Well, today we return to the
main political and ecclesiastical narrative leading
up to the– do you mind?–leading up to the
outbreak of the civil wars in the mid-seventeenth century.
We left our discussion of the
Elizabethan church two weeks ago with the situation of relative
calm at the end of Elizabeth’s reign.
If you’ll remember,
the domestic threat posed by the Catholic minority was
diminishing. Puritan attempts to change the
structure of the church through action in Parliament had been
defeated. And to a large extent that
relative stability can be said to have persisted in to the
first two decades of the seventeenth century,
that is in to the reign of James I who came to the throne
in 1603 and died in 1625. And indeed the continuities
between the end of Elizabeth’s reign and the reign of James
have led some historians to speak of what they call a
“Jacobethan consensus” in the church during this
generation; Jacobean plus Elizabethan,
Jacobethan. The characteristics of that
consensus can be perhaps illustrated with reference to an
event at the very start of James’ reign.
In 1603, as he made his way
south from Edinburgh to be crowned in London,
he was presented with what’s become known as the Millenary
Petition, getting that name from the fact
that it was allegedly subscribed by a thousand ministers of the
Church of England. And it revealed a body of
opinion within the church petitioning James in the hope
that he would countenance further reform:
further reform in doctrine, in the ceremonies of the
church, and in the quality of the clergy.
That led James to call the
Hampton Court Conference in 1604,
which was a conference of leading churchmen in which all
strands of opinion were represented.
In the course of the
conference, James was very forthright in insisting that he
would not countenance any change in the episcopal government of
the Church of England. Twice in the course of the
debates he intervened famously with the phrase “No bishop,
no King.” He’d had quite enough of the
semi-independent Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
So discussion of church
government in that sense was not on the agenda.
Still it wasn’t a confrontation
between James and the Puritan wing of the Church of England.
He was very comfortable with
the godly issues that were raised.
He was very keen on steps to
improve the learning and quality of the clergy.
He agreed that there should be
a new English translation of the Bible,
the one eventually published in 1611 known in Britain as the
Authorized Version or here as the King James Bible.
And everyone was very impressed
with the King’s doctrinal knowledge.
He had had a very thorough
theological education in Scotland.
There was no question in other
words that James was a godly prince.
He was England’s Solomon,
as they flatteringly termed him.
So the Hampton Court Conference
revealed the existence of continuing differences,
differences of opinion about aspects of the Church of
England’s structure, but there was a great deal of
common ground and the conference broke up pretty amicably.
Let’s look at that common
ground a little closely — a little more closely.
First of all,
there was by the early seventeenth century an essential
consensus over doctrine. Since the late 1580s,
most theologians in the universities had been
interpreting the ambiguities of the Elizabethan settlement in an
essentially Calvinist way. They tended to accept the
doctrine of predestination, the view that God had
predestined those who would be amongst the elect and those who
would be reprobate or damned at the Last Judgment.
They also had a widely shared
model of the ideal godly Protestant devotional life based
on Biblicism, attendance at sermons,
the practice of household devotions,
and a strict ‘godly conversation’,
as they called it; that is, strict personal
behavior, strict moral behavior in daily life.
All of this was supported by a
growing vernacular religious literature which tended to
support this approach to religious life.
They also shared a common view
of the need to entrench Protestant doctrine and reformed
behavior in the population at large.
Only a minority might be saved
according to Calvinist doctrine, but no one knew for sure who
they were. Therefore, the church must
address the whole population, it must serve the whole
population, and it should minister to them.
It’s interesting for example
that when the 1611 translation was being prepared by a
committee of divines, when they’d settled on a
translation of a passage, they used to read it aloud to
see if it would be effective when read aloud to illiterate
congregations. They were very conscious of the
need to be able to communicate in that kind of way.
Well, to that end a great deal
of stress was placed on the provision of a godly pastorate
of teaching, preaching ministers.
And, as we saw when looking at
education, a great deal was in fact achieved in that respect.
By the early 1600s,
there was also an unmistakable Protestant identity.
