A fragment of John Wyclif’s gown

Heralded by later Protestants as ‘the morning star of the Reformation’, the Oxford don John Wyclif inspired the dissenting sect known as lollardy. After his heterodox theological ideas stirred controversy within the university, he retired to the rectory of Lutterworth in Leicestershire, where he died of a stroke in 1384. Posthumously condemned by the Church as a heretic, in 1428 his bones were exhumed and burnt by officials from the diocese of Lincoln. Traditions and legends linked with his resting place at Lutterworth sprang up during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. By the Victorian era, the church there was the repository of various items connected with him, including a portrait, chair, communion table, and pair of candlesticks. Although the authenticity of these relics was contested by Anglo-Catholics influenced by the Oxford Movement, other Anglicans continued to defend and celebrate them as revered remnants of the proto-reformer. This small piece of fabric is said to be a fragment of a vestment worn by Wyclif. It was acquired from Lutterworth in 1878, possibly by means of pious theft: portions of it were frequently stolen on the assumption that it had miraculous power. It was given to Lambeth Palace Library by the Birmingham Professor of English, Mrs E. E. Duncan-Jones, in 1984. Its preservation attests to the resilience of the myth that John Wyclif planted the seed from which Protestantism in England sprang. AW

A fragment of John Wyclif’s gown preserved at Lutterworth church, Leicestershire, given to Lambeth Palace Library in 1984.


Further Reading

Margaret Aston, ‘John Wyclif’s Reformation Reputation’, in her Images and Reformers (London, 1984), pp. 243–71.

A. H. Dyson, Lutterworth: John Wycliffe’s Town, ed. Hugh Goodacre (London, 1913), pp. 55–6.

Alexandra Walsham, ‘Wyclif’s Well: Lollardy, Landscape and Memory in Post-Reformation England’, in Angela McShane and Garthine Walker (eds), The Extraordinary and the Everyday in Early Modern England: Essays in Honour of the Work of Bernard Capp (Basingstoke, 2010), pp. 142–60.

Extended captions