The Puritans were English Reformed Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who sought to "purify" the Church of England from its "Catholic" practices, maintaining that the Church of England was only partially reformed.
Puritanism in this sense was founded as an activist movement within the Church of England. The founders, clergy exiled under Mary I, returned to England shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558.
Puritanism played a significant role in English history during the first half of the 17th century. One of the most effective stokers of anti-Catholic feeling was John Pym, whose movement succeeded in taking control of the government of London at the time of the Grand Remonstrance of 1641.
Puritans were blocked from changing the established church from within and were severely restricted in England by laws controlling the practice of religion. Their beliefs, however, were transported by the emigration of congregations to the Netherlands, and later to New England in North America, and by evangelical clergy to Ireland (and later to Wales), and were spread into lay society and parts of the educational system, particularly certain colleges of the University of Cambridge. They took on distinctive beliefs about clerical dress and in opposition to the episcopal system, particularly after the 1619 conclusions of the Synod of Dort were resisted by the English bishops. They largely adopted Sabbatarianism in the 17th century, and were influenced by millennialism.
The Puritans were in alliance with the growing commercial world, with the parliamentary opposition to the royal prerogative, and with the Scottish Presbyterians in the late 1630s with whom they had much in common. Consequently, they became a major political force in England and came to power as a result of the First English Civil War (1642–46). Almost all Puritan clergy left the Church of England after the Restoration of 1660 and the 1662 Uniformity Act, with many continuing to practice their faith in nonconformist denominations, especially in Congregationalist, as well as in Presbyterian churches. The nature of the movement in England changed radically, although it retained its character for a much longer period in New England.
Puritans by definition were dissatisfied with the limited extent of the English Reformation and with the Church of England's tolerance of practices which they associated with the Catholic Church. They formed and identified with various religious groups advocating greater purity of worship and doctrine, as well as personal and group piety. Puritans adopted a Reformed theology and, in that sense, were Calvinists (as were many of their earlier opponents), but they also took note of radical criticisms of Zwingli in Zurich and Calvin in Geneva. In church polity, some advocated separation from all other established Christian denominations in favour of autonomous gathered churches. These separatist and independent strands of Puritanism became prominent in the 1640s, when the supporters of a Presbyterian polity in the Westminster Assembly were unable to forge a new English national church.
The Puritans were never a formally defined sect or religious division within Protestantism, and the term "Puritan" itself was rarely used to describe people after the turn of the 18th century. Some Puritan ideals became incorporated into the Church of England, such as the formal rejection of Roman Catholicism; some were absorbed into the many Protestant denominations that emerged in the late 17th and early 18th centuries in the Americas and Britain. The Congregationalist Churches, widely considered to be a part of the Reformed tradition, are descended from the Puritans. Moreover, Puritan beliefs are enshrined in the Savoy Declaration, the confession of faith held by the Congregationalist Churches, which they originated.
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Historically, the word "Puritan" was considered a pejorative term that characterized Protestant groups as extremists, similar to the Cathars of France. According to Thomas Fuller in his Church History, the term dates to 1564. Archbishop Matthew Parker of that time used it and "precisian" with the sense of the modern "stickler". In modern times, the word "puritan" is often used to mean "against pleasure".
The "Puritan" movement referred to the desire and goal of purifying the Church of England and Roman Catholic Church from within, in contrast to "Separatists" such as the Pilgrims, who believed that the established churches could not be reformed and the only hope was to set up separate churches. In this sense, the term "Puritan" was coined in the 1560s, when it first appeared as a term of abuse for those who found the Elizabethan Religious Settlement of 1559 inadequate. The term Puritan, therefore, was not intended to refer to strict morality, a common modern misunderstanding, but to a reforming attitude towards established churches.
