The Pilgrims, Leiden, and the Early Years of Plymouth Plantation
King James and the Confrontation at Hampton Court
On hearing the news of Queen Elizabeth’s death, James Stuart, King of Scotland, immediately travelled south to be acclaimed as England’s new king. On his way to London from Scotland by the Great North Road, James was met on April 3 by a delegation of Puritans. They introduced themselves as “the ministers of the gospel in this land,” who were appearing, “neither as factious men affecting a popular parity in the Church, nor as schismatics aiming at the dissolution of the State ecclesiastical, but as the faithful servants of Christ and loyal subjects to your majesty, [who were] desiring and longing for the redress of divers abuses of the Church. We,” said they, “could do no less in our obedience to God, service to your majesty, [and] love to His Church, than acquaint your princely majesty with our particular griefs.” Who were they? They said they represented “more than a thousand of your majesty’s subjects and ministers, all groaning as under a common burden of human rites and ceremonies.” The claim of representing more than a thousand voices gave rise to the name “Millenary Petition” by which this submission is now known. Their “griefs” they summarized in four numbered paragraphs.The first lists practices in Church of England’s services to which the Puritans objected: making the sign of the cross over infants being baptized, questions put to children too young to answer, confirmation — these were “superfluous.” The petitioners disliked the practice that midwives could baptise when the newborn was in danger of dying. (As one of two recognized sacraments, baptism should be administered by an ordained minister, they thought. Allowing midwives to baptize implied a continuation of the Roman Catholic concept of limbo, an imaginative but non-biblical answer to the question of where the souls of un-baptised infants go after death.) The Puritan clergy objected to the pressure exerted on them to wear the “cap and surplice” (liturgical garments like Roman Catholic vestments). They wanted a sermon to be preached whenever communion was administered in the churches. Church music was to be improved for “better edification.” The wanted an end to profanation of the Sabbath. Roman Catholic hold-over’s, such as the use of a wedding ring in marriage ceremonies, and the habit of bowing when the name of Jesus was said, they wanted abolished. Finally, they wanted only the Old and New Testament to be read in churches, without including the Apocryphal books.
The second paragraph urges that no one be admitted to the ministry except “able and sufficient men” who would preach “diligently.” Incompetent clergy already in place should be pensioned or, if rich enough, required to pay others to preach in their churches. Ministers should be allowed to marry, as they had been in the time of King Edward VI; and the clergy should not have to subscribe to anything beyond the  Articles of Religion and the “king’s supremacy.”
The third paragraph elaborates on the mixed topic of supporting preaching financially, and of breaking up the wealth of ecclesiastical officials who possessed the income from more than one church simultaneously. The consolidation in the hands of one person, of income that had been intended to support several ministers, irked Puritans.
Finally, the Puritans asked “that the discipline and excommunication may be administered according to Christ’s own institution […] not […] under the name of lay persons, chancellors, officials, &c.” Here the petitioners implicitly stated that discipline as administered in the Church of England was not according to Christ’s own institution. Several other administrative reforms were proposed, including “that the oath Ex Officio, whereby men are forced to accuse themselves, be more sparingly used.”
“These, with such other abuses yet remaining and practised in the Church of England, we are able to show not to be agreeable to the Scriptures, if it shall please your highness further to hear us, or more at large by writing to be informed, or by conference among the learned to be resolved.”
James responded by calling a conference later in the year, where representatives of the Puritan faction within the Church of England could present their views. He was apparently willing to listen, but to listen only in the presence of a council of advisors including several bishops and other officials of the episcopal hierarchy who were antagonistic to their Puritan colleagues. Some of the Puritans, he knew, had published opinions in his favor, describing him as the best candidate for the succession that would come after Queen Elizabeth died.
Puritans hoped for royal support. In August, at Norwich, John Robinson (later the Pilgrim Separatists’ pastor) preached on the text, “This is the day which the Lord hath made.” He used the sermon to attack the continued presence in the Church of England of incompetent ministers, and to complain of other problems in church and state. Robinson called on the congregation to thank God “for sending hym [King James] to raigne over us, by whose raigne there is great hope of the contynuaunce of peace and the gospell to be preached.” Someone who took notes about the sermon wrote that Robinson “shewed unto the people that for their synnes God would take a waie their prince and king from them if they did not tourne to the Lord and repent them and shewed examples out of the scriptures of God’s punishment and judgment that waie, and then reckoned upp the synnes in this land and negligence of Magistrates not punishing the same as they ought to be, and so begann and cryed out against unlearned ministers calling them dombe dogges and their unlawfull calling: then against comon lawyers […]” From these remarks we see that Robinson also expected good things to come from King James, and that he used the threat of God’s wrath to inspire fear and repentence among his listeners.
