The Puritan Threat

The Puritan Threat

Background of the Puritans

  • The Puritans were a religious group that emerged during the 16th century, they believed in the purification of the Church of England from any Catholic influence left in its practices and structures.
  • They were Calvinists, meaning they followed the teachings of a French Protestant reformer, John Calvin. They strongly believed in predestination.
  • They desired a more ‘simple’ and ‘pure’ form of worship, without rich church decorations and a simplified clergy hierarchy.

The Beginning of Dissent

  • Despite early attempts to influence the church during Edward VI and Mary I’s reign, the movement became notable under Queen Elizabeth I.
  • The appointment of Matthew Parker as Archbishop of Canterbury, a moderate Protestant, caused discontent among the conservatives and Puritans.
  • The 1559 Act of Uniformity, making the use of the Book of Common Prayer obligatory in all religious services, was considered by many Puritans as a total rejection of their recommended changes.

Major Confrontations

  • The Vestiarian Controversy (1564-1565) was an important clash. Archbishop Parker decreed clergy must wear certain garments during services, which Puritans saw as remnants of popish ceremony.
  • The Marprelate Controversy in 1588 led to a surge of pamphlets attacking the Church and bishops, destabilising Elizabeth’s aim to maintain religious peace.

Reaction from Elizabeth and the Established Church

  • The Queen aimed to strike a balance in her establishment of the Church. She was not a radical Protestant, and wanted to accommodate a broad range of Protestant beliefs. Therefore, she saw the Puritan’s push for further reforms as challenging her control.
  • The contested Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563, presenting core principles of the Church, were given royal endorsement. Dissenting clergy refusing to subscribe faced suspension.
  • Elizabeth’s government viewed radical Puritans as potential insurgents and traitors, and frequently launched investigations, breached meeting places and imprisoned most radical heads.
  • The Act against seditious words and rumours uttered against the queen’s most excellent majesty (1581) and the Act against seditious and schismatical books and libels (1593) were introduced to limit and suppress the Puritan threat.

Impact of the Puritan Threat

  • The so-called Puritan threat never translated into a widespread movement with enough strength to truly destabilize Elizabeth’s Church, partly due to internal divisions and lack of a unified leadership.
  • It did, however, cause enough commotion to be remembered in history as a notable religious conflict in Elizabethan England.
  • It laid groundwork for further religious disputes in the 17th century, culminating in the English Civil War and leading to a short-lived Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell, a puritan.