Anglicans and Puritans

When Elizabeth replaced Mary as queen, she re-established Protestantism as England's official religion. Although people were fined for not attending Protestant church services, little effort was made to persecute the many Catholics that still lived in England.

Some Protestants thought that the Anglican Church was still too much like the Catholic church. These people became known as Puritans. Some of the things Puritans complained about included: ministers wearing surplices (loose, white garments); people kneeling while taking Communion; ornaments, paintings and stained glass windows in churches; the playing of organ music during services and the celebrations of saints' days.

Puritans, deeply influenced by the writings of John Calvin, also disliked the power that the bishops had in the church. For example, many Puritans disapproved of bishops appointing church ministers. Instead, they suggested that ministers should be elected by the people who attended church services.

Elizabeth resisted these changes as she saw the Puritans as a threat to monarchical government. She feared that Puritans who complained about the wealth and power of bishops would eventually say the same thing about kings and queens. In time, the type of Protestant church established by Elizabeth in England became known as the Anglican church.

The Puritans were happy when in 1603 James Stuart, the king of Scotland, also became king of England. James was a Presbyterian and under his rule many of the reforms that Puritans favoured had been introduced in Scotland. However, it soon became clear that James intended to continue with Elizabeth's religious policies.

When James died in 1625 he was replaced by his son Charles I. The Puritans became very angry when Charles married Henrietta Maria, a Catholic princess. They also became worried when Catholic lords began to be given important posts in Charles' court.

In 1633 Charles appointed William Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury. Laud soon began to introduce changes. For example, he ordered that the wooden communion table should be replaced by a stone altar. This area was also separated from the congregation by wooden railings. He also insisted that ministers should display candles and ornaments.

The Puritans claimed that Laud was trying to make English churches look like those in Catholic countries. When Puritans complained about these reforms. Laud had them arrested. In 1637 John Bastwick, Henry Burton and William Prynne had their ears cut off for writing pamphlets attacking Laud's views.

During the Civil War religion was an important factor in deciding which side people supported. The king's persecution of Puritans meant that most members of this religious group supported Parliament, whereas most Anglicans and Catholics tended to favour the royalists.

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Puritanism was strong among the troops of the New Model Army and after defeating the Royalist army they expected to be rewarded. Most members of Parliament were Presbyterians. These men were willing to share power with the king. Presbyterians also had strong feelings on religion. They disapproved of other Puritan groups such as the Anabaptists, Quakers and Congregationalists and wanted them suppressed.

The other major group were called the Independents. They tended to be followers of the religious groups that the Presbyterians wanted to suppress. The Independents argued for a policy of religious toleration. Some Independents also wanted to bring an end to the monarchy.

The Independents had a strong following in the parliamentary army. Afraid of their power, Presbyterianmembers of the House of Commons tried to disband the army. The soldiers were furious, especially as Parliament made no effort to pay them the wages that were due to them. The army decided to take action. The Presbyterians were expelled from Parliament.

Woodcut from a pamphlet published in 1641.
Woodcut from a pamphlet published in 1641.

The Independents now passed a series of new laws. The monarchy, the House of Lords and the Anglican church were abolished. Lands owned by the royal family and the church were sold and the money was used to pay the parliamentary soldiers. The Independents also kept their promise regarding religious toleration. People were no longer fined for not attending their local church. However, everyone was still expected to attend some form of religious worship on Sundays.

Although the House of Commons continued to meet, it was the army that controlled England. In December 1653, the army decided that Oliver Cromwell should become England's new ruler. Some officers wanted him to become king but he refused and instead took the title Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. However, Cromwell had as much power as kings had in the past. When the House of Commons opposed his policies in 1655, he closed it down.

Cromwell now imposed military rule. England was divided into eleven districts. Each district was run by a Major General. The responsibilities of these Major-Generals included maintaining order, collecting taxes, granting poor relief and imposing Puritan morality. In some districts bear-baiting, cock-fighting, horse-racing and wrestling were banned. Betting and gambling were also forbidden. Large numbers of ale-houses were closed and fines were imposed on people caught swearing. In some districts, the Major-Generals even closed down theatres.

The Puritans lost control of government after the Restoration in 1660. However, the vast majority of members of House of Commons remained loyal Protestants. When Charles II suspended acts of Parliament that punished Roman Catholics, Parliament passed the Test Acts in 1673. This act required all government officials to swear an oath that they were Protestants

Primary Sources

(1) J. Harrison, The Common People (1984)

Many Puritans preached in public. The idea of labouring men (and also women) preaching was deeply offensive to the ruling classes.

(2) Christopher Hill, The Century of Revolution (1961)

The pulpit was used for making government announcements... ministers were frequently instructed by the government to preach sermons slanted in a particular way.

(3) W. Weston, The Autobiography of an Elizabethan (c. 1580)

From the very beginning a great number of Puritans lived here. Each of them had his own Bible, turning the pages and discussing the passages among themselves... they would start arguing about the meaning of passages from the Scriptures - men, women, boys, girls, rustics, labourers and idiots - and more often than not, it was said, it ended in violence.

(4) Charles I, comment to one of his ministers (1638)

People are governed by the pulpit more than the sword.

(5) On 30 June, 1637, three Puritans were publicly punished for writing pamphlets criticizing Archbishop Laud. Nehemiah Wallington witnessed the event.

Mr Pryne... went up first on the scaffold, and his wife, immediately following, came up to him... and saluted each ear with a kiss... The executioner came towards him. Mr Pryne spoke these words to him, "Come, friend, come, burn me, cut me, I fear it not. I have learned to fear the fire of Hell, and not what man can do unto me." The executioner... heated his iron to

burn one cheek, and cut off one of his ears so close that he cut off a piece of his cheek.

(6) Lucy Hutchinson, History of the English Civil War (c. 1670)

King Charles... married a Catholic... he became a most submissive husband... all the Catholics were favoured... the Puritans were persecuted and many of them chose to abandon their native country... Those that could not flee were... fined, whipped and imprisoned.

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