The word "Puritan" was applied unevenly to a number of Protestant churches (and religious groups within the Anglican Church) from the late 16th century onwards. Puritans did not originally use the term for themselves. The practitioners knew themselves as members of particular churches or movements, and not by a single term. "Precise men" and "Precisians" were other early derogatory terms for Puritans, who preferred to call themselves "the godly" and the "saints". Seventeenth century English Puritan preacher Thomas Watson used "the godly" to describe Puritans in the title of one of his more famous works The Godly Man's Picture. The parliament that came into being on 4 July 1653, after a request by Oliver Cromwell and the Army Council of Offices was known by its supporters as the Parliament of Saints and the Barebones Parliament by its Royalist detractors.
Some Puritans are known as "non-separating Puritans," those who were not satisfied with the Reformation of the Church of England but who remained within it, advocating further reforms. This group disagreed among themselves about how much further reformation was possible or even necessary. Others thought that the Church of England was so corrupt that true Christians should separate from it altogether; they are known as "separating Puritans" or simply "Separatists". The term "Puritan" in the wider sense includes both groups. Separatists had no particular Church title.
The Mayflower Pilgrims were referred to only as Separatists. Plymouth Colony leaders John Robinson and William Brewster were separatists. In contrast, John Winthrop and the other main leaders of Puritan emigration to New England in 1629 were non-separating Puritans. There is no current consensus among modern historians whether Separatists can properly be counted as Puritans, but separatists and non-separatists alike have traditionally been viewed as two branches of the Puritan view.
Separating Puritans were called "Dissenters," especially after the English Restoration of 1660. The 1662 Uniformity Act caused almost all Puritan clergy to leave the Church of England, the so-called Great Ejection or Black Bartholomew's Day (see below). They were removed in part because they objected to a Church ruled by bishops and the requirement that all ministers of the Church of England (deacons, priests and bishops) be ordained by bishops in the Apostolic Succession. Some of these 2,000 "ejected" clergymen became nonconformist ministers (later Congregationalists, Baptists, Unitarians, Presbyterians, etc.). The movement in England changed radically at this time, though this change was not as immediate across the Atlantic (see History of the Puritans in North America).
In modern usage, the word "puritan" is often used to describe someone who adheres to strict, joyless moral or religious principles. In this usage, hedonism and puritanism are antonyms. In fact, Puritans embraced sexuality but placed it in the context of marriage. Peter Gay writes of the Puritans' standard reputation for "dour prudery" as a "misreading that went unquestioned in the nineteenth century", commenting how unpuritanical they were in favour of married sexuality, and in opposition to the Catholic veneration of virginity, citing Edward Taylor and John Cotton. One Puritan settlement in Western Massachusetts banished a husband and sent him into exile because he refused to fulfill his marital duties to his wife.
|History of the Puritans under Queen Elizabeth I|
|History of the Puritans under King James I|
|History of the Puritans under King Charles I|
|History of the Puritans from 1649|
|History of the Puritans in North America|
|Definitions of Puritanism|
|Troubles at Frankfurt|
|Arminianism in the Church of England|
|Providence Island Company|
|Trial of Archbishop Laud|
Puritanism has a historical importance over a period of a century, followed by 50 years of development in New England. It changed character and emphasis almost decade-by-decade over that time.
Elizabethan Puritanism contended with the Elizabethan religious settlement, with little to show for it. The Lambeth Articles of 1595, a high-water mark for Calvinism within the Church of England, failed to receive royal approval.
The accession of James I brought the Millenary Petition, a Puritan manifesto of 1603 for reform of the English church, but James wanted a new religious settlement along different lines. He called the Hampton Court Conference in 1604, and heard the teachings of four prominent Puritan leaders there, including Laurence Chaderton, but largely sided with his bishops. He was well informed on theological matters by his education and Scottish upbringing, and he dealt shortly with the peevish legacy of Elizabethan Puritanism, pursuing an eirenic religious policy, in which he was arbiter.
