I’ve posted a James I timeline before. It can be opened here in a new window. Many of James’ problems at home stemmed from the religious changes that were underway during this period.
He hadn’t even been crowned when he found himself being asked to change the way religion was viewed. In the Spring of 1603 as he travelled south he was presented with the so-called Millenary Petition. The Petition, signed by Puritan ministers, commented on the state of the Anglican Church (thy weren’t wildly enthusiastic) however, they had a fine line to walk as criticism of the Church implied criticism of the monarch. For that reason the preamble made it very clear that the Puritans had no desire to move a way from the Anglican Church. They did not wish to be regarded as separatists.
The fact was though that they didn’t think the Church had gone far enough with its reformation. Their objections were to do with the rites and rituals of the Church such as the wearing of the surplus and even the wearing of wedding rings. Currently there is no original copy of the Millenary Petition available which is odd because no one could cause Robert Cecil of being sloppy with his filing – but on the other hand during the opening months of James’ reign he was being petitioned about all manner of issue.
They went on to say that they would appreciate it if the king would discuss matters. James got their hopes up by indicating that he was prepared to debate these things. The only problem was that at this point no one was aware that James liked to show off his knowledge. Thus when The Hampton Court Conference was convened in January 1604 Puritans, and rather surprisingly Catholics alike, were hopeful that there would be steps towards religious toleration. The Puritans had been forced into secrecy at the end of Elizabeth’s reign whilst Catholics faced heavy recusancy fines depending which part of the country they lived in.
The conference opened its doors on the 14th of January 1604. Archbishop Whitgift of Canterbury was also there as were eight other leading clerics all dolled up in the ecclesiastical finery which irritated the Puritans so much. The Puritans chose their representatives carefully. They opted for moderate men. The king was very pleased with himself – he felt that he was leading a discussion of learned men. During the next three days he listened to what they had to say – or rather he told them what he thought of what they said. He had no wish to live under presbyterianism, felt that standards of preaching needed to improve and agreed that clerics should be able to debate theological matters – Elizabeth had banned such discussions.
The Puritans must have had cause for hopefulness after all of that so it came as a bitter disappointment when the official outcome, announced by proclamation in July, was one of conformity and business as usual. The only real outcome was the commissioning of the King James Bible.
Part of the problem was that despite his education as a protestant, James believed in the Devine Right of Kings. The Puritans want the Church to govern itself and this in James’ mind detracted from the monarch’s special relationship with the Almighty.
On the other hand someone somewhere must have told James not to go poking sticks into ants’ nests because by the end of his reign only two puritan ministers had been turfed out of their livings for non-conformity and George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1611 to 1633 was known to protect Puritan ministers on account of his sympathy with many of their beliefs.
As for the Catholics – their hopes of toleration dashed- a number of men sought to blow up the Houses of Parliament and paid the ultimate penalty but in all only twenty Catholic Priests were executed during the period of James’ reign. It doesn’t sound particularly kindly but in relation to Elizabeth’s tally of executed priests it looks positively tolerant!
Cavendish, Richard. (2004) “The Hampton Court Conference.” History Today. Vol 54, i