The term "Puritan" covered a wide spectrum of both religious beliefs and political views. The common threads are three fold: a desire to purify Christianity (simple forms of worship without robes or music, strict Sabbath observance, dislike of holidays and public entertainments); a determined dislike of Roman Catholicism and Catholic survivals in the Church of England; and a strong belief in personal Bible interpretation.
But under that roof stood many groups. Presbyterians at first abolished the episcopacy (in favor of councils of elders) and strongly suppressed the Church..The moderates (the Army) disliked the Church but did not totally shut it down. allowing some measure of freedom of religion. Cromwell and many other army leaders were Independents (Congregationalists), who saw each congregation as self-governing. Then there were a wide variety of more extreme sects, including the Quakers. These groups, in different ways, supported radical notions from making all citizens equal in status (Levellers), to getting rid of property rights (Diggers or True Levellers), anarchism and free love (Ranters), and theocracy of the pious (Fifth Monarchists). Baptists were mostly theological dissenters, believing in Free Will and adult Baptism. Needless to say, there was almost as much bitterness inside the Puritan movement as was aimed outside. (Excuse the simplifications here in an effort to make it short.)
Puritanism started as a term of derision in the reign of Elizabeth, but grew in respectability through her reign and James I's.
Emilio • Link
Like many a religious reform movement, puritanism in general was an effort to get back to an earlier state of the church, to a time before the 'pure' initial impulse had been corrupted by whatever practices troubled a particular group most. Thus the desire to do away with the hierarchy, elaborate ritual, and fancy trappings that they saw as not being part of the early church.
During Cromwell's rise to power, though, puritanism had as much the atmosphere of a popular uprising as a religious movement. Here's how Claire Tomalin describes the scene right outside Sam's door as he was growing up:
The family "grew accustomed to hearing puritan preachers in the street. In 1640 a local leather-seller called Praisegod Barebones [a significant figure in later politics] set up his Baptist congregation right outside, in Fleet Street. . . . The City apprentices who gathered in Westminster in the winter of 1641 shouted 'No Bishops'; there was some fighting, and in the days after Christmas the same boys blocked the river stairs to prevent the bishops newly appointed by the king from taking their seats in the House of Lords, and went on to attack them in their coaches." (97-98)
Macaulay on Puritan zeal during teh Commonwealth
"Severe punishments were denounced against such as should presume to blame the Calvinistic mode of worship. Clergymen of respectable character were not only ejected from their benefices by thousands, but were frequently exposed to the outrages of a fanatical rabble. Churches and sepulchres, fine works of art and curious remains of antiquity, were brutally defaced. The Parliament resolved that all pictures in the royal collection which contained representations of Jesus or of the Virgin Mother should be burned. Sculpture fared as ill as painting. Nymphs and Graces, the work of Ionian chisels, were delivered over to Puritan stonemasons to be made decent. Against the lighter vices the ruling faction waged war with a zeal little tempered by humanity or by common sense. Sharp laws were passed against betting. It was enacted that adultery should be punished with death. The illicit intercourse of the sexes, even where neither violence nor seduction was imputed, where no public scandal was given, where no conjugal right was violated, was made a misdemeanour."
dirk • Link
G.K. Chesterton, "A Short History of England", 1917.
"Thus the Puritans, as their name implies, were primarily enthusiastic
for what they thought was pure religion; frequently they wanted to
impose it on others; sometimes they only wanted to be free to practise
it themselves; but in no case can justice be done to what was finest in their characters, as well as first in their thoughts, if we never by any chance ask what "it" was that they wanted to impose or to practise. Now, there was a great deal that was very fine about many of the Puritans, which is almost entirely missed by the modern admirers of the Puritans. They are praised for things which they either regarded with indifference or more often detested with frenzy--such as religious liberty. And yet they are quite insufficiently understood, and are even undervalued, in their logical case for the things they really did care about--such as Calvinism. [...]
From first to last the Puritans were patriots, a point in which they had
a marked superiority over the French Huguenots. Politically, they were
indeed at first but one wing of the new wealthy class which had despoiled the Church and were proceeding to despoil the Crown. But while they were all merely the creatures of the great spoliation, many of them were the unconscious creatures of it. They were strongly represented in the aristocracy, but a great number were of the middle classes, though almost wholly the middle classes of the towns. By the poor agricultural population, which was still by far the largest part of the population, they were simply derided and detested. [...]
The soul of the movement was in two conceptions, or rather in two steps,
the first being the moral process by which they arrived at their chief conclusion, and the second the chief conclusion they arrived at. We will begin with the first, especially as it was this which determined all that external social attitude which struck the eye of contemporaries. The honest Puritan, growing up in youth in a world swept bare by the great pillage, possessed himself of a first principle which is one of the three or four alternative first principles which are possible to the mind of man. It was the principle that the mind of man can alone directly deal with the mind of God. It may shortly be called the anti-sacramental principle; but it really applies, and he really applied it, to many things besides the sacraments of the Church. It equally applies, and he equally applied it, to art, to letters, to the love of locality, to music, and even to good manners. [...]
The next thing to note is that their conception of church-government was in a true sense self-government; and yet, for a particular reason, turned out to be a rather selfish self-government. It was equal and yet it was exclusive. Internally the synod or conventicle tended to be a small republic, but unfortunately to be a very small republic. In relation to the street outside the conventicle was not a republic but an aristocracy. It was the most awful of all aristocracies, that of the elect; for it was not a right of birth but a right before birth [...].
They were certainly public, they may have been public-spirited, they were never popular; and it seems never to have crossed their minds that there was any need to be popular. England was never so little of a democracy as during the short time when she was a republic."
in Aqua Scripto • Link
Puritans at the hands of the establishment. A good read be John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress", who be 4 years older than our Samuell, to read how not to get along with the Regime.
A good buy This DAY for $3.33 [plus the TAX] at B&N if thee buy 2 more Classicos for $6.66
Milton,John 'Paridise Lost'
From English Political Thought, 1603-1660, v.1, John William Allen, 1938:
"Throughout the century [the 1600s] the word Puritan continued to used as a term of condemnation or contempt. It seems, indeed, to have been rarely used otherwise. ...
"Such references and citations as have so far been given might easily be multiplied, but to little or no purpose. They serve chiefly only to illustrate the fact, of which evidence abounds, that in the seventeenth century no generally recognized meaning was attached to the word Puritan. Quite early in the century, indeed, the word still had a fairly well-recognized meaning, but by 1640, at least, that meaning had been almost lost. Far more often than not the word was used as a mere term of abuse. That fact might possibly be taken to mean that, whatever a Puritan was, he was not a popular person. But the word was bandied about too freely and too loosely even to indicate that much. The fact that while people spoke of Puritans, they did not speak of Puritanism seems indeed to be of some significance. It suggests an unthinking superficiality in the use of the word. Puritanism seems to be a discovery of later thought and research."
Amidst that complication of disputes, in which men were then involved [during the reign of Charles I], we may observe, that the appellation puritan stood for three parties, which, though commonly united together, were yet actuated by very different views and motives. There were the political puritants, who maintained the highest principles of civil liberty; the puritans in discipline, who were averse to the ceremonies and episcopal government of the church; and the doctrinal puritans, who rigidly defended the speculative system of the first reformers.
---The History of England. David Hume, 1776.
Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.