“Elizabeth knew it was a fast day, but the rumbling in her belly was harder to ignore than the grumbling of the preacher.” ― Anya Seton, The Winthrop Woman.
English Puritanism. The extremist religious domination that arose the Elizabethan Religious Settlement of 1559, and ‘thrived’ at a rate, unprecedented to contribute to the religiously disgruntled sentiments that made the Revolution of 1640 – 1660 inevitable. Its roots were Genevan, yet it acquired a very English (xenophobic!) identity that asserted itself violently upon the brumous Stuart monarchs in the aftermath of the Golden Age, resulting firstly into leading a ‘Divine’ male Monarch to a public trial and then to an appointment with the executioner’s axe; and secondly into changing the fundamentals of Anglicanism, imparting to it a more puritanical streak than what was desired by its genitor. Most importantly, its rise legitimized several political philosophies, in theory and practice, that prepared the bed for the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to manifest itself in the constitutional history of the British Isles.
This essay seeks to inquire into the events that led to the rise of English Puritanism in Elizabethan England (1558 – 1603), and its consolidation under the two early Stuarts (1603 – 1642), before it accounted, as ‘a’ long term [religious] precondition, to the Revolution of 1640 – 1660.
A (re)definition ?
Puritanism has traditionally been defined in relation to Anglicanism, since historians viewed it as the radical Protestant alternative to the Anglican Church and the ‘ideology of a small but assertive opposition group who wanted to align the Church of England with the Reformed Church on the Continent’, purging the Established Church of its popish ‘superstitions’ and ‘bringing a biblical morality to English society’. The term ‘Puritan’ was first coined during the Vestiarian Controversy of the mid-1560s to slur the Elizabethan precisionist zealots who resisted conforming to the conservative rubrics laid down in the 1559 Prayer Book; under the Stuarts, they had drifted into (extreme) ‘godly’ Presbyterianism.
With research making it obvious that there was no profound theological cleavage within the Elizabethan Church but that on the contrary there was in general a ‘Calvinist consensus’. Puritans were not an easily identified group within the Church who held distinct opinions about doctrine, liturgy and discipline; nor were they merely a reforming group who saw the 1559 Settlement as terminus ad quem and endeavoured to obtain further instalments of reform. The redefinition of mainstream Protestantism and rejection of the name ‘Anglicanism’ clearly posed a problem for historians (Lawrence Stone, Christopher Hill, Richard Greaves) used to treating Puritans in this manner. Theoretically the two share no difference and this has melted down to scholarly frustration in finding a definite meaning for the former. Some have discarded the word ‘Puritan’ along with ‘Anglican’. Others, such as Paul Christianson, have responded to the problem by defining ‘Puritan’ more narrowly, and limiting it to Presbyterians and hardened nonconformists who would not obey the orders of the bishops yet did not separate themselves from the Church of England and accepted the royal supremacy, albeit with some reservations. Both these approaches, however, dissatisfied Patrick Collinson and Peter Lake for whom Puritans were Protestants, both lay and clerical, whose religious enthusiasm and zeal marked them off from their ‘ungodly’ adiaphoristic lukewarm neighbours. Despite a Protestant humanist essence, both differed in their tolerance of Anglican edification, Pre – destination, the Catholic fret and social questions. Susan Doran, quite contrarily, has claimed that ‘Puritans were not members of a separatist sect standing outside the Church of England, nor were they members of an opposition group in the House of Commons. They cannot be distinguished from conformist Protestants by their belief in a Predestinarian theology, or in a Presbyterian form of church government, or in a capitalist social theory. It was only the intensity of their religious experience, their style of personal piety and their commitment to further religious reform that gave them a particular identity and earned them their pejorative nickname’. What was first non – conformity turned into intolerance and then frenzy for obligatory variolation of the ‘true’ religious order that was threatened by Catholicism and the ‘Protestant others’ like Erastianism, Socinianism and Arminianism.
