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Using the records of heresy trials as well as the vernacular texts composed by English dissenters during the period 1381–1521, this article chronicles the development of Wycliffite and Lollard views about sexuality and lay and clerical marriage. John Wyclif's Latin writings reveal that he both professed caution about clerical marriage and articulated a culturally traditional theology of sexuality. Whereas his hesitation at the prospect of a married clergy gave way to enthusiasm among later dissenters, his ideas about lay sexuality resonated with dissenting and mainstream writers alike. The evidence calls further into doubt the view that Lollardy was an innovative movement with respect to issues of gender and sexuality.
1 John Foxe, The … ecclesiasticall history contaynyng the actes and monuments, London 1570 (RSTC 11233), 947.
2 Ibid. 948.
3 The proper terminology for the men and women who are the subject of this study remains problematic: see, for instance, Andrew Cole, Literature and heresy in the age of Chaucer, Cambridge 2008. In this article, I will be using the term ‘Wycliffite(s)’ to refer to individuals and texts which are indebted to the ideas of the Oxford scholar John Wyclif and his academic followers. The semantic range of the terms ‘Lollard’ and ‘Lollardy’ remains to be fully explored, and I will employ them only sparingly (and always with implicit quotation marks) to describe broader communities of dissenters who may or may not have traced their origins to Wyclif.
4 Henry Hargreaves, ‘Sir John Oldcastle and Wycliffite views on clerical marriage’, Medium Aevum xlii (1973), 141–6; Dyan Elliott, ‘Lollardy and the integrity of marriage and the family’, in Sherry Roush and Cristelle L. Baskins (eds), The medieval marriage scene, Tempe, Az 2005, 37–53.
5 Thus Anne Hudson, The premature reformation, Oxford 1987, 292, 357–8, and Shannon McSheffrey, Gender and heresy, Philadelphia 1995, 81–6.
6 Margaret Aston, ‘Lollard women priests?’, repr. in her Lollards and reformers, London 1984, 49–70 at p. 49. See also Claire Cross, ‘“Great reasoners in Scripture”: the activities of women Lollards, 1380–1530’, in Derek Baker (ed.), Medieval women (Studies in Church History Subsidia i, 1978), 358–80.
7 McSheffrey, Gender and heresy, 2.
8 Ibid. 15.
9 See, for instance, John Wyclif, Trialogus cum supplemento trialogi, ed. G. Lechler, Oxford 1869, 207–9, 315–24; De veritate sacrae scripturae, ed. R. Buddensieg, London 1906, ii. 261–4; De ecclesia, ed. J. Loserth, London 1886, 365, 419, 473–4; De officio regis, ed. Alfred W. Pollard and Charles Sayle, London 1887, 29–31; and Responsiones ad Radulphi Strode, in Opera minora, ed. J. Loserth, London 1913, 191.
10 ‘Videtur istum sanctum intendere quod omnia hec temporalia que in vita presenti nobis proficiunt debemus postponere in amore propter Christum et bona celestias … Et sic videtur Augustinus dicere quod bonum matrimonii figurans beatitudinem celestis coniugii sit melius quam prolis procreacio hic in via. Et illud bonus fuit in Joseph et beata virgine et potest esse in coniugatis sine debiti solucione’: idem, Opus evangelicum, ed. J. Loserth, London 1895, i. 169, lines 11–21. This and all other translations are my own.
11 The case of the marriage of Mary and Joseph proved to be a model as well as a stumbling point for theologians as well as canonists: Irvin M. Resnick, ‘Marriage in medieval culture: consent theory and the case of Joseph and Mary’, Church History lxix (2000), 350–71.
12 ‘matrimonium est conjugum legitima copulatio, qua secundum Dei legem licet eis sine crimine filios procreare.’: Wyclif, Trialogus, 315.
13 Ibid. See also p. 205, where Phronesis argues that genital sexual acts can be meritorious in the proper circumstances.
14 ‘Unde antiqui ex cupiditate temporalium, ex spe mutuorum juvaminum aut ex causa excusandae libidinis, licet desperent de prole, copulantur ad invicem, non vere matrimonialiter copulantur’: ibid. 317.
