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Definition: Puritans from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

The more extreme PROTESTANTS inside and outside the CHURCH OF ENGLAND who found the Elizabethan religious settlement unacceptable and wished a further ‘purification’ of religion. They looked more and more to the Bible as the sole authority, rejecting all tradition in matters of public worship, and were mainly Calvinist in outlook and theology. They feature in the 16th and 17th centuries as BAPTISTS, BARROWISTS, PRESBYTERIANS, SEPARATISTS and INDEPENDENTS, and were sometimes called Precisionists from their punctiliousness over religious rules and observances. After the RESTORATION and the Act of Uniformity (1662), they became collectively known as DISSENTERS or NONCONFORMISTS.


Summary Article: Puritan from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

From 1564, a member of the Church of England who wished to eliminate Roman Catholic survivals in church ritual, or substitute a presbyterian for an episcopal form of church government. Activities included the Marprelate controversy, a pamphleteering attack carried out under the pseudonym ‘Martin Marprelate’. The term also covers the separatists who withdrew from the church altogether. The Puritans were characterized by a strong conviction of human sinfulness and the wrath of God and by a devotion to plain living and hard work.

Opposing the Elizabethan religious settlement, Puritan preachers advocated, not only the purifying of church doctrine and practices, but a holier personal life, greater generosity of giving to charity, and a reformation of society – including the abolition of such ‘sinful’ practices as drinking, gambling, dancing, football (‘a bloody and murdering practice’), plays (‘whoredom and uncleanness’), and even Christmas. The Puritans, and many bishops of the Church of England, favoured much more preaching, but Elizabeth feared that this would lead to the spread of ‘dangerous opinion’ and ordered bible-study classes (called ‘prophesyings’) to be suppressed; she later put Archbishop Grindal under house arrest for refusing to stop those conducted by the Church of England. Elizabethan Puritans clashed with the government over the suppression of bible-study classes and over clerical vestments. A number were arrested and one, John Stubbs, had his hand cut off for opposing Elizabeth I's proposed marriage to the French prince François, Duke of Alençon. In 1583 three Puritans were executed for saying that Elizabeth was a ‘Jezebel’, who was leading the English church astray.

Nevertheless, Puritanism grew in numbers and influence throughout the reign of Elizabeth and by the end of the reign most of the members of the House of Commons were Puritans. The Puritans were increasingly identified with the parliamentary opposition under James I and Charles I. The Puritan emigrants who settled in New England in the 17th century, most of them Congregationalists and Presbyterians, had a profound, formative influence on American culture, political institutions, and education. See also Congregationalism.

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