Many of his episcopal appointments were Calvinists, notably James Montague, who was an influential courtier. Puritans still opposed much of the Catholic summation in the Church of England, notably the Book of Common Prayer, but also the use of non-secular vestments (cap and gown) during services, the sign of the Cross in baptism, and kneeling to receive Holy Communion. Some of the bishops under both Elizabeth and James tried to suppress the Puritan Movement, though other bishops were more tolerant and, in many places, individual ministers were able to omit disliked portions of the Book of Common Prayer.
The Puritan movement of Jacobean times became distinctive by adaptation and compromise, with the emergence of "semi-separatism," "moderate puritanism," the writings of William Bradshaw, who adopted the term "Puritan" as self-identification, and the beginnings of congregationalism. Most Puritans of this period were non-separating and remained within the Church of England, and Separatists who left the Church of England altogether were numerically much fewer.
The Puritan movement in England was riven over decades by emigration and inconsistent interpretations of Scripture, as well as some political differences that surfaced at that time. The Fifth Monarchy Men, a radical millenarian wing of Puritanism, aided by strident, popular clergy like Vavasor Powell, agitated from the right wing of the movement, even as sectarian groups like the Ranters, Levelers, and Quakers pulled from the left. The fragmentation created a collapse of the centre and, ultimately, sealed a political failure, while depositing an enduring spiritual legacy that would remain and grow in English-speaking Christianity.
The Westminster Assembly was called in 1643, assembling clergy of the Church of England. The Assembly was able to agree to the Westminster Confession of Faith doctrinally, a consistent Reformed theological position. The Directory of Public Worship was made official in 1645, and the larger framework (now called the Westminster Standards) was adopted by the Church of Scotland. In England, the Standards were contested by Independents up to 1660.
The Westminster Divines, on the other hand, were divided over questions of church polity and split into factions supporting a reformed episcopacy, presbyterianism, congregationalism, and Erastianism. The membership of the Assembly was heavily weighted towards the Presbyterians, but Oliver Cromwell was a Puritan and an independent Congregationalist separatist who imposed his doctrines upon them. The Church of England of the Interregnum (1649–60) was run along Presbyterian lines but never became a national Presbyterian church, such as existed in Scotland, and England was not the theocratic state which leading Puritans had called for as "godly rule".
At the time of the English Restoration in 1660, the Savoy Conference was called to determine a new religious settlement for England and Wales. Under the Act of Uniformity 1662, the Church of England was restored to its pre-Civil War constitution with only minor changes, and the Puritans found themselves sidelined. A traditional estimate of historian Calamy is that around 2,400 Puritan clergy left the Church in the "Great Ejection" of 1662. At this point, the term "Dissenter" came to include "Puritan," but more accurately described those (clergy or lay) who "dissented" from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
The Dissenters divided themselves from all Christians in the Church of England and established their own separatist congregations in the 1660s and 1670s. An estimated 1,800 of the ejected clergy continued in some fashion as ministers of religion, according to Richard Baxter. The government initially attempted to suppress these schismatic organisations by using the Clarendon Code. There followed a period in which schemes of "comprehension" were proposed, under which Presbyterians could be brought back into the Church of England, but nothing resulted from them. The Whigs opposed the court religious policies and argued that the Dissenters should be allowed to worship separately from the established Church, and this position ultimately prevailed when the Toleration Act was passed in the wake of the Glorious Revolution in 1689. This permitted the licensing of Dissenting ministers and the building of chapels. The term "Nonconformist" generally replaced the term "Dissenter" from the middle of the 18th century.
The idea of personal Biblical interpretation through the Holy Spirit was central to Puritan beliefs, though it was shared with most Protestants in general at that time. Puritans sought both individual and corporate conformity to the teaching of the Bible, with moral purity pursued down to the smallest detail, as well as ecclesiastical purity to the highest level. They believed that man existed for the glory of God, that his first concern in life was to do God's will and so to receive future happiness. They believed that Jesus Christ was the center of public and personal affairs, and was to be exalted above all other names. The Puritans also believed in Limited atonement, (the belief that God only chose a select number of people called the elect to be saved) and Irresistible grace, (the elect could not resist His salvation). The Puritans also thought that their religion was the only way to Heaven.