A genesis …
The blueprint of Puritanism was laid in 1559 in a ‘deftly plotted bargain’ – the Elizabethan Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity and Royal Injunctions – that gave England a religious settlement that was neither Catholic nor Protestant. It established an exclusive church within the Montmartre of Common Law – ‘ceremony – centred, but not popish; reformed yet Episcopalian’, harbouring no official statement of Faith. It severed all ties with the Holy See, reinforced the English Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, and English, rather than Latin was employed in service. The ‘popish apparatuses’ of images, relics, pilgrimages, indulgences, etc. were done away with and Communion, discarding Mass, was brought in. Yet, major Catholic quorum survived: ‘the congregation was to kneel for prayers to God and to bow and doff their caps at the name of Jesus; alters or communion tables were ordinarily to stand ‘alter – wise’ at the east end of churches; the traditional special wafers were used for communion, rather than the ordinary bread specified in 1552; the clergy were to wear copes when they celebrated communion and the surplice at other times; endowments for choirs and music were to be retained; and though, most possessions were to be abolished, the beating the bounds of the parish was to continue, with an injunction to respect property rights’.
This instance of via media between Geneva and Rome was a master – stroke of politico – religious coalition which can only be attributed to so pragmatic a monarch as Elizabeth who carried her religion with a difference – to her it was less a personal faith than a political ideology. She focused on the secular, rather than spiritual implications of the Protestant doctrines, conceiving the advancement of religion in terms of an international struggle, and hence from her, originated the push of religious zeal to shape English politics. Simultaneously, she perceived the importance of potlatch in public life – ‘to abolish Church ceremony was to eliminate royal ceremony as well’ – and carried the outward – conformity of ‘intelligible ceremonial with a very distinct religious and political agenda’. This justified the manner in which the ‘new religion’ was enforced; through ceremonialism, scriptures and state – coercion. Nonetheless, this policy invited assaults from the quarters of Catholic polemicists and Protestant critics. The former grumbled over the heretical ‘leanings’ and persecutions, making the reign contristate with plots and invasions; their strength fizzled out at the end of the 16th century. The latter, however, proved to be more resilient in their slander. To them, ‘the Elizabethan Church was in very poor shape: the laity lacked a basic understanding of Protestant doctrines and was ‘ungodly’ in its behaviour; the clergy was poorly supplied, uneducated and unable to preach; and institutions like the church courts were unreformed and corrupt’. Seigneurial Catholism survived in the many far – flung parishes that continued to be served by Marian priests who did their utmost to frustrate the spread of Protestantism. Moreover, the administration of the Church was barely reformed in Elizabeth’s reign, and many Protestants (and not just Puritans) were dismayed that opportunities had not been taken to overhaul the church courts and bishoprics, as well as to end pluralism and absenteeism in parishes. Above all, the Queen foiled all possibilities of a strong Puritanical emergence in and outside the Parliament, drawing the realm into ‘a papal fold in accord with prescribed legal and constitutional channels’. Her astute standee persevered till the late 1570s, when strong Protestant consent and the compulsive recognition of the dangers posed by the Popish plots subdued her.
The Marian exiles had envisioned England as the “Elect Nation” of Protestantism guided by the Protestant Deborah, upon Elizabeth’s accession in 1558; obviously, the Settlement left them disheartened. What dealt a greater blow was the Elizabethan treatment of the clergy. She had preserved the Catholic ecclesiastical organization, sans the Pope and his cardinals; and her ‘Protestant’ bishops were required to observe some ritualism like garb and celibacy. Their resources turned the wheel of the New Church and aided in the maintenance of her ‘body politic’ – this made them tolerable to the Queen; otherwise they were shunned from the Privy Council in the first thirty years of the reign and humiliated in public. The body retaliated with disobedience; for ‘ambiguity regarding the interpretation of scripture left the Church authorities unable to win the conscientious obedience of many ministers to the orders established by the Crown in Parliament.’ Nonetheless, this period also saw the rise of the intellectual and wealthy parochial clergy, at whose sole disposal was placed the duty of scriptural interpretation, which was done with great authoritarian vigour. And there emerged the dangers of multiple interpretations and their successive reception.
