Prelates and Puritans


History of the United States, Vol. I, Ch. 11, by George Bancroft

Prelates and Puritans

THE settlement of New England was a result of implacable differences between Protestant dissenters in England and the established Anglican church.

Who will venture to measure the consequences of actions by the humility or the remoteness of their origin? The Power which enchains the destinies of states, overruling the decisions of sovereigns and the forethought of statesmen, often deduces the greatest events from the least considered causes. A Genoese adventurer, discovering America, changed the commerce of the world; an obscure German, inventing the printing-press, rendered possible the universal diffusion of ever-increasing intelligence; an Augustine monk, denouncing indulgences, introduced a schism in religion which changed the foundations of European politics; a young French refugee, skilled alike in theology and civil law, in the duties of magistrates and the dialectics of religious controversy, entering the republic of Geneva, and conforming its ecclesiastical discipline to the principles of republican simplicity, established a party of which Englishmen became members, and New England the asylum.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.177 – p.178

In Germany, the reformation, which aimed at the regeneration of the world in doctrine and in morals, sprung from the son of a miner of the peasant class—from Martin Luther—of whom Leibnitz says: “This is he who, in later times, taught the human race hope and free thought.” Trained in the school of Paul of Tarsus through the African Augustine, Luther insisted that no man can impersonate or transmit the authority of God; that power over souls belongs to no order; that clergy and laity are of one condition; that “any Christian can remit sins just as well as a priest;” that “ordination by a bishop is no better than an election;” that “the priest is but the holder of an office,” “the pope but our school-fellow;” and, collecting all in one great formulary, he declared: “Justification is by faith, by faith alone.” Every man must work out his own salvation; no other, “not priest, nor bishop, nor pope—no, nor all the prophets “—can serve for the direct connection of the reason of the individual with the infinite and eternal intelligence.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.178

The principle of justification by faith alone brought with it the freedom of individual thought and conscience against authority. “If fire;” said Luther, “is the right cure for heresy, then the fagot-burners are the most learned doctors on earth; nor need we study any more; he that has brute force on his side may burn his adversary at the stake.” “I will preach, speak, write the truth, but will force it on no one, for faith must be accepted willingly, and without compulsion.”

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.178

To the question whether the people may judge for themselves what to believe, Luther answers: “All bishops that take the right of judgment of doctrine from the sheep are certainly to be held as wolves; Christ gives the right of judgment to the scholars and to the sheep; St. Paul will have no proposition accepted till it has been proved and recognised as good by the congregation that hears it.”

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.178

And should “the pastor,” “the minister of the word,” be called, inducted, and deposed by the congregation? “Princes and lords,” said Luther, “Cannot with any color refuse them the right.” This he enforced on “the emperor and Christian nobles of the German nation.” This he upheld when it was put forward by the peasants of Suabia.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.178 – p.179

The reformation in England—an event which had been long and gradually prepared among its people by the widely accepted teachings of Wycliffe; among its scholars by the revival of letters, the presence, the personal influence, and the writings of Erasmus, and the liberal discourses of preachers trained in the new learning; among the courtiers by the frequent resistance of English kings to the usurpations of ecclesiastical jurisdiction—was abruptly introduced by a passionate and overbearing monarch, acting in conjunction with his parliament to emancipate the crown of England from all subjection to an alien pontiff.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.179

In the history of the English constitution, this measure of definitive resistance to the pope was memorable as the beginning of the real greatness of the house of commons; and when Clement VII excommunicated the king, and Paul III invited Catholic Europe to reduce all his subjects who supported him to poverty and bondage, it was in the commons that the crown found countervailing support. But there was no thought of a radical reform in morals; nor did any one mighty creative mind, like that of Luther or Calvin, infuse into the people a new spiritual life. So far was the freedom of private inquiry from being recognised as a right, that even the means of forming a judgment on religious subjects was denied. The act of supremacy, which, on the fourth of November, 1534, severed the English nation from the Roman see, was but “the manumitting and enfranchising of the regal dignity from the recognition of a foreign superior.” It did not aim at enfranchising the English church, far less the English people or the English mind. The king of England became the pope in his own dominions; and heresy was still accounted the foulest of crimes. The right of correcting errors of religious faith became, by the suffrage of parliament, a branch of the royal prerogative; and, in 1539, as active minds among the people were continually proposing new schemes of doctrine, a statute was, after great opposition in parliament, enacted “for abolishing diversity of opinions.” Almost all the Roman Catholic doctrines were asserted, except the supremacy of the bishop of Rome. The pope could praise Henry VIII for orthodoxy, while he excommunicated him for disobedience. He commended to the wavering emperor the English sovereign as a model for soundness of belief, and anathematized him only for contumacy. It was Henry’s pride to defy the authority of the Roman bishop, and yet to enforce the doctrines of the Roman church. He was as tenacious of his reputation for Catholic orthodoxy as of his claim to spiritual dominion. He disdained submission, and he detested heresy.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.179 – p.180

