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Who were the Lollards?

The Lollards were followers of John Wycliffe, the Oxford University theologian and Christian Reformer who translated the Bible into vernacular English. The Lollards had profound disagreements with the Catholic Church. They were critical of the Pope and the hierarchical structure of Church authority.

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The burning of Mr Julius Palmer, Mr John Givin and Mr Thomas Askiw in 1556 near Newbury (from Foxe's Book of Martyrs).

- The burning of Mr Julius Palmer, Mr John Givin and Mr Thomas Askiw in 1556 near Newbury (from Foxe's Book of Martyrs).

The Lollards of West Berkshire:

The following paper on "The Later Lollards of West Berkshire" was written by Norman Hidden. It was also published in Berkshire Old and New, No. 7, 1990:

'Later Lollards' is a term used by Professor John A F Thomson to describe those perpetuating the Lollard tradition in England from the defeat and execution of Sir John Oldcastle in 1414 until the emergence of Martin Luther in Germany in the 1520s (John A P Thomson The Later Lollards, 1404-1520. OUP 1965).

This tradition in England covered much ground. First, there was a sense that the established church had become corrupted by the wealth of its temporal possessions: from this grew an opposition to tithes and a sense that spiritual and temporal functions should be clearly separate. There was a feeling too that the priesthood made use of rites and signs which were not sanctioned by the Scriptures. Then there was the law of priestly celibacy which Lollard followers considered led to sexual vice and perversions. They opposed the doctrine of transubstantiation (that is, the doctrine of Christ's carnal body being present in the sacrament). They objected to special prayers for dead men's souls where the deceased had granted obits and alms, as giving preference to one person rather than another merely on grounds of wealth. They objected to pilgrimages, and the adoration of effigies of the saints; and they insisted on their right to read and study the Scriptures in their own tongue (Margaret Deanesley The Lollard Bible. Cup (1920)).

As soon as these principles were put into practice they led into the domain of political action, where they merged with grievances arising from economic discontent. One such instance, in Berkshire, may have occurred in the mid-15th century convulsion known as Jack Cade's Rebellion. In the year 1450 there were risings at Newbury, Hungerford and Salisbury in the course of which William Aiscough, Bishop of Salisbury, was murdered by the rebels (J E Thorold Rogers T Gascoigne's Theological Dictionary, Section Loci e Libra Veritatum. Oxford (1881)). Ramsey, a confederate of Jack Cade, was executed and quartered and one quarter publicly exposed at Newbury - a sure sign that Newbury was felt to need a warning by terror because of the support for the rebels in its area (D Underdown Revel, Riot And Rebellion 1603-1660. Oxford 1985).

The registers of the Bishops of Sarum in the 15th century contain regular evidence of the inquisition of Lollard heretics. In 1443 Bishop Aiscough had dealt with a batch of them (Register of Bishop William Aiscough. Wilts RO D1/2/10). After the shock of Aiscough's murder, however, future bishops of Sarum soft-pedalled, and there is no further record of heretics until the register of Bishop John Blythe which contains a lengthy 'abjuration' in 1498 by Thomas Boughton of Hungerford (Register of Bishop John Blythe. Wilts RO D1/2/13).

In 1499 there were others from Berkshire - Hughlet of Hanney, Clark of Buscot, Grey of West Hendred, Martin and Edwards of Wantage (Register of Bishop John Blythe. Wilts RO D1/2/13) and in 1504 Godwyn of Fifield and Barley of Newbury (Register of Bishop Edward Awdley. Wilts RO D1/2/14).

On the whole the policy of the late 15th century bishops seems to have been to contain the heresy by dealing with it only where they were forced to make a response. Few had the stomach for undertaking a wholesale persecution, until in May 1521 the notorious John Longland was consecrated Bishop of Lincoln. A vigorous and ambitious man who had been tutor to the young Henry VIII, he immediately asserted his authority over his diocese by instituting a vast 'heretic hunt'. Lincoln was then a diocese much more extensive than now, stretching into Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire, in which counties Longland discovered a sizeable network of heresy.

The authority for the detailed account of the later Lollards' persecutions is John Foxe who, some forty six years later, became a canon of Lincoln Cathedral and was able to draw upon its ecclesiastical registers to provide a roll call of early English dissent in a Reformation best-seller entitled The Acts and Monuments Of John Foxe — popularly known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs (J Pratt Acts And Monuments Of John Foxe. 4th ed. 1877).