Progress in conflict …
The protestant dismay turned into Puritanical non – conformity over the Vestiarian Controversy of 1565. The Royal Injunctions of 1559 had required the clergy to wear ‘Catholic’ vestments during Communion; this with other traditions of the ‘Old Religion’ provoked clerical dissension. It was a very public debate within the church in which the ‘conformists’ under Archbishop Parker of Canterbury, came up with an explanation to legitimize ritual vestment, much to the chagrin of the con – conformist Puritans, who used the press to put across their arguments and appealed to Bullinger and Gualter at Zurich and Beza and Guillaume Farel in Geneva for support. They tried to demonstrate that the dispute was not merely a squabble about clerical dress but a disagreement about fundamental issues concerning the nature of the reformed Church and Christian liberty. It gradually died down yet in the larger picture, the controversy showed how the absence of an official statement of Faith can lead to differential interpretation of Scriptures by different factions of dissenting clergy.
Close at heels followed the Admonition Controversy of 1572 when the Parliament refused to legalize Puritan non-conformity to the Act of Uniformity. In response, John Field’s An Admonition to the Parliament was published, calling for thorough reform of worship in the Church, abolition of episcopacy, and its replacement with a Presbyterian polity. This appeal built on ideas expressed in 1570 by the then Lady Margaret chair at Cambridge University, Thomas Cartwright, who declared the constitution of the primitive Church to be normative for all time and to provide a standard according to which the hierarchical, episcopal polity of the Elizabethan Church stood condemned. In the controversy that followed the publication of the Admonition, Cartwright elaborated the principles enunciated in the Admonition in his 1573 A Replye to an answere made of M. Doctor Whitgifte. Agaynste the Admonition to the Parliament, defending them against criticisms levelled by Bishop John Whitgift in his 1572 An answere to a certen Libel intituled, An admonition to the Parliament. The Admonition Controversy is traditionally viewed as a conflict between the Presbyterian Cartwright’s insistence that all aspects of the Church are to be ordered according to precepts provided by scripture, and the conformist Whitgift’s claim that scripture does not provide guidelines for the regulation of some aspects of the Church. Other historiographical interpretations stress on the differential interpretation of the Scriptures in a singular fundamental sense, and the drawing of line between the ‘essential’ and the ‘adiaphora’ in religion. It was the beginning of questioning of royal authority (Whitgift was an Elizabethan agent) and validating that subjects are not bound to obey royal ordinances contrary to the teachings of scripture; rather, they are bound to disobey such impious pseudo-laws. This idea latched itself in the existing ideology of a Protestant Commonwealth that have already been envisioned without a ‘ruling head’. The Western Rebellion of 1549 gave birth to some political literature produced by the English church, most notably by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, that advocated the emerging idea that the king was not of absolute necessity in governance. The experience of minority government of Edward VI taught many noblemen that a commonwealth can function quite well with power localized in a council and parliament rather than an absolute monarch. This period proved crucial in the transition from the ideal that the monarch was the state to ‘a polity conscious of existence beyond the life of the king or queen and capable of defining itself ideologically as Protestant …’ Ponet, writing in Elizabeth’s reign, insisted that a commonwealth may continue to exist without a head. Furthermore, with the instance of the body metaphor, he allowed that a body might remove its own head if it should offend the other members. He later used the body metaphor more explicitly as an exhortation to regicide. Indeed, the inefficiency in the closing years of her reign that was attributed to a stagnant monarchy contributed to the declining influence of Magisterial Providence and signs of ‘republican’ developments; Elizabeth’s popularity kept it from reaching challenging proportions – but the unpopular Stuart rule enlarged this vision. This infant idea evolved and was materialised by the English Revolution in the Commonwealth of 1649.
