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PURITANISM. A movement within the Church of England, Puritanism called for the church's further reformation in accord with what was believed to be "the best reformed" tradition, which was taken to mean the doctrine and ecclesiology of Protestant Switzerland (Geneva, Zurich), of the Rhineland (Strasbourg in particular), the Palatinate, the Netherlands, and Scotland.


Puritanism was born out of dissatisfaction with the Elizabethan Settlement, the ecclesiastical order established by the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity in 1559 by the young Queen Elizabeth (ruled 15581603) and her first Parliament. Many English Protestants who had survived the reign of Catholic Queen Mary I (ruled 15531558) and the persecution of Protestants that marked her later years, and many of the more than eight hundred clerics and laymen who had fled abroad, had hoped that Elizabeth would bring a return to the second (more Protestant) Book of Common Prayer of King Edward VI's reign (15471553) and to the Reformed Protestant momentum of that king's last years. Exiles, who had experienced the reformed Calvinist order of the churches in Frankfurt am Main, Arau, Strasbourg, Basel, Zurich, and Geneva, returned to England hoping that the English Church would now go beyond the Edwardian reformation and join the ranks of the "best reformed churches."

Although few quarreled with the doctrine set out in 1563 in the Thirty-Nine Articles (Articles XI, Of the Justification of Man, and Article XVII, Of Predestination and Election, were unambiguously in the Reformed camp), some did question whether the retention of the traditional disciplinary machinery of episcopacy and the episcopal and archidiaconal church courts really approximated the structure of the primitive church of the Book of Acts and the early church fathers. More objectionable were the Prayer Book rubrics requiring that parish priests officiate wearing a surplice rather than an academic gown, as worn by ministers in the Reformed Churches of the Continent, and the continued use of the cross in baptism and the ring in marriage. These were admittedly adiaphora (issues not central to a saving faith), but if so, many questioned why their use should be obligatory. Further, in a country that was still largely Catholic, it seemed a mistake to "symbolize" with the old faith, thus leading many of the laity to assume that no substantive change had occurred. Finally, the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, although largely written by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (14891556), who was already a Protestant and moving in the direction of the Reformed churches when he wrote the 1552 Prayer Book, allowed little time for the sermon, and preaching had seemingly come to be central to inculcating a true saving faith: the Word preached, rather than the sacraments, was thought to be the principal vehicle of grace for those who were dissatisfied.

The first clash between the clergy who would come to be called "Precisions" or "Puritans" came over the requirement that the minister officiate in a surplice. Edmund Sandys, soon to be one of the new Elizabethan bishops, dismissed the rubric saying, "Our gloss upon this text is that we shall not be forced to use them," but events belied his optimistic view. Although strict uniformity was not enforced at first, in 1566, under pressure from the queen, Archbishop Matthew Parker published his Advertisements, which called for decency and uniformity in worship. Ministers were not to preach without an episcopal license, and all ministers were required to wear the surplice when officiating. The Vestiarian Controversy followed, brought to a head by the bishop of London, who convoked the London clergy before him; thirty-seven of the ninety-eight clergy refused to conform and were suspended for refusing to wear what Robert Crowley called "the conjuring garments of popery." As William Cecil (15201598), the queen's secretary of state, complained, the consequence of silencing so many "godly men at one instant" was the "utter overthrow [of almost] all exercises . . . of interpretation of Scripture" within the city.

Many of those suspended were subsequently rescued by lay supporters who had the right of presentation to parochial livings, and in a sense the Puritan movement was born from that moment. In 1570 the conflict escalated. In that year, Thomas Cartwright's divinity lectures at Cambridge on the Acts of the Apostles argued that the primitive church had a presbyterian structure and lacked bishops. The issue of governance was no longer academic when, two years later, two young London preachers, John Field and Thomas Wilcox, published An Admonition to the Parliament, which called for the abolition of episcopacy and the substitution of a presbyterian structure of church government.

