John Foxe and the later Lollards of the Thames Valley
This thesis seeks to add to our information regarding the many lollards discussed by John Foxe in his Actes and Monuments, first published in English in 1563, and destined to become as much a part of the English Reformation as Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer and John Jewel's Apology of the Church of England. In particular it considers the group of later lollards who were the subject of serious inquiry by the ecclesiastical authorities during the first five decades of Tudor rule, 1490 to 1535, and who were found by their 'inquisitors' to be living along the Thames Valley. The counties studied here are Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Middlesex and Oxfordshire. For reasons of space and time it has been impossible to include other work undertaken covering Essex, Kent and London. Previous studies of this sect have relied on official sources, usually the few extant transcripts of trials found in episcopal court books and act books. Consequently the details may be thought of as biased, although not necessarily pro forma of charge lists, and the very nature of trial procedure at this time, suggests that not too much reliance can be put on the evidence we have. Nevertheless that is all we have so far been able to consider. Evidence as to the social and economic status of lollards is lacking in such sources; consequently previous studies of lollardy have tended to accept contemporary disdain, and to consider them as a sect made up of comparatively poor, usually illiterate, individuals, who were in some way divorced from their communities, as a consequence of their beliefs. That the church was sufficiently concerned with the sect to undertake such determined persecutions should caution us against such conclusions. The martyrologist, John Foxe, supplies us with what we know of the trials within this area for the period under discussion. We are fortunate that he saw fit to transcribe so much detail from what he claimed was a register of Bishop Longland of Lincoln. This study has abandoned the previously-tried sources and turned to what are loosely called 'secular' sources: taxation and muster returns, probate material, usually wills, but including some inventories of testators' goods, and cases from central courts, to which lollards, as all the litigious English nation at this time, often went for redress. I have not abandoned the ecclesiastical material: visitation documents and episcopal court material both figure in the study; additionally there is some parish material: churchwardens' accounts and manor court rolls, but not as much as I should like. Taking the names of those charged with heresy, or the detectors of those so charged, as given us by Foxe, I have sought them out in their every-day lives, within the sources detailed above. This conglomeration of material adds flesh to those we have previously simply known (if we were lucky) by name, place of residence, and occupation. Now we can see lollards in the context of their societies and communities. Now we can talk of them as members of the early Tudor 'commonweal' to which so many of them seemed to have aspired. As a result of this thesis lollards are seen to have been socially, economically, and politically integrated within their communities. They are found at all levels of economic standing within most settlements we have come to associate with lollardy. They are also, occasionally, seen to be willing to declare their religious affiliation when making their last wills and testaments; sadly, however, many appear to adopt, whether sincerely or not we can not say, a conservative stance at the final public declaration they would make. Perhaps of prime importance is that we show lollards listed by Foxe to have existed, and to have been thriving in the mid-Thames valley, despite the apparent harshness of the episcopal attacks on them.