Enacted 1401

The statutes known as De Heretico Comburendo were laws enacted by Parliament to combat heresy in Britain. In a nutshell, the laws established rules regarding how to handle suspected heretics. The most notable aspect of De Heretico is that it legitimised the burning of heretics at the stake as a punishment for promoting heretical views. The title De Heretico Comburendo translates from the Latin as 'Concerning the burning of heretics'.

The laws laid down precise guidelines for legitimate and illegitimate expressions of religious belief. Unlicensed preaching was banned, and heretics were to be brought before Church courts. Those who would not recant beliefs contrary to Church teaching would be found guilty of heresy by those Church courts, and burned at the stake by secular authority.

Pay attention to that last sentence; suspected heretics were tried and convicted by Church courts, and the sentence was carried out by the state. In the medieval world such a blurring of lines between religion and state was part of daily life.

Under the statutes sporadic persecution of heretics was carried out throughout the 15th century and well into the Tudor period. De Heretico Comburendo was finally repealed in 1559.

The statutes of De Heretico Comburendo must be seen as a reaction to the popularity of the Lollard reform movement in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Under the influence of men like John Wycliffe, more and more people were questioning the role of the Church and asking for reform of the Church and of monasticism. To counteract these first stirrings of popular religious reform, the church struck as hard as it dared at those who were questioning its authority.

Most of the supporters of reform would have denied heretical leanings; rather, groups like the Lollards simply wanted the church they knew to become more open and speak more to the needs of common folk. But it would be many years before such sentiments gained enough ground to foster the wide-reaching reforms of Henry VIII. In the meantime, those who professed views critical of the church would have to suffer the possible consequences as laid out in De Heretico Comburendo.