Hard Times for Puritans

King James I
Charles I succeeded his father, James I, as England’s king in 1625, at the age of 24. Like James, he believed that a king was responsible solely to God for his actions, which no human power or authority had the right to question. King James had had a contentious relationship with the English Parliament, which—ever since the Magna Carta was signed in 1215—had taken a rather different view of royal authority. Nevertheless, James had sufficient political savvy to hold onto his subjects’ loyalty in spite of this difference of opinion. Charles, however, seems not to have inherited his father’s political or even common sense, and his high-handedness soon made him unpopular. Parliament (full of Puritan members) was reluctant to vote him all the money he wanted, and he came to regard both Parliament and Puritanism as equally unattractive nuisances.

James had shown greater restraint in dealing with both Parliament and Puritans than his son, but Charles was openly contemptuous of a representative assembly that claimed the right to share the sovereign’s power instead of confining its activity to expressing opinions and petitioning the Crown. Although James’s persecution hadn’t been severe enough to keep the Puritans from hoping and trying to convert the Church of England to their way, under Charles they lost this hope and began to fear.
King Charles I
The young king, married to a French Catholic princess, strongly favored every tendency in Anglicanism that was still close to Catholicism. He promoted churchmen in the Anglican hierarchy who felt the same way. Chief among these was William Laud, the Bishop of St. David’s (in Wales, though he wasn’t Welsh), who preached at Charles I’s coronation. He was elected Chancellor of Oxford University in 1630, and Charles appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633.

Puritans, who were numerous in Parliament, saw it as the chief defender of a broad English tradition of personal freedom that set limits to the state church’s authority over them. But Charles paid less and less attention to Parliament’s rights, finally attempting to put it out of the picture altogether.
Archbishop William Laud
At the same time, the Church of England was increasing its pressure on Puritan clergy to conduct their services in the High Anglican (sometimes called Anglo-Catholic) tradition, and dismissing ministers who wouldn’t comply. It became clear that the Puritan ambition to reform the Church of England would not be realized in the foreseeable future. Not only had English Puritanism been prevented from achieving its reformist goal—it might even be in danger of eradication.