From: Religious Context 16th Century Bible Translation               Return to Home            

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2016








Chapter Eight:

Struggle of the Puritan-Calvinist Lobby

for Control of Anglicanism




Continental Calvinism


            John Calvin studied law and received a Christian humanist style education.  In keeping with this background, his first book appeared in 1532 and was a commentary on Seneca, the Roman philosopher.  The following year, he began to take religious concerns far more seriously and began his drift away from Catholicism.  His new thinking was ultimately codified in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which went through a number of expansions as his religious philosophy become more developed and mature.[1]

            In 1536 he happened to spend a night in Geneva while traveling to Strasbourg.  A local minister envoked the threat of Divine wrath upon his head and convinced him to remain in the city.  In 1538, however, the city leadership asked him to leave.  In 1541 they reversed themselves and beseeched him to return and again take up the spiritual leadership of the town.[2]  After initial hesitation, Calvin accepted the offer and became the dominant religious leader in the community until his death in 1564.[3]             

            Calvin was one of the founders of the University of Geneva in 1559.  In addition to its direct scholarly purposes, it was designed to ingrain reform theology deep in the hearts of its student body.[4]  Dissent and significantly different lifestyles were acceptable neither in the university nor in the city at large.  Calvin was quite willing to utilize the full power of the government against any who drifted from the path of strict Christian morality.  Likewise, he saw nothing improper in utilizing the power of the state to execute heretics.[5]     

            Calvin believed in the irrevocable predestination to heaven or hell of the entire human race.  God had made these selections before the earth was even created and nothing an individual would or could do could change that pre-appointed destiny.[6]

            Although these convictions would seemingly breed fatalism and remove the incentive for missionary effort to convert others, this did not occur.  Indeed, Geneva was the missionary jumping-off point for large numbers of covert preaching expeditions into France.  The Register of the Company of Pastors lists 88 men sent out between 1555 and 1562.  This profoundly understates the actual number, however.  In 1561, these records list only twelve individuals being dispatched but other sources indicate that over a 140 were actually sent.[7] 



Anglican Puritanism/Calvinism


            Mainstream Anglicanism of the sixteenth century soon blended in Calvinistic religious assumptions and beliefs as part of its own theological matrix.  Since the matrix included the retention of an episcopal system of church government and regal headship of the church, this Anglican Calvinism inevitably had a very different appearance than its Continental mainland parent stock. 

Furthermore, the willingness to adopt significant Lutheran verbal formulations of faith guaranteed yet a further weakening of any impetus to develop Calvinistic Anglicanism into a mere duplicate of its European form.  Indeed, the Lutheran concept of Biblical authority (in essence:  if not prohibited by the Biblical text, a practice is permitted) provided a far more congenial basis for preservation of the remaining ancient Catholic elements in the liturgy and ritual. 

            Hence, in spite of substantial Calvinistic underpinnings to its way of thought, the passage of decades made it easy to look upon unvarnished presbyterianism / Calvinism as a threat to the established order.  It would have been politically inexpedient to have denounced it as such, lest European allies be needlessly offended.  Furthermore, the problem lay not in its European form, but in its English development. 

            Hence, “Puritan” became an acceptable codeword to describe those who wished to more faithfully make the English church into a “pure” Calvinist form.  Since the passage of decades also resulted in explicit English Calvinism developing ways of thinking not fully in step with the mainland form (in regard to acceptable Sunday recreation, for example),[8] the nomenclature also avoided using terms that would have implied Continental acquiescence in varieties of thought that were mainly English in nature. 

            By the time of Elizabeth, their critics sometimes wondered out loud whether it could any longer even be called Calvinism, so different was it from the Genevan reform.  Hence Whitgift threw the challenge at Cartwright, "If M. Calvin were alive and understood the state of our church and controversy truly, I verily believe he would utterly condemn your doings."[9] 

            Here we have a critical conceptual break:  although Anglicanism remained highly Calvinistic in religious content, it did not mentally picture itself as part of his movement.  (Calvinists in that sense were few.)[10]  This sense of independence is probably a key reason that the Calvinist lobby for presbyterian style church organization never won its battle.  The religious substance appealed to Anglicans in general, but not the organizational structure. 

            They could accept the former as a matter of perceived loyalty to truth, without feeling any need to embrace the latter.  Church structure was a matter of expediency and efficiency and nothing more to them.  And the more the acknowledged Calvinists insisted upon a changed structure, the more their opponents looked upon Calvinism as an alternative to Anglicanism rather than as a form of it.

            One result of this alienation was demonization.  As the result of creating a theological bogeyman, "Puritanism" served the sixteenth century the way "Communism" did the twentieth.[11]  The term began to be used about 1564 as an epithet of denunciation for those unwilling to accept the terms of the Elizabethan Settlement.[12]  Although the term “Puritan” thus first appears only early during Elizabeth’s rule, the mind frame and basic attitudes that characterized it appeared years before the label used to stigmatize and reject it.[13] 

The term could cover those who genuinely deserved the description; it could equally easily be used as an epithet to dismiss any theological "oddity" that annoyed the  beholder.  Hence we use the term as a useful catch-word for an approach to religion rather than in its strict chronological context.

            Puritanism came in two basic forms, though on the fringes there were probably many who could ultimately have come down on either side depending upon how friendships, specific events, and other influences interacted to shape their ultimate decisions.  On one side were the Anglican Puritans, those Calvinists who retained at least superficial membership in the Church of England and attempted to pressure it in their distinctive theological direction. 

On the other side were the Independent Calvinists (Separatists) who shoved the whole system aside and set out to develop their own alliance of churches independent of Anglicanism.  Until the seventeenth century, the latter were the fringe of the Puritan movement; it was an option more contemplated in the abstract than actually indulged in.  The deeper one went into the seventeenth century, however, the more popular this form became. 

            Both groups shared in common the Calvinist conviction that they were predestined.  For reasons difficult for the outsider of a distant century to fathom, they were convinced not only as to the fact of predestination but their own personal and favorable predestination as well:   they were convinced that they were foreordained to the glories of heaven rather than the agonies of hell and that it was literally impossible for any action of man to alter that outcome. 

Hence they approached life with profound optimism that they would triumph.  A creed that abstractly would seem to be as pessimistic as humanly imaginable, became the wellspring for facing every foe and every situation.  They might not win the particular battle, but they were convinced that they would ultimately win the war.    

            Beginning with the reign of Elizabeth, their importance as a pressure group within the Anglican church grew and grew.  Most saw no need to create a new church.[14]  England already had one that was half-way to its needed goals.  Their function was to assure that the project was fully carried out. 

            The Vestarian Controversy of the 1560s (there had been an yet earlier outburst of conflict over the matter a decade earlier) manifested both Puritan power and regal annoyance at its demands.  The 1559 Ornaments Rubric had provided for certain specified vestments to be worn during services.  The 1563 Convocation narrowly restrained from junking this requirement and a 1564 survey of churches indicated that many were following the less formal approach that had nearly been adopted.

            Hence Elizabeth ruled over a church with a great variety of religious practices, ranging from very formal/traditional to varying degrees of deformalism and lack of ritual.  Archbishop Parker wrote to Bishop Grindal in January 1565 that the Queen was upset that the deformalists were so numerous.  Parker spoke of how she objected that “some few persons” were stirring up strife concerning church rituals.  She made an explicit warning to those who occupied church office, he noted, “We intend to have no dissension or variety grow by suffering of persons which maintain dissension to remain in authority.”[15] 

            When Bishop Grindal relayed these demands to the other bishops (and instructed them to report as to the extent of such dissidence in their own localities), he spoke of how widespread were the practices and how extremely varied they were--ranging from what later generations would label high church ritual (i.e., highly formal in the traditional Catholic style) to low church (i.e., few formalities or hints of traditional clericalism):  For example, the location in the church facility where the service was held varied.  The clerical attire worn (or not worn) varied.  The location of the communion table varied immensely.  Some wore a surplice by itself when administering the communion; others wore a cope as well; other dissidents would wear neither. 

            Grindal noted that even the bread in the memorial of Jesus’ death varied.  Some freely used leavened bread while others insisted on unleavened.  In some places the communion was received by those sitting in their pews; in others they were expected to be kneeling when receiving it. 

            He noted that dramatic differences existed in regard to the practice of infant baptism as well.  Some utilized a formal font; others used something else.  Some were careful to always invoke the sign of the cross; others absolutely refused.[16]

            In a church with such diverse practices, it would be questionable whether any one approach to church worship dominated.  It was not so much that the Puritans or what became the Anglicans were in the majority.  There were all kinds of degrees of both vying for the hearts of hundreds of local congregations.  The Queen was determined to impose upon this disarray not the majority feeling (for who could tell what that was?), nor what was the Biblical answer to the approaches (assuming there was only one obligatory one on the wide variety of practices).  It would be uniquely her decision.

            To speak in terms of the majority was to speak in terms of a democracy and the Queen was not only titular ruler, she was determined to be a ruler in fact as well.  To the extent that the majority will had a voice, it came either through the Queen’s espousal of the popular viewpoint or the enactments of Parliament (which actually reflected only a narrow spectrum of opinion but which was still far, far more representative than any system without such a legislative body).   

