On a broader scene, Lowe was a humanist at a time when his Augustinian confreres in Italy (and most particularly in Florence) were significant contributors to the movement, and during the time of the papacy of Eugene IV (1431 – 1447) who was favourable to the Augustinian Order.
John Lowe was born near Droitwich on the River Salwarpe in northern Worcestershire, England, in about the year 1380. He entered the Austin Friary of that small town, and was most probably sent to undertake his theological studies at the Augustinian friary in Lincoln.
He was ordained an acolyte there on 18th September 1400, and a deacon on 20th December 1403. By 1420 he had obtained his magisterium (doctorate of theology) with the Augustinians in Oxford.
He was then urged by two Masters (i.e., persons with what is now called a doctorate) of Theology, Richard Dodington and Frank Clerk to seek affiliation with the Austin Friars in London. (In that era, a friar usually remained in the house that he had originally joined, and which had paid for his education and training.) Lowe received the necessary permission from the Order to do so, and eventually became Prior of Austin Friary (Augustinian community) in London.
One of his major achievements in the London friary was to build a significant library, both in its size and its number of books. As will be explained later, it is not known whether he did this during his time there as Prior, or later when he had become a bishop, or even during both of these periods in his life.
Of Lowe’s library-building in London, Thomas Fuller in his History of the Worthies of England (published posthumously in 1662) wrote on p. 168: "He was a great book-monger, and on that score, Bale (no friend of friars) giveth him a large testimonial. He deserves well of posterity in preserving many ancient manuscripts and bestowing them on the magnificent library which he furnished at St Augustine's in London. But alas! That library at the Dissolution vanished away with the fine spire steeple of the same church (oh, the swallow of sacrilege!), one person, who shall be nameless, imbezelling both books and building to his private profit...”
(Fuller was referring to the first Marquis iof Winchester, who bought the Austin Friars in London from Henry VIII after the king had confiscated it from the Augustinian Order.)
Dodington who had partaken in the process of heresy against Oldcastle, Lord of Cobham, saw in Lowe a kindred soul burning with desire to stamp out heresy. He was not mistaken. Throughout his life Lowe waged a vigourous battle against Lollardism and partook zealously in all convocations called for their suppression.
In 1423 Lowe was a member of the panel of theologians appointed by the Convocation of Canterbury for the examination of the charge of heresy against Master (“doctor”) William Taylor, a secular priest. Taylor was found guilty, refused to recant and was, therefore, burnt at the stake in Smithfield on 2nd March 1422. Like Lowe, other learned mendicants supplied the intellectual weapons for the destruction of the Lollards, whose hatred of friars was, therefore, understandable.
On Sunday, 23rd October 1423, he was scheduled to preach at St Paul's Cross, London, which was a traditional outdoor preaching place in the grounds of St Paul's Cathedral. A canon of the cathedral, named Peter Henewyk, stopped him from entering the pulpit, and bitterly vilified him. The Acts (formal decisions) of the Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral about the incident do not give the reason for Henewyk's action nor the content of his tirade, but merely reported his trial and punishment.
(Continued on the next page.)