Despite internal differences of
opinion, most people were conscious of their common
membership of a Protestant confessional family within
Europe. Their feelings of religious
hostility were directed outwards towards the threat of what they
usually described not as Catholicism but as
“Popery.” Popery was the supposed
antithesis of reformed religion, characterized as a church which
was based not on the pure, unvarnished word of scripture
but on human errors, corrupted by false doctrine and
superstitious practices, and increasingly seen as alien.
Well, there’s a good deal to be
said for this notion of a Jacobethan consensus in the
generation which spanned the last years of Elizabeth and the
reign of James. But, if the church was indeed
at relative peace it was enjoying a period of stability
that was in many ways fragile. One mustn’t overdo the element
of consensus, and by the 1620s there was
increasing evidence of that consensus being subject to
destabilizing forces. And there were two of them in
particular to emphasize. First of all,
there was the process of what one can call Puritan reformation
down in the parishes, and secondly there was the
Arminian reaction at the center, and I’ll look at each of these
in turn. Well starting with the Puritans.
as we’ve already seen, were those that contemporaries
thought of as, in the phrase of the time,
the “hotter sort of Protestants.”
Those who were most committed
to furthering the reformation. And by furthering the
reformation they meant not simply conformity to a
Protestant religious settlement; they also had the ambition of
galvanizing the religious life of the whole nation.
As one of them put it,
they sought “a reduction of all things disordered,”
be it in religion or in social morality,
a reduction of it to the model of God’s requirements as
revealed in scripture, as they saw it.
These were of course people of
fervent faith and astringent personal religious life.
It’s best revealed in the way
they monitored their own lives in the spiritual diaries that
they often kept, straining by examination of
their own behavior to achieve the sanctification of personal
life which would give them assurance of their election.
Assurance that they were
amongst the elect, those who would be saved;
an assurance which often simply didn’t come to many of them,
but they kept struggling. And that struggle bred a kind
of spiritual anxiety which perhaps underlay their often
vigorous activism. They sought reassurance often
in action. These were not just formal
members of the church living their lives within a general
framework of Christian belief and practice.
They were seriously religious
people and their religion shaped their whole lives.
The trouble was that it not
only shaped their lives but not infrequently impacted also on
the lives of others. Amongst the clergy those of
puritanical inclination were amongst the most conscientious
and the most active in the task of evangelizing the people.
Whatever their private
preferences as to forms of church government,
most of them had long ago abandoned any serious attempt to
transform the church by political action.
They’d withdrawn from that
after the 1580s. Instead they conformed more or
less to the requirements of the church for the sake of the
larger task of spreading the word;
evangelizing. Protestantism seemed to them to
demand popular enlightenment. It demanded a dispelling of
what they viewed as the darkness of popish ignorance and
superstition, and godly ministers entered
upon that task with very high expectations.
When one reads their works they
often speak initially of the mass of the population as
“hungry sheep unfed.” They describe them as
“fields of corn ripe for the harvest”
or they’re “babes crying for the milk of good
doctrine,” and what could stand against
the word if it was brought to them?
Unfortunately for that
optimistic position, they often found that their own
parishioners tended to disappoint their high hopes of
evangelical success. A parish ministry day by day,
week by week, year by year,
could often be a deeply disillusioning experience.
who was one of the most famous of the early Puritan preachers–
he was the minister of Dry Drayton near Cambridge,
a man much sought after for advice by other Puritans–
Richard Greenham finally resigned his living at Dry
Drayton after twenty years of effort,
effort which had him not only preaching on Sundays and on
weekdays but even going out and standing by the fields as his
parishioners went out to work on their farms to talk to them
about matters of religion and so forth.
After twenty years of this
effort, he gave up because of what he
called “the untractableness and unteachableness of that
people.” And there gradually grew up in
the early decades of the seventeenth century alongside
the literature of sermons and devotional works,
what one can perhaps describe as a literature of godly
disillusionment, in which people reflected upon
their lack of success in the evangelizing movement.
