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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

The resistance of the Puritans


On

this the whole body of Puritans necessarily became agitated. A number of clergymen sought out the King at Royston in December 1604. While they announced to him their decision rather to resign their benefices than to submit to these ordinances, they called his attention to the danger to which the souls of the faithful would be subjected by this severity. In February a petition in favour of those ministers who refused to subscribe was presented to the King by some of the gentry of Northamptonshire. He expressed himself about this with great vehemence at a sitting of the Privy Council. He said that he had from his cradle suffered at the hands of these Puritans a persecution which would follow him to his grave. But in England the tribunals were quite ready to come to his assistance. In the Star Chamber it was declared a proceeding of seditious tendency to assail the King with joint petitions in a matter of religion.

Towards the end of February 1605 the bishops cited the clergy of Puritan views to appear at St. Paul's in London in order to take the oath. There were some members of this party who held it lawful to conform to the Anglican Church because it at least acknowledged the true doctrine. These had time for reflection given them; the rest who persevered in an opposition of principle were deprived of their offices without delay.

These proceedings for the first time recalled most vividly to men's minds the memory

of the late Queen. People said that, though she disliked the Puritans, she had never consented to persecute them on religious grounds, for that she well knew how much she owed to them in every other respect. They saw a proof of the King's incapacity in his departure from her example and pattern. They thought him to blame for remitting in favour of Catholic recusants the execution of the penal laws enrolled among the statutes of the realm. And the foreign policy of the King awakened no less disapproval. It was felt as an injury, that he had put an end by the peace to the hostilities against Spain, which had now become even popular. Even the severe edicts issued against the piracy, which had found support in different quarters, produced in many places an unfavourable impression. The King was obliged to compensate the admiral for the losses which he affirmed that he had suffered in consequence.[323] And how much greater were the apprehensions for the future which were connected with this policy! It was remarked that he sacrificed the interests of religion and of the country to those of the Catholics and the Catholic powers.

But there was now an organ of political opposition in the country in which all these hostile feelings found their expression. The resentment of injured interests, the resistance of the Puritans, and the excitement of the capital, impressed themselves on the Parliament.

All previous governments had exercised a systematic influence upon the election of members of the Lower House, and had encroached on their freedom. When the first elections under King James were about to be held he declared himself against the exercise of any such influence. He ordered that the elections should be conducted with freedom and impartiality, without regard to the bidding of any one and without the interference of strangers; and that the electors should be allowed to return the most deserving candidates in each county. He thought that, as he avoided unpopular measures, men would voluntarily meet his wishes. It appeared to him sufficient, if, in issuing the writs, he coupled with them the admonition to avoid all party spirit, and especially to abstain from electing such as from blind superstition on the one hand, or from fickleness or restlessness on the other, wished to disturb the uniformity of religion.[324] But in politics personal gratitude is only a feeble motive. The elections followed the current of opinion which had been set in motion by the Hampton Court Conference. In the very first Parliament of King James many Puritans obtained entrance into the House: the new line which this Parliament struck out influenced the whole subsequent period.


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