It seems that Longland busied himself in person with the drive to root out heresy from his diocese. Setting out from Lincoln he made first for Amersham in Buckinghamshire where he began by examining on oath some of those who had abjured (that is, had formally renounced their beliefs) in the time of his predecessor. Since these were liable to the death penalty 'on pain of relapse', he was able to pressurise sufficient of them to detect a whole group or cell of 'known men' centred on Amersham. One of this group, Robert Pope, incriminated no less than eighty seven persons, including his own father, his wife and his brother. From him the detection followed of a further group which came from Berkshire and West Oxfordshire and which met for Bible readings in Burford and Upton (Pratt Acts And Monuments Of John Foxe, Vol 4 page 237).

In Berkshire, Pope named a cell at East Hendred consisting of William Gray, the miller; Edward Gray and his wife; Margery Young, widow and her sister Isabel More; Richard Nobes and his wife; William Haliday; together with Thomas Gray of West Hendred. From East Ginge he named William House and his wife Margaret; also Thomas Colins and his sons Richard and William and Richard's wife Alice; another was John Colins of Betterton; from Steventon, Pope named John Sympson, Robert Lyvord, William Lyvord, Smart the miller and 'father Amer-shaw'; from Charney (Bassett) Thomas Steventon and his daughter Matilda; from Hanney, John and Walter Kember; from Wantage, Thomas New; from Bisham, Joan Taylor and her mother; from Reading, Thomas Quick; from Shaw, William Squire and his brother; from Newbury, Humfrey Shoemaker, John Semand, Robert Geydon and his wife; and from Hungerford, John Eden, Thomas Hall and John Ludlow (Pratt Acts And Monuments Of John Foxe, Vol 4 pages 234-235).

A consideration of the social background of these 1521 heretics reveals that they were not all the 'simple labourers and artificers' that Foxe describes. Of the three men named from the parish of Hungerford, for example:
- John Eden alias Clydesdale farmed the manor of Hidden and had various land and householdings in Hungerford, adequate for him to be described in an era very conscious of social distinction as 'gent';
- Thomas Hall farmed the neighbouring manor of Leverton and Heywood and, like Clydesdale, had other lands in the area, and
- John Ludlow does not appear in Hungerford records, but in 1476 was 'of Hydden' and said to be the son and heir of John Ludlow of Hampstead Norris (Society of Genealogists. Sale Catalogue of F Marcham & Co., date unknown), a branch of the distinguished family of Ludlow of Hill Deverill in Wiltshire.

The social status of these three is that of minor gentry. There were many others who were at the least substantial yeomen. Colins of Betterton, the Lyvords of Steventon, John Harris of Upton in Oxfordshire, for example, also appear as substantial landholders in the 1517 Domesday of Enclosures (I S Leadam The Domesday Of Enclosures, 1897). Confirmation is given of the comfortable yeoman status of some of these men in the Lay Subsidy of 1522 (PRO E315/464).

Another group who were neither labourers nor artificers were either priests (Sir John Booth, rector of Brightwell Baldwin, Sir John Drury, vicar of Windrush, John Barber of Amersham) or associated with a priory (John Through of Burford priory, John Clempson servant to the prior, John Boyes and his brother, a monk of Burford) or had other clerical connections (Edward Red, schoolmaster of Burford, Roger Dods servant to Sir John Drury).

Of the skilled artisan or tradesman class there were two millers, two fishmongers, four weavers, a tanner, a thatcher, a mason, a brickmaker, a fowler, a tinker and a painter (Pratt Acts And Monuments Of John Foxe, Vol 4 pages 234-245). The occupations of the remainder are not described. Most, if not all, of these artisans or tradesmen are likely to have been urban yeomen, that is self-employed men with a house or shop which they owned or enjoyed on a long lease. Millers, tanners, maoons, brickmakers, for example, were not mere casual labourers; nor were the other tradesmen likely to have been so.

The method of detection employed almost certainly resulted in those of high social status escaping the net, for it seems clear that some fairly influential landed gentry whose names do not appear in Foxe gave the movement their discreet backing and encouragement. In an age when reading and writing were uncommon accomplishments, it is notable that many of these men and women could read, one of the charges brought against them being that of reading the Bible or the lives of saints or other books with a theological basis. Thus one of the Burford men accused John Clydesdale of Hungerford 'for reading of the Bible in Robert Burges's house at Burford upon Holyrood day, with Colins, Lyvord, Thomas Hall and others.' (Pratt Acts And Monuments Of John Foxe, Vol 4 page 237).

