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Assess the nature and threat posed by Puritanism

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Introduction

Assess the nature and threat posed by Puritanism 'Puritanism', which was first coined in the Vestiarian controversy of the mid 1560s, has not been associated exclusively with a single theology or definition of the church (although many were Calvinists), but there are certain characteristics which can be agreed upon. Puritanism was strongly anti-Catholic; for both Collinson and Lake, Puritans were Protestants, both lay and clerical, whose religious enthusiasm and zeal marked them off from their more lukewarm contemporaries. Paul Christianson limits his definition to 'the hotter sort of Puritan' - Presbyterians and hardened nonconformists who would not obey the orders of the bishops yet did not separate themselves from the Church of England (although this meaning does not encompass the end of Elizabeth's reign, where the presbyterian movement had been destroyed). Lotherington argues, "the Puritans would seek to adapt the regulation set down in 1559 to create a more 'Godly church' like the Reformed churches abroad"; to encourage direct personal religious experience, sincere moral conduct, and simple worship services. Elizabeth saw certain types of Puritanism as a threat to her royal authority (religion, to her, was a branch of power politics) and so she tended to view all forms of Puritanism - whether conformist, separatist, presbyterian, moderate, or radical - with suspicion. They tried to reform the Church, first through the Church itself and then through Parliament, before turning to popular local movements such as presbyterianism and prophesying. Warren described Puritans as a "reforming group who saw the 1559 settlement as temporary and endeavored to obtain further installments of reform". ...read more.

Middle

Even if the Puritan bills had more support, Elizabeth had further powers such as the proroguing or dissolving of parliament. Perhaps Puritan Ideology was a leap in the dark to those whose power rested on stability and social control, and because it threatened too many interests of the ruling classes, establishing Puritanism through parliament was doomed to fail. Perhaps, therefore, Puritanism was to be more effective at grass roots level, where Anglican puritans, many of whom were alumni of Cambridge University, could preach out of the steely sight and control of Elizabeth. The existence of prophesyings, gatherings of clergy where preachers could practice their skills and obtain an assessment of their performance from colleagues, implied the wild and unbridled enthusiasm of would-be visionaries and prophets. The meetings were performed under supervision of a moderator (a respected preaching practitioner), and their value to inexperienced clergymen was enormous - Professor Collinson pointed out that they were seen as 'universities of he poor ministers', and they improved the morale of the clergy as well as their expertise. Some may have thought that Elizabeth would promote them because the Royal Injunctions of 1559 required non-graduate ministers to study the scriptures and other works. However, to the Queen, local meetings may have implied a lack of uniformity, which threatened her supremacy and the uniformity of the realm. The lack of control would have made her uncomfortable. Late in 1576, Elizabeth ordered her Archbishop at the time, the reformer Edmund Grindal, to suppress all Prophesyings and restrict the number of preachers to 3 or 4 per shire, and he refused. ...read more.

Conclusion

There was little support in Parliament for any of the measures - in 1584 the Queen employed the powerful oratory of Sir Christopher Hatton ensured the nervous ruling class that Peter Turner's bill had failed, and the election in this year was not a puritan triumph. Despite the constant gnashing of teeth on both sides, it seems that Puritanism was little threat at all to Elizabeth. Firstly, historians have claimed that there was no organized Puritan 'group' as such, because attacks on the religious settlement were only in response to particular events, and not sustained throughout the period. Thus, the Puritan stance had neither the organization or the popularity to make it a serious threat. For example, Walter Travers was responsible for a book of the presbyterian discipline, but there was no exact agreement on the organization of the Presbyterian church. Also, Collinson has revealed that there were parts of the country where Puritanism had not made a meaningful impact (like in the north, Wales, west midlands and parts of the west country). The puritans failed to change the organization and hierarchy of the church, and there is very little evidence to suggest it had the potential to do so. Perhaps the most threatening aspect of Puritanism was the fact that it was not conducive to a united Church - it encouraged individualistic interpretation of scripture, and allowed for a certain amount of variation within the faith, which is what Elizabeth wanted to avoid. Moreover, the Puritan minister in his parish may have had a deeper and longer-lasting influence than some of the rituals to which he accommodated himself. ...read more.

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