Puritanism as a Threat to Church and State 1558-1603
In order to answer the question, one must firstly ascertain what
actually constituted a Puritan. The name Puritan was actually a kind
of slur; it was a label to abuse those who were into the repression of
certain indulgences of the period. Such a term must therefore be
handled with care, Puritanism was not a unified movement, there were
different sects in amongst them who shared certain beliefs as the most
moderate of Puritans but also had a totally independent interpretation
of other issues. There were the Separatists, according to AGR Smith a
'tiny and unrepresentative minority' and the Presbyterians. In simple
terms Puritans were Protestants who believed the reformation hadn't
gone far enough. Russell called them 'hotter' Protestants. A hallmark
which put fear into the State was the anti-hierarchical beliefs held
by many Puritans.
In fact it makes sense to argue that Presbyterianism and Separatism,
in principle, posed a threat to the Elizabethan Church and State, due
to these anti-hierarchical beliefs. They sought to replace the
contemporary system of church and government. For Elizabeth Puritan
ideas were dangerous to 'kingly rule' and because of her strong
opposition to their ideas, their strive for reform became a greater
However, because of the Queen's inordinate fear of the Separatist and
Presbyterian she used movements 'formidable powers' to suppress these
powers. She could have dissolved parliament when they stepped to far
near the line by trying to discuss the religious settlement, instead
she imprisoned 'hot heads' and just dismissed discussion. According to
Sir John Neale, a group of Marian Exiles which he called the Puritan
choir had considerable influence from within the commons. He even went
as far as saying that it was their influence which resulted in the
Protestant flavour of the religious settlement, which otherwise would
have been in much the same vein as her fathers Henrican church.
Geoffrey Elton disputes this interpretation. He claims Neale did not
do enough research.
Despite this, calls for reform and effective preaching did find
support even at the highest levels; in the government itself in fact
some of the Privy Councillors were very sympathetic Protestants. This
was especially true when the council believed the country was under
threat from an anti Protestant force, be it national or international.
Certain interpretations suggest that Elizabeth caused the dispute with
the Conformist Puritans herself. It seems...