And such literature very often
contained a very somber assessment of the state of
popular religion in England, and I’ll give you some
quotations from the kind of things they tended to say.
They were deeply concerned
about the fact that the people were ignorant of doctrine,
uninstructed in what they saw as saving doctrinal knowledge.
To give some examples from
these works: “the poor people do not understand so much
as the Lord’s Prayer.” “If any question be put to
them as concerning religion, they grow as mute as
fishes.” “Men can talk
understandingly about ways of the world,
but they can scarcely speak a word of sense about matters of
salvation.” “Our sermons are but a
breath from us and a sound to them”–because they didn’t
understand the half of it. These are all quotations from
works of this kind. They said that the religion of
the people remained one of “formality and blind
devotion.” That’s a common phrase,
“formality and blind devotion,”
reliance upon a ritualistic repetition of one’s prayers;
turning up at church services more as a gathering of neighbors
than as a congregation of the faithful;
more concerned with who they saw at church than with what
they heard; and confident that this was
enough, that this was a good life, which in the eyes of the
godly ministers, of course, it wasn’t.
The people were ‘superstitious’.
They still adhered to practices
which they were too ignorant to recognize as being hangovers
from the dark age of popery. They practiced magic,
they visited cunning folk, and they were
“profane” people who did not appreciate
the need to sanctify their lives according to the word of God and
who maintained forms of customary behavior offensive to
God. They swore;
they drank to excess; they indulged in what one
minister described as “light, lewd,
and lascivious dancing;” they broke the Sabbath either
by working in their farms and workshops or by their leisure
activities; hanging out in the ale house as
soon as they got out of church. As one preacher put it,
“every parish hath a profane and ignorant multitude
who are born with a pope in their belly,”
by which he meant they were directed by their fleshly
appetites– “born with a pope in their
belly are not yet redeemed from that gross supervision–
superstition–and vain conversation which they have
received by tradition from their fathers.”
In short, they were prisoners
of popular custom rather than followers of the precept of
scripture. But there was a remedy for all
of this and these condemnatory jeremiads tended to be followed
rapidly by calls for the pursuit of reformation of these
disorders by a dual policy, a policy of “word and
sword.” Ministers and secular
magistrates, whether they be parish officers or justices of
the peace, the leaders of towns or
parliamentary members, they should all act together.
The word of the minister would
“reform the inside” of the people;
the sword of the magistrate would “conform the
outside”; word and sword.
Well, such recommendations
didn’t fall on deaf ears, and where godly ministers and
like-minded local officers and magistrates supported one
another, as they sometimes did,
this kind of answer to the cultural failings of the
reformation, its failings to adequately
communicate with the people down in the parishes,
led to what’s been characterized as widespread
cultural conflict in the early seventeenth century,
right down at the level of the locality.
Many forms of customary popular
culture in the parishes were attacked.
Feasts and festivities,
Sunday dancings and so forth were often put down partly
because they were held on the Sabbath day,
partly because they tempted people to profane behavior,
notably drunkenness and the incitement of lust.
One study by Ronald Hutton in
The Rise and Fall of Merry England shows how gradually
these traditional feasts and festivals disappeared all over
southeastern England and were gradually retreating into the
north and west where they continued to survive.
There was also widespread
attack, at local level, upon such things as the
numerous alehouses which the people frequented–
many of them were suppressed–and at such common
everyday sins as profane swearing,
for example swearing “By God” in the course of
conversation. The arrest book for the town of
Dorchester, which was dominated by a Puritan group from the
1610s onwards, is quite interesting on market
days. It reveals numerous cases of
people arrested on market day for swearing in the marketplace,
or for getting drunk in the taverns around the market.
That was a field day for
reformation. As a result,
some communities became well known as models of godly
discipline. Often they were small towns,
places like Banbury in Oxfordshire,
which was known for what was described,
approvingly, as its “precise course of
government,” its imposition locally of
stricter standards of reformation.