            To speak in terms of the Biblical solution would be the ideal (given the religious assumptions of both sides that ultimate authority resting in the sacred text) but if the discussions resulted in any significant retreat on the Queen’s part it would impugn her role as ultimate arbitrator of religious issues in the church.  Hence, by default, the Queen demanded that those views that she believed (assumed, if one were a critic) were Biblical and demanded that her bishops achieve conformity to those beliefs.

            The royal ego was especially sensitive to what was happening in the nation’s capital.  Although full conformity was on all matters was an impossibility, that which occurred in London--the Queen’s “backyard,” so to speak--could not be ignored.  It would come to her attention either through personal observation or from her many sources of information.

            The key issue was vestments and in his Advertisements of that year, Archbishop Parker insisted on the key demand “that every minister saying any public prayers, or ministering the sacraments or other rites of the Church, shall wear a comely surplice with sleeves.”  This central demand went hand in hand with the required wearing of the cope (in cathedrals) during the Holy Communion.  The Communion was to be with unleavened bread and received while kneeling. 

            The Queen refused to accept Parker’s more limited agenda of demands.  He insisted that, if pushed too far, “these precise folk would offer their goods and bodies to prison, rather than they would relent.”  The annoyed ruler responded that if that happened he should “imprison them.”  The Queen’s insistence upon a greater array of requirements did not change his perception.[17] 

            Even Parker’s more limited requirements were vigorously contested.  Two-thirds of the perceived dissenters among the London clergy agreed to go along with the demands.  Parker lamented that among the other third were some of “the best” clergy in the city, including, even more importantly (due to their more limited numbers) “some preachers.”[18]   

            Indeed, the mutiny would have been even larger except for the intervention of Henry Bullinger, who had the immense respect and admiration of the Puritans.  As an appreciative Grindal wrote to him in August of 1566, his involvement had been crucial.  “Many” of the parishioners had become “milder” in their expressions of opinion and “some” of the clergy who had been resolved to “desert their ministry” had reversed their decision.  Bullinger had stressed that the objected to practices were not absolutely “unlawful.”  The importance of this argument came from the fact that they both respected him and knew that he did not personally “adopt them.”  In short, his reputation and lack of axe to grind, moderated an extremely inflammatory situation.[19]

            Grindal himself conceded that, “You see me wear a cope or a surplice in Paul’s.  I had rather minister without these things, but for order’s sake and obedience to the prince” he wore the required attire.[20]  The rationale is vitally important:  When the day came when scripture and scripture alone determined the matter in the minds of the dissenters--the day when loyalty to the prince was considered almost an irrelevancy in making spiritual decisions--such a course would become impossible.  At this stage the majority even of the more militant dissenters considered the ruler as still possessing the right to make the ultimate decision.  They could argue, they could plead, but the monarch would establish the final policy. 

            All they could do was to agitate for their convictions and pray that God would open Elizabeth’s heart to the reform message.  So Bishop Horne lamented in a letter to Bullinger in August of 1571.[21]

            Some idea of what reform meant to those crusading for the Puritan agenda can be determined not only by what was changed but what many desired to change, those proposals that lacked sufficient regal and clerical support to have the church adopt.  The example of this in regard to clerical garb has already been noted.  Other examples can be introduced from the1563 Convocation of Canterbury, where that meeting of the English clergy debated how further to take change.  Out of a total vote of 117, the following propositions were  rejected by the Lower House of Convocation by a mere single vote (59 to 58),[22]


1.  That Sundays and the principal feasts of Christ be kept holy days, and all other holy days abrogated. 

                        2.  That the minister in common prayer turn his face to the people.

                        3.  That making the cross on the child's head in baptism be omitted as             tending to superstition.

                        4.  That knelling in [taking] Communion be left to the minister's discretion.

                        5.  That it is sufficient for a minister to use a surplice [and not a cope,             etc.].

                        6.  That the use of organs cease.


            To what extent did the narrow margin of rejection represent genuine Puritan strength among the clergy and to what extent was it a fluke?  From the psychological standpoint, the backlash against Marian excesses may well have magnified the willingness of those uncertain or marginally committed to go along with the zealots.  On the other hand, the forced resignations of traditionalists had certainly resulted in a dramatic increase in the relative proportion of Puritan inclined.  Furthermore, the negative vote was the result of including proxies rather than counting strictly those who were attending.[23]  (Cynics naturally worry as to the integrity of votes decided by proxy.) 

            That the Puritans themselves felt far from certain that they could obtain a majority in Convocation in the future can be seen in the fact that so much of their pressure came to be expressed in Parliament.  They might hope for a victory in Convocation, but they were determined to maximize their opportunity for success by going the legislative route as well.[24] 

Furthermore, having failed to gain a de jure recognition of their demands, many congregations with reform minded ministers unilaterally instituted them.  A 1565 report (probably describing London churches in particular) describes the widely varying practices being carried out simultaneously in different congregations:  For instance, some congregations utilized a regular cup for the Lord’s Supper; others used a chalice.  Sometimes those partaking knelt; in other places they did not.  Some clerics were attired in full vestments; some only a surplice when administering it; others wore none of these.[25]                 

            The 1570s saw an exchange of published books between those pushing for a Puritanized Anglicanism and those content with the existing order.  These attacks singled in upon three areas.[26]  First was the ineptitude of the existing clergy--especially their inability to effectively preach the word of God.  Catholicism was, at heart, a ritualistic system, that relied for its value upon the Divine authority the church claimed to possess.  In contrast, Puritanism was a de-ritualized system.  Yes, there was ordination.   Yes, there was baptism and the communion.  But they were means to an end rather than morally praiseworthy rituals in their own right. 

            What was morally praiseworthy in itself was the public communication of the written word of God from the pulpit.  To exercise that gift required literacy, a knowledge of the scriptures themselves, and the capacity to publicly present the message in a manner that would benefit one's audience. 

One personality pattern might work best when one's role in a church centered around the repetition of certain pre-ordained rituals.  So long as one carried out the right actions, in the right way, with the right words, one was faultless. 

The Puritan ideal of the minister required a far different personality:  the ability to think independently, to codify in an understandable form one's religious insights, and to communicate them to an interested audience.  Just as the ritualist would often find it difficult to feel comfortable functioning as a Puritan expected a minister, likewise a Puritan would feel uncomfortable if expected to limit himself to traditionalist ritual practices.

            A second area of the public controversy of the 1570s hinged upon the need to modify the doctrines of the church in a more Protestantized direction.  Actually it went beyond rhetorical purging of "popish" language in the Prayer Book.  It also involved a downgrading of the public importance attributed to the various rituals that remained in the church.  Simplicity was to be the order of the day.

            The third tangent was the one that struck the hardest at the existing power structure of Anglican religion--the redefinition of religious authority within the church.  Instead of having bishops over ministers, that entire system would be scrapped; instead, power would be exercised within each individual congregation by a body of ministers, elders, and deacons, all appointed by that church's membership.   Although the linkage of the churches together through regular inter-congregational meetings would undermine strict local autonomy, it would still represent a major step in that direction. 

            Politically, it also minimized the ability of the state to control the further religious development of the church.  In a power-downward system (king and parliament / archbishops and bishops / clergy / membership), the highest levels of power could be used to browbeat those who could not be convinced by argument to follow new policies.  In an upward-power distribution system, the roots of religious authority would rest on the congregational level and at that level regal influence would be at its weakest to shape events. 

            Due to the inter-congregational meetings of the churches under the presbyterian system (i.e., its district and national conferences), that meeting itself would become a power center with the potential to impose its power downward.  Indeed, in actual practice in Scotland the General Assembly of the churches was utilized by the king to accomplish just such a goal.[27]  However it was a far clumsier system so far as effectively bringing royal power to bear. 

            Although few Puritans could yet seriously consider abolishing episcopacy in the early 1570s, opposition to their more limited reform measures encouraged a more radical opposition to the entire religious system.  On April 5, 1571, Walter Strickland presented a measure that would create a joint Commons-bishops committee to revise the Book of Common Prayer.  Adopted, the Committee met--and the bishops rejected any and all changes.

            When this failed, Strickland introduced a measure on April 14 to have the Commons itself carry out the revision.  Since this proposal was entered without explicit approval of the Queen, action was postponed until after Easter.  By then Strickland was in prison for having usurped the Queen's rights in religious matters.

            In 1572 a different approach was taken:   this time legislation was introduced that would limit the Act of Uniformity to Catholics alone.  The bishops would be given authority to make optional elements in worship currently being required.  Even a moderated version angered the Queen and she prohibited further consideration of the measure. 

She did this in a clever way to put the onus on the bishops:  reform measures had to first be approved by the bishops before the Commons considered them.  And since the bishops had demonstrated they weren't about to endorse any major changes--both because of their own opposition and respect for the monarch’s views--they took the brunt of the blame.

            This was intensified in June 1572 after the publication by John Field and Thomas Wilcox of their Admonition to Parliament.  This vehement criticism of episcopacy resulted in the authors being sent to jail, though this did nothing to stop the wide distribution of the pamphlet.  The bishops, of course, again received most of the Puritan resentment.  After all, it was their clerical positions under attack, not the Queen's![28]  

            In 1573, the assassination of a sea captain by a demented man alleged to have ties to the Puritans, resulted in several major Puritans having to choose between imprisonment and flight to Europe.  Stripped of their most important leaders, the hopes of the radical element in Puritanism were temporarily in eclipse.  The hopes of the more moderate elements, however, were revived by the appointment of Edmund Grindal to the position of Archbishop of York in December of 1575.  He was viewed as having somewhat similar views. 

