The Journal of Ecclesiastical History

Research Article

Inventing the Lollard Past: The Afterlife of a Medieval Sermon in Early Modern England


a1 Department of History, University of Exeter, Amory Building, Rennes Drive, Exeter EX4 4RJ; e-mail:


This essay explores the evolving significance of a famous fourteenth-century Paul's Cross sermon by Thomas Wimbledon in late medieval and early modern England and its transmission from manuscript to print. It highlights the ideological ambiguity of the text against the backdrop of the academic Wycliffite challenge and shows how it illuminates the permeability of the boundary between heterodoxy and orthodoxy in the fifteenth century. It then examines how the sermon was revived and published in the mid-Tudor period as a Lollard tract as part of an effort to supply the new Protestant religion with an historical pedigree and how it subsequently entered into the popular stock of commercial publishers. The afterlife of Wimbledon's celebrated sermon sheds fresh light on the ongoing process of inventing and re-inventing the pre-Reformation past.


I would like to thank Margaret Aston, Julia Crick, Patrick Collinson, Alec Ryrie and the anonymous reader for this Journal for commenting upon earlier drafts of this article. Members of the audience at the session of the Leeds International Medieval Congress, at which a paper based on it was delivered in July 2004, also offered helpful suggestions.