Gateway to the Classics: The World's Story: England by Eva March Tappan
The World's Story: England by  Eva March Tappan

Wiclif on Trial

by Ford Madox Brown

(English painter,  1821-1893)

IN 1377 John Wiclif, "the Morning Star of the Reformation," was bidden by the authorities of the Church to appear before the Convocation in St. Paul's, London, and give an account of the new doctrines he was teaching. He appeared in due season, but with an escort that was hardly expected, for John, Duke of Gaunt, son of the king, and in reality exerciser of the powers of prime minister, was with him. Lord Percy, Earl-Marshal, and a band of soldiers also accompanied him. The "trial," so called, resolved itself into a violent quarrel between the Bishop of London and the king's son. This soon became a general riot, and to quiet the disturbance Wiclif was allowed to retire to his church at Lutterworth.

In the picture, Courtney, Bishop of London, sits on the dais at the extreme right. At Wiclif's feet sit the five friars who have been appointed as his counsel. John of Gaunt, naked sword in hand, is apparently snapping his fingers at the bishop, and making so threatening a speech that his wife, the Princess Constance, seizes him by the robe lest he turn his sword against that dignitary. Chaucer, another friend of the Duke's, sits in the background at the right with inkstand and quill pen, quietly taking notes. Wiclif stands before the bar. Lord Percy has just ordered a stool to be brought for him. "An you must answer for all these books, Doctor, you will need a soft seat," he says; whereat the wrath of the bishop increases. Wiclif, however, remains standing.

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