Not all relations between the Puritans and the bishops were as contentious as these measures implied. An overriding problem was the inability of many uneducated parish priests to preach the kind of exegetical sermons many bishops as well as ministers believed the times required, and this perception led to officially sanctioned meetings of local clergy called "prophesyings." During these meetings, typically, two skilled ministers preached upon a biblical text before the assembled local clergy and interested laity, and afterwards the clergy withdrew to discuss the performance. Although Archbishop Edmund Grindal (c. 15191583) backed the prophesyings, saying "public and continual preaching of God's word is the ordinary means and instrument of the salvation of mankind," Queen Elizabeth preferred that ministers read the official homilies. Thus in 1576 she ordered Grindal to suppress the prophesyings. Nevertheless, preaching exercises in one form or another, sometimes with episcopal approval (approval of the bishop), survived in many localities into the seventeenth century.

Such cooperation between bishops and the Puritan clergy largely came to an end in 1583, when John Whitgift (c. 15301604) succeeded Grindal as archbishop of Canterbury. Whitgift was a disciplinarian after the queen's own heart, and he promptly instituted the three articles of subscription as a means for suppressing Puritan nonconformity. The articles required the unfeigned acknowledgment of the royal supremacy in the church (few Puritans disagreed with that requirement), that the Thirty-Nine Articles were agreeable to the word of God, that nothing in the Book of Common Prayer was contrary to the word of God, and that it should therefore be used without alteration or abbreviation by all ordained ministers. More than three hundred ministers were suspended for refusing subscription, although many subsequently subscribed in some modified form sufficient for reinstatement.

Equipped with the prerogative Court of High Commission, over which Whitgift presided, and with the support of Queen Elizabeth, the archbishop set about enforcing conformity in a series of show trials: three who had separated from the established church in despair of reforming it were executed in 1593. The nascent presbyterian program organized by Field and Wilcox was at an end, and the Puritan clergy, whether supporters of a presbyterian church or not, lost their principal champions at court, including (among others) the earl of Leicester and his brother, the earl of Warwick; Sir Francis Walsingham, the queen's secretary of state; and Sir Walter Mildmay, an old privy counselor, as the first Elizabethan generation died in the late 1580s and early 1590s.

Loss of support at court did not spell the end of Puritanism in the countryside, where many Puritan clergy found support among the local gentry and country peers. Robert Rich, the second earl of Warwick, and his gentry allies in two generations of the Barrington family and their kin turned Essex into one of the principal Puritan strongholds until the episcopal attacks of the later 1620s. These attacks prompted an exodus of clergy and their lay followers to Massachusetts Bay and southern New England. The Knightleys in Northamptonshire and Sir Robert Jermyn, Sir John Higham, and Sir Edward Lewkenor in Suffolk were patrons of Puritan ministers. In the west, Sir Robert Harley and his friends made part of Herefordshire a Puritan haven. In London, where most of the parochial livings were not in the hands of the laity, Puritans found a solution in the lectureship, a minister hired to preach either because the incumbent was not licensed to preach or because the parish vestry wished more sermons than the parish minister could provide. At one time more than one hundred London parishes had preachers paid to give these extra sermons, supported either by collections organized by the vestry or by endowments made by wealthy merchants.


When James I (ruled 16031625) succeeded to the throne of England, the Puritans briefly hoped for better times; after all, as James VI of Scotland, this king had been brought up in a Presbyterian church. The so-called Millenary Petition, calling for moderate reform, was promptly organized and purportedly signed by one thousand clergymen; James responded by summoning a meeting of bishops and Puritan ministers at Hampton Court. The king was sympathetic to the Puritan demand for a preaching clergy, but he had no sympathy for what he thought might be reform leading to a presbyterian system in England. In the end, little came of Hampton Court except the new translation of the Bible published in 1611, the last official collaboration between Puritan and non-Puritan members of the Church of England. Richard Bancroft (15441610), who succeeded Whitgift as archbishop of Canterbury, was as rigorous a disciplinarian as his predecessor. He promulgated a revised set of canons for the church in 1604, which required subscription and conformity, and in the ensuing five years more than seventy beneficed Nonconformist clergy were deprived, including such Puritan luminaries as Arthur Hildersham and Ezechial Culverwell.