15 Conor McCarthy, Marriage in medieval England, Woodbridge 2004.
16 Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica, Suppl. iii.45.1–2; Jean Gerson, ‘Considérations sur saint Joseph’, in Oeuvres completes, ed. P. Glorieux, Paris 1960–73, vii/1, 81.
17 ‘Alithia: Sed dic, quaeso, cum quibus verbis vel signis debet matrimonium celebrari; dicitur enim communiter, quod cum verbis de praesenti, et non cum verbis de praeterito vel futuro, imo expressa affirmatione de futuro …. Phronesis: Non delector multum labi in ista materia, specialiter cum sit humanitus et saepe infundabiliter instituta. Veritas quidem mihi videtur, quod assistente consensus conjugum et Domino approbante, subducto quocunque signo sensibili foret satis …. In verbis enim qualitercunque aptatis extrinssecus potest esse deceptio’: Wyclif, Trialogus, 322–3.
18 Ibid. 324.
19 ‘Judices ergo qui ex nudis verbis judicant pro matrimonio, judicant contra judicium legis Dei; sed maledicta sit lex hujusmodi, qua judex coartabit per censuras fictas jugum personarum, ut faciant contrarie legi Dei!’: ibid. 323.
20 Idem, Opus evangelicum, i. 172, lines 21–33.
21 Ibid. i. 175, lines 11–16.
22 Ibid. i. 175.
23 Ibid. lines 33–7. On the different types of divorce see McCarthy, Marriage, 41. Wyclif's treatment of divorce in Trialogus is slightly different. Phronesis echoes Wyclif's preference for the commands of Scripture rather than the laws of human judges and, in a discussion of Matthew v, repeats that whoever divorces his wife, except on account of fornication, makes her an adulterer (pp. 319–22).
24 ‘Ideo condere leges humanas in ista materia et subici arbitrio iuristarum videtur induccio meridiani demonii contraria legi Christi.’: Wyclif, Opus evangelicum, i. 177, lines 15–19.
25 ‘Causae divortii ratione affinitatis vel consanguinitatis sunt infundabiliter humanitus ordinatae’; ‘Haec verba “accipiam te in uxorem” eligibiliora sunt in contractu matrimonali, quam ista “ego te accipio in uxorem”; et quod contrahendo cum una per haec verba de futuro, et post cum alia per haec verba de praesenti, non debent frustrari verba prima per verba secundaria de praesenti’; ‘Antiqui, qui ex cupiditate temporalium, ex spe mutuorum juvaminum, aut ex causa excusandae libidinis, licet desperent de prole, copulantur adinvicem, non vere matrimonaliter copulantur’: Concilia Magnae Brittaniae et Hiberniae, ed. David Wilkins, repr. Brussels 1964, iii. 229–30, nos 7–9; iii. 339–49, nos 129–31.
26 Wyclif, Trialogus, 319, 323, 317.
27 See, for instance, Aquinas's continuator's treatment of orders as an impediment to marriage: Summa, Supp. iii.53.3.
28 ‘Jam enim consuetudo pro lege admittitur quod domina in mariti absencia fratrem habeat confessorem; vidue autem et specialiter sanctimoniales per confessores huiusmodi sunt seducte’: Wyclif, Opus evangelicum, ii. 40, lines 27–30.
29 ‘Videtur tamen mihi … cum diabolus scit docere juvenes extra mulierum consortium hoc pecatum turpissimum, et specialiter assistente copia juvenum masculorum separatorum a feminis, voluptuose viventium et a laboribus otiantium. Unde Ezech. xvi. ‘haec fuit iniquitas Sodomae, sororis tuae, superbia, saturitas panis, habundantia vini et ostium.’ Ideo cavendum est privatis ordinibus, ne incidant in hanc culpam’: idem, Trialogus, 206. It may strike a modern reader as odd that Wyclif feared both the seduction of wives and daughters as well as sodomy among the clergy, but it is more likely that Wyclif, unaware of later ideas about sexual orientation, simply saw both opposite-sex and same-sex activity as equally possible consequences of enforced celibacy.