Various strands of Calvinistic theology in the 17th century were taken up by different parts of the Puritan movement and, in particular, Amyraldism was adopted by some influential figures, including John Davenant, Samuel Ward and, to some extent, Richard Baxter. In the same fashion, there is no theory of church polity that is uniquely Puritan, and ideology differed beyond opposition to Erastianism (state control), though even that had its small group of supporters in the Westminster Assembly. Some approved of the existing church hierarchy with bishops, but others sought to reform the Episcopal churches on the Presbyterian model. Some Separatist Puritans were Presbyterian, but most were early Congregationalists. The separating Congregationalists believed that the Divine Right of Kings was heresy but, on the other hand, there were many royalist Presbyterians, in terms of allegiance in the political struggle.
Migration also brought out differences and brought together Puritan communities with their own regional customs and beliefs. The New World Puritans' policies of church governance diverged from those remaining in the British Isles, who faced different issues.
Puritans believed in the active existence of demonic forces, as did almost all Christians of this period. Puritan pastors undertook exorcisms for demonic possession in some high-profile cases, and believed in some allegations of witchcraft. Exorcist John Darrell was supported by Arthur Hildersham in the case of Thomas Darling. Samuel Harsnett, a skeptic on witchcraft and possession, attacked Darrell. However, Harsnett was in the minority, and many clergy, not only Puritans, believed in witchcraft and possession. The possession case of Richard Dugdale was taken up by ejected nonconformist Thomas Jollie and other local ministers in 1689.
The context of the Salem witch trials of 1692–93 shows the intricacy of trying to place "Puritan" beliefs as distinctive. The publication of Saducismus Triumphatus, an anti-skeptical tract that has been implicated in the moral panic at Salem, involved Joseph Glanvill (a latitudinarian) and Henry More (a Cambridge Platonist) as editors, and Anthony Horneck, an evangelical German Anglican, as translator of a pamphlet about a Swedish witch hunt. None of these was a Puritan. Glanvill and More had been vehemently opposed in the 1670s by sceptic John Webster, an Independent and sometime chaplain to the Parliamentary forces.
Puritan millennialism has been placed in the broader context of European Reformed beliefs about the millennium and interpretation of Biblical prophecy, for which representative figures of the period were Johannes Piscator, Thomas Brightman, Joseph Mede, Johannes Heinrich Alsted, and John Amos Comenius. Both Brightman and Mede were Puritan by conviction, and so are identified as such by their biographers, though neither clashed with the church authorities. David Brady describes a "lull before the storm" in the early 17th century, in which "reasonably restrained and systematic" Protestant exegesis of the Book of Revelation was seen with Brightman, Mede, and Hugh Broughton, after which "apocalyptic literature became too easily debased" as it became more populist and less scholarly.
William Lamont argues that, within the church, the Elizabethan millennial beliefs of John Foxe became sidelined, with Puritans adopting instead the "centrifugal" doctrines of Thomas Brightman, while the Laudians replaced the "centripetal" attitude of Foxe to the "Christian Emperor" by the national and episcopal Church closer to home, with its royal head, as leading the Protestant world iure divino (by divine right). Viggo Norskov Olsen writes that Mede "broke fully away from the Augustinian-Foxian tradition, and is the link between Brightman and the premillennialism of the 17th century".
The dam broke in 1641 when the traditional retrospective reverence for Thomas Cranmer and other martyred bishops in the Acts and Monuments was displaced by forward-looking attitudes to prophecy among radical Puritans.
Some strong religious beliefs common to Puritans had direct impacts on culture. Education was essential to the masses so that they could read the Bible for themselves.
The opposition to acting as public performance, typified by William Prynne's book Histriomastix, was not a concern with drama as a form. John Milton wrote Samson Agonistes as verse drama, and had contemplated writing Paradise Lost in that form at an early stage. N.H. Keeble writes:
...when Milton essayed drama, it was with explicit Pauline authority and neither intended for the stage nor in the manner of the contemporary theatre.