Nor was Henry VIII slow to sustain his new prerogatives. According to ancient usage, no sentence of death, awarded by the ecclesiastical courts, could be carried into effect until a writ had been obtained from the king. The regulation had been adopted in a spirit of mercy, securing to the temporal authorities the power of restraining persecution. The heretic might appeal from the atrocity of the priest to the mercy of the prince. But what hope remained when the two authorities were united, and the law, which had been enacted as a protection of the subject, became the instrument of tyranny! No virtue, no eminence, conferred security. Not the forms of worship merely, but the minds of men, were declared subordinate to the government; faith, not less than ceremony, was to vary with the acts of parliament. Death was denounced against the Catholic who denied the king’s supremacy, and the Protestant who doubted his creed. Had Luther been an Englishman, he might have perished by fire. In the latter part of his life, Henry revoked the general permission of reading the scriptures, and limited the privilege to merchants and nobles. He always adhered to his old religion, and died in the Roman rather than in the Protestant faith. The environs of the court displayed no resistance to the capricious monarch; parliament yielded him absolute authority in religion; but the awakened intelligence of a great nation could not be terrified into a passive lethargy; and, even though it sometimes faltered in its progress, steadily demanded the emancipation of the public mind.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.180 – p.181

The people were still accustomed to the Catholic forms of worship and of belief, when, in January, 1547, the accession of the boy Edward VI, England’s only Puritan king, opened the way to changes within its church. The reform had made great advances among the French and among the Swiss. Both Luther and Calvin brought the individual into immediate relation with God; but Calvin, under a militant form of doctrine, lifted the individual above pope and prelate, and priest and presbyter, above Catholic church and national church and general synod, above indulgences, remissions, and absolutions from fellow-mortals, and brought him into the immediate dependence on God, whose eternal, irreversible decree is made by himself alone, not arbitrarily, but according to his own highest wisdom and justice. Luther spared the altar, and hesitated to deny totally the real presence; Calvin, with superior dialectics, accepted as a commemoration and a seal the rites which the Catholics revered as a sacrifice. Luther favored magnificence in public worship, as an aid to devotion; Calvin, the guide of republics, avoided in their churches all appeals to the senses, as a peril to pure religion. Luther condemned the Roman church for its immorality; Calvin, for its idolatry. Luther exposed the folly of superstition, ridiculed the hair shirt and the scourge, the purchased indulgence, and dearly bought, worthless masses for the dead; Calvin shrunk from their criminality with impatient horror. Luther permitted the cross and the taper, pictures and images, as things of indifference; Calvin demanded a spiritual worship in its utmost purity. Luther, not from his own choice but from the overruling necessities of his position, left the organization of the church to princes and governments; Calvin reformed doctrine, ritual, and practice; and, by establishing ruling elders in each church and an elective synod, he secured to his polity a representative character, which combined authority with popular rights. Both Luther and Calvin insisted that, for each one, there is and can be no other priest than himself; and, as a consequence, both agreed in the parity of the clergy. Both were of one mind that, should pious laymen choose one of their number to be their minister, “the man so chosen would be as truly a priest as if all the bishops in the world had consecrated him.”

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.181

In the regency which was established in 1547, during the minority of Edward, the reforming party had the majority. Calvin made an appeal to Somerset, the protector; and, burning with zeal to include the whole people of England in a perfect unity with the reformers of the continent, he urged Cranmer to call together pious and rational men, educated in the school of God, to meet and agree upon one uniform confession of Christian doctrine, according to the rule of scripture. “As for me,” he said, “if I can be made use of, I will sail through ten seas to bring this about.”