Elizabeth had always considered theological debates to trifles, not acknowledging the strength of religious convictions for pragmatic reasons. This ignorance provided the hinterland for the Presbyterian Movement to emerge in 1571. The bitter experience of the Vestiarian Controversy got aggravated, when the ecclesiastical authorities cancelled existing licences to preach and required ministers to subscribe to the Prayer Book and Thirty-Nine Articles before new ones were issued to them. This new clampdown on Puritans resulted in the suspension and deprivation of ministers who were prepared to live with the surplice and unreformed Prayer Book but on no account would express positive approval of them. The dissidents, consequently, became still more resentful towards the bishops, grew contemptuous of their authority and began to question the scriptural basis for an Episcopal Church. They were joined by a younger generation of clergy and academics, inspired by Calvinist teachings and disillusioned by the failure of the bishops to continue the process of reformation. Aggressive pamphleteering of Puritans like Cartwright, Field and Wilcox articulated the grievances against the episcopal nature of the Elizabethan Church and appealed to the public. The radical program enshrined in the pamphlets appalled alike the ‘conformist’ Protestant and the Crown, who hastened to silence the Press. This hard line Presbyterianism took a stepforward with the 1572 publication of Christopher Goodman’s A Second Admonition to the Government that detailed a Presbyterian Government for the Church. Cartwright and Whitgift launched another decade of debate in paper – but unfortunately for the latter, the demands grew more radical.
Progress in harmony …
Harmony, in a way, also contributed to this extremist development. The period between 1570 – 1590 saw the excommunication of Elizabeth, and culmination of several Catholic plots (the Northern Risings of 1569, the Ridolfi Plot of 1570, the Desmond Plot of 1579, the Throckmorton Plot of 1583 and the Babington Plot of 1586) against her. However, the Elizabethan suppression of Puritanism continued; and to some, this silencing of ‘Protestant’ allies appeared as a serious error. Therefore, individual preachers and ecclesiastic and lay patrons took it upon themselves to keep alive this anti – Catholic elan. For example, in 1578 the Puritan gentry of Norfolk and Suffolk used their contacts at court to sabotage Bishop Edmund Freke’s attempts to suspend nonconformist preachers. Councillors like Burghley, Leicester and Sir Francis Walsingham could usually be counted upon to intervene on behalf of the Puritan gentry of East Anglia and the Midlands. The generous patronage to these radical groups enabled the spread of Presbyterianism to distant counties from the foci of London and Cambridge, at the grass – root level, developing into what Patrick Collinson called a ‘Classical Movement’ – an organization of regional assemblies. The Puritan clergy set up ‘classis’ or ‘synods’ in the counties to meet informally and discuss issues on problems encountered by the ministry. The most radical synods were held in Essex in 1582 – 1589. In fact, not all of them had Presbyterian leanings, yet they collectively voiced issues of parochial concerns.
Despite these developments, Presbyterianism did suffer a setback with the failure of the London Puritans to effect a manipulation of parliamentary elections and subsequently replace the Elizabethan settlement with a Presbyterian Church. The attempt to import Genevan ideas into the existing system got embodied in Peter Turner’s ‘moderate’ parliamentary bill of 1584, yet the House of Commons refused to entertain it. A similar, though ‘radical’ bill, made at the wake of the Babington Plot – Anthony Cope’s bill of 1587 also faced defeat and in both cases, the MPs concerned were fined and shipped to the Tower. These parliamentary failures were accompanied by death of several patrons and leaders of the Movement – the radical Archbishop of Canterbury, Grindal; several Puritan Privy Councillors (Dudley, Walsingham, Russell, Bancroft) and Field. Whitgift’s elevation to the Archdeaconry of Canterbury in 1583 meant that the Crown undertook a ruthless enforcement of conformity to the Church, compelling the Puritans to scramble for other channels of survival .i.e., the press and experimental Presbyterianism. The John Penry’s Marprelate Tracts of 1588 – 89 and the election of secret ‘shadow’ churches in counties based on Walter Traver’s Disciplina Ecclesiae Sacro ex Dei Verbo Descripta (Book of Discipline) were successful answers to their prayers. ‘Theologians such as William Perkins of Cambridge continued to maintain the rigorously high standards of previous Puritans, but now focused their attention on improving individual, as opposed to collective, righteousness’. ‘A characteristic Puritan focus during this period was for more rigorous keeping of the Christian Sabbath. William Perkins is also credited with introducing Theodore Beza‘s version of double predestination to the English Puritans, a view which he popularized through the use of a chart’ he created known as “The Golden Chain”.