But the sexualisation of Restoration theatre was attacked as strongly as ever by Thomas Gouge, as Keeble points out. Puritans eliminated the use of musical instruments in their religious services for theological and practical reasons. The only music remaining in church services was the setting of the psalms. Church organs were commonly damaged or destroyed in the Civil War period, such as when an axe was taken to the organ of Worcester Cathedral in 1642.
The Merton Thesis is an argument about the nature of early experimental science proposed by Robert K. Merton. Similar to Max Weber's famous claim on the link between Protestant ethic and the capitalist economy, Merton argued for a similar positive correlation between the rise of Protestant Pietism in Germany and as well English Puritanism and early experimental science. The Merton Thesis has resulted in continuous debates. As an example, seven of 10 nucleus members of the Royal Society were Puritans. In the year 1663 sixty-two percent of the members of the Royal Society were similarly identified.
Based on Biblical portrayals of Adam and Eve, Puritans believed that marriage was rooted in procreation, love, and, most importantly, salvation. Husbands were the spiritual heads of the household, while women were to demonstrate religious piety and obedience under male authority. Furthermore, marriage represented not only the relationship between husband and wife, but also the relationship between spouses and God. Puritan husbands commanded authority through family direction and prayer. The female relationship to her husband and to God was marked by submissiveness and humility.
Thomas Gataker describes Puritan marriage as:
... together for a time as copartners in grace here, [that] they may reigne together forever as coheires in glory hereafter.
The paradox created by female inferiority in the public sphere and the spiritual equality of men and women in marriage, then, gave way to the informal authority of women concerning matters of the home and childrearing. With the consent of their husbands, wives made important decisions concerning the labour of their children, property, and the management of inns and taverns owned by their husbands. Pious Puritan mothers laboured for their children's righteousness and salvation, connecting women directly to matters of religion and morality. In her poem titled "In Reference to her Children," poet Anne Bradstreet reflects on her role as a mother:
I had eight birds hatched in one nest; Four cocks there were, and hens the rest. I nursed them up with pain and care, Nor cost nor labour I did spare.
Bradstreet alludes to the temporality of motherhood by comparing her children to a flock of birds on the precipice of leaving home. While Puritans praised the obedience of young children, they also believed that, by separating children from their mothers at adolescence, children could better sustain a superior relationship with God. A child could only be redeemed through religious education and obedience. Girls carried the additional burden of Eve's corruption and were catechised separately from boys at adolescence. Boys' education prepared them for vocations and leadership roles, while girls were educated for domestic and religious purposes. The pinnacle of achievement for children in Puritan society, however, occurred with the conversion process.
Puritans viewed the relationship between master and servant similarly to that of parent and child. Just as parents were expected to uphold Puritan religious values in the home, masters assumed the parental responsibility of housing and educating young servants. Older servants also dwelt with masters and were cared for in the event of illness or injury. African-American and Indian servants were likely excluded from such benefits.
Puritans left for New England, particularly in the years after 1630, supporting the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and other settlements among the northern colonies. The large-scale Puritan emigration to New England ceased by 1641, with around 21,000 having moved across the Atlantic. This English-speaking population in America did not all consist of original colonists, since many returned to England shortly after arriving on the continent, but it produced more than 16 million descendants. This so-called "Great Migration" is not so named because of sheer numbers, which were much less than the number of English citizens who emigrated to Virginia and the Caribbean during this time. The rapid growth of the New England colonies (around 700,000 by 1790) was almost entirely due to the high birth rate and lower death rate per year.
Puritan hegemony lasted for at least a century. That century can be broken down into three parts: the generation of John Cotton and Richard Mather, 1630–61 from the founding to the Restoration, years of virtual independence and nearly autonomous development; the generation of Increase Mather, 1662–89 from the Restoration and the Halfway Covenant to the Glorious Revolution, years of struggle with the British crown; and the generation of Cotton Mather, 1689–1728 from the overthrow of Edmund Andros (in which Cotton Mather played a part) and the new charter, mediated by Increase Mather, to the death of Cotton Mather.