Threatening God’s vengeance was an aspect of a view of God as an external interferer in human affairs. Natural disasters were typically interpreted as evidence of God’s punishing intervention, but the proper identification of what sins inspired the punishment was open to the speculation of ministers and common folk alike. The belief that all mankind was sinful since Adam’s fall, and that God punished specific sins — with natural disasters for society’s sins and illness or accidents for personal sins — and that fallen mankind could not avoid sinning, is the fundamental source of Puritans’ anxiety about the need to accomplish reformation within the church, as well as personal moral improvement, to reach as closely as possible the ideal Christianity described as the life of the New Testament church. Robinson said nothing unheard of, although his vehemence may have been startling. That God might take away a monarch favoring reform as punishment for the people’s indifference to the gospel had been the theme of a (published) sermon by John Bradford in 1553, after the death of King Edward VI. John Bradford recalled God’s punishments meted out and recorded in the Old Testament, then informed his audience that “The sweating sickness of the other year, the storms the winter following, call upon us to weigh them in the same balances. The hanging and killing of men themselves, which are (alas!) too rife in all places, require us to register them in the same rolls. At the least in children, infants, and such like, which cannot yet utter sin by word or deed, we see God’s anger against sin in punishing them by sickness, death, mishap, or otherwise, so plainly that we cannot but groan and lament again, in that we have gushed out this more abundantly in word and deed.”
“And here with me a little look on God’s anger yet so fresh, that we cannot but smell it, although we stop our noses never so much; I pray God we smell it not more fresh hereafter.” Continuing, John Bradford makes his point about the death of King Edward VI. “You all know he was but a child in years; defiled he was not with notorious offences. […] nay, rather adorned with so many goodly gifts and wonderful qualities, as never prince was from the beginning of the world. […] This gift God gave unto us Englishmen before all nations under the sun, and that of his exceeding love towards us. But, alas, and well away, for our unthankfulness’ sake, for our sin’s sake, for our carnality, and profane living, God’s anger has touched not only the body, but also the mind of our king by a long sickness, and at length has taken him away by death, death cruel death, fearful death.” John Bradford himself was taken away in the return to Catholicism under Bloody Mary, first to prison, where he continued to preach, and in the end by burning at the stake on January 31, 1555.
Because of the plague still endangering London in the last months of 1603, the conference to be held in November was rescheduled for three days in 1604 — January 14, 16, and 18; and it was held about fifteen miles outside London at Hampton Court. Four moderate Puritans were invited to present their requests for changes. John Reynolds (Dean of Lincoln Cathedral and president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford), Lawrence Chaderton (Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge), John Knewstub (Fellow of St. John’s College, Cambridge), and Thomas Sparke (Oxford-trained minister at Bletchley, Buckinghamshire). They were not, however, allowed to speak during the first day’s session. Archbishop John Whitgift, with his assistant Richard Bancroft (who had become Bishop of London), and seven other bishops, as well as six deans and members of the Privy Council, stood with the king at the Hampton Court Conference, influencing the reception of the Puritans’ pleas for reform, sometimes through sarcastic retorts. Their prejudice and that of the king himself against Puritans was strongly evident. Bancroft even attempted to silence the Puritans, because of an existing rule that schismatics were not to be given the chance to speak. The king, however, disallowed Bancroft’s objection, having selected and invited the representatives of the Puritans who obviously were not schismatically inclined but, rather, wanted to stay within a church to be reformed according to their theological ideas. As for structural reform, the king repeated a slogan for which the conference is now remembered, “No bishop, no king.”
Numerous people besides the participants were invited to hear the decisions proclaimed at the conference’s conclusion. Minor changes in wording of the Book of Common Prayer were accepted. Puritan demands that the sign of the cross not be used at baptism, and that the surplice not be obligatory, were rejected. “If these be the greatest matters you be grieued with, I neede not haue bin troubled with such importunities and complaints,” was the king’s own complaint. Reynolds’ suggestion that a new translation of the Bible be undertaken was accepted, and the result became known as the King James Version of the Bible (first published in 1611). Some enthusiastic Puritans were disappointed in the failure of their hopes that the new king, James I, would alter the Church of England in the direction of presbyterianism. He stated that presbyterianism “as well agreeth with a Monarchy as God and the Devill.” (The evident transposition of the order of terms creates an ironic parallelism.) The related desire to impose a strictly Calvinistic interpretation on the formulation of the doctrine of predestination in the Thirty-Nine Articles, by adding the restrictive language of the Lambeth Articles (1595), was a point in which the Puritan spokesmen were supported by Archbishop Whitgift, who had been rebuffed by Queen Elizabeth in his earlier attempt to have the Lambeth Articles promulgated. The king, however, rejected the idea, never having heard of the Lambeth Articles. His answer was that “when such questions arise among scholars, the quietest proceeding were, to determine them in the universities, and not to stuff the book [of Common Prayer] with all conclusions theological.”