His own opportunities to institute change were dramatically curbed a year later when the Queen demanded that the "prophesyings" be stopped and he opposed the demands.  These "prophesyings" were weekly or fortnightly congregational meetings at which clerics discussed various religious and scriptural issues.  Since the congregational members were also admitted to these, it provided a convenient tool for the presentation and propagation of Puritan-style convictions among the bottom level of the religious totem pole. 

            Just as Elizabeth thwarted Parliamentarian efforts to push the church in an "excessive" Puritan direction, she was determined to undermine the "prophesyings" as a tool for accomplishing the same result.  Doubtless Elizabeth was convinced that as Archbishop, Grindal would further her religious agenda on this matter as he had in the vestment controversy.  On the other hand, during those earlier disputes, he had also reined in the number of demands to be enforced upon dissenters.  Now he dug in his heels and refused to go any further.[29]  

Frustrated, she suspended him from office for five years.  In addition, she personally ordered the suppression of the “prophesyings.”[30] 

            The “prophesyings” were not the only public forums that raised the ire of the Queen.  During Elizabeth’s reign various “lectureships” (or “lectures by combination”) were held in many towns throughout the land.  These were not in competition to the regular preaching but were intended as complementary to them. 

            The local municipality or business community would provide for these in two different basic formats:  one speaker or multiple speakers.  In the former case, one individual would be reimbursed for giving an entire series of lessons.  In the most extreme cases, finances were sufficiently abundant to guarantee him an on-going public forum with no specific terminal date.  Such individuals were able to live solely upon the earning from their lectureships rather than having to count upon the income from a benefice for his economic survival. 

            In its other basic form, several speakers were involved.  A series of visiting ministers from the surrounding region would rotate among themselves over a pre-scheduled period of time, delivering lecture-sermons on either what they deemed most important or upon a shared general theme.  This format also existed by utilizing strictly local ministerial talent.[31] 

            Many of the most orthodox mainstream Anglicans liked the concept, encouraged it, and participated themselves.[32]  What earned the wrath of Elizabeth was the frequency with which these lectureships were utilized by Puritan types to further their agenda, which was at variance with Elizabeth’s own.  Restrictions were resisted by many mainstreamers because the idea seemed fundamentally sound and the dangers far less significant than the potential for good.  Of course, those who utilized the opportunity for advancing their own reform agenda were even more vigorous in defense of the institution because of the opportunities it gave them to spread their message.      

            Grindal, who had so ably obstructed the Queen in regard to the church “prophesyings,” died in 1583 and this permitted her to appoint as replacement Archbishop John Whitgift, a man quite willing to move against the powerful Puritan lobby.  He came to his position convinced that the Puritans were not merely an annoyance but needed to be actively driven from the pulpits of the land.  He had come to this conclusion as the result of Thomas Cartwright’s vigorous criticisms of the episcopal system of church government.[33] 

            Added to intellectual disagreement, he also had great difficulty comprehending how the Puritans had managed to attract so many supporters.  As he saw it, their pulpit abilities were so lamentable that they were “the worst sort of preachers” and this caused him to wonder how they managed to “find such and so many patrons”?  Indeed, “by their doings and preachings [they] rather work in the heart of their auditors a misliking of the laws and government than obedience. . . .”[34]  Note that he perceived the key issue as being one of political loyalty to the kingdom.  The Puritans saw it as a matter of religious loyalty to God.

            Being so passionately convinced of the rightness of his course, Whitgift enthusiastically acted to suppress clerical sympathy with the Puritans.  Absolute loyalty to the existing Anglicanism was demanded and a High Commission (religious equivalent of the secular Star Chamber) utilized to sniff out clerical dissidents.  It didn’t quite work out that way.  The Privy Council was able to delay, unofficially obstruct, and otherwise undermine Whitgift’s regally backed effort to suppress the more extreme Puritanism.[35] 

            Elizabeth was a firm believer in having educated ministers and in deepening their understanding of the Biblical text and capacity to expound it before others.  These convictions--theoretically --put her in the camp of support for the “prophesyings” since they were designed to serve such purposes. 

On the other hand, as already noted, the more militant believers in transferring church authority from bishops to local presbyteries, were quite successfully utilizing these meetings to advance their agenda among clergy and laymen alike.  Rather than permit them the possibility of success, Elizabeth opted for suppressing the meetings entirely.[36] 

            We could interpret this action in one of three ways.  We could take it as a tacit admission that she did not believe that the episcopal system could be justified from the scriptures when faced with an opposing viewpoint.  After all, any religious view can be defended in isolation; it is often far more difficult to do so (especially if the case is based upon speculative exegesis) when faced with first rate minds that take a different approach. 

            Assuming that she had no doubts on the matter (and this is likely), the action can be taken as a tacit confession that there was an inadequate reservoir of manpower who could convincingly make the pro-bishop case.  Indeed, the very desire to increase the number of educated ministers--and also the depth of their knowledge--was an admission of how inadequate were the credentials and abilities of the majority of existing clerics. 

            The militants were typically well read, well able to argue their case, and often had first class minds.  To find large numbers of those on her side of the controversy with equal talents would have been difficult indeed, especially when the battle would have to be waged in many dozens of local churches.

            Finally, the meetings could be considered such an implied insult to her role as supreme governor of the church that it wasn’t a proper subject for controversy in the first place.  Quite probably this offended regal pride played the strongest role in her decision to squash the “prophesyings.”  However friendly and determined to cultivate popular acceptance a Tudor might be, offended royal dignity was one of the most dangerous emotions an outsider could arouse.  And since Henry VIII, the role of the monarch in establishing the nature of English religion had been pivotal.  To permit the “prophesying” reformists to win out would strip her of that role.  

            Although the “prophesyings” were suppressed, other unofficial and even secret meetings began to be held on a regular basis to discuss scripture interpretation and the further purification of Anglican religion.[37]  The least outward manifestation of such sentiments, however, could bring one before the High Commission, which zealously prosecuted those clerics wishing to moving in the Puritan direction.[38]       

            In 1584 Archbishop Whitgift of Canterbury began using a very effective litmus test to weed out Puritan inclined dissenters:  all clerics had to swear that the existing Book of Common Prayer had nothing contrary to scripture within it.  Since many a person could have reservations without being motivated to mutiny against it, the maximum number of potential dissenters was affected.  At least three hundred ministers were forced out during the following months on that one issue alone.[39] 

Earlier, in 1577, London's Bishop Aylmer utilized a different strategy:  the possibility of reassigning such dissidents to rural, strongly Catholic areas where their zeal could be put to better use in converting those both sides disagreed with.[40]  Other bishops were usually happy to have their talents:  nonconformists they might well be, but the bishops were in desperate need for minds and bodies to utilize in the countryside to wean the population from lingering “Romanism.”[41] 

            Whitgift's techniques and enthusiasm grew the ire of both thoroughgoing Puritans and more moderate reformers.  Their friends in the House of Commons challenged the right of the bishops to implement such major changes without the approval of Parliament.  Since Elizabeth favored these measures, she rebuked the House and prohibited further consideration.

            When Parliament met again in October 1586, dissenters had a mammoth study ready analyzing the condition of over 2,500 parishes.  This presented in scathing detail the religious and moral failures among the clergy.  Parliament proceeded to consider major legislation to deal with the reported deficiencies and the Queen retaliated by prohibiting it.  On March 1 1587 the matter escalated further:  the Puritan Peter Wentworth argued that the Queen was challenging the legitimate rights of the Commons.  He was promptly jailed. 

            The rhetorical counterattack against the Puritan convictions hit hard on the both theoretical and practical levels.  It was pointed out by Elizabeth's supporters that the proposed legislation was nothing short of revolutionary.  It would not only remove the entire existing form of church structure of rule by bishops and replace it with a presybterian form.  It would demand a new method of financing the church and its ministers.  Where would this money come from?  Would it not require the repossessing of the long sold monasterial estates or some other distasteful action? 

            However angry Parliament was at the arrest of its own members, both strands of logic appealed to their prudence and self-interest.  Parliament refused to act.  Reform by the bishops had failed the Puritans.  Reform by Parliament had failed the Puritans.  Hence agitation and propaganda on the local level, through the local churches, would have to be the tool to obtain their goal. 

As John Field observed at the time, "Seeing we cannot compass these things by suit nor dispute, it is the multitude and people that must bring the discipline to pass which we desire."[42]  If the ecclesiastical and civil power brokers would not listen, the masses would.  At least, hopefully, the religiously concerned masses--a substantially smaller number.       

            Resentment on both the regal and highest clerical levels prompted major action against the Puritan elements again under James.  James’ ordered a crackdown on dissident clergy in July 1604.[43]  At the time it was estimated that some 300 were stripped of their church position.  Twentieth century research has reduced that to 150 as the maximum number proceeded against.  Of this a maximum of 90 actually were forced out of their church office.[44] 

            Regardless of the actual number, they were commonly perceived as the cream-of-the-crop and this motivated Parliament to attempt to minimize the number of ministers who stood in danger.[45]  Although James opposed Parliamentarian assertions of power in the realm, the attempts clearly indicated the direction of legislative thinking on the subject.  It is quite possible that the combination of these pressures with James’ own publicly expressed desire to avoid excessive confrontation and deprivation of office, worked together to rein in the number who would otherwise have been deposed. 