30 ‘et sic phariseice colamus culicem et deglutimus camelum, horrentes in sacerdotibus corporale coniugium ut venenum, sed negociacionem eciam simoniacam … sanitavam ac defensivam ecclesie approbamus’: idem, De officio regis, 29, lines 27–31.
31 ‘Unde minus remotum est a sacerdocio Christi recipere a dominis temporalibus alternatum usum uxorum suarum secundum copulam carnalem … quam quod recipient a seculari domino dominacionem civilem; utrumque enim istorum foret horribile, sed secundum horribilius, cum carnalis procreacio stat cum sacerdocio’: idem, De ecclesia, 365, lines 7–13.
32 Idem, De veritate sacrae scripturae, ii.262, lines 2–6.
33 Idem, Conclusiones XXXIII de paupertate Christi, in Opera minora, 58.
34 ‘quandoque est eciam a licit abstinendum’: idem, De officio regis, 30, lines 16–17.
35 Idem, De veritate sacrae scripturae, ii. 263, lines 21–6.
36 ‘oportet, omnem sacerdotem ubique terrarium et semper servare castimoniam, licet per vices debitum uxori redderit’: ibid. ii. 262, lines 13–15.
37 Hudson, Premature reformation, 357–8.
38 English Wycliffite sermons, ed. Anne Hudson and Pamela Gradon, Oxford 1983–97, iii. 293, lines 3–4. (References to this work will be by volume, sermon and line numbers.)
39 Ibid. iii. 239, line 7.
40 Ibid. i. 33, lines 39–40.
41 Ibid. lines 42–51.
42 Ibid. ii. 104, lines 38–44.
43 Ibid. iv. 114.
44 An apology for Lollard doctrines, ed. J. H. Todd (Camden xx, 1842), 38.
45 Ibid. 70–1.
46 Ibid. 70.
47 Lollard sermons, ed. Gloria Cigman (EETS ccxciv, 1989), 5, lines 123–7.
48 Ibid. 8, line 82.
49 Ibid. 9, lines 383–5.
50 Ibid. lines 390–1.
51 Hudson, Premature reformation, 425.
52 On Westminster School, ms 3, see Amanda Moss, ‘A merchant's tales: a London fifteenth-century household miscellany’, Yearbook of English Studies xxxiii (2003), 156–69.
53 See Anne Hudson, ‘A Lollard sect vocabulary?’, repr. in her Lollards and their books, London 1985, 181–92.
54 Of weddid men and wifis and of here children also, in Select English works of John Wycliffe, ed. Thomas Arnold, Oxford 1869–71, iii.188–201 at p. 191.
55 Ibid. 190.
56 Ibid. 192.
57 Ibid. 193–6.
58 ‘Twelve conclusions of the Lollards’, in Selections from English Wycliffite writings, ed. Anne Hudson, Cambridge 1978, 25, 28.
59 Of prelates, in The English works of Wyclif hitherto unprinted, ed. F. D. Matthew (EETS lxxiv, 1902), 100.
60 Of the leaven of Pharisees, ibid. 6.
61 The Holy Bible … made from the Latin Vulgate by John Wyclif and his followers, ed. Josiah Forshall and Frederic Madden, Oxford 1850, i. 51.
