Updated: Oct 5, 2020
The extreme Protestants were not satisfied with the religious settlement made by Queen Elizabeth. They wanted to purify the Church from all Roman Catholics practices and so they came to be known as Puritans.
Puritans found that they could not purify the Church from within so they proceeded to organize separate congregations. Thus they were called as separatists or dissenters. (as they dissented against the Queen’s settlement).
Puritanism was the extreme form of Protestantism. According to G.M. Trevalyan, “Puritanism was the religion of all those who wished to purify the rituals of the established Church from the taint of Roman Catholicism”
The puritans not only attacked the form of public worship but also condemned the administrative, machinery of the Church.
They hated episcopacy or the rule by the bishops.
Instead of episcopacy they wanted that the Church should be managed by a group of Presbyters or elders.
In everyday life they wanted to practice austerity.
THE AGE OF PURITANISM:
The age of Puritanism may be roughly defined as the century following the Reformation.
It extended from the first years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth to 1660.
The restoration of the monarchy in England put an end to the Puritan attempt to establish a theocratic state.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PERIOD:
A new moral impulse bound together people of all ranks of society.
Life took a more serious tone.
All coarse, profane and impure in the courtly life of the time was repugnant to the Puritans.
Purity and order became essential characteristic of the good man.
A new ideal of equality of all men in the sight of God.
This ideal arose in opposition to the pretensions of kings, bishops or clergy to a superiority based upon their position.
The daily routine of a Puritan usually involved private devotions at the hour of rising from bed.
Then followed by family prayers with the reading of scripture.
Catechizing of children and servants involved.
For spiritual guidance they depended solely on the Bible.
So scripture reading was a regular feature with them.
They kept a spiritual diary.
In that the events of the day were closely scrutinised and an accounting made of moral successes and failures.
They also noted down the important evidences of divine grace or displeasure that had been disclosed in the course of the day.
BECAME RIGOROUS AND HATED:
Puritanism was not liked many as early as in the first decade of the seventeenth century.
The days preceding the Civil War, the puritan spirit became unreasonably rigorous.
In their enthusiasm to enforce austerity, they closed down all theatres and other places of amusement.
Throughout the puritan regime (1649 – 1660) ordinary lay courts had authority to punish sin.
Its harsh interference in the ordinary affairs of life made Puritanism hated by most of the easy-going English People.
In 1642 the Long Parliament passed an Ordinance abolishing all play – houses.
Further Ordinance were made in 1647 and 1648 ordering players to be whipped and hearers to be fined.
They suppressed all customary sports, like wrestling and dancing.
With the idea of preserving the solemnity of the Sabbath, they went to the extent of forbidding sports on Sunday afternoon.
Soldiers were employed to enter private houses in London. (to see that the Sabbath was not profaned)
In 1650 an Act was passed punishing adultery with death.
PURITAN CONTRIBUTION TO ENGLISH LITERATURE:
Paradise Lost, the greatest epic in English was written by Milton.
John Milton is a typical Puritan.
Paradise Lost contains satirical reference to the pleasure-loving Charles II’s court which was a scandal to the entire western Europe.
Milton's idea in writing the poem was “ to assert eternal providence, And justify the ways of God to men”
Another great epic written by him was Paradise Regained.
His early poems includes Lycidas, an elegy.
He wrote this poem to mourn the death of Edward King, his college mate.
His puritan hatred of the corrupt Anglican clergy finds vehement expression in this poem.
He calls them “blind mouths”.
Another early poem was Comus.
The greatest prose work of the period was The Pilgrim’s Progress.
This work was written by John Bunyan.
He is a puritan who derived his inspiration purely from the constant reading of the English Bible.
It is the greatest allegory in the whole of English Literature.
This work is remarkable for the beauty and simplicity of its style.
It has been translated into one hundred and eight languages and dialects.
PURITANISM AND POLITICS UNDER JAMES I:
Puritanism had its impact on politics.
After the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, King James of Scotland became the King of England with the title of James I.
James had consented to the establishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland.
The puritans, therefore believed that he might show them some favour in England.
With great expectation, they presented the king with a petition for Church reform, known as the Millenary Petition.
But the king turned sown the Puritan plea.
Because he thought abolition of episcopacy would prove harmful to his own interest as king.
He was a believer in the dictum “No bishop, no King”.
He followed a repressive policy and it had the effect of driving more Puritans into separatism and exile.
Some of the Puritans went to Amsterdam.
Where they became the earliest group of Baptists.
Another group under the leadership of John Robinson went to Leiden.
It was a portion of this community that went to establish the colony of Plymouth in America in 1620.
Other Puritans unwilling to give up all bonds of fellowship with the Church of England adopted a middle position and they were called Non-Separatists.
The puritanical spirit was the one which stood against corrupt monarchy and broke it down in England for the first time and for the only time.
PURITANISM AND CHARLES I:
Things took a dangerous turn when Charles I ascended the throne in 1625.
During his regime, William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, adopted rigorous measures to enforce conformity.
He tried to impose episcopal liturgy on the Scottish churches.
Scotland rose in revolt and invaded England in 1639.
Charles ended his personal rule for eleven year, because he was forced to summon parliament and was without adequate financial resources to carry on a war.
When the parliament met in 1640, a general feeling was expressed that the evils of prelacy should be eliminated.
They refused to grant necessary subsidy until the abuses of Charles’s personal rule had been remedied.
When the parliament abolished episcopacy the King was able to rally support from private individuals.
Those supported king were called Royalists or Cavaliers.
The supporters of the Parliament were known as Roundheads.
The Civil war broke out in 1642.
The Westminster assembly of divines was summoned in 1643.
It summoned to draft a new religious settlement for the nation.
Presbyterian proposals were unsatisfactory for a variety of reasons to the majority of parliament.
The Parliament became divided on this issue.
Effective rule shifted to the army under leadership of Cromwell.
The Royalist were defeated and the King was executed.
The religious issue was resolved in terms of a commonwealth with Cromwell as Lord Protector.
After his death the political situation rapidly deteriorated.
In 1660 the Puritan attempt to form a theocratic State was brought to an end with the restoration of Charles II as King of England.
Social History of England by Louise Creighton
An Introduction to the Social History of England by A.G.Xavier
A Short History of Social Life in England by M B Synge