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.181 – p.182

In the first year of the new reign, Peter Martyr and another from the continent were summoned to Oxford. The Book of Homilies, which held forth the doctrine of justification by faith, prepared by Cranmer in the year 1547, laid the foundation for further reform; and in the next appeared Cranmer’s first Book of the Common Prayer, in which, however, there lurked many superstitions. Bucer, who, in 1549, was called to Cambridge, complained of the backwardness of “the reformation.” “Do not abate your speed, because you approach the goal,” wrote Calvin to Cranmer. “By too much delay the harvest-time will pass by, and the cold of a perpetual winter set in. The more age weighs on you, the more swiftly ought you to press on, lest your conscience reproach you for your tardiness, should you go from the world while things still lie in confusion.” The tendency of the governing mind appeared from the appointment, in 1551, of John Knox, as a royal chaplain. Cranmer especially desired to come to an agreement with the reformed church on the eucharist; and, on that subject, his liturgy of 1552 adopted the teaching of Calvin; the priest became a minister, the altar a table, the bread and wine a commemoration. Exorcism in the rite of baptism, auricular confession, the use of consecrated oil, prayers for the dead, were abolished. “The Anglican liturgy,” wrote Calvin of this revised Book of Common Prayer, “wants the purity which was to have been wished for, yet its fooleries can be borne with.”

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.182 – p.183

The forty-two articles of religion digested by Cranmer, and, in 1553, promulgated by royal authority, set forth the creed of the evangelical church as that of all England. In the growing abhorrence of superstition, the inquisitive mind, especially in the cities, asked for greater simplicity in the vestments of ministers and in the forms of devotion. Not a rite remained of which the fitness was not questioned. The authority of all traditions, of papal bulls and briefs, encyclicals and epistles, and of decrees of councils, was done away with; and the austere principle announced that neither symbol, nor vestment, nor ceremony, nor bowing at a name, nor kneeling at an emblem, should be endured, unless it was set forth in the word of God. The churchmen desired to differ from the ancient forms as little as possible, and readily adopted the use of things indifferent; the Puritans could not sever themselves too widely from the Roman usages. A more complete reform was demanded; and the friends of the established liturgy expressed in the prayer-book itself a wish for its furtherance.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.183

Of the insurrections in the reign of Edward, all but one sprung from the oppression of the landlords. England accepted the reformation, though the want of good preachers impeded the training of the people in its principles. There was no agreement among the bishops on doctrine or discipline. Many parishes were the property of the nobles; many ecclesiastics, some even of those who affected to be evangelical, were pluralists, and left their parochial duties to those who would serve at the lowest price, oven though sometimes they could not read English. Lay proprietors, who had taken the lands of the monasteries, saved themselves from paying pensions to dispossessed monks by setting them, however ignorant or unfit, over parishes. In some a sermon had not been preached for years.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.183

In this state of public worship throughout the land, Mary, in July, ascended the throne, and, by her zeal to restore the old religion, became the chief instrument in establishing the new. The people are swayed more by their emotions than by dialectics; and, where two parties appear before them, the majority is most readily roused for that one which appeals to the heart. Mary offended English nationality by taking the king of Spain for her husband; and, while the statesmen of Edward’s time had not been able to reach the country by preachers, she startled the dwellers in every parish in England by the fires which she lighted at Gloucester and Oxford and Smithfield, where prelates and ministers, and men and women of the most exemplary lives, bore witness among blazing fagots to the truth of the reformed religion by displaying the highest qualities that give dignity to human nature. Rogers and Hooper, the first martyrs of Protestant England, were Puritans. And it was observed that Puritans never sought by concessions to escape the flames. For them, compromise was itself apostasy. The offer of pardon could not induce Hooper to waver, nor the pains of a lingering death impair his fortitude. He suffered by a very slow fire, and died as quietly as a child in his bed.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.184