As an alternative, King James imposed an even-handed settlement of the question of predestination, suggested by John Overall, Bishop of Norwich: “although predestination and election depend not upon any qualities, actions, or works of man, which be mutable, but upon God his eternal and immutable decree and purpose; yet such is the necessity of repentance, after known sins committed, as that, without it, there could not be either reconciliation with God or remission of those sins.” Salvation thus depended on “the necessary conjoining [of] repentance and holiness of life with true faith.” This bland formulation was not, however, what Calvinists influenced by Calvin’s Genevan successor Theodor Beza wanted to hear, whether of the Puritan or the episcopal party. The issue of predestination would return in louder arguments both in England and in Holland, as theologians tried to reconcile the concept of an interventionist God with the Greek definition of perfection that made it necessary to conceive God and his decrees to be eternal and immutable. More importantly in 1604, the structural reform of the episcopal hierarchy that Puritans wanted was anathematized by the king. As he left the conference, King James I, who had been the Puritans’ hope, concluded, “if this bee al that they haue to say, I shall make them conform themselves, or I will harrie them out of the land, or else doe worse.”
In mid-July, the king announced in the House of Commons that no further alterations in religion would be countenanced. Clergy were required to subscribe to an oath of submission to a list of one hundred forty-one “canons” collected by Bancroft, approved by a Convocation of Bishops in the Province of Canterbury (roughly the southern half of England), and issued a few months after the conference at Hampton Court. Canons were rules that applied to the church and its officials, including several intended to suppress the Puritan tendencies towards structural reform. Although they did not have the force of law binding on non-clergy, the king’s proclamation in mid-July, that he would enforce clergy to conform by the end of November, or lose their jobs, was a clear signal that Puritans’ hopes for royal support had been vain.
Francis Johnson and Henry Ainsworth, independently of the Puritans, had come to London from Amsterdam with hopes of obtaining an audience with the king to present a justification of their Separatist congregation’s views about the need to reform the Church of England, and to obtain permission to return to England with freedom to worship in their own way. After some meetings with lower officials and after submitting a summary of their views for discussion, Johnson and Ainsworth accomplished nothing and had to return to Amsterdam. Catholics had also hoped that the new king would, if not re-establish their church, at least enlarge the bounds of the very limited, suspicious toleration of Catholics that existed towards lay adherents of a religion whose priests were outlawed. Frustrated by their hopes’ disappointment in the new ruler, some Catholics plotted to explode large barrels of gunpowder under the Parliament when it re-opened in the presence of the king, on November 5, 1605. Known now as the Guy Fawkes plot (after the name of one of the conspirators), or The Gunpowder Plot, this attempt to kill the Protestant monarch succeeded only in increasing suspicion that all Catholics’ subordination to the rule of Rome made them potential enemies of the state of England. The Pope indisputably attempted to instigate murder of Europe’s Protestant rulers and he supported military attempts to force re-Catholicization of Protestant countries. The assassination of Prince William of Orange in The Netherlands (1584) was carried out with the approval of the Pope and of the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor. Fear that some English Catholics supported the overthrow of the government was entirely legitimate. King James responded to the gunpowder plot, however, with vehemence towards both Catholics and Puritans. He considered them equally to be dangerous threats to political and religious stability. In his published explanation and defense of a newly imposed oath of loyalty that was supposed to identify disloyal Catholics, King James turned to the topic of Protestants favoring presbyteries (governing conferences of equal-status parish clergy) instead of supervision by bishops, As I ever maintained the state of Bishops, and the Ecclesiasticall Hierarchie for order sake; so was I euer an enemy to the confused Anarchie or paritie of the Puritanes […]”
At the same time, Richard Bancroft succeeded John Whitgift as Archbishop of Canterbury, principal leader of the entire Church of England (including its structure of ecclesiastical courts) and personally subordinate only to the king. Faced with subversion from Roman Catholics and from Puritans, Bancroft vigorously pursued the enforcement of conformity. Churchwardens everywhere were compelled to make more frequent reports about the state of their congregations. The reports were recorded in “presentment” books that caught both Puritans and recusants (Catholics refusing to swear loyalty to the king and to abjure the pope). Those “presented” had to appear in the ecclesiastical courts to submit or be punished.
