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6.2 Historical setting: Politics and religion: 1603-1660

With the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, the throne passed to James I, son of Mary Queen of Scots. This resulted in the union of Scotland with England. James had been subject to a strict Calvinistic upbringing in Scotland and, on his accession, the Puritans in England presented him with a petition, in the hope that their opposition to the state church would be heard. Contrary to their expectations, King James was not tolerant of them, seeing Puritanism as a threat to the throne. He was also intolerant of the Catholics, who were fined for refusing to attend the services of the Established church (Churchill 1971, 2, 120-2).

The Puritans continued to hold meetings in England and had a gradual influence on the country. Those that felt persecuted under James I settled initially in Holland and, in 1620, joined with Puritans from the West Country, and sailed in the Mayflower for New England (ibid, 136).

In 1624 James died and the throne passed to Charles I. From the start, he was very dependent on Parliament, while at the same time antagonistic towards it (ibid, 146). Charles married a French Catholic princess while Parliament was strongly Protestant and becoming increasingly Puritan (Houghton 1980, 154).

In 1629 the conflict between Charles and Parliament resulted in Parliament being dissolved and the King began a period of Personal Rule (Churchill 1971, 2, 154). Between 1620-40, there was more tolerance towards religious differences and the period is regarded as an age of ease and tranquillity (ibid, 155).

During this time the Parliamentarians were looking for ways to rouse the country. In particular, they continued to foster religious agitation. Charles' principal adviser was William Laud, who became Archbishop of Canterbury. He persecuted Puritan clergy and required them to conform to his ideas about worship (Houghton 1980, 155). In 1637 Laud decreed that the Church of England Prayer Book should be read in Scottish churches. There was strong opposition to this and Scotland rose in revolt (ibid, 155).

The Scottish army headed south. The leaders were in close correspondence with the Parliamentary and Puritan party in England. Charles was advised to recall Parliament (Churchill 1971, 2, 169). The Parliamentarians constantly clashed with Charles and in 1642 Charles, accompanied by 300 or 400 'Cavaliers', went in person to the House of Commons, and demanded the surrender of five of his chief opponents (ibid, 183). This caused the wrath of London and Charles and his Court fled to the country.

There was now religious and class conflict. The Puritans controlled Parliament and High Churchmen were prominent at Court. In addition, merchants, manufacturers and tenant farmers were claiming a share of political power (ibid, 185).

Later in 1642 the first clash of the Civil War took place at Edgehill. By 1649 Charles had been executed and the country was ruled by a Council of State. In 1653 Cromwell became the Lord Protector and all forms of Protestant worship were tolerated and practised openly (Houghton 1980, 159). Cromwell was the champion of Protestantism and also allowed religious toleration of other faiths. He died in 1658 and was succeeded by his son Richard. Puritan rule in the Church and State ended and the Stuart monarchy was reinstated in 1660.

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