A large part of the English clergy went back to their submission to the see of Rome, while others adhered to the reformation from conviction, many of whom had, in their wives and children, given hostages for fidelity. Among the multitudes who hurried into foreign lands, one party aimed at renewing abroad the forms of discipline which had been sanctioned in the reign of Edward; the Puritans endeavored to sweeten their exile by completely emancipating themselves from all offensive ceremonies. The sojourning in Frankfort was at first imbittered by angry divisions; but time softened the asperities of controversy, and a reconciliation was prepared by concessions to the stricter sect, of which the abode on the continent was well adapted to strengthen the influence. While the Puritans who fled to Denmark and Northern Germany were rejected with the most bitter intolerance, those of them who repaired to Switzerland received the kindest welcome; their love for the rigorous austerity of a spiritual worship was confirmed; and some of them enjoyed the instructions and the friendship of Calvin. Alike at Frankfort and Geneva, they gave each other pledges to promote further reforms.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.184

On the death of Mary, after a reign of hardly five and a half years, the Puritan exiles returned to England with still stronger antipathies to the forms of worship and the vestures, which had been disused in the churches of Switzerland, and which they now repelled as associated with the cruelties of Roman intolerance at home. But the controversy was modified by the personal character of the English sovereign.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.184 – p.185

The younger daughter of Henry VIII had at her father’s court, until her fourteenth year, conformed like him to the rites of the Roman church. Less than twelve years had passed since his death. For two or three of those years she had made use of Cranmer’s first Book of Common Prayer; but hardly knew the second, which was introduced only a few weeks before her brother’s death. No one ever ascribed to her any inward experience of the influences of religion. During the reign of her sister Mary, she had conformed to the Catholic church without a scruple. At the age of twenty-four, restored to freedom by accession to the throne, her first words were that she would “do as her father did;” and, like her father, she never called herself a Protestant, but a Catholic except in subordination to the pope. She respected the symbols of the “Catholic faith,” and loved magnificence in worship. She publicly thanked one of her chaplains, who had asserted the real presence. She vehemently desired to retain in her private chapel images, the crucifix, and tapers; she was inclined to offer prayers to the Virgin; she favored the invocation of saints. She so far required the celibacy of the clergy that, during her reign, their marriages took place only by connivance. Neither the influence of early education nor the love of authority would permit Elizabeth to imitate the reformed churches of the continent, which had risen in defiance of all ordinary powers of the world, and which could justify their existence only by a strong claim to natural liberty.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.185

On this young woman, in November, 1558, devolved the choice of the Book of Common Prayer, as it seemed, for the two or three millions who then formed the people of England; but, in truth, for very many in countries collectively more than twice as large as all Europe. Her choice was for the first service-book of her brother; yielding to the immense weight of a Puritan opposition, which was as yet unbalanced by an episcopal section in the church, she consented to that of 1553; but the prayer against the tyranny of the bishop of Rome was left out, the sign of the cross in baptism was restored, the minister was sometimes denominated the priest, the table was sometimes called the altar, and the rubric, which scouted the belief in the objective real presence of Christ in the eucharist as gross idolatry, was discarded. She long desired to establish the national religion midway between sectarian licentiousness and Roman supremacy; and, after her policy in religion was once declared, the pride of authority would brook no opposition.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.185 – p.186

When rigorous orders for enforcing conformity were first issued, the Puritans were rather excited to defiance than intimidated. Of the London ministers, about thirty refused subscription, and men began to speak openly of a secession from the church; “not for hatred to the estates of the church of England, but for love to a better.” In 1567, a separate congregation was formed; immediately the government was alarmed, and the leading men of the congregation and several women were sent to Bridewell for a year.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.186

While the personal influence of the queen crushed every movement of the house of commons toward satisfying the scruples of the Puritans by reforms in the service-book, it chanced otherwise with her aversion to the abstract articles of religion. In January, 1563, the convocation of the Anglican clergy, in whom the spirit of the reformation then prevailed, having compressed the forty-two articles of Cranmer and Edward VI into thirty-eight, adopted and subscribed them; and, except for the opposition of the queen and her council, they would have been confirmed by parliament. When, four years later, a Puritan house of commons voted to impose them on the clergy, Elizabeth, at the instance of the English Catholics, and after a long consultation with the ambassador of Spain, used her influence to suppress a debate on the bill in the house of lords. But, in 1571, the year after there had been nailed to the door of the bishop of London the bull in which the pope, Pius V, denied her right to the English throne and excommunicated every English Catholic who should remain loyal to her, at a time when she was in danger of being put out of the way by assassins, though she still quelled every movement toward changes in the liturgy, she dared not refuse assent to an act which required subscription to the so-called thirty-nine articles, as an indispensable condition for the tenure of a benefice in the church of England. From that time forward, while conformity to the common prayer was alone required of the laity, every clergyman of the church of England wrote himself a believer “that justification is by faith, that holy scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation, and that transubstantiation is repugnant to the plain words of scripture, overthroweth the nature of a sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.” “By the adoption of the thirty-nine articles,” say English Catholics, “the seal was set to the reformation in England; a new church was built on the ruins of the old.”