Two issues gained the Puritans support in the wider community in the course of James's reign. Many members of the church favored a rigorous Sabbath that was devoted exclusively to religious activities, and were shocked when King James issued the Book of Sports in 1618 in an effort to appease, as it seemed to many, Catholic sensibilities in Lancashire. The Book of Sports specifically forbade "Puritans and precisions" from discouraging any "lawful recreations" once the second service was completed on Sunday afternoons. Such lawful recreations included dancing, May games, Whitsun ales, and Morris dances, all of which could now legally take place in the churchyard.

More seriously, many, including Archbishop George Abbot (15621633), joined the more incautious Puritan preachers in criticizing King James's pursuit of a Spanish Habsburg wife for Prince Charles, particularly after 1618, when in the early stages of the Thirty Years' War (16181648) the Catholic armies of Spain and Bavaria invaded the Protestant Palatinate, the hereditary electorate of Frederick and his wife, Elizabeth, James's daughter. In 1622 James attempted to stop such preaching by promulgating his "Directions concerning Preachers," but in fact the preachers were doing little more than giving voice to popular opinion.

Catholic political and military successes on the Continent were one threat; the rise of Arminianism and ceremonialism at home was even more threatening, for to Puritans and to old-fashioned Calvinists like Abbot, these clerics seemed bent on subverting Protestantism from within. Puritans and non-Puritans alike had shared a common Reformed theology during most of Elizabeth's reign, but beginning in the 1590s anti-Calvinists appeared in the universities, arguing that grace was resistible, that salvation could be lost, which was a denial of predestination, and that the sacraments were more important vehicles of saving grace than the preached Word. Eight Arminians became bishops during James's reign, including his favorite court preacher, Lancelot Andrewes (15551626). After 1625, in the reign of King Charles I (ruled 16251649), they rapidly came to dominate the church. William Laud (15731645) became Charles's chief ecclesiastical adviser and rose to become bishop of London in 1628 and archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. Calvinists were now seen as Puritans, and Puritans as "Brownists," separatists from the Established Church in tendency, if not yet in fact. As Laud preached in a court sermon in 1621, "nothing more needful for . . . State and Church, than prayer," and the peace he sought when he came to power was the peace of silent pulpits.

In 1629 Thomas Hooker, the silenced lecturer at Chelmsford in Essex, preached in his farewell sermon: "God is going, his glory is departing, . . . England hath seen her best days," and shortly after left for Massachusetts; forty-eight Essex ministers had petitioned Laud on his behalf, but to no avail. Others retreated to the Netherlands. Alexander Leighton, a Scottish minister and physician, was tried in 1630 before the Star Chamber for writing against episcopacy, had his ears cropped, and was imprisoned until released by Parliament in 1640; Henry Burton, a minister, John Bastwick, a physician, and William Prynne, a lawyer, suffered a similar fate in 1637. The Book of Sports was reissued in 1633 and was required to be read from every pulpit in the land; those ministers who resisted what many regarded as an invitation to profane the Sabbath were suspended from their ministerial duties.


The rebellion of the Scots in 1637 over the attempted introduction of an English-style Book of Common Prayer and the summoning of the Long Parliament in November 1640 following two disastrous so-called Bishops' Wars, as Charles tried to bring his rebellious Scottish subjects to heel, brought the downfall of the Caroline regime. Laud was imprisoned in the Tower of London, and the House of Commons entertained petitions against parochial clergy who favored the Laudian regime and, after the civil war began in 1642, those who preached against Parliament and for the king. Puritan clergy who lost their livings behind royalist lines found new pulpits in London and those areas held by Parliament. As Richard Baxter (16151691), then a young West Country Puritan divine, later wrote: "Though it must be confessed that the public safety and liberty wrought very much with most, especially with the nobility and gentry who adhered to the parliament, yet was it principally the differences about religious matter that filled up the parliament's armies and put the resolution and valor into their soldiers."

