History of the Puritans under James I

Puritan history
Narrative History
History of the Puritans under Elizabeth I
History of the Puritans under James I
History of the Puritans under Charles I
History of the Puritans from 1649
History of the Puritans in North America
Definitions of Puritanism
Troubles at Frankfurt
Puritan choir
Vestments controversy
Martin Marprelate
Millenary Petition
Arminianism in the Church of England
Providence Island Company
Puritan Sabbatarianism
Scrooby Congregation
Trial of Archbishop Laud

Under James I of England, the Puritan movement co-existed with the conforming Church of England in what was generally an accepted form of episcopal Protestant religion. This equilibrium was disturbed towards the end of this period by several new developments, doctrinal from the Synod of Dort, political from the discussion of the Spanish Match shortly after the outbreak of the Thirty Years War, and internal to the Church with a partial shift of views away from Calvinism. Separatists who had never accepted King James's settlement of religious affairs began migrating to New England colonies, from the Netherlands as well as England.

The Millenary Petition (1603) and the Hampton Court Conference (1604)

Elizabeth I died in March 1603; she was succeeded by James VI of Scotland, who had been King of Scots since the abdication of his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1567 (when James was 1 year old). James had had little contact with his mother and was raised by guardians in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. John Knox had led the Scottish Reformation, beginning in 1560, and the Church of Scotland looked broadly like the type of church that the Puritans wanted in England. In his 1599 book Basilikon Doron, the king had had harsh words for Puritans, but his criticisms seemed directed at the most extreme of the Puritans and it seemed likely that the king would agree to moderate reforms.

Throughout 1603, Puritan ministers collected signatures for a petition, known as the Millenary Petition because it was signed by 1,000 Puritan ministers. The Petition was careful not to challenge the royal supremacy in the Church of England, and called for a number of moderate church reforms to remove ceremonies perceived as overly popish: The Millenary Petition was presented to James in Leicester so he couldn't discuss the terms with the Bishops.

  1. the use of the sign of the cross in baptism (which Puritans saw as superstitious);
  2. the rite of confirmation (which Puritans criticized because it was not found in the Bible);
  3. the performance of baptism by midwives (which Puritans argued was based on a superstitious belief that infants who died without being baptized could not go to heaven);
  4. the exchanging of rings during the marriage ceremony (again seen as unscriptural and superstitious);
  5. bowing at the Name of Jesus during worship (again seen as superstitious);
  6. the requirement that clergy wear vestments (see above); and
  7. the custom of clergy living in the church building.

The Petition argued that a preaching minister should be appointed to every parish (instead of one who simply read the service from the Book of Common Prayer). In opposition to Archbishop John Whitgift's policy that clergy must subscribe to the Book of Common Prayer and the use of vestments, the Petition argued that ministers should only be required to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles and the royal supremacy. Finally, the Petition called for the ending of episcopacy, and the setting up of a presbyterian system of church governance.

King James (1566-1625) disappointed the Puritans by agreeing to only modest reform proposals at the 1604 Hampton Court Conference.

James I, who had studied theology, and who enjoyed debating theological points, agreed to hold a conference at Hampton Court Palace, where supporters and opponents of the Millenary Petition could debate the merits of reforms to the church. After being postponed due to an outbreak of the plague, the Hampton Court Conference was held in January 1604. The king chose four Puritans to represent the Puritan cause: John Rainolds (president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford), Laurence Chaderton (master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge), Thomas Sparke, and John Knewstubs. Archbishop Whitgift led a delegation of eight bishops (including Whitgift's protégé, Richard Bancroft, Bishop of London), seven deans, and two other clergymen in opposition to the Puritans.

At the first meeting of the Conference, held January 14, James met only with Archbishop Whitgift's party. On the second day, January 16, he met with the Puritans - this day of the conference ended badly for the Puritans when Rainolds mentioned the Puritan proposal for creating presbyteries in England. James viewed the proposal to replace bishops with presbyteries as an attempt to diminish his power in the church. As such, James issued his famous maxim "No bishop, no king!" on this occasion, before ending the day's meeting early. On January 18, the king initially met with Whitgift's party and an assemblage of ecclesiastical lawyers, before calling in the Puritans to hear his verdict. James declared that the use of the Book of Common Prayer was to continue, and made no provisions for a preaching ministry. He did, however, approve a few changes in the Book of Common Prayer: 1) the mention of baptism by midwives was to be eliminated; 2) the term "absolution" (which Puritans associated with the Catholic sacrament of penance, which was rejected by Protestants) was replaced by the term "remission of sins"; 3) confirmation was renamed "laying on of hands" to dissociate it from its Catholic sacramental meaning; and 4) a few other minor changes. James also announced that he agreed to support the Puritan project for a new, authorized translation of the Bible, thus setting the stage for the production of the Authorized King James Version of the Bible, published in 1611.

