Religion was a fundamental aspect to life during the early modern period. In England, faith pervaded not just the individual's life but like much of contemporary Europe confessional issues were powerful forces in domestic politics and international relations. In England the progress of the Reformation is better described as a series of reformations that began with Henry VIII's break with the Church of Rome in the early sixteenth century. The Elizabethan Settlement of the Church of England of 1558 (see next chapter) had failed to fully answer the religious problem England faced. Elizabeth upheld the 'settlement' throughout her reign, which proved deceiving as there were many Protestants who felt the measures of 1558 did not go far enough in a Calvinistic direction. This stimulated the growth of Puritans. At the same time Catholics remained in an ambiguous position - at the highest levels of the social-political spectrum Catholics could exist with private worship. For the majority of the population the Church of England stood somewhere between a Protestant and Catholic position, leading many to confusion and a peculiar popular religion. Therefore the Stuarts inherited a potentially explosive religious situation. James I was a very learned monarch, particularly in theological matters. As King of Scotland he had battled with the Presbyterians in the General Assembly, and was at the very least as capable as any other English monarch of bringing cordiality to religious matters in England. James' reign predictably saw moderation in religious matters. The King always favoured towing a middle line between the Anglican, Puritan and Catholic elements, and thus crafted a stable religious situation in his kingdom. An outward show of conformity was generally sufficient under the Jacobean Church. Religion in England became a deeply divisive issue under James' successor Charles I. The Caroline Church had an increasingly Arminian liturgical, ceremonial and strong hierarchical character that alienated Anglicans and Puritans in particular. Charles enlisted the support, guidance and advice of William Laud in his Arminian drive for uniformity in the Church for the three kingdoms.

The social and political history of the era of the English Civil War and Interregnum regimes has strong roots in religious matters. The political nation became divided over the settlement of the Church of England; the unison that had been forged through mutual distaste for the Arminian leanings of the Laudian Church was of little help when this had been destroyed and it became essential for a new settlement to be struck. In large part the divisions revolved around the form of ecclesiastical government the Church of England would have. By the later 1640s the Anglican hostility to Charles and Laud's reforms had become considerably more complex. Now there were divisions over an array of considerations - should England have a state or decentralised Church? Should it be governed by bishops or should the congregations have greater control? Should those who stood outside the boundaries of Anglicanism be tolerated or excluded as deviants and persecuted? If toleration was granted to such sectaries should there be boundaries of acceptability as to their beliefs? There were also divisions about the liturgical form of the Church and some differences over minor points.

During the post-war period agreement could not be reached with Charles I in part because of the religious demands of the Parliamentarians. The Commonwealth provided the opportunity for religious radicals to attempt to bring the 'godly reformation' of society they previously had hoped to achieve through working settlement with the King. The apex of the millenarians' power came with the Nominated Assembly of 1653; with the dissolution of the assembly by a coup staged by a minority of its more conservative members, faded chances of radical religion having a counterpart in control of the State. The psychological impact of the failure of the godly reformation for those who stood outside the scope of Anglicanism is epitomised in the latter political and literary work of John Milton. As for the population at large there developed a broad- based aversion for Puritanism and radical religious beliefs and practices. The Restoration saw the return of the Anglican Church of England. The Anglican majority in Charles II's Parliament favoured exclusion, marginalisation, eradication and persecution of nonconformists to the Restoration settlement of the Church. Collectively known as the 'Clarendon Code', the legislation passed between 1660 and 1664 aimed to destroy what was perceived as a subversive element of society. In the long-term this legislation failed to achieve its intended purpose, as the Dissenters survived into the eighteenth century. The second half of the seventeenth century also saw the challenge to religion of rationalism and scientific thought.

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