            The Anglican Puritans were divided into two broad groups.  The first embraced a Bishop controlled church provided significant power remained in lay hands, the power of the bishops be restrained, and that the theology was Puritanized.  This was the dominant party at the beginning of James I's rule.[46]

            The anti-episcopal faction wanted to take this a step further by totaling eliminating the position of bishop though it also desired to retain state power to back up the "purified" religious establishment.  This was clearly the minority approach, as contrasted to those willing to retain bishops. 

            William Laud provided the intellectual and ecclesiastical “muscle” to decisively crush the possibility that the latter could ever reach their goals.  A vigorous opponent of Anglican Puritanism from his youth at Oxford (it had been the theological status quo there), increasing power encouraged him to even more vigorous opposition.  In 1611 he became President of St. John's College at Oxford and purged it of Puritanism and though his influence most of the other colleges at Oxford were similarly treated. 

When he became Archbishop in 1633 he began to systematically use every bureaucratic tool available to him to root out his opponents.[47]  Under this constant barrage of pressure, by 1641 most Anglican Puritans were ready to scuttle the entire system of bishops.[48]  Laud's repression (supported by most of the bishops) merely radicalized rather than exterminated the movement.

            Laud was also important for a theological revolution in Anglicanism.  Until James, Anglican theology embraced the Calvinist doctrine of predestination.  Only when Archbishop Laud came to power in 1633 and he began to popularize the "free will" theology of Arminius of the Netherlands, did the theological consensus shift radically against it.[49]  Although Armininianism made more obvious gains within the Anglican church proper, a minority of Puritans were attracted by it as well.[50]

            A third stream of congregationalist Puritans existed throughout this period, which we will examine in detail in the following section.  This was the smallest of the three.  It was ready to throw aside the entire Anglican establishment and establish their own local congregations.  In exchange for the toleration of such independence, they were willing to forfeit the powers of state-backed orthodoxy that the mainstream forms of Puritanism hoped to enjoy.[51]      

            It is important to remember that until James, Puritanism was not so much an alternative to Anglicanism as a form of Anglicanism, fervently pushing to become the very definition of the movement itself.  The word "Puritanism" stresses the element of difference from the type of Anglicanism that eventually became dominant. 

On the other hand, the power and abiding strength of the movement lay in the fact that it shared so much in common with much of Anglicanism.  Without that, there would have been nowhere near as much contention nor anywhere near the impact upon church policy and convictions.  If the chasm had been more fundamental, the breach would have been inevitable at a much earlier date and without such a long, drawn-out struggle over control of the church.

            The essential "breaking point" was over church structure and, with it, the role of the monarch in the religious system.  If it had been able to accommodate itself on this point, it is possible that ultimately it would have controlled the church and become the definition of Anglican orthodoxy.  To the extent "Puritanism" washed its hands organizationally--and went independent--it removed this ongoing pressure and permitted the center of gravity in theological thought to shift in a different direction.      

            At the beginning of the new, seventeenth century less than ten percent of the clergy were counted as thorough-going Puritans (less than 750 total).[52]  Their influence was magnified, however, by the many influential and effective ministers who had a sympathy with much, though not all, of their program.[53]  Indeed, unless there had been a multitude of such, they could never have advanced proposals that were sufficiently popular to be accepted by Parliament or Convocation--or to be turned back only with difficulty.  Despite their lack of gaining a full victory, as late as the English Civil War in the 1630s, most Puritans remained within the church of England.[54]  

            Why did individuals choose Puritanism (in any of its forms) as their religious choice?  One was religious conviction.  They believed it.  On the psychological level it brought reassurance to them that they were, indeed, the spiritual elite--the predestined and foreordained of God for salvation.  On an organizational basis, it advocated a thoroughgoing reform far more comprehensive than the national church and--in their eyes at least--far more consistent with the professed goals and purposes of reform in the first place. 


            Although it had many male advocates, female participation became one of its more obvious characteristics.  Women were recognized as a major element of support for the Puritan movement as early as the 1560s.  When John Philpott and John Gough, for example, were banished from London in 1566 for refusing to wear the ceremonial outer robe (the surplice) over two hundred women cheered them as they left over London Bridge.[55]  In the same year the Bishop of London suspended John Bartlett from all clerical functions for the same offense.  In this case, sixty women gathered at the Bishop’s home to protest.[56]

            That women represented a major contingent of the movement is clear; the question of specifying an exact proportion is far more difficult.  When the movement had developed into its full maturity in the seventeenth century, it was common for women to be in the majority in the various congregations--at least in its American manifestation.[57]  At the earlier date we are concerned with, their prominence in the movement could represent not so much being a numerical majority as the fact that they could engage in reasonable social protest and be far less likely than males to suffer retaliation.[58] 

             To use the rhetoric of the late twentieth century, Puritanism’s stress on “pro-family values” played a major role in enhancing its appeal to women.  The sixteenth century was one marked by minimal restraints on social excesses.  It was not just a matter of the rich and powerful running over their “inferiors.”  It was not just the “natural” excesses that occur when one socio-religious order is replaced by another.  Rather there seemed to be a fundamental break down of societal inhibitions that limited unruly and abusive conduct of all forms.  This was a threat to both their own individual security but also of their children and the entire family.

            Hence the insistence of Puritans that males live a life of self-control and responsibility meant that the one who lived by that standard would provide greater stability to their family.  The principle of the husband’s authority remained the same, but it had grafted back on to it the obligation of being a responsible authority in an age when irresponsibility too often dominated.[59] 



Independent Calvinism



            The very fact of having to seek foreign refuge created a psychological push away from “moderation” and toward embracing the absolute truth--whatever it might be.  As part of a religious establishment challenged by papal orthodoxy, most had felt the need for some degree of compromise in order to protect the changes that the vast majority of reformers embraced.  Pushing for the acceptance of all those alterations one might personally feel essential, had to be reined in (by all but the most reckless) lest the already obtained corrections be lost as well.

            Freed of the responsibilities of being part of the “establishment,” the exiles were forced into a foreign environment that encouraged them to develop their convictions in a direction far more “advanced” than the system they themselves had served.  When one factors into the formulation natural human resentment at the necessity of exile, one arrives at a formula for the “radicalization” of the bulk of those forced abroad.  In their new environment “radicalism” was easier; “moderation” was far harder to retain and was likely to open the individual to accusations of ungodly compromise. 

            Hence, by creating a hostile environment requiring exile, Queen Mary had inadvertently sown the seeds for a more stubborn, more defiant, and more radical form of Protestantization.  If she were angered at the organizational schism with Rome produced by the Independent Catholicism of Henry--and appalled at the doctrinal independence of Edward--she would have been horrified had she known that her very efforts to restore the prior religious order had spawned a widespread network of individuals who looked upon even those changes as clearly inadequate. 

The whirlwind Mary created, Elizabeth had to ride and only thanks to her skill and determination was she able to rein them in and frustrate many of their more ambitious hopes and dreams.  In addition to the pressure from English exiles, the presence of European ones in England reinforced these tendencies during Elizabeth’s rule:  it introduced into the homeland an influx of additional encouragement to go further in the direction of “reform” than she preferred or thought desirable.[60]              

            The most radical exiles during Mary Tudor's reign in the 1550s, made the ultimate breach with the Independent Catholicism of Henry and the Protestantization of it under Edward:  they repudiated the authority of the Prayer Book.[61]  The psychological roots of separation of church and state probably originate in this seemingly token measure, but one which had profound implications far beyond the actual action.  Implicit in this was the rejection of the right of king and Parliament to demand religious uniformity contrary to the individual's perception of religious truth. 

            When such individuals returned to England under Elizabeth they would never again feel obligated to submit themselves (unless to the bare minimum, and sometimes not even that) to the demands of government imposed religious uniformity.  They would dig out scriptural truth upon their own and in interaction with each other and their religious foes. 

But wherever the path took them, they would be independent of the government in the conclusions they reached, the churches they organized, and the converts they assumed they had the full right and obligation to proselytize.  If the authorities insisted upon control, they would yield the least they could and insist upon their maximum sphere of freedom of action.  To the extent they could accomplish it, they were determined not even to go that far. 

            The government was not happy at the prospect of churches appearing around the kingdom that would be free of government control via the Church of England hierarchy.  They saw it not only as a threat to the authority of the official church but, potentially, to the government that backed that church.

            One of the key arguments against legally permitting independent congregations was the fear that a lack of such external control made them destabilizing elements in society.  Rather than uplifting a community’s morals and spirituality, it was feared that internal divisions could spill over into the broader society.  Furthermore, irresponsible elements in the rank and file might gain an ascendancy over the congregations and push their own explicitly anti-government agenda.

