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Myths and Legends
John Wyclif and friars
The reformer is assailed by friars

© Mary Evans Picture Library
The Lollards: Dawning star of the Reformation?

The Lollards of Lud’s Church

The tale of the Lollards at Lud’s Church is recounted in the 19th Century guide book, 'Swythamby and its neighbourhood, past and present'. The story is attributed to “the good knight Sir William de Lacy” who was travelling through the Black Forest in 1546. We have been unable to ascertain whether de Lacy was an actual person, or as is more likely, a fictional mouthpiece for the tale. The story is as follows:

George Thomas, engraved by H Bourne
© Mary Evans Picture Library
Whilst enjoying the scenery, de Lacy stumbles upon the cavern of Lud’s Church. On exploring the cavern, de Lacy encounters an old man “engrossed in the perusal of a worn Bible”. According to the old man, the cavern of Lud’s Church had been the “instrument of many righteous works”. On prompting, the old man describes how a group of “immediate followers of Wickelf” used to hold secret religious services in the cavern, hidden from the prying eyes of the Catholic Church. This congregation was led by the zealous Sir Walter de Lud-Auk, whose beautiful 18-year-old grand-daughter, Alice de Lud-Auk was also a member of the group. “Her form was light and sylph-like, with a head exquisitely shaped” recounts the old man. Whilst Alice is captivating the rest of the congregation with her “wild, bird-like” rendition of a stirring hymn, the group is rudely interrupted by a group of royal soldiers who have
John Wyclif
John Wyclif
© Mary Evans Picture Library
come to break up the illegal religious service. During the ensuing scuffle, Alice is mortally wounded and the rest are arrested.

The tale is romanticised, with a fairytale quality. According to the old man, “Even the rough natures of the soldiers were touched,” by the tragic death of Alice. Most significantly, the account refers to John Wyclif, the founder of the Lollard movement, as the “dawning star of the Reformation”. At the tale’s conclusion, the old man leaves de Lacy with a moral:

“My son, if thou are of the Protestant religion and are called upon by the despotic rulers of this land, to abjure thy faith, remember the Lollards of Lud Church and stand firm.”

This explicitly identifies the Lollards as the forbearers of the Church of England, associating their tales of persecution to that faced by adherents of the new faith. This appropriation gave the Protestants some history upon which to build, but were the Lollards really the “dawning star of the Reformation”?

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Wyclif and the Lollards 1376-99
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