The Church of England which James inherited from Elizabeth was in a state of uneasy equilibrium. The Elizabethan Settlement had consciously attempted to ‘comprehend’ a wide range of different religious outlooks within a broad Church; yet, in so doing, it had frustrated the hopes of many, and the significant numbers who had despaired of ever winning the old Queen’s support for their proposals turned enthusiastically to James, hoping that he would introduce the reforms they desired. The ‘Puritans’, those who sought ‘further reformation’ of the Church and wished to cleanse it of echoes of Catholicism (such as vestments, bishops and the Prayer Book), presented their demands to James in the so-called Millenary Petition (April 1603). The King subsequently discussed these demands, and made some concessions to them, at the Hampton Court Conference (14-18 January 1604). At the other end of the religious spectrum, English Catholics regretted that James did not introduce as much toleration as they had hoped, but despaired of doing anything about it, apart from a minority of extremists who attempted to blow up the King and both Houses of Parliament in the Gunpowder Plot of November 1605.This generated an anti-popish furore that led to the passing of two penal laws against English Catholics in January 1606, one of which obliged them to take an Oath of Allegiance to the King. 1

Elizabeth’s long-serving Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift, died in February 1604, and James appointed the equally anti-Puritan Richard Bancroft to succeed him. Yet James consistently sought to moderate Bancroft’s more stringent actions against the Puritans, and chose as his successor the moderate George Abbot, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from March 1611 until his death in August 1633.