122 John Wycliffe – and a University Education

Wycliffe's writings were to prove controversial and proved an interesting early echo of the Reformation. They heavily influenced the view of Jan Hus and the movement in Bohemia. And his ability to develop and present those views owed a lot to Oxford University, and its desire to protect intellectual debate and investigation. 

122 Wycliff and the University of Oxford

The University of Oxford

By the 14th Century, Oxford had become rather like a Guild – the Chancellor at the top; the Doctors  and Masters of Arts as it's Masters; the Bachelors of Arts as it's Journey men, and undergraduates Medieval Scholars as Apprentices. Into this world Wycliffe walked at the age of 12 or 14 – for the 7 years that made up the Bachelor of Arts 'Degree'. Degree referred to the stages one should take to become a Doctor – a series of stages – Bachelor, Master, Doctor. 

Oxford was a chaotic place. Every student found themselves their own Regent Masters to teach them. They found their own lodgings, or maybe joined on eof the new Academic Halls. There were serious troubles with eh locals, such as the St Scholastica Day riots which led to open warfare on the streets. 

John Wycliffe and his career

John WycliffeWycliffe was born around 1330 in Yorkshire, to a reasonably up and coming family. He would have been taken to Oxford by a bringer. He became a Bachelor, Master, and then finally in 1372/3, a Doctor of Theology. For a while in the 1370's he had friends. John of Gaunt because of where he came from, and his helpfully anticlerical writings. The Black Prince and his wife Joan, because of his helpfully anticlerical writings. he acquired a living in Lutterworth, Leicestershire. But as he became more controversial, that support died away in the face of persecution from the church. By the 1380's he retired to Lutterworth, and died in 1384. 

Why was he controversial? 

Wycliffe considered himself a good Christian. He considered that his writings were based on the opinions and teachings of the fathers. But of course the Church were unlikely to enjoy his conclusions about their wordly wealth and privilege. Wycliffe's main conclusions were: 

  • The Church had forfeited its rights to its wealth and power, through its corruption. The Preaching Lollards Crown should take them back
  • There is no support in the scriptures for all these bishops, and the bloated infrastructure on the medieval church. It should all go.
  • The Pope should model himself on Christ and live according to his model if he wanted to have the moral authority.
  • The principle of transubstantiation as taught by the church was deeply hooky.
  • The Bible is the only reliable reference point for Christians, since it’s not an easy world, and before he knew it he was a religious radical. There’s no evidence whatsoever that he ever tried to create a movement behind his argument – he was just telling the truth as he saw it, inconvenient or not. 

7 thoughts on “122 John Wycliffe – and a University Education

  1. I guess I’m the only one but I think the reference to Kronk is from The Emperor’s New Groove. Did I win, did I win?!?!

  2. I guess I’m the only one but I think the reference to Kronk is from The Emperor’s New Groove. Did I win, did I win?!?!

  3. As an academic I really enjoyed this episode. It’s so good to learn about the history of English institutions and traditions. Battles and taxes are all well and good, but they can get a bit ‘samey’ after a while, at least in the Middle Ages anyway! 😉
    e.g. “By this time, King [INSERT MONARCH NAME] was skint so went to Parliament to raise a tax to pay for war against [INSERT SOURCE OF PLUNDER]. After much kerfuffle, Parliament finally consented. And in so doing, another small royal concession took England towards parliamentary democracy. In the meantime, the Scots invaded and caused havoc in the North”. etc etc It’s an endless cycle of oppression, state-sponsored larceny and violence!
    So it’s really interesting to intersperse this steady stream of carnage with something more positive that involves non-combatants, who after all are the vast majority of the population. I love learning about all those areas that weren’t taught at school – e.g. the episodes about clothes and fashion; the development of towns and guilds; plague and medieval medicine; European politics, including history of the Papacy and HRE; Wales and Ireland; marriage conventions; the economics of the feudal system. All fascinating. Do please feel free to digress more on these social themes if this is something you like covering!
    Really looking forward to the Tudor period, the Reformation, and the age of discovery!

  4. Thanks for the explanation on the trivium and quadridium. Those made an appearance in the lyrics of one the songs on Ian Anderson’s new album. (He of Jethro Tull fame- I’m a diehard Tullhead.)
    As a matter of fact, there is a lot of English history and Latin and wonderfully obscure stuff in there. It’s brand new- I’ll send you the CD. (I have the MP3 files so don’t need the CD itself.)
    Here’s a sample track, “Enter the Uninvited”, with lyrics. It’s far from the best song on the album, but it does feature Romans, Angles and Saxons, Alfie the Great, and Willie Conk. How many other rock albums (even prog rock) can you say that about?

  5. Hi David,
    you might be interested to know: I got a book today by your mate Frank Barlow: – Thomas Beckett. Not that I’m as obsessed with that subject as some people seem to be, but I’ve found Frank to be a very worthwhile historian. I’m also reading another book of his, The Feudal Kingdom of England. (He’s rather reverent about William – although I have to admit William was quite a singular person.)
    I’ve found Frank to be quite insightful, and to give detail and perspective that I’ve not encountered in any other books on that time. He was clearly a significant historian. Don’t know how he would have been down at the pub, but he must have been quite engaging on the finer points of English history.

  6. Well done NANCY, you get due recognition in the following week’s episode!
    SIMON, I am on record as a lover of kings, dates, and battles. But I accept you have a point – at very least the bread needs leavening a little with some broader stuff. So I try to fit some in as we go – either entire episodes or as part of episodes. And suggestions for other topics always gratefully received!
    ROB, How brilliant to hear Ian Anderson again! Somehow, Jethro kind of passed me by in my youth – and it really shouldn’t have done, they are just the kind of bunch I should have listened to. But I spent my time on Deep Purple, Led Zep, Rainbow, saxon, Feelgood…happy days….
    STEPHEN, I love Frank Barlow. I’m not sure why; after all he’s an academic historian, many of his nooks are standard textbooks. But somehow I always found he explained things easily, he managed to combine a story with the drier stuff. No, I am a big fan!

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