The Jacobean Church, 1603-25

The accession of James VI to the throne in 1603 brought hope and expectation to both Catholic and Puritan Englishmen. James promised he would not persecute 'any' Catholics 'that will be quiet and give an outward obedience to the law'. English Catholics looked forward to the accession of the new king with hope they would be able to practice their faith in private without impingement by the law. Recusancy fines were a particular grievance - they could be considerable, and the Catholic gentry wanted a relaxation of the law to guarantee their socio- economic position.

Initially English Catholics were not disappointed. The King ordered recusancy fines to be reduced. However, James' goodwill soon ran dry; in 1604, priests and Jesuits (an order of Catholic priests established by Ignatius Loyola in France in 1534 to defend Catholicism against the challenge of Protestant churches across Europe) were ordered to leave England, and the consequences of the Gunpowder Plot for English Catholics were harsh. Recusancy fines were raised, Catholics were forbidden to live in or near London, banished from public office, and required by law to take an oath of allegiance that denied the pope's right to depose the monarch. The measures of 1604 were surely in response to Protestant outrage at toleration. James needed Parliament to co-operate if his scheme for the union of Scotland and England was going to materialise, and thus did not want to antagonise the assembly. Despite a Presbyterian upbringing, James I was not committed to the Scottish Kirk; the King preferred more ordered, Anglican worship and its Episcopalian structure. As James travelled south to London to claim the crown during 1603, he received the Millenary Petition (a Puritan petition presented to James I on his progress to London to receive the Crown. ). The King's initial reaction was one of suspicion. James was mistaken in his judgement - most English Puritans desired moderate reform that would remove the last vestiges of Rome from the Anglican faith. James announced he would chair a disputation at Hampton Court in 1604 where the bishops and Puritans could debate the points of the Millenary Petition and consider wider issues regarding the Church. Among these issues were pluralism, a preaching ministry, improvements in the quality of the clergy and levels of their stipends.

More radical Puritans were excluded from the disputation at Hampton Court as the Privy Council selected several bishops and four of five Puritans. Though the atmosphere was generally harmonious, the Puritans failed to secure any of their demands. There were a number of reasons for this. James was adamant he would not allow a Presbyterian Church structure based on the Scottish Kirk to be imposed on the Anglican Church; in particular he feared for royal authority, recalling the troubles with over-assertive ministers in Scotland. At the mention of the word Presbytery, James extorted 'No Bishop, No King'. Thus the Puritans did not obtain any changes to Church government.

Though the bishops and the Puritans agreed on the need to curb the excessive use of excommunication as punishment for contempt of court, and action to address the poverty of the Church. However, Parliament failed to effectively implement these reforms - the legislation for the former was not enacted, and through vested interest in keeping the status quo (i.e. their own benefits from impropriation of tithes) did not have the initiative to reform the latter.

On the death of Archbishop Whitgift James appointed Richard Bancroft, a man keen on promoting greater uniformity in the Church. In 1604 James ordered Convocation to compile a new book of Canons (the laws of the Church of England, administered by the Church Courts) to resolve disputed matters, in essence an attempt at enforcing uniformity. The most important of these were three articles that upheld the Royal Supremacy [2] - demanding ministers agree to the Thirty-Nine Articles; accept that 'the Book of Common Prayer... containeth nothing contrary to the Word of God'; and vow only to use authorised services. The latter was a direct attack on Puritan lecturers who would give long sermons without any formal service. A number of Puritan ministers would not conform to the articles, and lost their stipends; more remained in the Church, protected by a bishop or accepting the measures. However, the drive at uniformity was short lived as Bancroft died in 1610 and was replaced by George Abbott, a Calvinist who was sympathetic to the Puritan demands. Religious polarisation accelerated with the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War in 1618.

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