[click on the picture for all the rest of the A to Zedders]
In the 14th century the followers of the teachings of John Wycliffe formed a loosely organised group of religious dissidents. Wycliffe’s translation of the bible into vernacular English had made it possible for men to read the, without having to ask a priest to interpret it for them. This lead to feeling of dissatisfaction with elements of corruption in the church and in particular the lavish decoration of churches and religious houses when so many of their parishioners were in poverty. As one might expect they began to approach God directly too – a really big no no with the Catholic Church – making their own prayers in their own languages which they sang or said in small groups or in private. The name ‘Lollard’ comes from the Dutch for mumbler implying that their prayers were not up to par with the official Latin of the mass. Lollards were classed as heretics and it wasn’t long before the persecutions started.
My interest in Lollardy stems mainly from our local lad Sir John Oldcastle who paid the ultimate price. Despite Henry V, a close friend, doing everything in his power to persuade him to recant John stuck to his beliefs and was hanged, then burned, gallows and all. One hopes he was dead before they put fire to kindling.
While the Lollards were demanding religious reform the Levellers 400 years later, at the height of the English Civil War, had a more social brief. They fervently believed in a type of democracy, that liberty was every man’s right, and wished that the yoke laid upon the English at the Norman Conquest could be lifted away. Although they can’t be classified as a political party they were the first organisation to appreciate the importance of spreading the word to the public. They ran a newspaper called The Moderate from 1645 to 1649 and used pamphlets and posters to drum up support. One of their most popular platforms was based on complaints about the plight of the common soldier living in poverty while their commanders, on both sides, lived the high life.
The final band of malcontents, or freedom fighters, were the Luddites of the early 19th century. They were skilled workmen, usually handloom weavers, whose livelihoods were ruined by the establishment of mechanical looms in factories. These looms could be operated by a relatively unskilled and poorly paid workforce, thus destroying the old cottage industries within a few years. Legend has it that the Luddites named themselves after a young man called Ned Ludd who smashed a couple of steam powered looms. They met on the outskirts of towns to plan their attacks and wore disguises when they aided the factories. Frequently the diguises were women’s clothing – easily obtainable from wives, mothers or sisters. They did a lot of damage to the early manufacturing industries and also to mechanised agriculture by smashing threshing machines. They were ruthlessly suppressed by the Government who couldn’t afford to fight a war on two fronts – one against Napoleon and one against the Luddites. Mass trials, transportations and executions, did the trick but left a legacy of class hatred for the mill owners that extends into the union movements of the 20th century.
This post should have gone up yesterday. But it didn’t because I was reading excellent books about Romans. 🙂