In 1605 and 1606, ministers refusing to sign the Act of Conformity were deprived of their pastoral duties and ejected from their livings. Attitudes towards the new strictness were shifting and various. The number ejected throughout England is estimated at around ninety, although initially another two hundred refused to subscribe before later changing their minds. One argument against conformity was that some of the requirements were not matters of great significance and that therefore they should be left to personal preference (such as wearing the surplice or the cap). Against this it was argued that, if these were truly matters of indifference, people who thought the topics insignificant had no reason in principle to refuse to go along with the rules. The discussion then shifted to the question of whether or not the church’s bishops and their courts should properly be recognized as having authority to enforce conformity on such issues at all, and that led to the question whether the king as a civil ruler should have authority over the church. To answer either of those questions negatively was to take a step towards separation. Certainly among those deprived and ejected were Richard Clyfton, vicar of Babworth, Henry Gray, curate at Bawtry, John Smyth, formerly city preacher at Lincoln, Richard Bernard, vicar of Worksop, Robert Southworth, vicar of Headon and curate of Grove, John Robinson, city preacher at Norwich’s St. Andrew’s Church, and probably also Hugh Bromhead, vicar of North Wheatley. The deprived clergy continued to preach — now without authorization. Officially unemployed, they no longer had a claim to the salaries associated with their former parish appointments.
Richard Clyfton had been the vicar of Marnham in 1586 and rector of Babworth since 1586. Summoned before the ecclesiastical courts in 1591 and 1593 for not wearing the surplice, for not announcing holy days, and for refusing to use the cross in baptism, he was cited for non-conformity and then deprived of his position on March 15, 1605, in the same court actions that deprived Robert Southworth. On March 6, 1607, Clyfton was summoned as the “pretended minister or curate of Bawtry,” but he did not respond and was excommunicated on April 24. He preached in early 1608 at Sutton-cum-Lound (James Brewster’s church), before emigrating to Amsterdam as the pastor of William Brewster’s congregation.
Henry Gray had studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge (B.A., 1598, M.A., 1601). He was curate at Bawtry since 1604. On the same day as Clyfton and Southworth (March 15, 1605), Gray was cited, then deprived on April 9. He was excommunicated after acting as unlicensed curate at Headon in 1606. He eventually submitted, however, and like Richard Bernard became a conforming Puritan.
John Smyth had studied under Francis Johnson at Christ’s College, Cambridge (1586-1598; M.A., 1593; Fellow, ordained 1594). He was appointed City Preacher in Lincoln in 1600 but was dismissed in 1602 for offending upright citizens. That spring he was cited for preaching at West Burton. He also appears as a schoolteacher preaching in North Clifton, where he was cited in 1603, as was the vicar, John Nailer, who permitted it. Smyth preached in Gainsborough, too, without a license, for which he was cited in 1604 and 1606. At Gainsborough it is most likely that he preached in Gainsborough Old Hall, the home of the Hickman family who strongly supported non-conformity.
Richard Bernard was deprived of his position as Vicar of Worksop on March 15, 1605. He was eventually reconciled to subscribe and conform, but still refused to use the sign of the cross in baptism. He was again summoned before the church courts for this in 1608 and 1611. Vicar at Worksop from 1601 to 1614, Bernard was Rector of Batcombe (Somerset) already in 1613, where he remained until he died in 1642. In addition to his parish duties at Batcombe, Bernard was a canon of Southwell (1620-1642). After his decision to conform, however lukewarmly, his pastoral duties included time for scholarship, allowing him time to write a series of books against Separation that put him in direct conflict with John Robinson, and, later, with the New England churches and their congregationalism.
Robert Southworth received his M.A. at Cambridge (St. John’s College) in 1586. He was first cited in 1590 for not wearing the surplice and not following the Book of Common Prayer. He was pursued for similar reasons in 1591, 1592, 1593, 1595, 1601, 1602, 1605, and 1607. His marriage in 1592 took place without banns, and both he and his wife Jane Wastenes were therefore excommunicated but were comprehended in a general pardon. Southworth was curate at Headon since 1590, becoming its vicar in 1596. In 1602 he was curate of Grove, and in 1607 he appears as curate of Scrooby but was considered unlicensed, because he had been deprived of his position in 1605 for non-conformity. He had probably been invited to preach there by William Brewster. Southworth, Smyth, and Bernard were acquainted and discussed separation together while walking together near W[orksop].
