persecution of Christians that took place during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries in England.
The religious persecution that was inflicted on Christians by the Church and State of England to extract compliance and adherence to the Church of England and the authority of the English Crown. There existed conflicts between the Protestant and Catholic Religions of the day and was a time of turmoil and upheaval for the people of England who did not hold the same religious beliefs as that of the Church and English Crown.
Background and Historical Overview:
The Church of England was fully committed to the Roman Catholic Church that ruled from a position of supremacy and was backed up fully by King Henry VIII. During the year of 1530 the King who considered himself to be a "Defender of the Faith" issued as a proclamation that certain books and literature which was in conflict against the Catholic Church and were considered to be heresies inclusive of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Interestingly, the King renounced papal authority because he wanted to divorce his wife; Catherine of Aragon and the Church refused authorization of the divorce. Henry demanded that the Church of England declare and acknowledge his supremacy over matters that were ecclesiastical in nature and he was declared by Parliament to be as "the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England" thereby granting him power of punishing for heresy as follows:
Any individual "indicted of heresy .... And convicted thereof shall be committed to be burned in open places for example of other ...."
The Parliament made approval of a "Statute of Proclamations" that made as law the proclamations of the king would be obeyed even those things that were "divers and sundry articles of Christ's religion." In other words any declarations made by the king or queen and Parliament was considered rules that were punishable by law for violating. That which supported this was what was referred to as "divine right" that was considered vested in the power of the Crown in matters both of worldly and spiritual matters to whoever wore the hereditarily crown and sat the throne in England.
Control was further exerted over the matters of state and religion through the passage of the 1549 "Act of Uniformity" This act was such that the "appointed Archbishop of Canterbury," by King Edward VI was authorized to "draw and make one convenient and meet order, rite and fashion of common and open prayer and administration of the sacraments, to be had and used in his Majesty's realm of England." The English throne was attempting to secure and solidify their power and position over the people of England which propelled the nonconformity that was spreading throughout England and in a viscous cycle propelled further the striving of the throne and further passage of acts toward this means. The Separatists, Mennonites and Baptists all rejected completely this type of power being vested in the throne and held that:
"apostolic precept and example required the formation of local churches absolutely independent one of another, and that each local body should be a pure democracy, each member being a truly regenerate believer and all having absolute equal rights and privileges, the only headship belonging to the Lord Jesus Christ."
The "Act of Supremacy" was passed during the year of 1559. This act made confirmation that the crown held jurisdiction over the state as well as thing that were ecclesiastical or spiritual in nature. This act made as a requirement that the archbishop, bishop as well as all other ecclesiastical persons including officers and ministers of the church to take an oath on the Bible stating that they:
"do utterly testify and declare in my conscience that the queen's highness is the only supreme governor of this realm and of all other her highness' dominions and countries, as well in all spiritual and ecclesiastical things or causes as temporal, and that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state of potentate hath or ought to have any jurisdiction ...."
Further stated in the oath was that should anyone in the lands governed by the crown be found "writing, printing, teaching, preaching, express words, deed or act" as though they had jurisdiction over spiritual matters that they would lose all their property and be put in prison as well as paying fines. The third commission of this offense would be considered to be that of "high treason" Following this act another act was passed that basically stated that if anyone refused to say this one common prayer, or take sacraments in the prescribed manner ordered by the crown that they would be in violated and would be put in prison to serve six months without availability of bail. The second offense required a year's imprisonment. The unexcused absence from Sunday church as well as speaking derogatorily of this act would also be punishable by imprisonment. The passage of a "Uniformity Act" as well as a "Treason Act" followed during the 1500's with dissent only growing stronger along with the strength and passage of laws in England.
II. More Dissent and More Statutes of Law:
The attempt of legislation of conformity in religion continued and so did dissention as well as the passage of laws. The "Corporation Act" as passed during the year of 1661 that required all officials in both cities and towns to take oaths swearing allegiance to Church and State and acknowledging the supremacy of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper in accordance with the rites of the Church of England. The year of 1662 saw the passage of the "Act of Uniformity" which required that the Book of Common Prayer be in each church throughout England or lands under the crown's rule. The "Five Mile Act" was passed during the year of 1665 making it a criminal offense to preach anything that violated the laws and statutes of England and was followed by the passage of the "Conventicle Act" which made it a violation of law to have any person violating the "Five Mile Act" in their home or on their property.
Where the individual was Catholic or Protestant the laws concerning religion applied to them. After passage of the "Act of Supremacy" King Henry VIII is said to have tested the clergy in a deliberate manner. John Houghton, Augustine Webster and Robert Lawrence were brought to trial in April of 1535 for having denied that the king was the "supreme head of the English Church." They were put to death as traitors on May 4 of that same year and were hung in their religious attire, which was to be a warning to other clerics that might be dissenters. Less than a month later three more men were tried, imprisoned and convicted. Those men were Humphrey Middlemore, Williams Exmew and Sebastian Newdigate. During their imprisonment which lasted a total of seventeen days it was written that they:
"Standing bolt upright, tied with iron collars fast by the necks to the posts of the prison, and great fetters fast rived upon their legs with great iron bolts; so straightly tied that they could neither lie nor sit nor otherwise ease themselves but stand straight upright, and in all that space they were never loosed for any natural necessity."
John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester was found guilty of treason and was beheaded in June of 1535 on Tower Hill. Fisher's last words were said to be: "I am come hither to die for the faith of Christ's holy Catholic Church." Many individuals chose to leave England and indeed to die rather than to submit to the "Act of Supremacy." One of those who left England was Williams Tyndale who was attempting to translate the bible and found it far to difficult under the oppressing English rule. The kidnapping of William was ordered from the throne of Henry VIII. Tyndale was tracked to Belgium and was captured and put in prison and finally burned in 1536. . Tyndale's last words were said to be: "Lord, open the King of England's eyes."
The crown had eyes everywhere according to historical works in writing, which tells that "nonconformists lived next door to each other, the walls were often broken open and secret passages made from dwelling to dwelling." Guards were posted in case a stranger happened by.
III. Results of Persecution:
History tells the rest of the story as the separatists wishing the freedom to worship independently of the church left England and headed toward a new life in a new land and are known today by the name of the Pilgrims. King Henry VIII in breaking ties with the Roman Catholic Church and forming the Church of England or the Anglican Church set into motion many historical actions that changed the face of the world forever. The Pilgrims longed for the opportunity to practice religious freedom and this would found in America. The Mayflower landed with 102 living just off the coast of…