“Unworthie to be clept a christian man”

John Wycliffe (ca. 1320-1384)

I’ve been reading a bit about King Richard II (1367-1400) of England, and ran across a passage that’s simultaneously funny and, to my taste, very touching.

Lollardy or Lollardism was an English religious reform movement (closely associated with the Oxford scholar John Wycliffe) that existed from the middle of the fourteenth century (i.e., about the time of King Richard’s birth) until the English Reformation.  It was quite popular in some circles, even within the royal family.  For example, although Richard himself opposed it, his first wife (Good Queen Anne) had distinctly Lollard sympathies.  But the church establishment and most of the nobility opposed it for, among many other things, its democratizing tendency.

One committed Lollard associated with the court was a knight by the name of Sir Lewis Clifford, not otherwise particularly notable.  At a certain point, though, he came under intense pressure from the king, who ultimately turned him over to ecclesiastical discipline.  Fearful, Sir Lewis recanted his Lollard beliefs.  But, afterwards, he felt awful about his failure of nerve, so he included the following as one of the clauses in his will:

“I, Lowys Clifford, fals and traytor to my Lord God and to all the blessed company of Hevene, an unworthie to be clept a christian man, make and ordeyne my testament: my wretched carcass to be buried in the ferthest corner of the churchyard, that on my stinking carcass be but a black cloth and no stone whereby any man may wit where my stinking carcass lieth.”

I believe that Sir Lewis Clifford was truly repentant, and I hope and expect that the Lord will be merciful to him, and gracious beyond his wildest imagining.


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