI. was William Taylor. He was a priest of the province of Canterbury. Accused of heresy before Archbishop Arundel, he abjure!, and appeared at Lambeth to receive absolution at the hands of the primate. "Laying aside his cloak, his cap, and stripped to his doublet, he kneeled at the feet of the archbishop, who then, standing up, and having a rod in his hand, began the 'Miserere.'" [17] The prescribed forms of penance having been duly gone through, Taylor received absolution. In 1419 he was again charged with heretical teaching, and brought before Archbishop Chicheley. On a profession of penitence, he was let free on bail. Little more than a year only elapsed when he was a third time arraigned. Twice had he fallen; but he will not be guilty of a third relapse. Refusing to abjure, he was delivered to the secular power, a form of words consigning him to burning in


Before being led to the stake he was degraded. He was deprived of priesthood by taking from him the chalice and paten; of deaconship, by taking from him the gospel-book and tunicle; of sub-deaconship, by taking from him the epistle-book and tunicle; of acolyteship, by taking from him the cruet and candlestick; of the office of exorcist, by taking from him the book of exorcisms or gradual; of sextonship, by taking from him the church-door key and surplice. On the 1st of March, 1422, after long imprisonment, he was brought to Smithfield, and there, "with Christian constancy, consumated his martyrdom." [18]

Two years afterwards (1424), William White, a priest, whose many virtues and continual labors had won him the esteem of all good men in Norfolk, was burned at Norwich.He had previously renounced his priesthood, married, and become a Lollard evangelist. In 1424 he was attached at Canterbury for the following articles: 1. That men should seek for the forgiveness of their sins only at the hand of God. 2. That men ought not to worship images and other idolatrous painting. 3. That men ought not to worship the holy men who are dead. 4. That the Romish Church is the fig-tree which the Lord Jesus Christ hath accursed, seeing it hath brought forth no fruit of the true belief. 5. That such as wear cowls, or be anointed or shorn, are the lance-knights or soldiers of Lucifer, and that they all, because their lamps are not burning, shall be shut out when the Lord shall come.

At Canterbury he "lost courage and strength," and abjured. But "afterwards," says the martyrologist, "he became much stouter and stronger in Jesus Christ, and confessed his error and offense." He exerted himself more zealously than ever in writing and preaching. At last he was apprehended, and, being convicted of thirty articles, he was condemned by the Bishop of Nextrich to be burned. [19] As he stood at the stake, he essayed to speak to the people, and to exhort them to steadfastness in the doctrine which he had taught them; but a servant of the bishop struck him on the mouth, and forced him to keep silence. The utterance of the tongue might be suppressed, but the eloquence of his death it was impossible to suppress. In 1430, William Hoveden, a wool-spinner and citizen of London, having imbibed the opinions of Wicliffe, "could by no means be plucked back," says Fox, "and was burned hard by the Tower of London." In 1431, Thomas Bagley, Vicar of Monenden, near Malden, "a valiant disciple and adherent of Wicliffe," was condemned for heresy, and burned in Smithfield.

Only one other martyr of the' fifteenth century shall we name–John Huss; "for England," says Fox, "has also its John Huss as well as Bohemia." Being condemned, he was delivered to one of the sheriffs to see him burned in the afternoon. The sheriff, being a merciful man, took him to his own house, and began to exhort him to renounce his errors. The confessor thanked him, but intimated that he was well assured of that for which he was about to die: one thing, however, would he beg of him–a little food, for he was hungry and faint. His wish was gladly complied with, and the martyr sat down and dined composedly, remarking to those that stood by that "he had made a good and competent meal, seeing he should pass through a sharp shower ere he went to supper." Having given thanks, he rose from table, and requested that he might shortly be led to the place where he should yield up his spirit unto God.

"It is to be noted," says Fox, "that since the time of King Richard II., there is no reign of any king in which some good man or other has not suffered the pains of fire for the religion and true testimony of Christ Jesus." [20]

It were truly tedious to relate the number of apprehensions and trials for heresy that took place in those days. No spectacle was then more common than that of men and women, at church doors and market crosses, in a garb meant to humiliate and degrade them, their feet and limbs naked, their head bare, with tapers in their hands, making abjuration of their Protestantism. "Within the space of three or four years," says Fox, "that is from 1428 to 1431, about the number of 120 men and women were cast into prison, and sustained great vexation for the profession of the Christian faith, in the dioceses of Norfolk and Suffolk. [21] These were the proofs at once of their numbers and their weakness; and for the latter the martyrologist thus finely pleads their excuse: "These soldiers of Christ," says he, "being much beaten with the cares and troubles of those days, were constrained to protest otherwise with their tongues than their hearts did think, partly through correction and partly through infirmity, being as yet but new-trained soldiers in God's field." [22] These confessors attained not the first rank, yet were they soldiers in the army of the Reformed faith, and contributed their moiety of help towards that great victory which ultimately crowned their cause, and the fruits of which we are reaping at this day.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, March 22nd, 2018
the Fifth Week of Lent
There are 10 days til Easter!
Search Historical Writings
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology