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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

Women and Lollardy in Norwich

Women and Lollardy in Norwich

The Lollards were, loosely speaking, followers of John Wycliffe, and forerunners of Protestantism in England.  Although their beliefs appear to have varied in some respects, in essence they believed that the Bible should be available for all to read, and in the priesthood of all believers: in consequence they were persecuted by the established church. The records of the Norwich Heresy Trials (1428-1431) are still extant, and give us much information about Lollard belief and practice. The trials feature several women, including Hawisia Mone and Margery Baxter, who were both tried for heresy in Norwich.

Hawisia Mone

Hawisia was married to Thomas, a Loddon cordwainer. Thomas appears to have been fairly wealthy, and kept several servants.  By 1430 their daughter had achieved adulthood, and there may have been other children. They lived in a big house in Loddon, but appear to have known people from a much wider area, and certainly at the time of his trial for heresy Thomas had recently travelled to Horning. 

By 1430 we understand Thomas to be elderly and frail, sufficiently so to have had his punishment suspended (although his higher social status may have provided a further reason for the suspended sentence).  Three of his servants were also tried for heresy, and it appears that a daughter, and possibly a godson, also shared these beliefs.  Hawisia and Thomas regularly held meetings in their spacious home, and offered hospitality, friendship and support to many Lollards.  They also appear to have hidden Lollards under threat of persecution, and to have provided for them financially.  Hawisia is at pains to point out that their visitors included "significant names, including many entitled ‘Sir‘".

Hawisia herself attended Lollard (adult) schools, where she learned Lollard doctrine, and later became a teacher herself in a school in their own home, to which many people came from quite a distance, including several priests. Although Hawisia was unable to sign her own name at her trial (not unusual at that time) she did have her own seal.  She is clearly familiar with the Biblical text, which she quotes appositely during the trial. She clearly held strong beliefs herself, which she understood and was able to express clearly, and was not just a follower of her husband. 

Hawisia recanted as a result of her trial: however, one is left with the impression that a woman of such strong beliefs may well have only be paying lip-service to the authorities in so doing.   Although Hawisia appears not to have been punished for her beliefs, many Lollards lost their lives for their faith.  The penalty for relapsed heretics was death by burning: in Norwich this took place in the Lollards‘ pit, at the bottom of Gas Hill. 

Extract of text of Hawisia Mone‘s trial summarising her beliefs

(translated into modern English)

"I have been right homely and privy with many heretics, knowing them for heretics, and them I have received and harboured in our house, and them I have concealed, comforted, supported, maintained and favoured with all my poor - which heretics... names, including significant, many entitled ‘Sir‘, priests, of Seething, Loddon, ... which have oft times kept, held and continued schools of heresy in private chambers and private places of ours, in the which schools I have heard, conceived, learned and reported the errors and heresies which be written and contained in these indentures, that is to say:

First, that the sacrament of Baptism done in water in the accustomed form of the Church is but a trifle and not to be pondered, all Christ‘s people are sufficiently baptised in the blood of Christ, and so Christ‘s people need no other baptism.

Also that the sacrament of confirmation done by a bishop is of no avail nor necessary to be had for as much as when a child has discretion and can and will understand the word of God it is sufficiently confirmed by the Holy Spirit and needs no other confirmation.

Also that confession should be made only to God, and to no other priest, for no priest has power to remit sin, nor to absolve a man of any sin.

Also that no man is bound to do penance which any priest enjoins him to do for their sins which they have confessed to the priest, for sufficient penance for all manner of sin is every person to abstain from lying, backbiting and evil-doing, and no man is bound to do any other penance.

Also that no priest has power to make Christ‘s true body at Mass in the form of bread, but that after the sacramental words said at Mass of the priest there remains only material bread.

Also that the Pope of Rome is father Antichrist, and false in all his working, and has no power of God more than any other lewd man but if he be more holy in living, nor has the Pope more power to make bishops, priests nor other orders, and he that the people call the Pope of Rome is no pope but a false extortioner and a deceiver of the people.

Also that he only that is most holy and most perfect in living on earth is the true pope, and these that be called priests are not priests, but they are lecherous and covetous men and false deceivers of the people, and with their subtle teaching and preaching, singing and reading piteously they pile the people of their goods, and therewith they sustain their pride, their lechery, their sloth and all other vices, and always they make new laws and new ordinances to curse and cruelly kill all other persons that hold against that vicious living. 

Also that only consent of love between man and woman, without contract of words and without solemnization in church and without symbred[?] asking, is sufficient for the sacrament of matrimony.

Also it is but a trifle to anoint a sick man with holy oil by a bishop, for it is sufficient for every man at his last end only to have healing from God.

Also that every man may lawfully withdraw and withhold tithes and offerings from priests and curates and give them to the poor people, and that is more pleasing to God.

Also that the temporal lords and temporal men may lawfully take all possessions and temporal goods from all men of the holy Church, and from all bishops and prelates both horse and harness, and give their goods to poor people, and thereto the temporal men be bound in pain of deadly sin.

Also that it is no sin for any person to do contrary to the precepts of holy Church.

Also that every man and every woman being in good life out of sin is as good priest and has as much power of God in all things as any ordained priest, be he pope or bishop.

Also that censures of holy Church, sentences and curses nor of suspending given by prelates or ordinaries should not be feared or dreaded, for God blesses the curses of the bishops and ordinaries.

Also that it is not lawful to swear in any case, nor is it lawful to pletyn[?] for anything.

Also that it is not lawful to slay a man for any cause, nor be process of law to condemn any traitor or any man for any treason or felony to death, nor to put any man to death for any cause, but every man should leave all vengeance only to the sentence of God.

Also that no man is bound to fast in Lent, Ember Days, Fridays nor vigils of saints, but all such days and times it is lawful to all Christ‘s people to eat flesh and all manner of meats regardless at their own will as often as they have appetite as well as any other days which be not commanded to be fasted.

Also that no pilgrimage needs to be done or made, for all pilgrimage going serves of nothing but to give goods to priests that are already too rich, and to make tapsters and ostlers happy and proud. 

Also that no worship nor reverence should be done to any images of the crucifix, of Our Lady, nor of any other saints, for all such images are but idols and made by working of man‘s hand, but worship and reverence should be done to the image of God, which only is man.

Also that all prayer should be made only to God and to no other saints, for it is doubtful if their be any such saints in heaven as those singing masses approve and command to be worshipped and prayed to here on earth."

[There follows her recantation, signed with a cross, and set with her signet.]

Margery Baxter

Margery Baxter was a married woman living in Martham.  She clearly knew, and had been influenced by, Hawisia Moone.  Margery seems to have been much less balanced, and to have had a confused and idiosyncratic interpretation of the Lollard teachings.  She was very outspoken, not always wisely, and far from orthodox in her understanding of Lollard doctrines.  She is well known for her colourful sayings during the trial; for instance, she supported her argument against the orthodox use of images, including crucifixes, by stretching out her arms and saying, "this is the true cross of Christ, and you ought and can see and adore that cross every day here in your own house".

During her trial, too, she pointed out that in clear, if blunt, terms that if the bread and wine served at Mass were literally the body and blood of Christ, it would nevertheless be evacuated from the body within a short space of time!

Margery was accused of saying that ‘the church existed only in the homes of those who belonged to her sect‘.  However, she also believed, contrary to Lollard doctrine, that prayers could be made to holy men of God who had died, who would then intercede for her, and she herself prayed to William White, a deceased Lollard leader.  Margery was not an orthodox Lollard; whilst clearly overflowing with zeal, she appears to have been less discerning than Hawisia, possibly less literate, definitely less discreet, but no less courageous in standing firm in her faith. 

Further reading:

  • Heresy Trials in the Diocese of Norwich 1428-31, N. P. Tanner - analysis of the trials, followed by the text (which alternates between mediaeval Latin and English, but no translation given).
  • Traditions and transformations in late medieval England (The Northern world : North Europe and the Baltic c. 400-1700 AD ; peoples, economies and cultures, 2 - section entitled  Local girls do it better : women and religion in late medieval East Anglia, Rosenthal, Joel Thomas) Biggs, Douglas; Reeves, A. Compton; Michalove, Sharon D. (ed.). Leiden: Brill, 2001. xvii, 268 p. ISBN 9004123415. ISSN 15691462.

Penny Doe

November 2007