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.186 – p.187

Within the church of England an irreconcilable division was developed. The power of the bishop, which was for some years looked upon as only administrative, began to be considered as intermediary; and the attempt was made to reconcile the regenerating power of an ordained prelacy to faith in the direct dealing of God with each individual soul. The one party claimed for the bishops an unbroken sacred succession from apostolic times; the other sought a perfect unity with the reformers of the continent. Both parties avoided separation or schism; both strove for mastery in the church of the whole nation; and each of the two, fast anchored within that church, engaged in a contest for the exclusive direction of the public worship.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.187

But, besides these parties contending for lordship over the religion of the whole land, there rose up a class of Independents, who desired liberty to separate from the church of England, and institute social worship according to their own consciences, and employ each individual mind in discovering “truth in the word of God.” The reformation had begun in England with the monarch, had extended among the nobility, had been developed under the guidance of a hierarchy, and had but slowly penetrated the masses. The party of the independents was plebeian in its origin, and carried the principle of intellectual enfranchisement from authority into the houses of the common people. Its adherents were “neither gentry nor beggars.” They desired freedom to worship God in congregations of their own.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.187 – p.188

It had long been held perilous for a Christian prince to grant a liberty that one of his subjects should use a religion against the conscience of the prince; and Bacon said: “The permission of the exercise of more religions than one is a dangerous indulgence.” It was determined at once to crush this principle of voluntary union by every terror of the law. Among the clergymen who inclined to it were Copping, Thacker, and Robert Browne. By Freke, as bishop of Norwich, the two former were cast into the common jail of Bury St. Edmunds. From the prison of Norwich, Browne was released, through the influence of his kinsman, the lord treasurer, Burleigh. In 1582, he escaped to the Netherlands, gathered a church at Middleburg from among English exiles, and printed three tracts in exposition of his belief. In substance, his writings contain two seminal ideas: first, if the prince, or magistrate under the prince, do refuse or defer to reform the church, the people may without their consent sever themselves from the national church, and for themselves individually undertake a reformation without tarrying for any; and, secondly, a church may be gathered by a number of believers coming together under a willing covenant made among themselves without civil authority.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.188

Both these propositions Luther had approved, as in themselves thoroughly right; but the English prelacy pursued them with merciless severity. Copping and Thacker, accused of assisting to spread the book of Robert Browne, were transferred to the secular power, and, under the interpretation of the law by the lord chief justice of England, were hanged for the felony of sedition. Browne, by submitting himself to the established order and government in the church, obtained a benefice, which he enjoyed till he became fourscore years of age. The principles, of which the adoption had alone given him distinction, lay deeply rooted in the religious thought of the country, and did not suffer from his apostasy.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.188

From this time there was a division among the Puritans. The very great majority of them continued their connection with the national church, which they hoped one day to model according to their own convictions; the minority, separating from it, looked for the life of religion in the liberty of the conscience of the individual.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.188 – p.189

The party of the outright separatists having been pursued till they seemed to be wholly rooted out, the queen pressed on to the graver conflict with the Puritan churchmen. “In truth, Elizabeth and James were personally the great support of the high church interest; it had few real friends among her counsellors.” In vain did the best statesmen favor moderation: the queen was impatient of nonconformity, as the nursery of disobedience and rebellion. At a time when the readiest mode of reaching the minds of the common people was through the pulpit, and when the preachers would often speak with homely energy on all the events of the day, the claim of the Puritans to the “liberty of prophesying” was similar to the modern demand of the liberty of the press; and threatened not only to disturb the uniformity of the national worship but to impair the royal authority.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.189