Holy Rood day was the festival of the Exaltation of the Cross, September 14th. This meeting in Burford, like those held there in other houses, was attended by followers from a wide spread of villages in West Oxfordshire and North Berkshire. It is likely that, to disguise the influx of so many strangers into the little town, the gatherings would be arranged on suitable 'cover' dates - the festival of the Exaltation of the Cross would be one which always brought into town villagers from miles around. Similarly, the meeting at a house following the marriage of Robert and Joan Burges would be given a legitimate explanation by the marriage itself.

A notable feature of these rallies was the presence of the London preacher and bookseller, John Hacker, who organised a broad swathe of Lollard country from Norfolk and Suffolk in the east through Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire to Berkshire and Oxfordshire in the west (John F Davis Heresy & Reformation In The S E Of England 1520-1559 London (1983) page 57). Hacker was instructor to the group, and described by one of his adherents as 'very expert in the gospels and all other things belonging to divine service, and could express and declare it and the Paternoster in English as well as any priest' (Pratt op cit page 582). Together with other itinerant preacher/booksellers Hacker knit together the various dissenting cells.

The whole organisation bears a remarkable likeness to the general structure of later 19th and 20th century subversive/liberation political groups. His investigation having proved so successful, Longland obtained the king's authority to proceed 'in the executing of justice'. Those who had abjured in a previous witch-hunt conducted under his predecessor, but who had since relapsed, he handed over to the secular authorities to be burnt. There were four of these, Thomas Bernard, John Scrivener, Thomas Holmes and Robert Rave, all (it would seem) from the Amersham area. On those 'who had but newly been taken, and had not before abjured, he enjoined most strait and rigorous penance'. There were some fifty of these first-timers who were sentenced to harsh punishment. They were separated and sent to various local monasteries or abbeys, including Osney, St Frideswide, Abingdon, Thame, Bicester, Dorchester, Netley, Ashridge and 'divers others more' (Pratt op cit page 244).

In a letter dated 19 December, 1521, Bishop Longland instructed the abbot of Eynsham as to the nature of the penance:

In primis, that every one of them shall, upon a market day, such as shall be limited to them, in the market time, go thrice about the market at Burford, and then to stand upon the highest greece [step] of the cross there a quarter of an hour, with a faggot of wood every one of them upon his shoulder, and every one of them to bear a faggot of wood upon their shoulders before their procession upon a Sunday ... from the choir-door going out to the church-door going in; and all the high mass time to hold the same faggot upon their shoulders, kneeling upon the greece afore the high altar there ...' They were to fast 'bread and ale only, Fridays during their life; and every Eve of Corpus Christi everyone of them to fast bread and water during their life, unless sickness unfeigned let [prevent] the same'. Most striking in the injunction is the paragraph which follows that 'neither they nor any of them shall hide their mark upon their cheek, neither with hat, cap, hood, kerchief, napkin or none otherwise; nor shall suffer their beards to grow past fourteen days; nor ever haunt again together with any suspected person or persons, unless it be in the open market, fair, church, or common inn or alehouse, where other people might see their conversation.' (Pratt op cit page 244).
The 'mark upon their cheeks' which they were forbidden to hide, was from branding with a hot iron on their right cheek, described as follows: 'their necks were tied fast to a post or stay with towels, and their hands holden fast that they might not stir; and so, the iron being hot, was put to their cheeks' ((Pratt op cit page 124).

Longland's penance may have been fierce on paper and no doubt in intention. It depended for its enforcement, however, upon local authorities - the parish priest, the prior of the monastery to which the offenders were sent. In the first place many of these in 1521, as in the earlier history of Lollardry, were sympathetic to some of the ideas classed as heretical. In the second place there might be awkward problems when a monastery's rentals (or those of the parish church) involved a so-called heretic.

