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The Puritans

 

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The Puritans

During the Reformation the original Protestant religion, as preached by Luther, was itself split. Some Protestants became Calvinists and supported Presbyterianism. In England the Calvinists were called Puritans. Puritans first began to influence Parliament during the reign of Henry VIII. Over the next century their numbers increased. By the 1630's the Stuart King Charles I was dealing with a Puritan majority in Parliament.

As followers of Calvin's doctrines the Puritans believed that the Bible was not only the true word of God but also God's law. They wanted the Church of England to be changed into a more Presbyterian organisation. This meant the removal of bishops and the formation of church courts. It also meant an end to pomp and ceremony, less decoration in churches and less imposed prayers.

When Parliament suggested reforms Charles I refused its demands, which he saw as taking power out of his hands. The Puritan element of Parliament had no love for the king. It saw him as extravagant and wasteful. It also suspected him of being religiously influenced by his Catholic wife, Henrietta Maria of France.

The result of this struggle between the king and Parliament was the English Civil War which started in 1642. This war has also been called the Puritan Revolution. After Charles had been beheaded and it became obvious that Parliament could not run the country, Oliver Cromwell stepped in as Lord Protector. His Puritan laws were unpopular with the majority of the English and in 1660, shortly after his death, the monarchy was restored.

Before the Civil War some Puritans, who could not see the Church of England adapting as they wished, emigrated to America. They settles in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Virginia. These settlers were later joined by another group of Puritans who had separated from the Church of England. Some of these so-called Separatists set up colonies in Rhode Island. Others joined the earlier group in Massachusetts. The plan in the frame below shows how the original Puritans sub-divided into other religious and political groups.

 

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