It is the tendency of British historians to consider religious movements in England to be largely independent in origin. Lollardy is a case in point. Despite its similarities to the Waldensian movement on the continent, it is generally seen as the result of the teaching of John Wycliffe.
I have no desire to diminish in any way the work of Wycliffe. However, the name Lollard appears to definitely be of Dutch origin. Leonard Verduin even states that it was in use in the Low Countries a hundred years before Wycliffe. The word derives from a Dutch verb which means to sing softly.
The first appearance of the Black Death in Europe was in Sicily in October of 1347. By 1349 it had spread to London and was all over the British Isles by the following year. By 1353 it was all over Scandinavia and Russia. It is estimated that as many as half of the people of Europe died in the years 1347 to 1353. The cause was unknown at the time, many attributed it to bad air. The inability of the established church to help in this terror stricken time weakened its hold on the people and opened their minds to hear other teachers. Ideas spread as rapidly as the disease had.
An interesting side note is that a group of men who buried the dead while singing chants during the black death were called lollebroeders or lollhorden.
John Wycliffe’s English Bible first appeared in 1382. It was translated from the Latin Vulgate rather than from the original languages but it was the first time that English-speaking people had access to the Word of God in their own language. The Lollards certainly appreciated this fact and made good use of Wycliffe’s Bible, but it is probably a stretch to believe they did not exist in England before Wycliffe. Perhaps he was more influenced by them, or by the same ideas that had influenced them, rather than the other way around.
– the next two paragraphs are quoted from pages 293-294 of England in the Age of Wycliffe, by G. M. Trevelyan, 4th edition, 1909.
“In May 1382, Courtenay’s (the Archbishop of Canterbury)campaign began. He summoned to the Blackfriars’ convent in London a Council of the provinces of Canterbury, before which he brought up Wycliffe’s opinions for judgement. First in the list of heresies came the doctrine of Consubstantiation, next the proposition that a priest in mortal sin could not administer the sacraments, and that Christ did not ordain the ceremonies of the Mass. Two other heresies are of equal note: that if a man be contrite, all exterior confession is superfluous or useless; and after Urban the Sixth no one ought to be received as Pope, but men should live, after the manner of the Greek church, under their own laws. Wycliffe’s views on the temporalities of the clergy, and the uselessness of the regular orders, were also condemned. Lollardy was for the first time put definitely under the ban of the Church, and war was formally declared by the Bishops against the itinerant preachers.
“The council at Blackfriars was spoken of throughout England as a new and important move in the game. A curious accident enabled Wycliffe’s friends to boast that, though their master had been condemned by the Bishops, the Bishops had been condemned by God. It was on May 19 that the theses were pronounced to be ‘heresies and errors.’ About two o’clock that afternoon, while the churchmen were sitting round the table at the pious work, the house was shaken by a terrible earthquake that struck with panic all present except the stern and zealous Courtenay. He insisted that his subordinates should resume their seats and go on with the business, although the shock seems to have been more violent than is usual in our country, casting down pinnacles and steeples, and shaking stones out of the castle walls. It took away from this solemn act of censure some at least of the effect on which the bishop had calculated, and Wycliffe did not let pass the opportunity to point the moral. Such an omen was no light thing in such an age.”