            Henry Jacob wrote in 1610 that this was needless paranoia on the part of the authorities.  As he explained to them, even independent congregations had safety mechanisms built in that inhibited reckless extremists from becoming a genuine danger to society,[62]


Such a popular government as this is, which now we treate of, being limited within the bounds of one particular Congregation, neither is nor ever hath been, nor can be in the least sort dangerous to any Civill state, whatsoever, but may easily, yea, with violence be resisted and punished by any of the meanest [lowest] next dwelling officer of justice, if any person or persons in the Church become seditious and refractorie.  Besides, this government is to be informed, directed, and guided by the Pastor chiefly, and also by the grave assistant Elders.  And therefore indeed this government is not simply & plainly Democraticall, but partly Aristocraticall, and partly Monarchicall.  And so it is that mixt government which the learned do judge to be the best government of all. 


            Though the government did not concede the right of self-governing, independent churches to exist, it did, however, concede the right of foreign residents to organize such groups.  Observing this inconsistent approach, Thomas Earl protested the double standard, “It seemeth rightful that subjects natural receive so much favour as the churches of national strangers have here with us, but we cannot once be heard so to obtain.  This with them:  they an eldership; we none.  They freely elect the doctor and pastor; we may not.”[63]

            With efforts to Puritanize Anglicanism through internal means neutralized by regal opposition in the 1570s and 1580s (see above), Independent Calvinism had even fewer internal psychological inhibitions against ignoring the existing power structure and implementing its own alternative forms of religious expression.  Just as the rigidity of traditional Catholicism inadvertently encouraged its opponents to rationalize their position by an ever more vehement rejection of even its fundamentals, the inability to have the militant form of presbyterianism dominate the Church of England caused the radicals to look with ever greater scorn upon those of the established religion.

            As one of the radicals of the 1580s wrote to justify secession from the English church,[64]


Where the chiefest and highest ecclesiastical authority is in the hands of antichrist, there is not the church of Christ, for Christ hath given authority to His own servants, but in the churches of our ministers, the lord bishops, deans, chancellors, commissaries, and such like, being the pope's bastards, have greater and chiefer authority than they, and exercise authority over them and they suffer that yoke:  therefore they have [not] the church of Christ among them.  


            When one reaches this point, one perceives oneself as the outsider and the dominant group as the enemy.  Leaving behind the established order becomes not a mere expediency but a means of asserting one's own moral integrity and faithfulness to the Lord.  The government, of course, was not amused at seeing the established church being tarred with the same brush of denunciation that had been used against traditional Catholicism.

            Unlike Anglicanism where the power structure was centralized in the bishops and the king, the Presbyterian-style reformers believed in a corporate power structure rooted in the local congregations.  On the congregational level there were “elders” appointed by the membership to oversee its operation.  Each of these groups of elders (collectively called a “session”) sent representatives to regional presbyteries that could set area policies.  In turn, the General Assembly of the Church was composed of similar representatives and had the power to set church-wide standards.[65] 

This was not strict congregationalism since the provincial meetings and the General Assembly could demand policies at variance of those preferred by the local congregation.  On the other hand, it was far more of a power structure built from the bottom up than that found in the Anglican and Catholic models. 

            Officialdom had previously been acting against internal clerical sympathizers with Calvinism.  Hence it had already crossed the policy bridge into repression when Martin Marprelate (a pseudonym) struck in 1588 and 1589.  Operating an unauthorized (hence, illegal) printing press, he published nine pamphlets relentlessly ridiculing the bishops of the Anglican church. 

            Moderate opinion was horrified at the tenor of the assault even if, in the abstract, it might sympathize with Puritan critiques.  The government came down hard upon Calvinist Independents in general, as it sought out the location of the fugitive printing press and its venomous author. 

            The separatist Presbyterian onslaught disintegrated in the late 1580s not only because of external suppression (of which there was plenty) but also due to internal weaknesses.  First of all, there was far from an united front among Puritans in general as to what positions to take concerning both the church of England in particular and the question of establishing an independent Presbyterian system.  The Separatists simply could not rally the bulk of intra-Anglican Puritans to support the ultimate step of severing the ties between the two groups.

            Furthermore, three prominent members went off into delusions of receiving direct, personal messages from God--and, in one case, oddly enough, from Satan as well.  A spell in prison resulted in one intentionally starving himself until he died, another executed, and a third backed off from his claims.  Guilt-by-association tainted the more responsible elements that had not fallen prey to their claims.[66] 

            In 1593, legislation was passed which offered the alternatives of execution or exile to any who attended "unauthorized" religious meetings--a blow aimed at both the traditional Catholics as well as the upstart Calvinist dissenters. 

            The dissenters had been radicalized by the Marian exile and had spawned a desire for ecclesiastical and doctrinal “purity” at (from the critic’s standpoint) any cost; this had resulted not in a united and more holy church but in a more divided one.  Neither Catholicism nor a united “reform” church had won out.[67]  

            Many Puritans stayed within the Anglican umbrella throughout this period and never did leave, even though their convictions and preferences and goals were not those of the official church establishment.  On the other hand, significant numbers did depart--at least for varying periods of time.  How do we explain the different responses to a shared religious agenda? 

            Both sides--those who remained within Anglicanism and those who left it--agreed that one must seek out the “purest” form of Christianity one could.  On the other hand, human frailty limited how “pure” that might be.  Furthermore, even when such lapses appeared manifest, if there were still reasonable hope for an ultimate correcting of the situation, it would be irresponsible to rashly and prematurely secede into a separate church.[68] 

            Complicating the picture further was the acknowledgement that many of those who remained behind were identical in thought and conduct--or almost so--to those who left.  The difference was they yielded to the absolute minimal conformity the national church would tolerate while those who left considered it impossible to continue to yield even to that limited degree. 

            Hence a Separatist was rejecting not only the Anglican Church but in effect, large numbers who were like-minded.  It was not just a schism against the established church, but it was a schism within that substantial faction who shared a common agenda. 

This led to intense discussions as to whether it was proper to listen to ministers of the Anglican Church--even those who shared the Puritan convictions.[69]  But whether a Puritan remained within the Anglican Church or became a formal Separatist, he or she was tarred with the same rhetorical accusations used against Puritans in general.[70]   

            One reason the bulk of Puritans stayed within the Anglican church in the 1580s and 1590s--even though the government was vigorously trying to suppress the movement--was the fear that congregations created outside the official church structure would be dominated by irresponsible (and potentially dangerous) hotheads and extremists.[71]  Those who left feared the triumph of traditionalism over scripture.  Those who refused to leave often feared that schism would feed upon itself and create not a more scriptural order of things but a more reckless and undependable system of religion.



 The Puritan Mentality


            Although Puritanism was Calvinistic (as was mainstream Anglicanism), it developed its own specially “English” traits.  No doctrine could be more central to Calvinism than predestination, yet even here the British Calvinists developed, over a period of decades, their own distinctive interpretation of the doctrines.

            Predestination carried with it a potentially overwhelming burden of either guilt or uncertainty:  since barring some direct miraculous act no one could ever be absolutely certain as to whether one’s own predestination was to heaven or hell.  Furthermore, even assuming one’s predestination is to heaven, if it be absolute and unchangeable (as in Calvinist theology of the day) it was extremely easy to accept this in the most bald-faced and self-serving manner.  

            One major way of dealing with this potential danger was through the development of an emphasis upon “covenant theology.”  Throughout the Old Testament there are repeated “covenants” (pledges/agreements) between God and various individuals.  These are rarely if ever negotiated agreements; rather they are presented as Divine initiatives, in which God has provided specific promises and, in turn, those humans who are to benefit by those promises are required to meet certain conditions.  Hence, even though there was a covenant there were conditions to be met--had to be met; hence life could not be led in an unrestrained and uncontrolled form even when one was receiving Divine blessings.

            In its earliest form, theories of covenant blessings and obligations were presented in Switzerland (by Zwingli), in Germany (by Bullinger), and, in England (by Tyndale).[72]  Since the Old Testament was known among the exegetes of the text as a “covenant of works” (due to the many precisely prescribed practices referred to in the Torah), its New Testament equivalent was called the “covenant of grace” (because it lacked those detailed regulations and because the grace element is a dominant theme).  By the 1590s English Puritans had developed this approach to its most developed form. 

            It reaffirmed to them the needlessness of an institutional-style church hierarchy.  It ruled out the need of any theology of “apostolic succession” (via bishops) to establish church legitimacy since the same result was accomplished by the mutual embracing of the covenant.  Since the covenant was one shared with all other true believers, it encouraged a group identity and the us-versus-them way of thinking essential (at least in a mild form) for the successful functioning and preservation of any independent organization.[73]

            This approach to the doctrine strongly interacted with their desire for congregational independence from central oversight:  it is likely that the doctrine reinforced the desire for independence and the desire for independence reinforced the enthusiasm for the doctrine of the “covenant of grace.”  As we have stressed, the Calvinist/Puritan movement was divided as to how thoroughgoing a reform was necessary though, as prospects grew less and less for a takeover of the Anglican mainstream, it became defined (in the public mind) by the position of its more "extreme" advocates. 