62 De papa, in English works, 474.
63 Roger Dymmok, Liber contra XII errores et haereses lollardorum, ed. H. S. Cronin, London 1922, 72, lines 23–7.
64 Ibid. 75–7.
65 Ibid. 83, lines 32–7.
66 Ibid. 85, lines 21–3.
67 Hudson, Premature reformation, 419.
68 Dives and Pauper, ed. Priscilla Heath Barnum (EETS o.s. cclxxv, cclxxx, cccxxiii, 1976–2004), i/2, 60, lines 1–2.
69 Ibid. i/2, 71, line 7.
70 Ibid. i/2, 68, lines 44–8.
71 Ibid. i/2, 75, lines 12–17.
72 Ibid. i/2, 95–9, lines 1–104, 1–4.
73 Susan Powell, ‘Mirk, John’, ODNB [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/18818, accessed 6 Dec. 2005].
74 John Mirk, Mirk's festial: a collection of homilies, ed. Theodor Erbe (EETS e.s. xcvi, 1905), 289, lines 10–11.
75 Ibid. 292, lines 31–4.
76 Ibid. 293, lines 14–16.
77 Ibid. 290, lines 16–20, 31–3.
78 For a detailed discussion of the challenges involved in using trial records as historical evidence see J. P. Hornbeck, ‘The development of heresy: doctrinal variation in English “Lollard” dissent, 1381–1521’, unpubl. DPhil. diss. Oxford 2007, 28–36.
79 Anne Hudson, ‘A Lollard mass’, in her Lollards and their books, 111–23 at p. 121, nos 13, 14, 9, 10.
80 James A. Brundage, ‘Impotence, frigidity, and marital nullity in the decretists and early decretalists’, repr. in his Sex, law, and marriage in the Middle Ages, Aldershot 1993, ch. x.
81 Hudson, ‘Lollard mass’, 114; Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, Books under suspicion, Notre Dame 2006, 269–71.
82 K. B. McFarland, Lancastrian kings and Lollard knights, Oxford 1972, 164–6.
83 ‘si vir et foemina convenerint in una voluntate nubendi, ipsa voluntas sufficiens est conjugium sine majori obedientia Ecclesiae facienta’: Thomas Walsingham, Historia anglicana, ed. Matthew Parker and Henry Thomas Riley, London 1863–4, ii. 252–3.
84 ‘Item quod eadem Margeria dixit isti iurate tunc ibidem quod solus consensus mutui amoris inter virum et mulierem sufficit pro sacramento matrimonii, absque expressione aliorum verborum et absque solennizacione in ecclesiis’: Heresy trials in the diocese of Norwich, 1428–1431, ed. Norman Tanner, London 1977, 46.
85 Ibid. 52.
86 Ibid. passim.
87 Ibid. 153.
88 Ibid. 141.
89 Ibid. 91.
90 Almost all Warham's defendants confessed that ‘matrimonii solemnisatio non est necessaria ad anime salutem nec a iure divino instituta’: Kent heresy proceedings, 1511–12, ed. Norman Tanner (Kent Records xxvi, 1997), 2. The phrase ‘nec a iure divino instituta’ was omitted in six cases, and Thomas Church of Great Chart argued that unction as well as matrimony was not necessary, but the sense of all twelve articles is identical.
91 Fasciculi zizaniorum, ed. W. W. Shirley, London 1858, 391–2.
92 The register of Robert Hallum, bishop of Salisbury, 1407–1417, ed. J. M. Horn (Canterbury and York Society lxxii, 1982), no. 1142.
93 Lincoln Archive Office, Episcopal Register XX, fos 59v–60; John Knox, The historie of the Reformation of the Church of Scotland, Edinburgh 1644 (Wing K739), 2–3, no. 24.
94 The register of Henry Chichele, ed. E. F. Jacob (Canterbury and York Society xlii, xlv-vii, 1937–47), iii. 91.
95 Fasciculi zizaniorum, 420–5.
96 ‘sicut plures presbiteri faciunt in diversis partibus remotis’: Heresy trials in Norwich, 73.
97 Anne Hudson, ‘The examination of Lollards’, in her Lollards and their books, 124–40 at p. 134, no. 39; A. Hamilton Thompson, The English clergy and their organization in the later Middle Ages, Oxford 1947, 222–6; Hampshire Record Office, Winchester, ms A1/15, fos 26r–27r.
98 R. H. Helmholz, Marriage litigation in medieval England, Cambridge 1974, 167.
99 McSheffrey, Gender and heresy, 81.
100 Vern Bullough, ‘Postscript: heresy, witchcraft, and sexuality’, in Vern L. Bullough and James Brundage (eds), Sexual practices and the medieval Church, Buffalo, NY 1982, 206–10.
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