The Puritans were well prepared and well born; among their number was landed gentry and educated aristocrats. In the area of education, New England differed from its mother country, where nothing in English statute required schoolmasters or the literacy of children. The Puritan model of education in New England was unique, with the possible exception of Scotland. John Winthrop claimed in 1630 that the society which they would form in New England would be "as a city upon a hill," and the colony leaders would educate all. These were men of letters. Hampton's founder, the Reverend Stephen Bachiler, had graduated from Oxford, others had attended Cambridge. These men had communicated with intellectuals and aristocrats from all over Europe. In 1636, they founded the school that soon became Harvard College.
Besides the Bible, children needed to read to "understand ... the capital laws of this country," as the Massachusetts code declared, order being of the utmost importance, and children not taught to read would grow "barbarous" (the 1648 amendment to the Massachusetts law and the 1650 Connecticut code both used the word "barbarisme"). By the 1670s, all New England colonies except Rhode Island had passed legislation that mandated literacy for children. In 1647, Massachusetts passed a law that required towns to hire a schoolmaster to teach writing.
Forms of schooling ranged from dame schools to "Latin" schools for boys already literate in English and ready to master preparatory grammar for Latin, Hebrew, and Greek. Reading schools were often the single source of education for girls, whereas boys would go to the town grammar schools. Gender largely determined educational practices; women introduced all children to reading, and men taught boys in higher pursuits. Latin grammar schools did not accept girls (nor did Harvard), since grammar schools were designed to "instruct youth so far as they may be fited for the university," and girls could play no role in the ministry. Most evidence suggests that girls could not attend the less ambitious town schools, the lower-tier writing-reading schools mandated for townships of over 50 families.
In New England, the Puritans believed the Puritan controlled governments were obliged to support their own church, and expected the church to influence politics and social life. The Plymouth Colony Puritans of New England disapproved of Christmas celebrations, as did some other Protestant churches of the time. Celebration was outlawed in Boston from 1659. The ban was revoked in 1681 by the English-appointed governor Edmund Andros, who also revoked a Puritan ban on festivities on Saturday nights. Nevertheless, it was not until the mid-19th century that celebrating Christmas became more widely fashionable in the Boston region. Likewise, the colonies banned many secular entertainments on moral grounds, such as drama, dancing, card playing and gambling.
They were not, however, opposed to drinking alcohol in moderation. Early New England laws banning the sale of alcohol to Native Americans were criticised because it was "not fit to deprive Indians of any lawfull comfort aloweth to all men by the use of wine." Laws banned the practice of individuals toasting each other, with the explanation that it led to wasting God's gift of beer and wine, as well as being carnal. Bounds were not set on enjoying sexuality within the bounds of marriage, as a gift from God. Spouses were disciplined if they did not perform their sexual marital duties, in accordance with 1 Corinthians 7 and other biblical passages. Women and men were equally expected to fulfill marital responsibilities. Women and men could file for divorce based on this issue alone. In Massachusetts colony, which had some of the most liberal colonial divorce laws, one out of every six divorce petitions was filed on the basis on male impotence. Puritans publicly punished drunkenness and sexual relations outside marriage. Couples who had sex during their engagement were fined and publicly humiliated. Men, and a handful of women, who engaged in homosexual behavior, were seen as especially sinful, with some executed.
The Puritans exhibited intolerance to other religious views, including Quaker, Anglican and Baptist theologies. The Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony were the most active of the New England persecutors of Quakers, and the persecuting spirit was shared by the Plymouth Colony and the colonies along the Connecticut river.
