Friday, December 20, 2019

Arnold on heresy trials in medieval England

John H. Arnold (University of Cambridge) has published the following article: "Voicing Dissent: Heresy Trials in Later Medieval England," Past & Present 245:1 (Nov. 2019), 3-37. Here is the abstract:
Recent work on medieval heresy has emphasized the ‘constructedness’ of heresy by orthodox power, thus undermining the coherence of heretical sects and tending to suggest that those tried as heretics were essentially unwitting victims. This article examines the evidence from the entire range of surviving Lollard trials, and argues that we can see consciously ‘dissenting’ speech alongside the standard theological positions associated with (and perhaps imposed upon) Lollardy. In each area of dissent anticlerical, sceptical, disputational and rebellious a wider cultural context is explored, demonstrating that the language of dissent is not limited to ‘Lollardy’; at the same time however it is argued that it is precisely through the voicing and reception of such wider referents that a heretical movement comes to exist. The article traces trends in medieval speech through which specific opinions and beliefs are voiced as a challenge, and the linguistic and social contexts within which they give rise to wider meanings—including collective identifications. Thus, whilst we may wish to foreground the impositions of power and orthodoxy that ‘made’ heresy, we should not make ‘heretics’ disappear completely. Through the records of prosecution, we can still hear something of the voices of those who chose to voice dissent; and we can give recognition to that choice as a form of dissenting agency—dependent also however on the reception and interpretation of those voices by neighbours, witnesses and inquisitors.
Further information is available here

--Mitra Sharafi