The learned Grindal, who during the reign of Mary lived in exile, and, after her death, hesitated about accepting a mitre from dislike to what he regarded as the mummery of consecration, early in 1576 was advanced to the see of Canterbury. At the head of the English clergy, he gave an example of reluctance to prosecute. But he, whom Bacon calls “one of the greatest and rarest prelates of his time,” brought down upon himself the petulance of Elizabeth by his refusal to suppress the liberty of prophesying, was suspended, and, when blind and broken-hearted, was ordered to resign. Nothing but his death, in 1583, saved him from being superseded by Whitgift.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.189

The accession of Whitgift, on the twenty-third of September, 1583, marks the epoch of extreme and consistent rigor in the public councils; for the new archbishop was sincerely attached to the English church, and, from a regard to religion, enforced the conformity which the queen desired as the support of her power. He was a strict disciplinarian, and wished to govern the clergy of the realm as he would rule the members of a college. Subscriptions were required to points which before had been eluded; the kingdom rung with complaints for deprivation; the most learned and diligent of the ministry were driven from their places; and those who were introduced to read the liturgy were so ignorant that few of them could preach. Did men listen to their deprived pastors in the recesses of forests or in tabernacles, the offence, if discovered, was visited by fines and imprisonment.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.189 – p.190

The first statute of Queen Elizabeth, enacting her supremacy, gave her authority to erect a commission for causes ecclesiastical. On the first of July, 1554, a new form was given to this court. Forty-four commissioners, twelve of whom were bishops, had roving powers, as arbitrary as those of the Spanish inquisitors, to search after heretical opinions, seditious books, absences from the established divine worship, errors, heresies, and schisms. The primary model of the court was the inquisition itself, its English germ a commission granted by Mary to certain bishops and others to inquire after all heresies. All suspected persons might be called before them; and men were obliged to answer, on oath, every question proposed, either against others or against themselves. In vain did the sufferers murmur; in vain did parliament disapprove the commission, which was alike illegal and arbitrary: in vain did Burleigh remonstrate against a system so intolerant that “the inquisitors of Spain used not so many questions to trap their preys.” The archbishop would have deemed forbearance a weakness; and the queen was ready to interpret any freedom in religion as the treasonable denial of her supremacy or the felony of sedition.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.190

The institution of this ecclesiastical court stands out in high relief as one of the great crimes against civilization, and admits of no extenuation or apology except by recrimination. It has its like in the bull of Leo X against Luther; in the advice of Calvin to the English reformers; in the blind zeal of the Puritans of that day, who, like Cartwright, taught that “heretykes oughte to be put to deathe nowe, that uppon repentance ther oughte not to followe any pardon of deathe, that the magistrates which punish murther and are lose in punishing the breaches of the first table, begynne at the wronge end;” and, finally, in the act of the Presbyterian Long Parliament imposing capital punishment upon various religious opinions. Luther alone has the glory of “forbidding to fight for the gospel with violence and death.”

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.190 – p.191

The party thus persecuted were the most efficient opponents of popery. “The Puritans,” said Burleigh, “are oversqueamish and nice, yet their careful catechising and diligent preaching lessen and diminish the papistical numbers.” But for the Puritans, the old religion would have retained the affections of the multitude. If Elizabeth reformed the court, the ministers, whom she persecuted, reformed the commons. In Scotland, where they prevailed, they, by their system of schools, lifted the nation far above any other in Europe, excepting, perhaps, some cantons of Switzerland. That the English people became Protestant is due to the Puritans. How, then, could the party be subdued? The spirit of these brave and conscientious men could not be broken. The queen gave her orders to the archbishop of Canterbury, “that no man should be suffered to decline, either on the left or on the right hand, from the drawn line limited by authority, and by her laws and injunctions.” The vehemence of persecution, which comprehended one third of all the ecclesiastics of England, roused the sufferers to struggle fiercely for self-protecting and avenging power in the state, and, through the state, in the national church.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.191

Meantime, the party of the Independents, or Brownists as they were scornfully called, shading into that of the Puritans, were pursued into their hiding-places with relentless fury. Yet, in all their sorrows, they manifested the sincerest love for their native country, and their religious zeal made them devoted to the queen, whom Rome and the Spaniards had forced, against her will, to become the leading prince of the Protestant world.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.191 – p.192

