Wycliffe's England: A Time of Turmoil
The medieval map gives a hint of 14th Century England as it was. The countryside was more deeply wooded than now. The rivers show prominently, probably because boats were more reliable transportation. Roads, more like wide tracks or paths, are marked on the map as the crow flies. Already London was the hub of communications with the main roads fanning out in all directions. Figuring 20 to 25 miles a day by small cart or horseback, the mileage shown between towns helped the pilgrim calculate how many days journey from London to Canterbury. Not seen on the map were the four million who populated England. Ninety percent were villagers and most were illiterate.
The language of the people was in transition during Wycliffe’s time. The wealthy generally spoke French from past Norman influence. They used the local English dialect only when they spoke with inferiors. But in 1362, English replaced French as the language of the courts. By 1385, English schoolboys were interpreting their Latin into English instead of French. Latin remained the language of the church, of the university, and of universal communication. Of the many English dialects, the Midland English eventually prevailed since it was spoken in London and Oxford. Also, Midland English was popularized by Chaucer and Wycliffe, both of whom wrote in this dialect.
Everyday life was so time-consuming and tiring that there was no time left for general education. Most lay people were small farmers, rural laborers, personal servants, staff members of great households, soldiers, and small craftsmen. Some might have gone to a small local ABC school as children but nothing after that. There is little evidence that girls went to school at all. By Wycliffe’s time, the people were slowly ...