Thomas Shepard and the Puritan Difficulties in England

Puritan Difficulties in England

Life in England was a struggle for Puritans, as the English openly preferred Anglicanism and the “traditional culture characterized by church ales, Sunday diversions, ceremonial services, inclusive churches, and deference to the monarch” (Taylor 162).  Disputes primarily arose from the latter, as kings desired a “united and quiet realm of unquestioning loyalty,” something that the Puritan spiritual equality among  godly Puritansmen and superiority to ungodly men (most of which being king’s bishops) threatened greatly (Taylor 164).  In 1604, as a response to the conflict, King James I declared that Puritanism “as well agreeth with a monarchy as God and the devil.  Then Jack and Tom and Will and Dick shall meet, and at their pleasures censure me and my council and all our proceedings” (Taylor 164).  Consequently, Puritans were forced to conform or leave.  Puritanism officially collapsed in England in 1625 when King Charles I married a Catholic princess and reinstated certain church ceremonies that had previously been suspended to appease the Puritans.  William Laud, greatest champion of ceremonies, was elevated to bishop in 1628, and then to archbishop in 1633.  Laud and others enforced Anglican orthodoxy, dismissing Puritan beliefs and teachings.  He “strictly censored Puritan tracts” and had three who illegally published their ideas “pilloried, mutilated, and branded” (Taylor 164).  In repose to their rejection and mistreatment by the English monarchy, Puritans fled to America, specifically New England, for refuge and religious freedoms.  Among these Puritans was Thomas Shepard.

 Pressures on Shepard

After having studied religion at Emmanuel College at Cambridge and then receiving his masters of the arts at Terling in Essex, Shepard took a position preaching Puritanism in Earles Colne.  Within a year and a half of taking the position, Shepard was called by Archbishop William tshepLaud to London where he “forbade [him] to preach, and not only so, but if [he] went to preach anywhere else his hand would reach [him]” (45-46).  Shepard left his position and went to live with friends, the Harlakendens, until Laud called him to appear in court do inquire what he had been doing.  Shepard responded by saying that he had been studying the church, to which Laud “charged [him] to depart the place,” instructing him to go to the university (46).  Later “[he] had a call… to go to Yorkshire to preach there in a gentleman’s house, but [he] did not desire to stir till the bishop fired [him] out of this place” (46).  Shepard knew that he could not remain in Colne safely, so he went to work with Mr. Richards and Mr. Darley to an unknown place and “resolved to follow the Lord to so remote and strange a place, the rather because [he] might be far from the hearing of the malicious Bishop Laud” (46).  Shepard married in 1632, and he and his wife worked to migrate to New England, as many other Puritans at the time did, in hopes of religious freedoms and the ability to spread Puritanism.  With time Shepard became convinced of the evil in communion and the sacraments of the church.  He believed it was his duty to enjoy the ability to witness and preach his beliefs, which he could not do in England.  Therefore, just as many other Puritans were motivated to flee England during the seventeenth century for religious freedom, so too did Shepard and his wife leave in hopes of living in accordance with their beliefs free from the religious oppressions of old England.

What do you think?

After reading the assigned section in Taylor and then learning about Shepard, I honestly have mixed emotions regarding the Puritans and their migration to the New World.  I understand the need for stability in the English monarchy, but I also understand the desire for religious tolerance by the Puritans.  Playing devil’s advocate and considering both sides of the dispute, as well as the fate that the Puritans ultimately faced in New England, do you believe that the English were at all justified in their treatment of the Puritans?  If so, why?  If not, why not?

2 Responses to Thomas Shepard and the Puritan Difficulties in England

  1. Sarah Williams February 13, 2014 at 11:07 pm #

    First of all, I think that you ask a really good question. However, I have to say that the English were not justified in their treatment of the Puritans, just as no one would be justified in mutilating or branding somebody because of something they published. I really think the English went to far with their treatment of the Puritans. It almost kind of makes them look like materialistic cowards who are afraid of change, are obsessed with money by taxing people through the church and demanding tithes, and have no obvious faith in their own religion if they think that it could so easily fall to another faith. Although, with that being said, the Puritans were not 100% in the right. I mean, being a Puritan means that you strive to live by the Word of God, leading a moral life. By blatantly rebelling against their government, they were breaking the law of God. Romans 13:1 says “Everyone must submit to governing authority.” This is based off of the belief that anyone in power is in that position of authority because God allows it or appoints them. So, in a way, the Puritans were contradicting themselves by not following the laws of England, but still, in no way was England in the right to treat them the way they did.

  2. Prof VZ February 18, 2014 at 3:18 am #

    Another element of this debate involves the degree to which many Puritans in England resented those who fled, as though they were deserting the cause, and abandoning the possibility of bringing about change back home, even if that was only incremental change. Their goal was to fulfill the main principles of the reformation at home; the Puritans escaped that charge.

    As for Sarah O’s point, of course I understand why the monarchy was threatened. They were threatened by catholics for the same reason: if the Pope is the ultimate authority, where does that leave the kind. The Puritans just went straight to God, which is in many ways more threatening. That said, I agree with Sarah W. that persecution went too far. Other countries–such as the Netherlands–were evolving cultures of religious tolerance, so it’s not as though such a model wasn’t on the radar.

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