Lollards, a name given to several religious associations in the middle ages. Its etymology has been variously explained. Some suppose that it comes from the Ger. lullen, to hum, so that the term would signify persons speaking at religious services with a low, suppressed voice; others consider it a term of reproach, derived from the old English word loller, a vagabond; others derive it from Matthew Lol-laert, a Dutch heretic who was put to death. In some papal bulls and other documents, by a sort of pun, the term Lollard is used as a syno-nyme for lollia, the tares which grow up with the wheat of the church. The name first appears in the Netherlands about the year 1300, and was sometimes given to a religious congregation of men who devoted themselves to nursing the sick and burying the dead, and who called themselves Alexians; sometimes to the societies of the Beguins. In England it was applied to the adherents of Wycliffe as early as 1382, and in 1387 and 1389 it was used in episcopal documents. It remained a common appellation of the adherents of Wycliffe until the beginning of the reformation of the 16th century. The Lollards maintained all the principal doctrines of Wycliffe, especially that of the Scriptures being the only rule of faith.
At his death their number in England seems to have been very great. A chronicler of that time remarks that it was difficult to meet two people in the street without one being a Wycliffite. John Hereford, doctor of theology in Oxford, John Ayshton, magister in Oxford, and John Purney, a friend of Wycliffe, were their leading men. In 1394 they petitioned the parliament for a reformation of the church. In 1401 an act of parliament de hceretico comburendo made death the penalty of heresy, and many suffered this punishment; among them, in 1417, Sir John Oldcastle, Baron Cobham. The last executions took place in 1430 and 1431. After that time the Lollards ceased to be numerous, and were found almost exclusively among the lower classes. But toward the middle of the 15th century a bishop of Chichester, Reginald Pecock, still mentions them in his principal work, "The Repressor," as "erring persoones of the lay peple whiche ben clepid lollards." He calls them in another part of his work "Biblemen," and mentions expressly that they possessed the New Testament in the native language, that they learned it by heart, and that they preferred the reading of the Bible to the instruction given by priests and scholars.
In 1494 several Lollards, men and women, were prosecuted in the western district of Scotland; and in 1506 30 persons of Amersham, a principal seat of the Lollards, were punished for heresy. In the 16th century the Lollards gradually united with the reformed churches.