John Robinson, dismissed as assistant pastor of St. Andrew’s in Norwich, continued to live in that city until early 1607, at least. Michael Paulick discovered recently that Robinson’s children were baptized in the Robinsons’ parish church of St. Peter Hungate in Norwich — John in 1605 (without specific date) and Bridget on January 25, 1607. Robinson applied for a hospital chaplaincy but was rejected. Nonetheless, he enjoyed considerable support in the town, and Henry Ainsworth recalled in 1608 that numerous lay citizens were excommunicated “for resorting vnto and praying with Mr. Rob.[inson] a man worthily reverenced of all the city for the graces of God in him […] and to whom the cure and charge of their sowles was ere while committed.” Among Robinson’s friends was Thomas Lane, who had been Norwich’s mayor in 1603. In his will Lane left two pounds each to Robinson and his colleague at St. Andrews, Thomas Newhouse. Lane died in January 1607. Robinson had preached in West Burton in 1603, and in his home-town of Sturton-le-Steeple in late May, on Pentacost Sunday,1605, attracting an audience from several parishes around. Some of his audience were summoned before the ecclesiastical courts for listening to him. In 1607 he preached without license at South Leverton and Treswell (near Scrooby). Robinson must have returned to the area some time in 1607, to live near William Brewster and John Smyth at Scrooby and Gainsborough, shortly before the emigration to The Netherlands.
Hugh Bromhead also fled to Amsterdam, where he was an active member of John Smyth’s congregation. Bromhead was apparently cited for non-conformity in 1608, when he was curate of North Wheatley.
William Brewster’s brother James Brewster was vicar of Sutton-cum-Lound from 1594 to 1614 and of Gringley-on-the-Hill from 1604 to 1617. Marchant provides considerable information about him. Although he was not deprived for non-conformity, James Brewster had a history of conflict with church authorities. He was prosecuted in 1595 for irregularities in acquiring the position of vicar at Sutton, succeeding his uncle Henry Brewster; and because his practice in administering communion did not follow the prescribed formula. He refused to bury a body in a shroud decorated with a cross, and he baptized infants without making the sign of the cross. He was excommunicated briefly in 1597, “for various offences” that were apparently connected with irregular financial administration of the hospital of St. Mary Magdalene in Bawtry, of which James Brewster was the “Master.” (He had reported the property to crown officials, who appropriated it as having been surreptitiously withheld by diocesan agents. Brewster’s actions may have been legally correct, although their result was that he could retain an annuity while having no duties. To this, church authorities objected. Additionally they attempted successfully to have confiscation of hospital property by the crown reversed.) William Brewster appeared in court on James’ behalf at this time. In 1605, Edmund Thurland (himself presented for refusing to take communion) sued James Brewster for having called him “an atheiste, a knave and a whoremaster.” Brewster admitted to the charge and was assigned penance. Marchant comments that “The relative immunity of [William] Brewster from ecclesiastical interference was no doubt partly explained by the fact that he was an archiepiscopal employee [managing Scrooby Manor for the archbishop], but also because the vicar of the parish (Sutton-cum-Lound) was his brother James. The latter […] in his own way was a favourer of Puritan practices, and a protector of the Separatists.” As vicar of Sutton-cum-Lound, James Brewster was the immediate superior of the curate at Scrooby, and he was responsible for choosing the curate. From 1603 to 1607, the Scrooby curate was a Robert Markham, about whom little is known.
The non-conformist clergy were well-educated, several having studied at Cambridge University. The laymen who provided protection and hospitality were similarly at the highest level of rural society. William Brewster had also studied at Cambridge. By the 1590’s he had succeeded his father as the Archbishop of York’s bailiff residing at Scrooby Manor, where he supervised the diocese’s financial interests in seventeen surrounding villages, many of whose farmers had to pay rents and dues, as did some millers. This function brought him into personal contact with people from the entire region all around the village of Scrooby. Formerly settled in London as a wealthy merchant, William Hickman bought Gainsborough Old Hall in 1596, where he lived in relative magnificence. The manor house dominated an area just over the county border into Lincolnshire. As justice of the peace in Gainsborough, Hickman could powerfully protect the Separatists, without necessarily agreeing with them on all points. Thomas Helwys had studied law at London’s inns of court. He lived in his family’s smaller manor house, Broxtowe Hall, at Bilborough in Nottinghamshire. Richard Coggins emphasizes that the Separatist movement was not an uprising of poor and ignorant farmers only, contrary to the impression given by a superficial reading of William Bradford’s memoires.