Or Dorchester in Dorset,
which I’ve already mentioned, under its patriarch,
John White, or indeed Stratford-on-Avon in
Warwickshire, where the local Puritan group
triumphed after a sharp tussle with their opponents:
the opponents in fact including a number of friends and
associates of the retired playwright William Shakespeare.
Other communities remained
uneasily divided. They were prone to occasional
eruptions of conflict brought on by reforming initiatives:
local attempts to tighten up on standards of church attendance,
to put down ale houses or whatever was the case,
and there might be no lasting victory,
just a continuing tussle between the two sides.
Still others remained
relatively untouched. A number of historians have
looked at all of this and tried to interpret its broader
implications. David Underdown,
for example, in the study of what was going
on in the west of England, has speculated about the
possible association between different local social and
economic structures and different degrees of proneness
or susceptibility to the outbreak of this kind of
religious conflict. He asks why some places seem to
have been able to exclude such conflict, whereas others were
deeply divided and riven by it. Why did the Puritan word take
root so much better in some places than in others?
In the east of England,
especially the counties of East Anglia,
where the Puritans very much called the tune by the second
quarter of the seventeenth century,
a number of scholars, William Hunt,
myself and others, have suggested that religious
impulses for reformation and greater discipline were
superimposed in these areas upon other forms of social tension;
that the Puritan ministers tended to win their converts
principally amongst what were known as the better sort of
parishioners, the more prosperous leaders of
the parish, the more literate people,
and that local struggles were aimed primarily at disciplining
the poor and the young of their communities.
In other words that religious
anxieties and social anxieties reinforced one another,
one mutating into the other. Still others have insisted that
the whole thing was purely a religious matter,
that if there was a corrugation or a segmenting of local
populations according to one or another religious persuasion,
it was simply a matter of the introduction of particular
religious messages and the intensity with which those
beliefs were held in particular places.
So there are different takes on
the unevenness of Puritan success, but what one can say in
general is that it was very uneven.
all agree that such conflict existed in many parishes,
in many towns and it was all part and parcel of the local
history of the reformation in its most advanced form.
Obviously, it depended first
and foremost upon the communication of the demand for
a more stringent reformation into the localities.
Those places which were least
troubled by all this were those where these demands were never
heard. There was never a minister of
Puritan persuasion, or a town council of Puritan
persuasion, there to instigate such reformatory programs.
For whatever reason they found
no local constituency of supporters.
But the outcome,
where conflict did break out, tended to depend crucially on
whether the ‘godly’ or those who resisted them had most control
in local decision-making power. Town councils,
parish vestries and so forth and who controlled them were
often crucial to the success or failure of these reformatory
movements. It’s all part of the way that
the long-term outcome of the reformation and the long-term
development of the nature of English Protestantism was being
settled and fought out in dispersed,
diffuse actions taking place all over the kingdom,
though rather more common in some parts of the kingdom than
in others. And gradually,
by the 1620s, it gave rather different
complexions to the Church of England in different localities.
East Anglia was predominantly
Puritan. One survey of the ministers of
the three counties of East Anglia for example reveals that
by the 1630s two thirds of them could be described as Puritan in
inclination. This was a great area of
Puritan strength. There were other counties also
which shared that. The north and the west tended
to see much less Puritan activity.
Other counties were much
divided. And in the course of it all the
term “Puritan” acquired a new layer of
meaning. Within the Jacobean church
Puritans could not easily be distinguished by their theology,
they couldn’t easily be distinguished by their ethical
teachings– both of them were essentially
mainstream. But what did distinguish them
was their intensity and their activism.
They were defined in a sense by
a godly activism which, when it was unleashed in a
particular local context, tended to maximize stress over
religious issues. That’s where they got defined,
in such contexts. No one chose to call himself a
Puritan; it was a term of abuse.
They were labeled as Puritans
by their opponents in such conflictual contexts.