            Its emotional-psychological framework was one far different from that traditionally dominant in English society.  When Elizabeth mounted the throne, "Puritanism" could be dismissed, by its critics, as a foreign religious ideology.  By the end of her regime, it had struck down such deep roots that it was part of the accepted landscape.  Indeed, it had begun to evolve its own national distinctive national characteristics such as insistence on strict "Sabbatarianism" (non-working on Sunday).  This was dramatically different from past English practice that allowed and encouraged a wider variety of activity on Sundays as well as being far stricter than that insisted on by many of their theological kinsmen in continental Europe.[74] 

            There was a deep strain in British Puritanism that demanded rigid seriousness in all matters related to both religion in particular and life in general.  Reformers such as Luther--who were just as passionately devoted to fundamental religious change--considered the pleasures of life in a more positive manner--as honorable and desirable in their own right, as blessings that God gave man even in this world that is sometimes characterized by far more pain and anguish than joy and happiness.[75]  Likewise, Calvin enjoyed his Sunday game of "bowls."  Even John Knox felt that any social activity proper on weekdays was also proper on Sunday.[76] 

            The Puritan critique not only extended to the many forms of work on Sunday (and Elizabeth herself had publicly endorsed such work once church services were completed) but to sports and recreational pursuits in general.  The excesses involved in rowdy dancing and over-indulgence in alcohol provided ready made grounds for condemnation of the very concept of even the most innocent form of recreation.[77]  

            Hence it is not surprising that a major cleavage developed between Puritan and popular attitudes concerning the proper use of Sunday as a day of worship.  We can illustrate this rift (and the varied ramifications and interpretations put upon the subject by contemporaries) through an examination of King James’ effort to regulate Sunday behavior.

            James’ so-called “Book of Sports” of 1618 may well have represented an effort to cultivate his self-image of the middle-of-the-roader while defusing tension concerning proper Sunday (“Sabbath”) observance.[78]  The traditional view of Sunday as a day of recreation was a long-established English tradition which many did not want to give up.  This sentiment may have been even more common among Catholics who found nothing wrong in such activities and who were well aware that many Protestants or religiously unconcerned shared that sentiment. 

Hence it represented a politically safe way to antagonize their loudest religious critics while doing what would be little criticized (if at all) if engaged in on any other day of the week.  Diametrically in the opposite direction, more militant Puritan types thought that the entire day should be solely set aside for the cultivation of spiritual matters.

            (It is easy for academic types to smile at such restrictions.  But, in all candour, would not most prefer “serious” talk, study, and research to such “trivialous” matters as sport?  Does it not seem a more “proper” use of one’s mind and talents?  Hence there is even today a tendency toward a secular equivalent of the same mind frame--which, of course, makes no value judgment on which should actually be preferred.  It does warn against needless “throwing stones,” however!)  

            The compromise James established banned only two forms of recreation on Sunday.  One was the presentation of plays and the other was bear baiting.  Likewise recreation was prohibited prior to evening prayers.  Hence the policy went considerably toward meeting Puritan demands.  On the other hand, all other forms of legal recreation were permitted after the evening prayers were completed, thereby allowing the continued practice of traditional English Sunday pursuits. 

            Puritans considered this a needless concession to Catholicism.  Even on its own merits, separate and apart from such matters, they considered it unwise if not brazen compromise with the lack of spirituality that dominated society.  In many places they protested the changes, accused those who exercised the permitted liberties of undue laxity, and crusaded against any festivity that seemed to go the slightest degree over that permitted by the exact letter of the law.[79] 

            James took a quite different view of the matter.  He had come to the conclusion that the demand for a rigid limitation on what could be done on Sunday (above and beyond worship) represented a key reason for the survival of Catholicism in England.[80]  Hence, rather than seeing it as a concession to Catholicism, he viewed it as a useful means of undermining that religion.  He rubbed his action in the face of the strict Sunday observance advocates by requiring that the declaration be read in the churches. 

            In 1621 Parliament attempted to ban a number of Sunday activities.  James was well aware that they were about to prohibit what he had permitted and, therefore, ordered them to avoid prohibiting any of the activities he had legalized.  Another effort to undermine his permissive approach was attempted in 1624.  He was willing to support legislation prohibiting drunkenness and public vulgarity and cursing, but nothing that would basically change the type of activities he had been permitting.[81]  

            The somber attitude the Puritans had toward Sunday observance was paralleled in their attitude toward Christmas.  The twelve days of the holidays were a time of traditional feasting and joy.  The Puritans argued that the search for merriment had replacement the religious basis of the holiday.  They insisted “it was made rather a feast of Bacchus than a true serving of the memory of Jesus Christ.”[82]  (Oddly, scripturally speaking, there is no evidence at all in the New Testament that first century Christians ever observed such a commemoration at all.  The need for “scriptural authority” and “scripture alone” strangely disappears from view.)

            In such matters, Puritanism became increasingly elitist.  Although it began in the hope of converting the population at large to its theology, most preferred the less demanding customs of the past--if not in its Catholic form, at least in its Anglican adaptation.  In Catholicism (and to a lesser extent in mainstream Anglicanism) the clergy was expected to attain and maintain high moral standards and regular religious observance while the people at large were only encouraged to live such a life.  In contrast, a Puritan expected everyone to live a similarly committed religious life. 

            Those who declined that level of intensity were looked upon as, at best, half-converted.  Hence the result of demanding more of all resulted not in everyone moving up to that "higher" level of character and behavior, but in an emotional chasm between those who did live by the stricter standards and those who were unable or unwilling to abide by those rules.   Each side began to assume the worst of the other and negative stereotyping in both directions became common.

            Hence many citizens took unkindly to the Puritan attitudes.  Richard Baxter recorded that his own father “was reviled for reading Scripture when the rest were dancing on the Lord's Day, and for praying (by a form out of the Common Prayer Book) in his house and for reproving drunkards and swearers, and for talking sometimes a few words of Scripture and the life to come, he was reviled commonly by the name of Puritan, precisian, and hypocrite.”[83] 

            If the everyday citizenry had the deepest suspicions of the practical impact of Puritanism, the rulers did as well.  The congregationalism dominant in the more radical Puritan circles was one that was politically abhorrent to both Queen Elizabeth and King James for it carried disturbing implications concerning their own position.  By making the church independent of the ruler, yet expecting any godly ruler to be a part of that church, there was the implicit claim--at least in the minds of the critics--that the Puritans were making themselves into petty-ante Popes, exercising the kind of authority that so angered them and their sovereign when claimed by the Bishop of Rome.

            The Dean of York, Matthew Hutton presented this type of analysis in 1573 when he wrote to Lord Burghley,[84]


The supreme authority (you know) in ecclesiastical abuses was justly taken from the Pope, because he was an usurper, and given to the prince within his realm, to whom of right it doth appertain; but these reformers, take it from the prince, and give it unto themselves, with the grave seignioire in every parish.  For by them would they have every cause debated when any ariseth in the congregation.  If they cannot end it, by the ministers and seignioire of the parishes adjoining; if they cannot determine it, by a national council; if it cannot be ended there, then to be referred to a general council of all the churches reformed.  They make no mention of the Queen's authority.  I warrnt you, she must draw forth her sword, and see that this order of theirs be observed and kept; and more she hath not to do, if we believe some of them. 


            It could mean something even more radical.  Another critic warned that if the proposed Puritan restructuring of the church were adopted that the Queen “must submit herself and her sceptre to the fantastical humours of her own parish governors.”[85]  The ultimate horror:  the sovereign not only not sovereign but forced to submit to a local, regional, or national churchly authority . . . that may or may not represent the convictions of the majority of the nation . . . while she is monarch of the entire realm!  Few arguments could be better structured to hit at the Archilles heel of royal pride.

            Nor was this mere character assassination aimed at hypothetical dangers.  In 1566 John Bartlett openly professed in his The Fortress of Fathers,[86]


The lordship of bishops now exercised over both the rest of the clergy and over the lay people hath no ground in the word of God.  Christ is only the head of his mystical body which is the church as the prince or chief magistrate is the head of the politic body of the realm and country.  The supreme magistrate is bound to obey the word of God, preached by Christ's messengers, and he is also subject to the discipline of the church [our emphasis, RW].  Neither the prince nor any prelate hath any authority by the word of God to make any ecclesiastical law or rite, to bind men's consciences in pain of deadly sin to keep them.


            As abstract theory this made inherent sense.  Politically speaking, however, it was inherently anathema to the ruler.  In 1590 Elizabeth expressed indignation at such a concept of regal limitation in a letter to James VI (the future James I of England).  She described the Puritan reformers as a “sect of perilous consequence, such as would have no kings but a presbytery, and take our place while they enjoy our privileges, with a shade of God's word, which none is judged [to] follow right without by their censure they be so deemed.  Yea, look we well unto them."[87] 

            In a very real sense, anti-clericalism came back to haunt the Puritan ministers.  If the bishops were (or, at least, could) become spiritual tyrants who mistreated the people without fear of consequences, why should the Puritan clerics be considered immune to such attitudes if they obtained the power they sought?  James I touched on this type of idea when he described the Puritans in his volume Trew Law as preaching, "Wee are all put vile worms, & yet wil judge and give law to their king, but will be judged nor controlled by none:  Surely there is more pride under such a ones black-bonnet nor under great Alexander's Diademe."[88] 

            The dominant Anglican establishment looked upon the Puritans as creating a new set of religious errors to replace those of Rome.  Lancelot Andrewes wrote of how the Puritans had replaced the idolatry of images with the idolatry of theology, “There hath been good riddance made of images; but for imaginations, they be daily stamped in great number, and instead of the old images set up, deified and worshipped carrying the names and credit of the ‘apostles doctrine,’ ‘government etc.’ ”[89]   

            Even areas of agreement had been developed in very different directions--at least in the eyes of the critics.  All agreed in the need for quality sermonizing.  Preaching was viewed as central to the obtaining of salvation since it was the means whereby individuals learned both of how it was obtained and were compelled to acknowledge their personal need for it.  Hugh Latimer made the point in a 1549 sermon before Edward VI.  Preaching on Romans 10:13-15, he pointed out from the text,[90]


The top of the ladder or first [stair], is this:  “Whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  The second step:   “How shall they call upon him whom they have not believed?”  The third stair is this:  “How shall they believe in him of whom they never heard?”  The fourth step:  “How shall they preach except they be sent?”  This is the foot of the ladder, so that we may go backward now, and use the school argument; a primo ad ultimum:  take away preaching, take away salvation.


