Sir John Oldcastle

Sir John Oldcastle was born in Almeley, Herefordshire around the 1360s or 1370s. He was a Lollard leader and aclose friend of king Henry V but was eventually executed for treason in 1417. He is also presumed to the basis for Shakespeare's character of Falstaff.

Lollardy had many supporters in Herefordshire. It was one of the predecessors to Protestantism, and was led by John Wycliffe who was a priest and seminary professor at the University of Oxford. Wycliffe translated the Bible into English and sent men out into the English countryside to preach the good news.

His writings greatly influenced the Czech reformer Jan Hus whose execution in 1415 sparked a revolt by the Hussites in Bohemia. Also, in 1415 (after Wycliffe's death) the Council of Constance declared Wycliffe a heretic and banned his writings. They decreed that Wycliffe's works should be burned and his bodily remains removed from consecrated ground. This order, confirmed by Pope Martin V, was carried out in 1428.

The Lollards were convicted to hold the Bible to be the only valid source of doctrine, and this led to them rejecting many teachings of Roman Catholicism, including the veneration of saints and relics, icons, prayers for the dead, pilgrimages, holy water, exorcisms, the extra sacraments (even rejecting that baptism and confession are necessary for salvation), requiem masses, transubstantiation, clerical celibacy, purgatory, indulgences, monasticism and the position of the Pope. You can read The Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards to see some of these points declared.

The famous peasant leader, John Ball, preached Lollardy, but Wycliffe and other Lollards opposed the revolt.  

During the reign of king Richard II (1377-99) there was a group of gentry known as the 'Lollard knights', and these managed to survive without falling to the persecution that many other Lollards had, but this is mainly because, unlike Sir John Oldcastle, they give much hint of open rebellion.

Measures were taken to drive Lollardy underground, which led to the burning in 1410 of John Badby, a craftsman and the first layman in English history to be executed for the crime of heresy. Oldcastle, despite being a close friend of Henry V, was brought to trial for his Lollard beliefs. He was declared a heretic as he refused admit the necessity of confession to a priest, and also said the veneration of images was 'the great sin of idolatry'.


But he managed to escape from the Tower of London and attempted to kidnap the king, but failed. Oldcastle's revolt made Lollardy even more of a threat to the state, so during the next century a lot more Lollard martyrs were executed. They managed to keep it underground for over a hundred years until they were absorbed into the Protestant Reformation.

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