Wyclif: Medieval Pacifist

During the Anglo-French conflicts that characterised the 14th century, the Oxford theologian John Wyclif challenged the  ‘un-Christian’ pursuit of war and wealth. Yet, just like anti-war protesters today, Wyclif had little influence on Parliament or the king, writes Rory Cox. 

War and human society are familiar acquaintances and for at least 2,500 years, since Plato was writing in the Athenian Academy, intellectuals have debated the justice and injustice of armed conflict. The most famous military theorist of all, Karl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), was convinced that no laws, rules or limits should or could be imposed on war. It is not surprising that a vast variety of individuals has sought to explain it, to justify it and to condemn it.

Yet the condemnation of war is not something typically associated with the European Middle Ages. Rather, it is the familiar image of knights in armour performing chivalric deeds and tales of bloody conflict that emerge from many surviving medieval sources. In these, such actions tend to be esteemed and praised rather than criticised. However, not all medieval intellectuals held the view that warfare was intrinsically noble and glorious and a number wrote critically about it.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email digital@historytoday.com if you have any problems.