            Puritanism’s  nay-sayers saw this needed emphasis twisted in the practice of the Puritans.  For example, to Lancelot Andrewes Catholicism had its cult of relics.  Puritans had the cult of the sermon.  Excess emphasis on the sermon led it into being transformed into a virtual theatrical performance, where the stress was on a “scenical, theatrical, histrionical godliness.”  The speaker was preoccupied with “volubility of utterance, earnestness of action, straining the voice in a passionate delivery, phrases and figures.”  Likewise the listener learned to react not in a thinking, considered manner but with the emotions.  “With some spring within their eyes are made to roll, and their lips to wag, and their breath to give a sob; all is but Hero's pneumatica, a visar, not a very face; ‘an outward show of godliness, but no inward power of it at all.’ ”[91] 

            Indeed, he argued, the Puritan follower often defined his religion in terms of listening to and reacting to these sermons, “The corps, the whole body of some men's profession, all godliness with some, what is it but hearing a sermon?  The ear is all, the ear is all that is done, and but by our ear-mark no man should know us to be Christians.”[92] 

            The dilemma of mainstream Anglicanism was to preserve the goal of effective sermonizing without allowing it to “degenerate” in this manner.  Also, by stressing the alleged “abuse” of sermonizing, they left themselves more room for continuing “ritualistic” practices--both clerical attire, practice, and formal rite--of the type previously found in traditional Catholicism.

            Indeed, the “Romanists” themselves utilized similar reasoning as an argument against the reform measures of both groups.  As early as Stephen Gardiner, they were utilizing the “excessive” importance of the sermon as an argument against the over-all reform movement.  “These men,” Gardiner insisted, “speak much of preaching; but note well this, they would see nothing in remembrance of Christ, and therefore they can not abide images. . . .  They would have all in talking[;] they speak of much of preaching, so all the gates of our senses and ways to man’s understanding should be shut up saving the ear alone.”[93]    

            But like it or not, Puritanism continued to be a challenge to the religious and political establishments, but it began to evolve in a very different direction from what became the dominant Anglican establishment.  The continuing influx of religious refugee ministers and scholars during the sixteenth century had kept would-be English reformers up-to date with the latest thinking, arguments, and even fads.  Likewise many Englishmen studied and worked abroad, sometimes voluntarily but more often as the result of the shifting religious tides in Britain. 

Hence there was a constant cross-fertilization of religious ideology with the continent in both directions.  After the early 1600s, however, the stabilization of religious affairs in England dramatically reduced the degree to which this occurred, resulting in English Puritanism evolving more as the result of interaction with its own domestic advocates rather than with continental Calvinism and other reform movements.[94] 

            If Puritanism became independent of European dominance, it also became independent of the religious mainstream as well.  The widespread vilification that came to be poured upon them caused them to gradually re-orientate the entire movement.  Throughout the Elizabethan reign, Puritans still hoped for the ultimate “reform” of the communities in which they dwelt, along the lines they sought.  If they were accused of being divisive, they would either fervently deny the charge or insist that--sadly--division inevitably occurs when people stubbornly refuse to accept what is true and right. 

            In the reign of King James there began a clear circling of the wagons:  Increasingly the emphasis was upon the building up of the spiritual ties within the movement.  Edification of the already committed became more important than confident outreach to expand their numbers. 

The social evils of the age began to weigh more heavily on many souls.  Instead of being a light on a hill attempting to bear witness to the world and improve it, the movement increasingly defined itself by the spiritual growth within the body of the already committed.  Partly defensive, partly resentful, Puritanism considered itself not as the inevitable wave of the future, but as a committed minority at spiritual war with its fellow citizenry.[95]  






[1] For the text, on the internet, of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (as translated by Henry Beveridge) see (,(AOL Netfind, September 8, 1997).  Calvin wrote a number of commentaries on the Bible that continue to be available in print.  For links to internet versions of these commentaries see [Anonymous], “John Calvin Resources on the Internet” ( resources/library/christn/theology/calvin/calvin.htm), AOL Netfind,  September 8, 1997.  For links also see Metropolitan Bible Church, “Bible Resources and Commentaries,” (, AOL Netfind, September 8, 1997.


[2] For an analysis of the roots of the hostility to Calvin by the native politico-economic elite of Geneva, see W. G. Naphy, “Baptisms, Church Riots and Social Unrest in Calvin’s Geneva,” Sixteenth Century Journal:  The Journal of Early Modern Studies, 26 (Spring 1995):  87-97.


[3] For internet accessible information about this reformer see, among other sources, Anonymous, “About John Calvin, (, AOL Netfind, September 8, 1997.  Also see Anonymous, “John Calvin,” (http://www., AOL Netfind, September 8, 1997.


[4] Anonymous, “Geneva, Switzerland” ( Frank/Places/geneva.html), AOL Netfind, September 8, 1997.


[5] For a religiously conservative account of these attitudes see Sydney Hunter,  “Three Men and Calvinism,” Biblical Fundamentalist (Australia), no date (as reprinted at, AOL Netfind, September 8, 1997.

For an analysis of Calvin’s theology of the relationship of church and state also see George J. Gatgounis II, “The Political Theory of John Calvin,” Churchman 110 (1996):  60-75.


[6] For two of Calvin’s less well known writings on this theme see John Calvin, Calvin’s Calvinism:  Treatises on the Eternal Predestination of God; the Secret Providence of God, translated by Henry Cole (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Reformed Free Publishing Association, [n.d.]), ( predestination.html), AOL Netfind, September 8, 1997.  For a discussion of the relationship of Calvin’s personal teaching and Calvinism as it came to be interpreted in England, see Alan Clifford, “Geneva Revisited or Calvinism Revised:  The Case for Theological Reassessment,” Churchman 100 (1986): 323-334.


[7] For a study of the missionary thrust of Calvinism and how the necessities of the case required that Catholics rather than overt unbelievers be targeted see Kathleen S. Hofmann Smith, “John Calvin and Mission,” Stromata:  The On-Line Journal of Calvin Theological Seminary, Volume 1, Winter 1997, updated April 11, 1997, (http://www., AOL Netfind, September 8, 1997.


[8] George Yule, Puritans in Politics:  The Religious Legislation of the Long Parliament, 1640-1647 ([Great Britain:]  Sutton Courtenay Press, 1981), 23-28.


[9] As quoted by Ibid., 23.  


[10] Loades, Revolution in Religion, 65.


[11] Bindoff, 225.


[12] For an analysis of the five--sometimes overlapping groups--to which the term was applied, see James I. Packer, “Puritanism as a Movement of Revival,” Evangelical Quarterly 52 (January-March 1980):  2.  


[13] Lewis Lupton, The Quarrel, Volume 1 of A History of the Geneva Bible (London, England:  The Olive Tree, 1966), 15.


[14] Bindoff, 226-227.


[15] As quoted by Babbage, 5.


[16] Ibid. 


[17] For the Queen’s reaction and Parker’s rationale see Ibid., 6.  Quotations also come from this page.


[18] As quoted by Ibid.


[19] As quoted by Ibid., 7. 


[20] As quoted by Ibid.


[21] For extract, see Ibid. 


[22] As to margin of passage, see MacCulloch, Latter Reformation, 33.  For the quoted text itself, see as quoted by Leonard R. N. Ashley, Elizabethan Popular Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio:  Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1988), 201.  Also reprinted in Elton, Tudor Constitution, 437.


[23] V. J. K. Brook, Whitgift and the English Church (London:  English Universities Press, Ltd., 1957), 22.


[24] For the belief that this represented the intra-church strength of the Puritan movement at its maximum, see the arguments of Dawley, 69-70. 


[25] For a discussion of the varied practices see Brook, Whitgift and the English Church, 22.


[26] For a discussion of these see Bindoff, 229.  For a lengthy collection of extracts, by subject, revealing the differences between the two sides see the exchanges between Thomas Cartwright and John Whitgift as compiled by Donald J. McGinn, The Admonition Controversy (New Brunswick [New Jersey]:  Rutgers University Press, 1949), 145-539.      


[27] See the discussion of James I’s efforts to Anglicize the Scottish/Presbyterian churches in Lee, 159-192.


[28] For an analysis of how the bishops carried the blame for decisions that were, substantially, the Queen's own policies as well, see Somerset, 297-298.


[29] For a partial text of his refusal, see Babbage, 15.  On Archbishop Grindal’s obstruction of Elizabeth’s determination to ban “prophesyings” see MacCulloch, Latter Reformation, 41-43.