A church settlement proved more difficult for Parliament than military victory. As part of an agreement with the Scots Covenanters, Parliament had summoned the Westminster Assembly of Divines in 1643, but argument over the definition of "the best reformed church" soon revealed a split between the Presbyterian majority, champions of a national church to which all would necessarily belong (similar to the Scots), and the Independent minority (called Congregationalists in America), who insisted on autonomy for gathered, voluntary congregations. The latter had the backing of the Baptists, always outside the national church, and the sectarian radicals in some of the parliamentary regiments. After the creation of the New Model Army in 1645, its success in the second civil war in 1648 and the conquest of Ireland and Scotland, followed by Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate in 1653, the survival of the Independents and the sects was guaranteed by the victorious army. The upshot was a Presbyterian structure without coercive sanctions, Independents and Baptists existing outside its purview, and in the 1650s these were joined by the Fifth Monarchists, Quakers, and other radical groups.

When the Restoration took place in 1660, in part due to the fear of sectarian anarchy, instead of a Puritan movement within the national church that had existed prior to 1640, denominationsPresbyterians, Independents, Baptists, and Quakerscame to exist as persecuted congregations on the outside, and Old Dissent was born. Yet it was in this period of defeat that the two great literary expressions of the Puritan ethos appeared: John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667) and John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress (1678).

Puritanism, if it failed to create the sought-after City on the Hill, nevertheless was to have a lasting influence on the primacy given to the Bible as the word of God and to a certain type of moral seriousness and Protestant culture pervasive, if not dominant, in the English-speaking world.

See also Baxter, Richard ; Bible ; Bunyan, John ; Calvinism ; Charles I (England) ; Church of England ; Cromwell, Oliver ; Elizabeth I (England) ; English Civil War and Interregnum ; English Civil War Radicalism ; Harley, Robert ; James I and VI (England) ; James II (England) ; Laud, William ; Milton, John ; Star Chamber .


Primary Sources

Baxter, Richard. The Autobiography of Richard Baxter. Edited by J. M. Lloyd Thomas. London and New York, 1931.

Dent, Arthur. The Plaine Mans Pathway to Heaven. London, 1601.

Hutchinson, Lucy. Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson. Edited by James Sutherland. London, New York, and Toronto, 1973.

Secondary Sources

Collinson, Patrick. The Elizabethan Puritan Movement. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1967.

. Godly People: Essays on English Protestantism and Puritanism. London, 1983.

Durston, Christopher, and Jacqueline Eales, eds. The Culture of English Puritanism, 15601700. New York, 1996.

Greaves, Richard L. Glimpses of Glory: John Bunyan and English Dissent. Stanford, 2002.

Hill, Christopher. Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England. London, 1964.

. The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution. London, 1972.

Lake, Peter. Anglicans and Puritans? Presbyterianism and English Conformist Thought from Whitgift to Hooker. London, 1988.

. The Boxmaker's Revenge: "Orthodoxy," "Heterodoxy," and the Politics of the Parish in Early Stuart London. Stanford, 2001.

. Moderate Puritans and the Elizabethan Church. Cambridge, U.K., 1982.

Nuttall, G. F. Visible Saints: The Congregational Way, 16401660. Oxford, 1957.

Seaver, Paul S. Wallington's World: A Puritan Artisan in Seventeenth-Century London. Stanford, 1985.

Spurr, John. English Puritanism, 16031689. New York, 1998.