The promotion of Anti – Puritan elements in the Privy Council, particularly Christopher Hatton and Walter Midmay and the removal of Catholic threats after the thwarted invasion Spanish Armada in 1588 reduced the Presbyterian vigour. The most significant blow dealt by the conformists was, however, ideological – their advocation of the iure divino (divine right) in support of episcopacy. Both Whitgift and Dr. John Bridges patronized the idea effectively and it became the dominant idea of the new orthodoxy, crushing out the “Classical Movement”. Nevertheless, all Protestants in general, ‘believed that the system of ecclesiastical government should accommodate itself to the form of government in the state and could vary according to historical circumstance. Thus, as a monarchical state England should have a system of church government such as episcopacy which allowed for the exercise of the royal supremacy, and on no account should introduce Presbyterianism, which would restrict the royal supremacy both by excluding the monarch from any role in governing the Church and by denying the Crown any right to determine its structure’.
It is interesting to note that, despite all dissatisfaction and opposition, the Puritans never sought to detach themselves from the Established Church like ‘Separatists’ under Robert Browne and Robert Harrison. It wasn’t until the 1650s that ‘Puritan Separatism’ came into the picture threatening the ecclesiastical order. Thus Puritanism, in particular Presbyterianism, as a ‘religious experience and mentality’ thrived to become a part and parcel of the Elizabethan and Jacobean era.
One Stuart’s trigger …
Elizabeth had firmly established her reign, with such a sacred ‘synonym’ (English and Protestantism) and a religion of ‘antonyms’ that they proved lethal to the Stuarts of Scotland who succeeded her. These Scottish rulers came from a stock of ‘ambiguous’ religious leanings and were heirs to kings who had threatened England with border wars and conspiracy. This ill – will toward them prevailed nationwide, making it difficult for the King and Parliament to operate in good – will.
Nonetheless James I, “the wisest fool in Christendom” who succeeded Elizabeth in 1603 harboured better than his successor Charles I in this modus operandi of effacing this Puritanical actinism. James had been brought up in the reformed Kirk’s Presbyterian tradition, and tutored by staunch Protestants like Buchanan, the Erskines, and Young, he turned into a ‘God – fearing, Protestant king who accepted the limitations of monarchy’, as outlined in Buchanan’s treatise De Jure Regni apud Scotos. In 1597 – 98, James wrote The True Law of Free Monarchies, a treatise that supported Magisterial Providence, provided the new lows of royal prerogative were in tune with God’s Decree. In his sophomore blue book of Basilikon Doron (“Royal Gift”), he wrote in disfavour of Parliament. Both handicrafts upheld the conviction of Divine Monarchy and the image of the Monarch as a feudal lord; a thorough examination of these works would justify why he ran into difficulty with the House of Commons in England. Upon his accession to the English throne, he tried to enforce his grandiose theories of Divine Rights of King, much to Parliamentary dismay; signalling the parting of ways between Crown and Parliament; and widening the possible grounds of conflict. Indeed, James would start the trend of mis – communication between the Monarch and this powerful bastion of politically conscious English public opinion over issues of finance, foreign alliances and religious issues; that would frustrate the Parliament into declaring that “tyranny is monarchy disliked.”
