chapter  5
11 Pages

The Jacobean Church

Responding to the studiously moderate requests for reform of the puritans' Millenary Petition, allegedly signed by a thousand ministers, the King convened a conference at Hampton Court in January 1604 to hear what spokesmen of the bishops and the puritans had to say. Among four contemporary accounts of what happened, that of William Barlow, soon to be bishop of Rochester, created a lasting impression that James and his bishops stood united against a puritan onslaught, which the King repelled by promising 'to harry them out of the land'. In fact, James distanced himself from the bishops and persuaded them to accept many of the reforms requested in the Petition [141]. The King's intention was to win over moderate from extremist puritans, and to this end he chaired the conference with consummate skill, using the technique of divide-and-rule which he had perfected in Scotland. Only once, when the puritans' leader Dr Reynolds used the word presbyter, did the King become (or pretend to be) angry, subjecting the unfortunate man to a stream of abuse and proclaiming the maxim for which Hampton Court became famous: 'No bishop, no king'. The conference ended amicably with James agreeing to reform a number of long-standing abuses in the church. Something would be done to limit pluralism and provide a preaching minister in every parish. High Commission was to be reformed and lay baptism abolished. In ordaining, suspending, degrading and depriving ministers, bishops were to be assisted by other ministers. The 39 Articles of Religion were to be 'explained and enlarged', and a new translation of the Bible undertaken. When, in 1604, new Canons were drawn up by Convocation to define the laws and beliefs of the church, a few small but significant gestures were made towards puritanism. By imposing controls on lecturers'" (Canon 56) and on prophesyings'" (Canon 72), the King acknowledged the existence of devices for further reformation which Elizabeth had resisted for over thirty years.