Paul S. Seaver

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Puritanism is the set of religious beliefs and practices retroactively ascribed to Puritans by modern scholars. Since Puritan was originally a term of abuse toward people considered excessively, narrow-mindedly, or hypocritically religious, not an embraced identity, the definitions of both Puritan and Puritanism have been and remain inescapably vague. Roughly, we may take the term Puritans to refer to the fervently religious, "godly" fraction of the English nation who, dissatisfied with England's imperfectly Reformed status quo, between the 1560s and the 1640s pushed for a further reformation of England as a corporate whole toward more fully Reformed ecclesiastical practice and for the infusion of their own ardent religiosity in the faith, worship, and daily life of all Englishmen. Puritanism, therefore, encompasses Puritans' theology and practical divinity, the quite divergent religiopolitical goals of successive generations of Puritans, and, more loosely, the cultural, social, and economic habits scholars have since identified as corollaries of Puritan religiosity and belief.

Religious Practice

Puritanism began simply as a full-blooded articulation of Reformed theology, which strongly emphasized that the course of human events depended upon God's omnipotent providence and that the soul's salvation depended upon both human faith and God's absolute and predestining power to save and to damn. Certain aspects of this belief were characteristically but not exclusively Puritan and were shared by most English Protestants. Many Puritans emphasized these more congenial aspects of Puritanism, seeking to unite the Protestant nation as much as possible. This soft-edged Puritanism promoted Reformed catechetical education, the support for a learned and godly ministry, the encouragement of ministerial preaching, the setting of psalms and hymns to popular song tunes, a unifying culture of providentialism among Englishmen that emphasized the possibility of saving grace, a fervent emphasis on anti-Catholicism rather than on the precise details of Reformed theology, and the vision of England as an elect nation, collectively destined for salvation. This branch of Puritanism was essentially "hot Protestantism"distinctive in its enthusiasm more than in its beliefs.

Other Puritans embraced a Puritanism that created a distinctive way of life alongside of distinctive religious beliefs. First, this Puritanism enjoined an ascetic variant of English culture that rejected as "ungodly entertainments" the songs, dances, and sports enjoyed by most Englishmen, and replaced them with sermon-going, Bible study, prayer, and (most unpopularly) the proselytization and coercive enforcement of this reformation of manners among their fellow Englishmen. Second, Puritanism faced squarely God's predestining power to save and to damn, brought it into everyday religious practice and worship, and made this "experimental predestinarianism" central to their practical divinity and emotional connection with God; and so it focused on the search for ways to assure oneself of one's soul's salvation. Hence, Puritanism transformed Reformed providentialism into a search for this-worldly signs of God's beneficial providence that would provide reasonably sure guarantees of other-worldly salvation and stressed the emotional, joyful assurance that came when one knew that God had predestined one's soul for salvation. Third, since Puritans did not have the full coercive resources of the state at their command, Puritanism promoted "voluntary religion" that operated by persuasion rather than by compulsion. Puritan works of practical divinity therefore instructed ministers how to preach so as to bring listeners voluntarily to live a godly life, and instructed the Puritan laity how to order their own lives in a godly manner. Reformed manners, experimental predestinarianism, and the practical divinity of voluntary religion are the three most noteworthy characteristics of this branch of Puritanism.

Ecclesiology and Politics

Puritanism became a political issue around 1570, as Elizabeth began to resist demands for further reformation of the English Church. Political Puritanism at first denoted the party counseling Elizabeth to change her mind and resume the transformation of England toward the practices of more fully Reformed polities, such as Geneva and Scotland. These Puritans' main desires were to eliminate England's bishops and replace them in the Church's governing structure with both a presbyterial-synodal church structure and a system of consistorial discipline, and to eliminate the vestments, liturgy, and church decoration that preserved aspects of England's Catholic tradition. Puritan relations with Elizabeth became increasingly acrimonious, as by the end of the 1580s it was clear that her halt was meant to be permanent. Since first Elizabeth and then James remained adamant in their resistance to full national reformation, Puritanism from the 1590s to the 1610s chose two tactics by which to express their opposition. Most Puritans made the necessary obeisances to the forms of the English Church, but worked quietly to reform the church at the local level, while waiting for a chance to resume national reformation. A few radicals separated from the Church rather than acquiesce in its imperfect reformation; these ministers and laity, intermittently persecuted, generally abandoned the urge to create a national Church, and instead founded Congregationalist, Baptist, and other sects.

