Up until 1400, John Wycliffe’s Lollard movement was going rather well. By the end of the year, however, Wycliffe was dead and the state was beginning to crack down on his followers. Here are five factors that contributed to Lollardy’s fall.
1. The Peasant’s Revolt
The Peasant’s Revolt was actually repudiated by Lollard leader John Wycliffe, who preferred to advance his cause through more conventional political manoeuvring. The revolt still characterised itself as a Lollard event, however, and its spiritual leader, John Ball, was a Lollard preacher.
The revolt altered the image of Lollardy in the minds of many powerful people for whom it came to represent not only a movement for religious reform but also a dangerous force which could destabilise society as a whole.
2. De Heretico Comburendo
De Hertico Comburendo was a law passed by Henry IV in 1401 to combat the rise of Lollardy. The law did not explicitly state that this was its aim but it legalised the burning of heretics and included Bible translation as one of the heresies for which one might be given the penalty. This targeted Lollards and therefore drove the movement underground.
The first lay person ever to be executed as a heretic in England was a Lollard named John Badby who was arrested in 1410 and refused to renounce his allegiance to Lollardy. Once De Heritico Comburendo had come into force, there was much less tolerance for Lollardy and those adhering to it publicly risked a particularly painful death.
4. Oldcastle’s Revolt
In 1413, nobleman and friend of the king John Oldcastle was brought to trail for his associations with Lollardy, but escaped from the Tower of London. Once free he launched a rebellion with the intent of deposing the king.
The rebellion failed but Oldcastle remained at large for four years thereafter and was involved in other intrigues against the English. In 1417, he was finally captured and executed.
This was important in completing what the Peasant’s Revolt had begun with regard to public opinion. Lollardy became fixed in the minds of lay elites as a source of unrest and as a threat to the social order, therefore heightening opposition to it and increasing the persecution of its adherents.
In the later 15th and 16th centuries, Protestantism spread across Europe, espousing many of the same values and projects that had once been associated with Lollardy. As a result, the movement largely died out or else became incorporated into the Protestant cause.