As Patrick Collinson,
one of the greatest historians of Puritanism,
has put it, Puritanism was “not a thing definable in
itself.” It was “one half of a
stressful relationship.” “One half of a stressful
relationship”– the relationship that arose in
some parishes through the impact on local society of the fervent
pursuit of reformation. Okay.
Let’s turn now to the other
destabilizing group, the Arminians.
And before we go any further
with this let me stress Arminians, A-r-m-i-n,
not Armenians. Every year when we have the
examination sinister groups of Armenians turn up destabilizing
the Church of England.>
There was indeed an Armenian
community in northwestern Europe at this time.
They were vitally important in
the trade networks which linked northwestern Europe to the east
and they were there. But they had nothing whatever
to do with the troubles of the Church of England.
The Arminians were another
minority who occasioned a good deal of conflict in the early
Stuart church, but this time they can be
defined more easily in terms of theology.
they comprised a minority of English churchmen who rejected
Calvinism. They rejected the Calvinist
doctrine of predestination. Rather than believing that only
the elect were predestined to salvation,
they believed, more traditionally,
in the universality of God’s grace and in the free will of
all mankind to choose salvation. So they’re theologically
distinct. They had their antecedents in
the late sixteenth century amongst those theologians who
did not interpret the Thirty Nine Articles in a Calvinist
manner but remained closely– closer–to more traditional
teaching and indeed to Lutheran teaching in their views.
In the early seventeenth
century, they came to be labeled ‘Arminians’ after a Dutch
theologian who took this position, Arminius of Leiden.
His criticism of Calvin was
deemed so important at the time that it was a subject of a major
conference of the reformed churches,
the Synod of Dort, which met in 1618 at which
Arminius’ teachings were denounced.
But Arminianism also existed
amongst a minority of English churchmen and it had certain
distinctive features in England. In the Netherlands,
Arminius was operating within the context of the Dutch
Reformed Church with its Congregational structure.
The English Arminians existed
in the context of a church with a traditional Episcopal system
of church government and a highly traditional form of
prayer book ceremonial. The English Arminians tended to
link their belief in the doctrine of free grace to other
beliefs connected to the structure of the Church of
England. They believed in episcopacy,
not simply as a form of church government amongst many others
but as a divinely sanctioned form of church government.
They were very keen on the
structure of hierarchical authority in the church.
They were also very keen on the
sacraments as a means of grace, as a way of coming to God.
they restored the significance of the altar,
rather than of the communion table,
and the significance of the communion service as something
more than just a commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice.
They tended to play down
preaching, preaching so dear to the heart of Puritans as the
essential means of communication.
Arminians tended to play down
preaching and to place more emphasis, as an element in
worship, upon ritual, upon the performance of the
sacraments. They spoke of the beauty of
holiness. They thought that
participation, reverent participation,
in services and rituals of great beauty,
had a spiritual function. They also had a very high
notion of the dignity of the priesthood.
They were very clericalist in
that sense, and their most prominent spokesmen were leading
clerics; people like Lancelot Andrewes,
the Bishop of Winchester, Bishop Richard Neile,
the Bishop of Durham, and above all William Laud.
All of these names are on your
handout. William Laud,
who started as an Oxford academic, was Master of St.
Oxford, and later moved on to be Dean of Gloucester Cathedral
and then to other higher offices in the church as I’ll describe.
The Arminians were a minority
even amongst the bishops of the church under James I.
That became clear at the very
end of James’ reign in 1624 when Richard Montagu,
an Arminian who was the Dean of St.
Paul’s Cathedral in London,
published his non-Calvinist interpretation of the Church of
England’s Thirty Nine Articles of Religion.
This publication by Montagu was
widely attacked. Indeed, he was reproved and his
interpretation was rejected by the Archbishop of Canterbury
himself, who was doctrinally a Calvinist.
To most members of the church
at this point in time, the beliefs and the practices
of worship which were favored by the Arminians looked very
suspicious. They looked like backsliding.
