Despite the establishment of a more Protestant Church settlement in 1559, there were still some, who attempted to create a completely Protestant Church based on the ideas of Calvin, these were the Puritans. Although Puritanism never became permissible by law is it agreeable to conclude that Puritan attempts to change the Church settlement were utterly unsuccessful, when it was still being practised in private?
There are 4 main areas in which we could measure the success of Puritan attempts to change the church, the first being their attempt to change the church from within. This was the least extreme branch of Puritanism and in 1559 the Puritans primarily accepted the religious settlement, they misunderstood Elizabeth’s intentions and believed that the settlement was merely the start of a complete abolishment of Catholicism, to create a solely Protestant England. However, despite their acceptance, many head Puritans despised the idea of having to conform to a female head of Church, as was apparent through John Knox’s publication; ” First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.” This already caused concern for a threat against Elizabeth, however, the Queen’s response to this outburst suppressed the Puritans, by attributing herself to God’s word, she announced that any conspiracies against the religious settlement were not only unlawful but also acts against the will of God. Yet, in an attempt to change the church from within many Puritans accepted positions in the existing Church, including leading Puritans such as, Richard Cox and John Jewel.
In 1559 the Puritans did not pose any immediate threat due to the fact that they saw the settlement as the beginning of a Protestant reformation but by 1563 the Puritan clergy (within the Church) petitioned Convocation to ask if ; holy days could be abolished, ministers could read services whilst facing their congregation and organ music accompanying hymns could be abolished. Although it would seem they were ‘unsuccessful’ due to their petition being defeated, it was only defeated by one vote showing the strength of Puritan ideology within the English Church at this time.
After failing to change the Church from within, the Puritans realised there was no immediate change to the settlement as they had wished, but their ideological wheels were already set in motion and so decided to turn their efforts to reforming religion on a local level, their campaign focused on two movements; Prophesying and Presbyterianism. Prophesying was set up in the 1570’s and consisted of meetings, where prayers and sermons were said. They were originally set up to improve the quality of the clergy but quickly became opportunities for Puritans to put their ideas forward. Although prophesying posed no immediate threat, Elizabeth believed them to be of high risk as they could question the settlement outwardly and pave way for Puritan conspiracies. Edmund Grindal, Arch Bishop of Canterbury, was hired by Elizabeth to suppress Prophesying but declined due to his belief that they were beneficial not only to the quality of the clergy, but also to spread the word of the Bible and created a more clarified doctrine. Grindal was put under house arrest where he died in 1583. The Church government was against Prophesying, Whitgift announced the Puritan clergy as ‘unlearned’ and wanted to enforce the prayer book and obedience to the settlement.
It is apparent therefore, that although the Prophesying movement only posed a potential threat Elizabeth and her government took it seriously and dealt with it as swiftly as possible. By 1576, conversely, there was a majority of acceptance of the Calvin Geneva Bible, showing that the Puritan ideology was ever growing.
The most threatening of Puritanism, that directly challenged Elizabeth’s belief that the Church and state were ruled by monarch was Presbyterianism. Set up in the 1580’s as a follow on from Prophesying, Presbyterianism based itself on groups of local clergy, who met regularly in secret to discuss the scriptures and common problems. Each local group corresponded with others and the ‘network’ was co-ordinated by John Field’s London Group. The movement aimed to re-organise the government of the Church, along the lines of Calvin’s Church in Geneva. Eventually the network failed after Field’s efforts were not met elsewhere. 300-400 ministers were removed from office after Whitgift succeeded Grindal and improved uniformity within the Church. After the defeat of Presbyterianism by government it seemed that Puritanism was beginning to be defeated after yet another fail in their attempts to change the Church.
The Puritans challenge in parliament ran throughout most of the three decades being assessed and was possibly the closest to success. The most famous debate on the Puritans in parliament is the Neale – Elton debate. Neale’s interpretation of events, suggests that the opposition within parliament from the Puritans came from the House of Commons and he came up with the theory of the ‘Puritan Choir’. According to Neale the Puritan Choir planned confrontations to force the issue of parliamentary privilege vs. the royal prerogative. Neale’s evidence for his theory comes from the number of conflicts Elizabeth had with individual MP’s and the problems the Stuarts had with Parliament. For Neale, the opposition came through a well-managed and organised group wishing to reform the Church into a Calvinist one. For Elton, Neale’s interpretation was mistaken. Elton believed that it was the Privy Council causing opposition and the House of Lords causing tension, Elton thought opposition from the House of Commons was an ordinary part of debating and was not organised, especially not by one group. Elton based his theory on the legislative role of parliament and believed that Neale merely looked at conflict and confrontation.
Whether Neale or Elton got it right is again debatable, but one thing is certain what the Purtians actually achieved through parliament. In 1572 The ‘Admonition to Parliament’ was published as a warning to Elizabeth, its authors were imprisoned and Puritan printing presses were destroyed. In 1584 Peter Turner proposed a bill to change the government of the Church to Calvin’s system at Geneva, it was the closest to success as the ideology was widely accepted, as is evident through hindsight by looking at James’ reign when Calvin’s ideas were majorly accepted. However, the threat of Puritans in Parliament was a strong one, but was dealt with by Elizabeth swiftly. Whitgift’s efforts to enforce uniformity broke the back of Puritanism and forced it’s leaders underground. They realised Puritanism would never be permissible by law and so must be practised in secret.
The final efforts of Puritanism came through the Separatists and their attempt to break completely from the established Church. The Separatists wanted to leave the established Church and set up their own. The movement gained importance under Browne. They wanted bishops removed and a Calvinist model put in place. Without hierarchy, no stability would reside over the country or Church so government refused to allow the Separatists what they wanted. The Separatists had no choice but to conform after the ‘Act against Seditious Sectaries’ of 1593, they either conformed or faced arrest and possible exile. This act showed the strong decisiveness of Elizabeth’s government and after the Spanish war they knew the extent to which they needed to provide security. The act was left late by the government, as any earlier in Elizabeth’s reign could have caused a rebellion that Elizabeth may have not been strong enough to withstand.
In conclusion, although it would at first seem that Puritan attempts to change the Church settlement of 1558-9 was indeed utterly unsuccessful, it is important to remember that even though the settlement was never changed, the threat that Puritanism posed was of great significance not only to Elizabeth but also to her parliament. It is evident that the wide acceptance of Calvin ideology proved that the Puritans did not cease to spread their beliefs. Therefore, I would conclude that on the one hand the Puritans were utterly unsuccessful in changing the Church settlement of 1558-9, but were on the other hand successful in gaining much support and spreading their ideology and if it were not for Elizabeth’s immediate action against such acts as Presbyterianism it could have been that the Puritans were given the opportunity to change the settlement.