Richard Bancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1604-1610

Following the death of John Whitgift, James selected Richard Bancroft as his replacement as Archbishop of Canterbury. Bancroft had argued against the Puritans at the Hampton Court Conference, and his selection signalled the end to reforms. Shortly after his selection, Bancroft presented a book of canons to the Convocation of the English Clergy; these canons received royal approval and as such became part of the Church of England's canon law. The Parliament of England, which in 1559 had passed the Act of Uniformity approving the Book of Common Prayer, claimed that Parliament, not Convocation, was the body authorized to pass new canon law. Puritans argued that the bishops were attempting to aggrandize themselves at the Parliament's expense. In the end, James acceded to Parliament's demand, and withdrew the book of canons. The 1604 parliament marks the first time that the Puritans had allied themselves with the cause of Parliament over against the cause of the bishops. Over the next several decades, this alliance would become one of the most pronounced features of English politics, and would form the basis of the divisions in the English Civil War in the 1640s.

The discovery of the Gunpowder Plot led to a period of particularly virulent anti-Catholicism. Since the Puritans were the hawks against Catholics, they enjoyed some cachet in this period. Nevertheless, their reform proposals were successfully blocked by Bancroft.

George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1611-1633

George Abbot (1562-1633), Archbishop of Canterbury, whom some historians have called "the Puritan Archbishop."

Following Archbishop Bancroft's death in 1610, James chose George Abbot as his successor. James re-introduced bishops (abolished at the time of the Scottish Reformation) into the Church of Scotland, though with less power than bishops elsewhere, and serving essentially as the permanent chairman of a presbytery. In 1608, Abbot had impressed James after he accompanied George Home, 1st Earl of Dunbar to Scotland as part of his efforts to unify the English and Scottish churches, and James had named Abbot Bishop of Lichfield in 1609. James intended Abbot's appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury to further his project of unifying the English and Scottish churches.

While each Archbishop of Canterbury since Matthew Parker had been a Calvinist, Abbot is generally regarded as "The Calvinist Archbishop" or even as "The Puritan Archbishop", and is the closest the Puritans ever got to seeing an Archbishop of Canterbury endorse their proposals. (The one issue on which Abbot was distinctly non-Puritan was the issue of episcopacy - Abbot was one of the most vocal proponents of the doctrine of apostolic succession in the Church of England.)

The Book of Sports Controversy, 1617

It had long been a custom in England that Sunday mornings were dedicated to Christian worship, and were then followed by sports and games on Sunday afternoons. The Puritans loudly objected to the practice of Sunday sports, believing that playing games on Sabbath constituted a violation of the Fourth Commandment. Their Sabbatarian views became much stronger than in other European Reformed churches.

Nineteenth-century illustration showing parishioners "keeping Sunday" in a way approved by the Book of Sports. Although the Puritans did not necessarily object to these sports and games in general, they did object to allowing them on Sundays.

In the early seventeenth century, Puritans came to dominate several localities and managed to succeed in banning Sunday sports. In 1617, in Lancashire, there was a particularly intense quarrel between the Puritans and the local gentry (many of whom were Catholic recusants) over the issue of Sunday sports. In response to the controversy raging in his diocese, Thomas Morton, Bishop of Chester, asked the king for a ruling on the propriety of Sunday sports.

In response King James issued the Book of Sports, a declaration declaring that it was lawful to play some sports on Sundays, but not others. Criticizing the opinions of "puritans and precise people", the Book listed archery, dancing, "leaping, vaulting, or any other such harmless recreation" as permissible sports for Sundays. It forbade bear-baiting, bull-baiting, "interludes" and bowling. The king commanded all Anglican ministers to read the Book of Sports to their congregations, but Archbishop Abbot contradicted him, and ordered his clergy not to read the Book of Sports.

The Five Articles of Perth, 1618

For more details on this topic, see Five Articles of Perth.

In 1618, King James proposed the Five Articles of Perth, which imposed English practices on the Scottish church. The Five Articles required:

  1. kneeling at Communion;
  2. provisions allowing for private baptism;
  3. provisions allowing reservation of the sacrament for the ill;
  4. only a bishop was allowed to administer the rite of confirmation; and
  5. the Church of Scotland, which had previously abolished all holy days, was obliged to accept some holy days.

The Five Articles of Perth were ultimately accepted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, though a sizable minority of Scottish Presbyterians objected. The Articles of Perth appeared to English Puritans to be heading in the wrong direction.

Controversy over the Spanish Match, 1623-1624

King James saw himself as the potential peacemaker of Europe, and his propaganda portrayed him as the modern Solomon. In religion the Church of England could provide a model middle ground, and in his view both Catholics and Protestants would be able to accept churches modeled after it.