[30] Babbage, 15.  For the partial texts of some of Grindal's protests against suppression see Dawley, 151-153.


[31] On the various forms the lectureships could take see W. J. Sheils, “Religion in Provincial Towns:  Innovation and Tradition,” in Church and Society in England:  Henry VIII to James I, edited by Felicity Heal and Rosemary O’Day (Hamden, Connecticut:  Archon Books, 1977), 164-165.


[32] Ibid., 157.


[33]cVivienne Sanders, “John Whitgift:  Primate, Privy Councillor and Propagandist,” Anglican and Episcopal History 56 (December 1987):  390.


[34] Quotes from Ibid., 390.


[35] Manning, 194; cf. xii.  For a detailed study of those who supported and those who opposed Whitgift’s policies, see LeLand H. Carlson, “Archbishop John Whitgift:  His Supporters and Opponents,” Anglican and Episcopal History 56 (September 1987):  285-302.


[36] Kenneth Fincham, “Introduction,” in The Early Stuart Church, 1603-1642, edited by Kenneth Fincham (Stanford, California:  Stanford University Press, 1993), 2-3.


[37] Somerset, 491.


[38] For a discussion of the techniques see Ibid., 491-493.  


[39] Ibid., 492-493.


[40] R. C. Richardson, Puritanism in North-west England 17-18.


[41] For two specific examples of this, see Christopher Haigh, “Puritan Evangelism in the Reign of Elizabeth I,” 32-33.


[42] As quoted by Somerset, 495. 


[43] For text see J. P. Kenyon, The Stuart Constitution, 1603-1688:  Documents and Commentary, Second Edition (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1986), 119-121.  For the “canons” of 1604 that the clergy were expected to implement see 122-126.


[44] Ibid., 114.. 


[45] For the tactics of Parliament see Ibid.


[46] G. M. Trevelyan, England under the Stuarts (1904; reprint, New York:  Barnes & Noble, 1965), 57.


[47] See the discussion in Ibid., 159-163. 


[48] Ibid., 58. 


[49] Ibid.


[50] Richard L. Greaves, “The Nature of the Puritan Tradition.”  In Reformation, Conformity and Dissent:  Essays in Honour of Geoffrey Nuttall, edited by R. Buick Knox (London:  Epworth Press, 1977) 255, points to John Goodwin and the poet John Milton as examples.


[51] Cf. the discussion of these congregationalist types in Trevelyan, England under the Stuarts, 58.


[52] Ashley, England in the Seventeenth Century, 31.


[53] Ibid.


[54] Austin Woolrych, "Puritanism, Politics and Society," in The English Revolution, 1600-1660, edited by E. W. Ives (New York:  Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1968; U.S. edition, 1969), 88.


[55] Amanda Porterfield, “Women’s Attraction to Puritanism,” Church History 60 (June 1991):  196.  


[56] Ibid.


[57] As noted, this deduction is based, however, on the Puritans in American New England in the 1660s.  For examples and statistics see Ibid., 196-197.


[58] For a selection of hard numbers and contemporary sixteenth century speculation on women’s role in the movement, see Richard L. Greaves, “The Role of Women in Early English Nonconformity,” 300-301.


[59] On the element of introducing stability in an age of instability see Porterfield, 207-208.  On the Catholic and humanist inclination in the same direction see Margo Todd, “Humanists, Puritans and the Spiritualized Household,” Church History 49 (March 1980):  18-34.


[60] Andrew Pettegree, “The London Exile Community and the Second Sacramentarian Controversy, 1553-1560,” Archiv fur  Reformationsgeschichte/Archive for Reformation History 78 (1987):  223.


[61] Bindorff, 225.


[62] As quoted by Benjamin H. Newcomb, “The English Puritan Clergy’s Acceptance of Political Parties, 1570-1700,” Journal of Religious History 19 (June 1995):  49.


[63] As quoted by Claire Cross, Royal Supremacy in the Elizabethan Church, 49.


[64] As quoted by Ibid., 54.  For other relevant related quotations see pages 53-54.


[65] On the characteristics of Presbyterianism, see David Cody ( projects/hypertext/landow/victorian/religion/presbyt.html), AOL Netfind, August 31, 1997.


[66] Knox, Walter Travers, 118-119.


[67] On the Marian exile as ultimately producing religious division, see Geoffrey W. Bromiley, “A Fateful Anniversary [Death of Mary Tudor],” Christianity Today 2 (January 6, 1958):  12.


[68] On such reasoning, with contemporary quotations, see Patrick Collinson, “Towards a Broader Understanding of the Early Dissenting Tradition,” in The Dissenting Tradition:  Essays for Leland H. Carlson, edited by C. Robert Cole and Michael E. Moody (Athens,  [Ohio]:  Ohio University Press, 1975), 8.


[69] For a discussion of the intra-Puritan aspect of the secession from Anglicanism see Ibid., 18-19.


[70] Ibid., 19-20.


[71] Christopher Hill, “Occasional Conformity,” in Reformation, Conformity and Dissent:  Essays in Honour of Geoffrey Nuttall, edited by R. Buick Knox (London:  Epworth Press, 1977), 207.  On the proportion of those who remained in Anglicanism, also see W. D. J. Cargill Thompson, “Sir Francis Knollys’ Campaign against the Jure Divino Theory of Episcopacy,” in The Dissenting Tradition:  Essays for Leland H. Carlson, edited by C. Robert Cole and Michael E. Moody (Athens, [Ohio]:  Ohio University Press, 1975), 39.


[72] MacCulloch, Latter Reformation, 91.  For an examination of Tyndale’s approach to the subject, see Michael McGiffert, “William Tyndale’s Conception of Covenant,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 32 (April 1981):  167-184.


[73] For an analysis of covenantal theology among English Puritans see  MacCulloch, Latter Reformation, 92-93.


[74] Trevelyan, Age of Shakespeare, 40-41.


[75] On how English Puritans differed from continental reformers in this mind view, see George P. Landow, “Puritan Attitudes toward Culture,” (

projects/hypertext/landow/victorian/religion/puritan3.html), AOL, August 31, 1997.


[76] For such Calvinist implicit endorsement of a more relaxed attitude, see Trevelyan, England under the Stuarts, 65.


[77] On specific types of behavior that had been previously acceptable, see Ibid., 65-66.  Trevelyan observes that this absolutist approach to Sunday recreation also made it impractical for profits-maximizing industrialists of the modern England to require Sunday secular labor as well (67).  


[78] We put “Sabbath” in quotation marks because, properly speaking, the Sabbath was the seventh day of the week (Exodus 20:8) while Sunday is the first day of the week.  Hence some speak of the “Christian Sabbath,” though that term is unknown in the New Testament.  For the text of James’ declaration see J. R. Tanner, Constitutional Documents of the Reign of James I:  A.D. 1603-1625, with an Historical Commentary (Cambridge:  At the University Press, 1930), 54-56.  On the theory of proper “sabbath” observance for Sundays in the immediately earlier period, the late 1500s, see Kenneth L. Parker, “Thomas Rogers and the English Sabbath:  The Case for a Reappraisal,” Church History 53 (September 1984):  332-347. 


[79] For a detailed discussion of a long running conflict over public festivals in the diocese of Peterborough, see John Fielding, “Armianism in the Localities:  Peterborough Diocese, 1603-1642,” in The Early Stuart Church, 1603-1642, edited by Kenneth Fincham (Stanford, California:  Stanford University Press, 1993), 101-103.


[80] James acted with Lancashire specifically in mind.  See Kenyon, 116.


[81] On efforts of Parliament to legislatively narrow the permissions James had granted, see Ibid.


[82] As quoted by Somerset, 295.      


[83] As quoted by Ashley, England in the Seventeenth Century, 43.


[84] As quoted in Joseph M. Levine, Elizabeth I, in the Great Lives Observed series (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:  Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1969), 81.  The quotation continues at greater length onto the following page.  Quoted in part in various other sources such as Somerset, 295.


[85] As quoted by Somerset, 295.


[86] As quoted by Claire Cross, Royal Supremacy in the Elizabethan Church, 48.


[87] As quoted by Somerset, 295.


[88] As quoted by Jenny Wormald, "James VI and I, Basilikon Doron and The Trew Law of Free Monarchies:  The Scottish Context and the English Translation," in The Mental World of the Jacobean Court, edited by Linda L. Peck (New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1991), 47.


[89] As quoted by Peter Lake, "Lancelot Andrewes, John Buckeridge, and Avant-Garde Conformity at the Court of James I," in The Mental World of the Jacobean Court, edited by Linda L. Peck (New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1991), 116.


[90] As quoted by Patrick Ferry, “Preaching, Preachers, and the English Reformation under Edward VI:  1547-1553,” Concordia Journal 18 (October 1992):  364.


[91] Quoted by Lake, 116.


[92] Quoted by Lake, 116.    


[93] As quoted  by Ferry, 362.


[94] J. R. Jones, Britain and Europe in The Seventeenth Century (New York:  W. W. Norton, Inc., 1966), 7-8. 


[95] On the internal redefinition of the nature of Puritanism during this period, see Patrick Collinson, “Towards a Broader Understanding of the Early Dissenting Tradition,” 23-24.