Take the case of John Clydesdale for instance. He was in 1519 a feoffee of the lands of the chantry of St Mary, attached to the parish church of Hungerford (PRO DL2/106/C14). His consent was needed in the case of a lease of any of the chantry's lands. He was one of the leading burgesses of the town, a man whom many had chosen to act as overseer of their wills. It is difficult to see his parish priest treating his penance with strict literalness. As to being sent to a monastery, he would no more have objected to going to St Frideswide, of whose manor of Hidden he was farmer, than Thomas Hall might have objected (had he been sentenced) to going to the priory of Littlemore, under whom he farmed their manor of Haywood and Leverton; nor would John Colins, we may be sure, have minded a token stay at the priory of Poughley, some of whose lands he farmed at Betterton. In any case some of these monasteries, such as St Frideswide and Littlemore, were themselves in hot water with the ecclesiastical authorities because of their own slack internal discipline, probably the result of 'progressive' social and theological views (A Hamilton Thompson Visitations In The Diocese Of Lincoln 1517-1531 Lincoln Record Society Vol 33 pages 46-51).

That this leniency is not a fanciful view is substantiated by the fact that John Clydesdale's sentence seemed to make no difference whatever to his local activities. He is listed as a freeholder in the 1522 muster and the lay subsidies of 1523-4. He appears in the 1525 rental of Cardinal Wolsey's College; and in 1526 he is acting as Cromwell's bailiff of the newly-dissolved Poughley priory. In 1527 he takes a case to Cardinal Wolsey on behalf of his sister, who was herself a fervent neo-Lollard supporter (PRO C1/516/42.). It is true that during this time the tide had begun to turn, but it was not until 1527 that the question of Queen Katharine's divorce was raised, and not until 1531 that Henry VIII finally cast off the links with Rome and proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church of England.

A more striking instance of gentry who suffered no punishment is to be found in the case of John Clydesdale's sister Alice , who was married to William Cottesmore. One pedigree has her descended from Hall of Shalbourne and so possibly related to Thomas Hall of Hungerford (who also escaped punishment). (British Library; Harleian MS 11095 f.50). Foxe describes her detection thus:

Sir John, a priest, and also Robert Robinson, detected Master Cotisinore, of Brightwell [Brightwell Baldwin, Oxon]. Also Mistress Cotismore, otherwise called Mistress Dolly, for speaking these words to one John Bainton, her servant; that if she went to her chamber and prayed there, she should have as much merit as though she went to Walsingham on pilgrimage. Item, when the said Sir John came to her after the death of Master Cotismore his master, requiring her to send one John Stainer, her servant, to our Lady of Walsingham, for Master Cotisinore, who in his lifetime, being sick, promised in his own person to visit that place, she would not consent thereto, nor let her servant go. Item, for saying that when women go to offer to images or saints, they did it to show their new gay gear: that images were but carpenters' chips: and that folks go on pilgrimages more for the green way than for any devotion (Pratt op cit Vol 4 page 239).

Dolly is a variant spelling for Doyley, Alice Cottesmore's husband following the death in 1519 of William Cottesmore. Since her late husband had vowed to go on pilgrimage to Walsingham, it seems that he may have been less committed to Lollard principles than his wife, of whose determination and commitment there can have been no doubt.

The Cottesmores were important Oxfordshire gentry, with lands in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight (PRO C142/24/21 (1) and (2)). William's great grandfather had been Lord Chief Justice. Alice, therefore, held a position of some social significance and it may be this which caused her case to be investigated separately from the others. An account of her inquisition occurs some 350 pages later in Foxe's narrative (Pratt op cit Vol 4 page 582.) and it is noteworthy that she was examined not by the dreaded Bishop Longland, but by his Dean, Dr John London, who had local connections. It took place in the more friendly parsonage of Stanton Harcourt, a church of which William Cottesmore's friend Sir William Barrantyne was patron, in the parish where he was lord of the manor. Alice's statements were particularly defiant. However, it was not part of Longland's plan to stir up any who might have influence and, despite Alice's open defiance, no further action seems to have been taken against her. The report remained on the record but discreetly got lost' until Foxe discovered it forty-six years later.

In this case at least and in the west and northern parts of Berkshire the indications are clear that the later Lollards had active support from some of the country gentry and from yeoman farmers. Foxe underrates this support in so far as the ecclesiastical registers on which he based his account ascribe occupations only to those of lower class; where country gentry and yeoman farmers are concerned no ascription is provided. The role of the gentry has been obscured still further by the reluctance of the church to prosecute cases against them. Those who did suffer in the persecution were clearly the lower class activists - the independently-minded 'labourers and artificers' as Foxe calls them. It is they therefore who, quite rightly, are seen by Foxe as the ultimate heroes of the movement.

Norman Hidden, 1990