Fortunately, James’ religious temperament was akin to that of the English Conformist – he was a Presbyterian, yet he saw the bishops in dioceses and parishes as the natural allies of the monarchy and frequently came into conflict with the Kirk in his sustained effort to reintroduce an episcopal polity to Scotland. Consequently, he found the Elizabethan Church favourable, for it adhered to an episcopate that recognized monarchical supremacy over ecclesiastical organizations. This belied the hopes of the Puritan clergy in England which expected of a Presbyterian king, as James, to purge the Church of its popish distastes. The Millenary Petition of 1603 was submitted to him, requesting the abolition of confirmation, bishopry, Catholic vestments, ornamentations and religious ceremonialism. But James’ creed was “No Bishop, No King”, equating English Puritanism with Scottish Presbyterianism for which he rejected this ‘extremism’. He adhered to the existing structure, even to the extent of formulating a new Bible in 1611 – King James’ Version; and carried forward the Elizabethan repression of Puritanism – burning at stake several radical Puritans like Legate, Andrewes and Wightman. James’ religious policies were less successful in Scotland, wherein he tried to integrate the Kirk within the English Episcopalian Church via his 1618 Five Articles of Perth. The Scottish Puritans and Presbyterians, more numerous and explosive, than their English counterparts, resisted it till 1621, when it was forcefully implemented to a realm, divided – arousing widespread strong Puritan Anti – Monarchical sentiments in both realms.
A second factor that contributed to the Puritan momentum during James’ reign was the fear of Popish plots. Like Elizabethan Catholicism, Crypto Catholicism lived in the King’s reign, thanks to his moderate religious policy. Yet the 1606 Popish Recusant Acts (a civil and secular transaction in the eyes of the Crown) fell afoul of sinister Anti – Catholic interpretation, triggering Catholic conspiracies like the 1603 Bye & Main Plots and the 1605 Gunpowder Plot; that hardened the front of religious radicalism.
Another Stuart’s largesse …
James’ ‘uneventful’ reign was followed by his son, Charles I’s that has been branded as the most tumultuous one in all of British history. Charles was brought up in the Scottish Presbyterian tradition and like his father, after his accession of the English throne in 1625, was compelled to ‘conform’ to the established Anglican Church. The new king had inherited his father’s fanatic views on Divine Kingship and preference for absolutism, intense dislike for Parliamentarianism and a financially unstable kingdom.
Yet, in the English xenophobic lens, his foremost mistake lay in his negotiations for a Spanish marital alliance and his subsequent marriage to the Bourban princess, Henrietta Maria of France in 1625. She held strong and open Catholic beliefs, refusing to participate in Anglican ceremonies, for their Protestant bearings. The Parliament had opposed the marriage fearing that her queenship and the King’s personal devotion for her would relax religious restrictions over the Catholics at a time when Catholic subversion and terrorism was at its peak. She was an unpopular queen with a volatile Faith and a ‘Popish’ social circle; opposition to her was intensified in 1632 when she alarmed the Puritan community by the construction of an elaborate Catholic chapel at Somerset House. She was blamed for the 1641 Jesuit Irish Rebellion and for the infliction of Capital punishment on two prominent Protestants of the Age – Dr. Alexander Leighton and William Prynne – for criticizing her. Fatally, Charles I added to the infamous pile of her ‘treasonous’ dealings.
The foremost religious controversy of his reign commenced with his support for the disrepute Arminian ecclesiastic, Richard Montague who argued against Calvinist predestination in his 1624 pamphlet A New Gag for an Old Goose and 1625 Appello Caesarem. He was made a royal chaplin, confirming to the Puritans that Charles had Arminian leanings and this was a clandestine attempt to revive Catholicism – a Faith espoused by the Queen herself . Indeed, the King favoured High Church customs and Arminianism – a heretical sect that emphasized on clerical authority and individual ability of salvation. If closely scrutinized Arminianism bore a strong resemblance to Anglicanism, yet it was against Puritanical principles and appeared as irreligious to the Puritans. His engaging diplomacy with Spain and reluctance to aid a successful Protestant outcome in the Thirty Years’ War of 1618 – 1648, provoked censure. The election of the conformist William Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury and insistence to reinforce the liturgical components of the Book of Common Prayers, organising the internal architecture of English churches so as to emphasise the sacrament of the altar, re-issuing King James’s Declaration of Sports, which permitted secular activities on the Sabbath, and the dissolution of the Feoffees for Impropriations hampered Charles’ royal reputation. The fact that anti – episcopal pamphleteering was severely punished, and religious conformity was enforced through the highest jurisdictional bodies of England – the Court of High Commission and the Court of Star Chamber – terrorized the Puritan gentry, amongst whom the Crown’s fiscal policies and personal rule were already unpopular.
