With the accession of the Lancastrian house the crown allied itself with the church, and the bishops adopted a repressive policy towards the Lollards. By the canon law obstinate heretics were to be burnt by the secular power, and though England had hitherto been almost free from heresy, one or two burnings had taken place in accordance with that law. In 1401 a statute, De heretico comburendo, ordered that heretics convicted in a spiritual court should be committed to the secular arm and publicly burned, and, while this statute was pending, one Sawtre was burned as a relapsed heretic. Henry V was zealous for orthodoxy and the persecution of Lollards increased; in 1414 Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, who had been condemned as a heretic, escaped and made an insurrection; he was taken in 1417 and hanged and burned. Lollardism was connected with an insurrection in 1431; it then ceased to have any political importance, but it kept its hold in certain towns and districts on the lower classes; many Lollards were forced to recant and others suffered martyrdom.

The church was in an unsatisfactory state. As regards the papacy, the crown generally maintained the position taken up in the previous century, but its policy was fitful, and the custom of allowing bishops who were made cardinals to retain their sees strengthened papal influence. The bishops were largely engaged in secular business; there was much plurality, and cathedral and collegiate churches were frequently left to inferior officers whose lives were unclerical. The clergy were numerous and drawn from all classes, and humble birth did not debar a man from attaining the highest positions in the church. Candidates for holy orders were still examined, but clerical education seems to have declined. Preaching was rare, partly from neglectfulness and partly because, in 1401, in order to prevent the spread of heresy, priests were forbidden to preach without a licence. While the marriage of the clergy was checked, irregular and temporary connections were lightly condoned. Discipline generally was lax, and exhortations against field-sports, tavern haunting and other unclerical habits seem to have had little effect. Monasticism had declined. Papal indulgences and relics were hawked about chiefly by friars, though these practices were discountenanced by the bishops.

On the other hand, all education was carried on by the clergy, and religion entered largely into the daily life of the people, into their gild-meetings, church-ales, mystery-plays and holidays, as well as into the great events of family life; baptisms, marriages and deaths. Many stately churches were built in the prevailing Perpendicular style, often by efforts in which all classes shared, and many hamlet chapels supplemented the mother church in scattered parishes. The revival of classical learning scarcely affected the church at large. Greek learning was regarded with suspicion by many churchmen, but the English humanists were orthodox. The movement had little to do with the coming religious conflicts, which indeed killed it, save that it awoke in some learned men like Sir Thomas More a desire for ecclesiastical, though not doctrinal, reform, and led many to study the New Testament of which Erasmus published a Greek text and Latin paraphrases.

This text forms part of the History of the Church of England originally part of the entry ENGLAND, CHURCH OF from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the content of which lies within the public domain.

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