The onset of the Thirty Years War upset this political situation. As England's bellicose Reformed ministry urged intervention in the war, opposing James I's pacific policy, first James and then Charles I began to patronize more deferential "Arminian" bishops, who added to their respect for royal authority a shift from the traditional Reformed emphasis on faith and predestination toward an emphasis on tradition and ritual, and sought accordingly to move the Church even farther from the Reformed ideal. Puritanism therefore transformed itself in the 1620s and 1630s from an urge toward further reform to a defense of such reform as had already been achieved in the Church against Arminianizing changes. At the same time the actions of Charles and the Arminian bishops greatly radicalized Puritanism. Among those Puritans who still wished to take part in a national Church, the number of Puritans willing to tolerate episcopacy diminished drastically; and the sectarian impulse and the desire to emigrate to fully Reformed New England also rose sharply among Puritans in these decades. As his command of the nation broke down in the early 1640s, Charles confronted a radicalized Puritanism, which three generations of royal policy had made bitterly hostile to royal authority and extraordinarily receptive to radical political practice and thought.


In retrospect scholars have associated Puritanism with almost every "modernizing" development in early modern European history. At the heart of this mountain of theorizing is the thesis propounded by Max Weber that Protestantism transmuted the idea of a religious calling into this-worldly achievement in the service of God, Reformed theology especially emphasized this transmutation, and Puritanism in particular made possible England's pioneering transition to modern industrial capitalism and a pervasive, secularized Puritan work ethic. Studies of Puritanism in its classic development up to the 1640s therefore have often focused on attempts to prove or disprove Weber's thesis as it applies to the political, economic, and cultural aspects of Puritanism. At this point in time the latest scholarship hesitantly supports the idea that Puritanism did have a disproportionate appeal toward artisanal guild members and the literate, that Puritanism did help inspire middling Englishmen toward new, coercive policies of social control and welfare toward their poorer brethren, and that by focusing religious salvation upon individual faith and God's predestining power Puritanism did allow Puritans engaged in economic activity to act relatively unconstrained by the inhibitions of a traditional "moral economy." If this is so, Puritanism does correlate significantly with the prerequisites for the development of a modern economy and society; but this thesis is highly qualified, and remains strongly contested. This latest word ought not to be taken as the last word on the subject.

See also Reformation ; Religion ; Religion and the State .


Collinson, Patrick. The Religion of Protestants: The Church in English Society, 15591625. Oxford: Clarendon, 1982.

Lake, Peter. The Boxmaker's Revenge: "Orthodoxy," "Heterodoxy," and the Politics of the Parish in Early Stuart London. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2001.

Underdown, David. Revel, Riot, and Rebellion: Popular Politics and Culture in England, 16031660. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Walsham, Alexandra. Providence in Early Modern England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Translated by Talcott Parsons. London and New York: Routledge, 2001.

David Randall

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Puritanism, in the 16th and 17th cent., a movement for reform in the Church of England that had a profound influence on the social, political, ethical, and theological ideas of England and America.


Historically Puritanism began early (c.1560) in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I as a movement for religious reform. The early Puritans felt that the Elizabethan ecclesiastical establishment was too political, too compromising, and too Catholic in its liturgy, vestments, and episcopal hierarchy. Calvinist in theology, they stressed predestination and demanded scriptural warrant for all details of public worship. They believed that the Scriptures did not sanction the setting up of bishops and churches by the state. The aim of the early Puritans such as Thomas Cartwright was to purify the church (hence their name), not to separate from it. However, by 1567 a small group of lay rigorists was discovered meeting secretly in London to worship after the pattern of the service of the church in Geneva.


