Jill C. Havens

title.none: Aston and Richmond, eds., Lollardy and the Gentry (Havens)

identifier.other: baj9928.9804.002 98.04.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Jill C. Havens, Baylor University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Aston, Margaret and Colin Richmond, eds. Lollardy and the Gentry in the Later Middle Ages. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997. Pp. viii, 280. ISBN: ISBN 0-312-17388-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.04.02

Aston, Margaret and Colin Richmond, eds. Lollardy and the Gentry in the Later Middle Ages. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997. Pp. viii, 280. ISBN: ISBN 0-312-17388-1.

Reviewed by:

Jill C. Havens
Baylor University

J.A.F. Thomson remarks that "modern studies of the development of Lollardy have followed two main approaches: the analysis of Lollard manuscripts [and texts], and prosopographical studies of individuals whom either contemporary chroniclers or later historians have identified as sympathisers with heresy" (95). This present collection makes evident the complementarity of these two approaches, but also reveals the pitfalls of the second.

Research on the relationship between the English gentry and the Lollard heresy owes much to the earlier work of K.B. McFarlane and his posthumous Lancastrian Kings and Lollard Knights. The twelve essays in this volume, which originate from a conference marking the 600th anniversary of the posting of the Lollard "Twelve Conclusions" to the door of Westminster, further this research, and all, in one way or another, focus on the various economic, social, and spiritual motivations behind gentry support for this heresy. Using the "Twelve Conclusions" as a kick-off point, the introduction gives an overview and some detailed examination of aspects of gentry involvement. The editors provide sufficient background for the essays to come and briefly touch on their arguments and contents, positing several questions which are subsequently addressed in the volume: Did gentry support continue despite the disaster of Oldcastle's revolt? What exactly was the nature of this gentry support? How does it compare to the similar situation in Poland with the Hussites? Did "doctrinal deviance" necessarily move down the social ladder? Could the gentry household be a stronghold of Lollard belief and teaching?

The group of established scholars represented in this volume is impressive, and their work here attests to the high quality of scholarship we have come to expect of them. But the more competent essays come from those scholars who focus primarily on text-based research, avoiding the dangers of the conjectural nature of prosopography, though a study of the lives of individuals plays an important complementary role. The essays in this group which cover source materials--Geoffrey Martin's "Knighton's Lollards," Anne Hudson's "Hermofodrita or Ambidexter: Wycliffite Views on Clerks in Secular Office," John Scattergood's " Pierce the Ploughman's Crede: Lollardy and Texts," Alison K. McHardy's "De Heretico Comburendo, 1401," Christina von Nolcken's "Richard Wyche, A Certain Knight, and the Beginning of the End," and Norman Tanner's "Penances Imposed on Kentish Lollards by Archbishop Warham 1511-12,"--surpass the reader's expectations with adept and informed research that enlightens and startles with new revelations.

The other approach to the topic of Lollardy and gentry is prosopography, particularly the documentary evidence for Lollard sympathy amongst the gentry through possible associations with those involved in the heresy. But conclusions reached via this method are not always as convincing as those of studies which successfully combine this with textual evidence. J.A.F. Thomson's "Knightly Piety and the Margins of Lollardy" is a disappointing essay. Thomson continues McFarlane's earlier examination of the self- deprecating language found in "Lollard wills" and the dubious connections of the testators. While arguing that McFarlane's methodology was dangerous, Thomson, himself, falls into the same traps which once ensnared McFarlane: lack of sufficient evidence to support substantial claims, use of guilt by association, and mere vagaries of language--the last of which he concedes is a questionable litmus to determine heretical sympathies. Thomson intends to explore how the language of the wills "reflected a fashionable trend of pious expression at the time," (95) and had he continued in this vein, the essay would have been rewarding. But instead of examining the testamentary evidence and personal histories of these individuals as interrelated, Thomson assumes that the one confirms the other, and he concludes that "it is clear that however one understands the term 'Lollardy', its development among the landed class took widely heterogeneous forms, and the extent of their unorthodoxy varied considerably" (108), assuming such language in the wills is indeed evidence of heresy. Many of his additional conclusions on this exhausted subject are not new and some merely repeat his earlier research. (See his "Orthodox Religion and the Origins of Lollardy" in History 74 (Feb. 1989): 39-55).

