John Wyclif—All Women’s Friend?

  • Alastair Minnis
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


He was evir (God wait) all womanis frend.” Thus Gavin Douglas, in a passage in the Middle Scots translation of the Aeneid that he completed in 1513, sought to excuse Chaucer for depicting Aeneas as a false traitor in love, thereby calling in question the twelve years of labor that Virgil had put into his poem. One could expect nothing else from Chaucer, argues Douglas, since he was a friend to all women.1 This passage is, of course, very well known and rightly has received much attention. Less well known is the charge by Thomas Netter (ca. 1377–1430), Carmelite theologian and confessor of King Henry V, that the main target of his righteous indignation, the heresiarch John Wyclif, was a shameless worker for women:

Wyclif himself was not embarrassed to labor frequently on behalf of woman (non erubuit&pluries laborare pro foentina) in his book On [the Power ojj The pope, to the end that she might be suitable as a priest of the church, or a bishop, or a pope. I am ashamed to tell this story about a Christian man, a story which will be known to the Jews, will make a mockery of faith, and will be a scandal for the Saracens. But on the other hand, I am afraid to hide a whirlpool of such foulness: especially since from this very place [that is, this text] I believe that his followers have assumed the authority of ordaining women priests, who arc celebrating masses and other sacraments, being “readeresses” (lectrices) of the Scriptures and “preacheresses” (praedi-catrices) in the gatherings of Lollards.2


Absolute Power High Office Trial Record Power Distinction Female Ministry 
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© Bonnie Wheeler 2006

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  • Alastair Minnis

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