They looked like backsliding
towards Rome, and indeed although the
Arminians were undoubtedly Protestants,
they were very much closer to traditional Catholic teaching in
many respects, including the fact that they
regarded the Catholic church itself as being a true church,
albeit a corrupted one, rather than seeing it as in
fact the work of Antichrist, which was the conventional
extreme Protestant interpretation.
Well, all of this might have
just remained a matter for theological debate at the
academic level if it hadn’t been for two facts.
First of all,
some of the Arminians were of a singularly combative and
authoritarian frame of mind. They were equal in their
determination to impose their will to any of the most fervent
Puritans, whom on the whole they detested.
And secondly in the 1620s the
Arminians succeeded in winning over to their side the young
Prince Charles, the future Charles I.
He was persuaded by people of
Arminian convictions that their brand of religion was more
suited to a monarchy. He liked it.
Well, in 1625 Charles came to
the throne on the death of James I and,
as head of the church, he rapidly seized the
opportunity to advance Arminians in the church and to exclude
Calvinists. And it all happened remarkably
quickly. In 1626, the Duke of
Buckingham, Charles’ favorite and mentor,
was appointed chancellor of the University of Cambridge where he
used his power as chancellor to forbid the teaching of
predestination. In 1627, William Laud and
Richard Neile were appointed to the royal privy council,
a very unusual move. It had been rare for even the
highest clerics to be admitted to the center of power in that
kind of way. But Charles did it.
In 1628, Charles as supreme
head of the church insisted that an Arminian interpretation of
the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion,
the same interpretation which had been denounced when put
forward only four years earlier, was the only valid
interpretation. In the same year William Laud
was promoted to be Bishop of London.
That was a crucial office,
not only presiding over the metropolis,
of course, but it was also an office which gave the bishop the
power to control the licensing of all books which were printed
and published in London. And Laud used that power of
control of the press to further his own views and to silence his
critics by refusing licenses for the publication of their works.
In 1630, Laud was appointed
Chancellor of the University of Oxford with predictable results
as regards theological teaching at Oxford.
In 1632, Richard Neile was
appointed Archbishop of York, governing the northern province
of the church. And finally in 1633 on the
death of his predecessor, George Abbot,
Laud was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.
So, in only eight years the
Arminians, with Charles’ help, had captured the Church of
England; they held all the most
important positions. If Puritan activism in the
parishes had done a good deal to disturb the localities and to
create tensions over religion down in the provinces,
the Arminian victory in the church utterly shattered the
Jacobethan consensus within which Puritan evangelists in the
localities had been able to shelter.
William Laud simply detested
Puritans. More than that,
he detested Calvinists and he defined all Calvinists as
Puritans. He drove them together out of
their shared hostility to what to them seemed to be innovations
in the church, alien innovations which were
suspiciously popish looking, a program of change in the
church which filled them with dread.
All of this served,
from both sides, to politicize religion at the
national level in a way that really hadn’t been known since
the 1580s. In 1626, Laud had preached a
sermon to Parliament, when it met,
alleging the existence of a Puritan and Presbyterian
conspiracy to undermine the Church of England from within,
and he denounced all those who didn’t share his own views as
being Puritan subversives. In 1628, many members of
Parliament, when it met again,
reciprocated by condemning Laud and the Arminian innovations
which had been introduced in the meantime,
and they began indulging in their own name calling.
One member of the House of
Commons, Francis Rous, declared “an Arminian is
but the spawn of a papist.” In the House of Lords,
the Earl of Bedford, a Puritan aristocrat,
described Arminians as, to quote him,
“the little thief put in at the window of the church to
unlock the door.” “The little thief put in
at the window of the church to unlock the door.”
To unlock the door to whom?
To popery of course,
and its European champions whose successes in the 1620s in
the Thirty Years War, which had been raging in Europe
since 1618, just exacerbated the sense of
English Protestants of being embattled against powerful
enemies and exposed to a resurgent Counter Reformation
Catholicism. The war which was going on in
Germany was in fact immensely complex in its origins,
but to outside observers it looked like an essentially
religious struggle, and in the 1620s the armies of
Spain fighting against the Netherlands and the armies of
the Austrian emperor, a Catholic of course,
were winning and seemed to be driving back Protestantism in
Germany. All this fueled the paranoia of
those who observed it all from outside.
