If Wyclif escaped the wrath and vengeance of Rome because of his high rank as a theological doctor, his connection with the University of Oxford, opposed to itinerating beggars with great pretensions and greedy ends, and his friendship and intercourse with the rulers of the land, his followers did not. They became very numerous, and were variously called Lollards, Wyclifites, and Biblemen. They kept alive evangelical religion until the time of Cranmer and Latimer, their distinguishing doctrine being that the Scriptures are the only rule of faith. There was no persecution of them of any account during the reign of Richard II.,—although he was a hateful tyrant,—probably owing to the influence of his wife, a Bohemian princess, who read Wyclif’s Bible; but under Henry IV. evil days fell upon them, and persecution was intensified under Henry V. (1413-1422) because of their supposed rebellion. The Lollards under Archbishop Chicheley, as early as 1416, were hunted down and burned as heretics. The severest inquisition was instituted to hunt up those who were even suspected of heresy, and every parish was the scene of cruelties. I need not here enumerate the victims of persecution, continued with remorseless severity during the whole reign of Henry VII. But it was impossible to suppress the opinions of the reformers, or to prevent the circulation of the Scriptures. The blood of martyrs was the seed of the Church. Persecution in this instance was not successful, since there was a noble material in England, as in Germany, for Christianity to work upon. It was in humble homes, among the yeomanry and the artisans, that evangelical truth took the deepest hold, as in primitive times, and produced the fervent Christians of succeeding centuries, such as no other country has produced. In no country was the Reformation, as established by Edward VI. and Elizabeth, so complete and so permanent, unless Scotland and Switzerland be excepted. The glory of this radical reform must be ascribed to the humble and persecuted followers of Wyclif,—who proved themselves martyrs and witnesses, faithful unto death,—more than to any of the great lights which adorned the most brilliant period of English history.
The Works of Wyclif, as edited by F. D. Matthew; The Life and Sufferings of Wicklif, by I. Lewis (Oxford, 1820); Life of Wiclif, by Charles Wehle Le Bas (1846); John de Wycliffe, a Monograph, by Robert Vaughan, D. D. (London, 1853); Turner’s History of England should be compared with Lingard. Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History; Neander’s Church History; Wordsworth’s Ecclesiastical Biography; Gieseler, Milner, and general historians of the Church; Geikie’s English Reformation. A German Life of Wyclif, by Dr. Lechler, is often quoted by Matthew, and has been fortunately translated into English. These is also a slight notice of Wyclif by Fisher, in his History of the Reformation.