Although Puritans believed that if they searched the Scriptures long enough they would eventually agree, they early differed on the nature of the church polity advised in the Bible. The parish was the unit of the Puritan church; the parochial group of church members elected ministers. The main body of Puritans, the Presbyterians (see Presbyterianism), favored a central church government, whereas the separatists, Independents or Congregationalists (see Congregationalism), defined the church as any autonomous congregation of believers, emphasized the point that one could arrive at one's own conclusions in religion, and opposed a national, comprehensive church.

Persecution and Emigration

During the reign of James I, the Presbyterian majority unsuccessfully attempted to impose their ideas on the established English church at the Hampton Court Conference (1604). The result was mutual disaffection and a persecution of the Puritans, particularly by Archbishop William Laud, that brought about Puritan migration to Europe and America (see Mayflower). Those groups that remained in England grew as a political party and rose to their greatest power between 1640 and 1660 as a result of the English civil war; during that period the Independents gained dominance. The great Puritan apologist of this period was John Milton. During the Restoration the Puritans were oppressed under the Clarendon Code (1661–65), which secured the episcopal character of the Established Church and, in effect, cast the Puritans out of the Church of England. From this time they were known as nonconformists.

Influence on American Society

In New England, in the Puritan "Holy Commonwealth," some 35 churches had been formed by 1640. The Puritans in New England maintained the Calvinist distinction between the elect and the damned in their theory of the church, in which membership consisted only of the regenerate minority who publicly confessed their experience of conversion. Ministers had great political influence, and civil authorities exercised a large measure of control over church affairs. The Cambridge Platform (1648) expressed the Puritan position on matters of church government and discipline. To the Puritans, a person by nature was wholly sinful and could achieve good only by severe and unremitting discipline. Hard work was considered a religious duty and emphasis was laid on constant self-examination and self-discipline. Although profanation of the Sabbath day, blasphemy, fornication, drunkenness, playing games of chance, and participation in theatrical performances were penal offenses, the severity of the code of behavior of the early Puritans is often exaggerated.

In 1662 it was made easier for the unregenerate majority to become church members in Massachusetts by the adoption of the Half-Way Covenant. Clerical power was lessened by the expansion of New England and the opening of frontier settlements filled with colonists who were resourceful, secular, and engaged in a struggle to adapt to a difficult environment. In 1692 in Massachusetts a new charter expressed the change from a theocratic to a political, secular state; suffrage was stripped of religious qualifications.

After the 17th cent. the Puritans as a political entity largely disappeared, but Puritan attitudes and ethics continued to exert an influence on American society. They made a virtue of qualities that made for economic success—self-reliance, frugality, industry, and energy—and through them influenced modern social and economic life. Their concern for education was important in the development of the United States, and the idea of congregational democratic church government was carried into the political life of the state as a source of modern democracy. Prominent figures in New England Puritanism include Thomas Hooker, John Cotton, Roger Williams, Increase Mather, and Cotton Mather.


See P. Miller, The New England Mind (2 vol., 1939–53); E. S. Morgan, Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea (1963); J. E. C. Hill, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England (2d ed. 1967); H. C. Porter, Puritanism in Tudor England (1970); C. L. Cohen, God's Caress: The Psychology of Puritan Religious Experience (1986); C. E. Hambrick-Stowe, The Practice of Piety (1986); S. Foster, The Long Argument: English Puritanism and the Shaping of New England Culture, 1570–1700 (1991).

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537. Puritanism

  1. Alden, Oliver too inhibited by his puritanical background to enjoy the normal life of a young man. [Am. Lit.: Santayana The Last Puritan in Magill I, 497]
  2. Brother Jonathan 17th-century British nickname for Puritans. [Am. Hist.: Hart, 110]
  3. Brush, George Marvin strait-laced salesman tries to impose his rules of conduct on others. [Am. Lit.: Wilder Heavens My Destination in Magill I, 357]

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