In November, 1592, “this humble petition of her highness’s faithful subjects, falsely called Brownists,” was addressed to the privy council: “Whereas, we, her majesty’s natural-born subjects, true and loyal, now lying, many of us, in other countries, as men exiled her highness’s dominions; and the rest, which remain within her grace’s land, greatly distressed through imprisonment and other great troubles, sustained only for some matters of conscience, in which our most lamentable estate we cannot in that measure perform the duty of subjects as we desire; and, also, whereas means is now offered for our being in a foreign and far country which lieth to the west from hence, in the province of Canada, where by the providence of the Almighty, and her majesty’s most gracious favor, we may not only worship God as we are in conscience persuaded by his word, but also do unto her majesty and our country great good service, and in time also greatly annoy that bloody and persecuting Spaniard about the bay of Mexico—our most humble suit is that it may please your honors to be a means unto her excellent majesty, that with her most gracious favor and protection we may peaceably depart thither, and there remaining to be accounted her majesty’s faithful and loving subjects, to whom we owe all duty and obedience in the Lord, promising hereby and taking God to record, who searcheth the hearts of all people, that, wheresoever we become, we will, by the grace of God, live and die faithful to her highness and this land of our nativity.”

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.192

The prayer was unheeded. No one at court in that day would suffer Independents to live in peace in England or plant a colony. “As for those which we call Brownists,” wrote Bacon, in 1592, “being, when they were at the most, a very small number of very silly and base people, here and there in corners dispersed, they are now, thanks to God, by the good remedies that have been used, suppressed and worn out; so that there is scarce any news of them.” Yet, in the next year, it was said by Raleigh, in parliament, that there were in England twenty thousand of those who frequented conventicles. It was proposed to banish them, as the Moors had been banished from Spain. To root out the sect which was become the depository of the principles of reform, an act of parliament of 1593 ordered those who for a month should be absent from the English service to be interrogated as to their belief, and menaced obstinate non-conformists with exile or with death. For the moment, under the ruthless policy of Whitgift and the queen, John Greenwood and Henry Barrow, both educated in the university at Cambridge, the former a regularly ordained minister, the latter for some years a member of Gray’s Inn, London, after an imprisonment of about seven years, were selected by Whitgift for execution. Burleigh interposed and “gave the archbishop sound taxing words, and he used some speech with the queen, but was not seconded by any.” Under the gallows at Tyburn, with the ropes about their necks, they prayed for England and England’s queen; and so, on an April morning, were hanged for dissent.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.192 – p.193

John Penry, a Welshman, who had taken his first degree at Cambridge, and had become master of arts at Oxford, a man of faultless life, a preacher of the gospel to the Welsh, was convicted at Westminster Hall of the same seditiousness. “In the earnest desire I had to see the gospel in my native country,” so he wrote to Lord Burleigh, “I might well, as I confess in my published writings, forget my own danger; but my loyalty to my prince did I never forget. And, being now to end my days before I am come to the one half of my years in the likely course of nature, I leave unto such of my countrymen as the Lord is to raise after me the accomplishing of that work which, in the calling of my country unto the knowledge of Christ’s blessed gospel, I began.” His protestation after sentence was referred to the judges, who reported him guilty of separation from the church of England, and of “the justification of Barrow and Greenwood as holy martyrs.” Archbishop Whitgift was the first to affix his name to the death warrant; and, on the seventh of June, 1593, just as the sun was going down toward the west; one of the purest men of England, exemplarily faithful to his country and to its prince, suffered martyrdom on the gallows.

Bancroft, Hist. of the U.S., vol.1, p.193

“Take my poor desolate widow and my mess of fatherless and friendless orphans with you into exile; you shall yet find days of peace and rest, if you continue faithful,” was one of the last messages of Penry to a company of believers in London whom banishment, with the loss of goods, was likely to betide. Francis Johnson, being arraigned, pleaded that “the great charter of England granteth that the church of Christ shall be free, and have all her liberties inviolable;” but, after a close imprisonment in jail for more than a year, he was sentenced to abjure the realm. He it was who gathered the exiled Southwark church in Amsterdam, where it continued as an example for a century.