Richard Hooker (1554-1600) opposed the Puritans' efforts to further reform the Church of England. King James, who saw himself as the Peacemaker of Europe, agreed with Hooker, and promoted a middle ground between Catholicism and Protestantism as the solution to Europe's problems.

In this regard, he subscribed to the theory that the Church of England represented a via media or middle way between Protestantism and Catholicism. When his son Charles became old enough to marry, James mused about marrying Charles to a Catholic princess. The Thirty Years' War broke out in 1618, and English Protestants demanded that James intervene, on behalf of his son-in-law Frederick V, Elector Palatine. James initially refused, but in 1620 was forced to call a parliament to raise funds to support an expedition on behalf of Frederick: this was the first parliament James had called since the 1614 Addled Parliament. Parliament led by Edward Coke refused to grant adequate funds for this expedition unless the king agreed that his son would marry a Protestant. James responded that Parliament had no business interfering in matters of royal prerogative. Parliament responded by passing a protest, asserting its ancient rights. At the urging of his favourite, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, and of the Spanish ambassador Diego Sarmiento de Acuña, 1st Count of Gondomar, James tore this protest out of the record book and dissolved Parliament.

Buckingham had gained considerable influence, not only over James, but also over Prince Charles. In 1623, he convinced the 23-year-old Charles that England should ally with Spain and that Prince Charles should marry a Spanish princess. The two thus sailed for Spain so that Charles could court Maria Anna of Spain, daughter of Philip III of Spain. This proposed marriage is known to history as the Spanish Match. The Spanish Match was wildly unpopular among English Protestants, and allowed the Puritan theories a great deal of credibility: Puritans argued that the Spanish Match was part of a plot to restore England to Catholicism. When James called another parliament in 1623, the anti-Catholic outpouring was so virulent that it was obvious the parliament would agree to none of the king's requests. Meanwhile, in Spain, the Spanish insisted that they would only agree to the Spanish Match if Charles agreed to convert to Catholicism and agree to spend a year receiving Catholic instruction in Spain. Under the circumstances, Charles ultimately declined the Spanish Match in 1624. His return to England was greeted with widespread celebrations and treated as a national holiday.

In response to his rebuff by Spain, Charles came to favour alliance with France and war with Spain. At the Puritan-dominated 1624 parliament, the parliament impeached Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex, the minister most associated with advocacy in favour of the Spanish Match. The parliament agreed to fund a war with Spain in principle, though they did not actually allocate funding for the war.

The rise of the Arminian party and the New Gagg controversy (1624)

For more details on this topic, see Arminianism in the Church of England.
William Ames (1576-1633), English Puritan who lived in the Dutch Republic and who supported the Calvinist Gomarists during the Quinquarticular Controversy. His writings had a strong influence in England as well and opposition to the spread of Arminianism in the Church of England soon became a noted Puritan characteristic.

King James was a lifelong doctrinal Calvinist, and when the Quinquarticular Controversy broke out in the Dutch Republic in the years following the death of theologian Jacobus Arminius in 1609, James supported the Calvinist Gomarists against the Arminian Remonstrants. James handpicked British delegates sent to the 1618 Synod of Dort and concurred in the outcome of the Synod. But James was increasingly faced with Puritan opposition (over the Book of Sports, the Five Articles of Perth, the Spanish Match, etc.), he began to seek out clerics who would be more supportive of his ecumenical ecclesiastical plans. Since the reign of Elizabeth, England had contained a number of theologians who opposed the extreme predestinarian views in the high Calvinism propounded by Theodore Beza and accepted by the Puritans. For example, Peter Baro, the Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, had opposed Archbishop Whitgift's attempts to impose the Calvinistic Lambeth Articles on the Church of England in 1595. Several of Baro's disciples at Cambridge - notably Lancelot Andrewes, John Overall, and Samuel Harsnett - had repeated Baro's criticisms of predestination in terms roughly equivalent to those propounded by Arminius. When James was looking for anti-Puritan allies, he found this party willing, and, although few members of this party actually accepted the Arminian position tout court, they were quickly labeled "the Arminian party" by the Puritans.

In 1624, when a hitherto obscure Cambridge scholar, Richard Montagu, obtained royal permission to publish A New Gagg for an Old Goose. The book was framed as a rebuttal of a Catholic critique of the Church of England. In response, Montagu argued that the Calvinist positions objected to were held only by a small, Puritan minority in the Church of England, and that the majority of clergy in the Church of England rejected high Calvinism. A New Gagg was of major importance in the history of the Puritans, in that it marked the first time they had ever been associated with a doctrinal position (as opposed to a question of proper practice). For example, George Carleton, Bishop of Chichester, who had been an English delegate at the Synod of Dort, was shocked to find his doctrinal position being equated with Puritanism.


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