Well, the rise of feeling of
that kind should have warned Charles I.
It would almost certainly have
warned his shrewd and canny father, King James.
But Charles appears to have
been indifferent to the polarization of opinion.
He lacked his father’s
political good sense and he allowed William Laud to press
ahead. Between 1630 and 1632,
when he was Bishop of London, Laud was extremely active in
East Anglia, part of which fell under the
bishopric of London, in rooting out Puritans,
in calling them before him to be examined on their beliefs,
in suspending them, indeed in ejecting them from
the church. Many of them joined the
migration to New England, sometimes taking key members of
their congregations with them. The Minister of Terling in
Essex for example, a parish–little parish–down
in central Essex, left when browbeat–after being
browbeaten– by Laud and deprived of his
living and took with him thirteen members of his
community. They founded Roxbury,
Massachusetts. In 1633, once he had become
Archbishop of Canterbury, Laud ordered that communion
tables should be removed from their position close to the
center of the chancel and they should be placed at the east end
of the church like altars, suitably dressed in appropriate
cloths, and railed in to create a holy
space at the east end of the chancel.
This was anathema to Puritans,
but he required it, and he used his metropolitan
visitation as archbishop to demand conformity to this new
ritualism in every church. Church wardens who refused to
obey were hauled before him and sometimes punished.
In 1633, he also issued what
was known as the Book of Sports, a declaration in the King’s
name that traditional sports, festivities and leisure
activities would be permitted upon Sundays,
and every minister was ordered to read it out in his church.
This again was anathema to
Puritan ministers. Many refused to do it and they
were punished and deprived of their livings.
Altogether, throughout the
Arminian controlled church, a new and stricter definition
of the nature of Anglican conformity was being rigorously
enforced by Laud, and he had a very sharp way
indeed of dealing with dissidents.
Three of the most famous
dissidents who smuggled in anti-Arminian books from the
Netherlands to escape Laud’s censorship of the press,
were arrested in 1637, ’38, and severely punished by
Laud acting from the Court of Star Chamber of which he was a
leading member. They were pilloried;
they had their ears slit off, for example.
And the result of all this?
Well, one result was a far more
rapid growth of the Puritan colonies in New England than
would otherwise have been the case.
Thousands of the most dedicated
of the Puritan clergy and groups of their lay followers finally
despaired of England, despaired of the hope of
reformation in this context and left to create a godly
commonwealth of their own in the New World.
And within England?
Well, it’s possible that in
some, perhaps many, parishes some aspects of Laud’s
Arminian policies were perhaps not unwelcome.
One could say that it was a way
of putting an end to the parochial controversy and
reasserting order and discipline in the church.
Some may well have welcomed
that. It offered a doctrine of
salvation which was somewhat easier and more generous than
Calvinist predestination, perhaps closer to the needs and
understandings of simple folk. And perhaps the brand of
religious practice focused on the prayer book and the
sacraments which was something which might be more inclusive at
the level of the parish, less individually demanding on
the population. Perhaps.
All these positive features
have been suggested in an interesting book by Judith
Maltby on attitudes towards the Prayer Book in this period.
But in many parishes it was
also the case that the policies of William Laud and the
Arminians themselves brought conflict.
There was widespread alarm at
their ceremonial innovations. There was widespread suspicion
of their ultimate intentions. There was widespread resentment
and frustration amongst the godly folk who remained in
English parishes that the reformation had been stopped,
that perhaps it was being reversed before it had even been
half won. That in itself was a new cause
for discontent, a new cause for controversy,
a new cause for what have been called “street wars of
religion.” A source of increased
bitterness in such controversies,
a bitterness which spilled over into political life,
sharpening and intensifying other sources of conflict which
were coming to light between the royal government and members of
the political nation. And it’s to those other sources
of conflict that I’ll turn next time.