Amidst such hostile encounters, Charles made the fatal mistake to impose his religious experimentations on the staunch Presbyterian Scottish soil. The introduction of ornamental Anglican rites and the liturgical Book of Common Prayer in 1637, with the consent of neither the Kirk nor the Parliament provoked widespread riots. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland 1638, condemned the new prayer book, abolished Episcopal Church government by bishops, and adopted Presbyterian government by elders and deacons. The unrest culminated into the First Bishop’s War of 1639, wherein England incurred an expensive defeat. This resurfaced the general disenchantment, compelling Charles to summon the Short Parliament of 1640 only to dissolve it. This failure escalated grievances, giving rise to the occasion of the Long Parliament of 1640 that was to present Charles with the explosive Grand Remonstrance in 1541. These events preluded the civil wars that were to rage in the three realms in a year.
Furthermore, testimonies of conspiracies from a certain Thomas Beale, Mary Baker, John Davis and Baggstarre coupled with the atrocities against Protestants in the 1541 Irish Rebellion – fuelled Puritanical frenzy. As Brian Manning pointed out, “the puritans and radical protestants were animated by hatred of popery and fear of papists, and the fact that they were regarded as the firmest opponents of popery and the scourge of papists, meant that the intensification of popular fear of popery and papists led to a flow of popular sympathy and support toward Puritans”, and favoured the spread of radical Protestantism. However, “the fear of papists didn’t arise from the existence of known recusants but from the belief in the existence of unknown numbers of secret Catholics and sympathizers with Catholicism.” More than that, all who resisted church reforms in the Protestant direction were suspected of being Papists. Since strong resistance came from the Crown and the conformist Parliament and gentry, “it followed that papists must have influence and a secret party at Court”. Puritans had looked to the Parliament for religious reform, but with its failure to meet this expectation, they turned to the more radical leaders. Militant Protestantism, physically as well as mentally, impressed itself in England and one of its major consequences was the Separatist Movement of 1641 under Thomas Browne and Thomas Harrison that led to the establishment of the Separatist Church at Norwich. Clearly, the fear of popish plots degraded Charles’ authority and prestige in a ‘foreign’ Protestant hinterland.
By 1642, the Parliamentarians, under the pressure of Militant Puritanism and the Puritanical gentry stood in the Puritan camp against the ‘conformist’ Royalists, heralding the civil war and the triumph of the former’s head over the head of the other… literally. After a hundred years, from 1559, with the Restoration of 1660 – the “Elect Nation” of England was to emerge what the Marian exiles had envisioned with so meticulous piety, in their Continental refuges – the Protestant Commonwealth.
Ideologies in motion … and?
Charles’ tyranny called for military intervention; and at this crucial juncture theoretical Puritanism metamorphosed into a militant silhouette, to impart justification for its cause. Predestination acquired a political head – the right to revolt against the “ungodly” ruler so as to fulfil the revolution predestined by God. The Custom of Nations prevailed over the Divine Monarchical Rights. The individual conscience proved too powerful to contain sinful shame and loyalty. The Protestant Commonwealth became the highest ideal of an Elect Nation characterized by a monarchical republic. English Protestantism achieved all this – why? Because it persevered a century to manifest itself collectively in the purging of a “popish” world? Or because it developed independent rationalities, seeking to correct the wrongs that stood its way?
Maybe. Maybe not.
- Hill, Christopher. The English Revolution, 1640: An Essay. London: – Lawrence & Wishart Ltd., 1940. Print.
- Hill, Christopher. Puritanism and the English Revolution: Studies in Interpretation of the English Revolution of the 17th century. London: – Secker & Warburg, 1958. Print.
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- James VI and I of England.
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- The Puritans under Elizabeth I.