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Response to Review of John Wyclif on War and Peace

I am very grateful to Prof Allmand for his detailed and generous review. Prof Allmand’s principal criticism concerns my relatively brief treatment of the afterlife of Wyclif’s pacifism, particularly its influence on lollardy and Hussism. Prof Allmand’s criticism is entirely fair. Although there are several pages in the conclusion in which I consider this topic (particularly Wyclif’s influence on Petr Chelčický), and while I endeavoured to provide references within the footnotes to comparative English lollard works, these were areas of research that I would have liked to develop further. That being said, my reasons for focussing on the intellectual foundations of Wyclif’s thought on war, rather than the development of his ideas after his death, were threefold.

Firstly, there has been a trend in recent years to see Wyclif only as an appendage of lollardy. This is partly a result of the success of lollard studies over the last three decades, but the effect has been to encourage a very forward looking view of Wyclif – seeing him as the starting point of English religious dissent – rather than seeing him as the intellectual product of what came before him. Wyclif could not have known or predicted how lollardy (and certainly not Protestantism) would develop after his death in 1384. It is even questionable whether he would have accepted or condoned the views and actions of many who claimed him as an inspiration. Moreover, to read Wyclif only as a means to understand lollardy (or Hussism), suggests that Wyclif’s ideas are not of intrinsic interest in themselves, or reflect little of worth about his intellectual heritage. By adopting what might be considered a backward looking view of Wyclif, it was my intention to situate Wyclif firmly in the intellectual context of the late fourteenth century and the millennium or more of intellectual history which had produced this milieu. The main purpose of this, as Prof Allmand observes, was to highlight just how different and radical Wyclif’s ideas about violence were, especially when compared to those that had preceded him.

The second two reasons were the result of limitations of different kinds. My own limitation was the inability to read Czech. While much work on Hussism is available in German, many of the primary texts and secondary literature remain in the original language; without a working knowledge of this corpus, I did not feel confident in making assertions concerning the survival of Wyclif’s pacifism in Bohemia. While offering some suggestions for comparison in the conclusion, I was reluctant to speculate further on the complexities of Hussite theology and literature. Without adequate linguistic skills, tracing the history of ideas – difficult and highly nuanced at the best of times ­– is all but impossible.

The final reason was the strict word limit of the Royal Historical Society’s Studies in History series. At 90,000 words (including bibliography), volumes in the series are intended to be coherent and streamlined; this is undoubtedly a good thing, but in the case of this study, it meant that some promising paths had to be left for others to explore. I am convinced that further research into the afterlife of Wyclif’s doctrine of pacifism, in both lollardy and particularly in Hussism, will yield fascinating results, and it is pleasing that Prof Allmand agrees. If my book encourages other scholars to pursue such lines of enquiry, then I will consider it a job well done.

My thanks go again to Prof Allmand and the editors of Reviews in History.