Religious Conflict in the Seventeenth Century

Elizabeth I’s death, in 1603, brought her cousin James VI Stuart of Scotland to the throne of England as James I. He and the succeeding Stuart monarchs of the seventeenth century would have to face the ongoing, oftentimes rancorous, debate about the structure and practices of the Church of England. At the very start of his reign, James I was presented with the Millenary Petition, signed by over 1,000 ministers, asking for a church conference. This Puritan faction hoped that James I, raised in the Calvinist Presbyterian Kirk of Scotland, would be open to their call for a further godly reformation. The resultant Hampton Court Conference of 1604, however, failed to produce any changes in the Book of Common Prayer or in the episcopate, for James I supported the Elizabethan settlement. The king did authorize a new translation of the Bible. The King James Bible, published in 1611, not only served as a standard text for the church but also became one of the great literary masterpieces of the English language. It was also under James I that the first successful English colonies in North America were founded. In 1607, Jamestown was established by the Virginia Company, and it was here that the Church of England took strongest root in British North America. The Anglican clergy in the colonies eventually came under the jurisdiction of the bishop of London. This posed a contradiction for the Anglican Church in America, since it was an episcopal church without any resident bishops or local ecclesiastic courts, so that the colonial laity came to assume greater control of church affairs. Nor was the Church of England ever accorded exclusivity within the colonies. Instead, British North America became a haven for nonconformists, those seeking to practice their faith differently than prescribed by the established church. Beginning in 1620, when the Mayflower reached Plymouth, the settlements in New England became a refuge for Puritans and their form of worship, called Congregationalism. James I’s son, Charles I, was raised in the Anglican faith. He strongly believed in maintaining the episcopal structure, the ritual, and the sacraments, as did William Laud, his archbishop of Canterbury. The Puritans, who preferred a good sermon expounding on Holy Scripture over ritual, increasingly sought refuge in the colonies at a time when Laud was seeking closer conformity within the English communities abroad. To that end, in 1637, the king issued two decrees that attempted to enforce the conformity of all those emigrating to New England, including the ministers themselves. Laud planned to appoint a bishop to the British North American colonies, but developments within the British Isles soon diverted attention from the colonial church. Charles I’s attempt to impose an Anglican-style prayer book on the Scottish kirk led to the Bishops’ Wars of 1639 1640 with Scotland. The English Parliament, back in session in 1640 after an eleven-year hiatus, attempted to limit the king’s sovereignty and to reform the Church of England, root and branch. King and Parliament went to war in 1642, and the English Civil War ended in 1646 with the king’s defeat. Both Laud, executed in 1645, and the Church of England were casualties of the war, but the victorious Parliamentarians were themselves divided over the form of a new religious settlement. While a majority wanted a presbyterian-style church government, a powerful minority of Independents, who dominated Parliament’s victorious New Model Army, wanted independent congregations. Oliver Cromwell, the cavalry commander of the New Model and a leading Independent, was among those who condemned Charles I to death in January 1649 and abolished the English monarchy. Under the ensuing Commonwealth (1649 1653) and Cromwell’s Protectorate (1653 1658), a certain amount of religious toleration was granted to Protestants, although congregations were prohibited from using the prayer book or rituals of the Anglican Church. After Cromwell’s death, in 1658, a restoration of the Stuart monarchy and the Church of England took place in 1660. Soon thereafter, episcopal control from England was again exercised over the colonial established church. Is religion evil? Weighing centuries of war, body counts, abuse … Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of … 0400-2000: Northern Ireland – Is it a religious conflict?

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