In 1660, one of the most notable victims of the religious intolerance was English Quaker Mary Dyer, who was hanged in Boston for repeatedly defying a Puritan law banning Quakers from the colony. She was one of the four executed Quakers known as the Boston martyrs. The hanging of Dyer on Boston Common marked the beginning of the end of the Puritan theocracy. In 1661, King Charles II explicitly forbade Massachusetts from executing anyone for professing Quakerism. In 1684, England revoked the Massachusetts charter, sent over a royal governor to enforce English laws in 1686 and, in 1689, passed a broad Toleration Act.
The first two of the four Boston martyrs were executed by the Puritans on 27 October 1659, and in memory of this, 27 October is now International Religious Freedom Day to recognise the importance of freedom of religion. Anti-Catholic sentiment appeared in New England with the first Pilgrim and Puritan settlers. In 1647, Massachusetts passed a law prohibiting any Jesuit Roman Catholic priests from entering territory under Puritan jurisdiction. Any suspected person who could not clear himself was to be banished from the colony; a second offense carried a death penalty.
Alexis de Tocqueville suggested in Democracy in America that Puritanism was the very thing that provided a firm foundation for American democracy. As Sheldon Wolin puts it, "Tocqueville was aware of the harshness and bigotry of the early colonists". However, on the other hand, he saw them as "archaic survivals, not only in their piety and discipline but in their democratic practices". The theme of a religious basis of economic discipline is echoed in sociologist Max Weber's work, but both de Tocqueville and Weber argued that this discipline was not a force of economic determinism, but one factor among many that should be considered when evaluating the relative economic success of the Puritans.
The literature on Puritans, particularly biographical literature on individual Puritan ministers, was already voluminous in the 17th century and, indeed, the interests of Puritans in the narratives of early life and conversions made the recording of the internal lives important to them. The historical literature on Puritans is, however, quite problematic and subject to controversies over interpretation. The early writings are those of the defeated, excluded and victims. The great interest of authors of the 19th century in Puritan figures was routinely accused in the 20th century of consisting of anachronism and the reading back of contemporary concerns.
A debate continues on the definition of "Puritanism". English historian Patrick Collinson believes that "Puritanism had no content beyond what was attributed to it by its opponents." The analysis of "mainstream Puritanism" in terms of the evolution from it of Separatist and antinomian groups that did not flourish, and others that continue to this day, such as Baptists and Quakers, can suffer in this way. The national context (England and Wales, as well as the kingdoms of Scotland and Ireland) frames the definition of Puritans, but was not a self-identification for those Protestants who saw the progress of the Thirty Years' War from 1620 as directly bearing on their denomination, and as a continuation of the religious wars of the previous century, carried on by the English Civil Wars. English historian Christopher Hill, who has contributed to analyses of Puritan concerns that are more respected than accepted, writes of the 1630s, old church lands, and the accusations that William Laud was a crypto-Catholic:
To the heightened Puritan imagination it seemed that, all over Europe, the lamps were going out: the Counter-Reformation was winning back property for the church as well as souls: and Charles I and his government, if not allied to the forces of the Counter-Reformation, at least appeared to have set themselves identical economic and political objectives.
Puritans were politically important in England, but it is debated whether the movement was in any way a party with policies and leaders before the early 1640s. While Puritanism in New England was important culturally for a group of colonial pioneers in America, there have been many studies trying to pin down exactly what the identifiable cultural component was. Fundamentally, historians remain dissatisfied with the grouping as "Puritan" as a working concept for historical explanation. The conception of a Protestant work ethic, identified more closely with Calvinist or Puritan principles, has been criticised at its root,[by whom?] mainly as a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy aligning economic success with a narrow religious scheme.
Congregationalists were theologically descended directly from the Puritans of England and consequently enjoyed pride of place as one of the oldest, most numerous, and most significant religious groups in the colonies.
The Puritans were well prepared and well born, among their number was landed gentry, educated aristocrats and dukes and earls. The Arbella's captain, John Winthrop, would become the governor of Massachusetts.......Far from being members of the ruling class or the landed gentry, the Pilgrims and their hangerson were outcasts in England, mostly impoverished.....
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