The gems of this volume are the essays written by members of a thriving generation of new scholars in the field of Lollard studies, and I wish to talk in more detail about their essays. These demonstrate highly competent research worthy to be placed next to the work of well-known specialists. Unlike the emphasis on text amongst those mentioned above, the fruits of prosopographical research here are plentiful and delicious. The one text or source-based study is Fiona Somerset's "Answering the Twelve Conclusions: Dymmok's Halfhearted Gestures Towards Publication." Somerset first speculates as to the status of the Lollard authors of the Twelve Conclusions and their "publication" of the text amongst Parliament. The audience is very clear here; but the case of Dymmok's response is a more difficult puzzle to solve. Tracing textual evidence and the limited readership witnessed by the few manuscripts extant, Somerset sets out her persuasive argument that Dymmok had a particular agenda and in the end could only truly appeal to himself.

One of the most compelling and illuminating essays which centers on the lives of individuals is "Lawyers and Lollardy in the Early Fifteenth Century" by Maureen Jurkowski. Jurkowski carefully and thoroughly documents (with some 200 footnotes) the lives of several gentlemen who, after establishing legal careers, were at some point affected by the Lollard heresy. While this information on the careers and training of common lawyers is interesting, what is far more important is her strongly convincing claim that these lawyers provide the missing "link" between the earlier academic heresy based in Oxford and the later manifestations of its doctrine amongst the populace. Equally notable is the fascinating comparative study by Pawel Kras on "Hussitism and the Polish Nobility." Kras does not venture to make conclusions beyond his source materials, the records of heresy trials in episcopal registers, and his essay does more to provoke questions about noble involvement and support of Lollardy in England and the reactions to Lollardy when it became a threat to the crown. Indeed, Kras' narrative about Spytko of Melsztyn reminds one of the Oldcastle uprising which "frightened most of his previous allies and was condemned by the king (188)."

Rob Lutton's "Connections between Lollards, Townsfolk and Gentry in Tenterden in the Late Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries" sets out to examine and explain how Lollardy and later Protestant reform was attractive to particular families in Tenterden in Kent. His combination of text and family history work well, but the study of wills is still a speculative task and conclusions drawn from such evidence should be done so with caution. Fortunately, Lutton does not fall into the trap Thomson has, but his argument--that what is of interest here is the consistency of evidence within a family--is backed by documentation that his subjects were indicted and convicted heretics. Where Lutton's argument is weak is in his discussion of these wills in relative isolation; providing "customary" wills from a larger geographical area for comparison would make the significance of the Tenterden wills more apparent.

The volume closes with a look at Lollardy before Henrician reform in Andrew Hope's "The Lady and the Bailiff: Lollardy Among the Gentry in Yorkist and Early Tudor England." With a premise, as indicated in his title, of retelling the story of Lady Jane Young and her possible connection to William Sweeting, Hope is able to narrate a number of accounts of relationships, associations and tenuous connections between gentry members and later leaders of the Lollard heresy. But Hope does not seem to reach any real conclusions about the nature of the relationship between the artisan class and lower gentry, and this may be because he bases his main argument on an assumption: the pivotal connection between Sweeting and Lady Young hangs on the theory that she was present during the house arrest of her second husband, Sir Thomas Lewkenor. While this is possible, there is no evidence beyond speculation to support this, and Hope's further suggestion that "it was Sweeting who was then responsible, directly or indirectly, for her mother's [Joan Boughton] conversion as well" seems highly suspect. Though the various names and associations that Hope rattles off are impressive and make one think about the far-reaching arm of Lollard influence, they serve to distract from a significant problem with material of this sort (and any critic of McFarlane's work will be familiar with this): the intermingling of personal histories often unravel when the individuals are studied independently. Likewise, guilt by association is hardly sufficient evidence to condemn a person and leads to generalizations that should be taken with a grain of salt. Hope's scholarship is vigorous and shows promise, though there is potential he will fall into the same hole that Thomson has stumbled into.

The questions posed by the editors in the introduction are more than adequately answered in the essays of this volume. The constant overlapping of material and the three strings (the "Twelve Conclusions," McFarlane's book, and the general theme of Lollardy and gentry) woven into many of the arguments makes them a coherent and well-balanced group, though cross- references are often lacking (no reference in Tanner to Lutton's on Tenterden and McHardy's on De Heretico Comburendo). But the bulk of the scholarship is solid, consistent, and truly rewarding for the student and scholar of Lollard studies. Though there are a few essays which fall short of expectation, their inclusion here in no way detracts from the value of the whole collection. And what this volume does make clear, and what perhaps could be its greatest message is, in the words of Norman Tanner, "a plea for further study" (243).