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The Puritans were a group of radical Protestants which developed in England following the Reformation, and played a significant role in the religious turmoil of the 17th century.

Table of contents
1 Beginnings
2 Beliefs
3 Denominations of Puritanism
4 Persecution
5 Revolution and the Commonwealth
6 Puritans to Non Conformists
7 The rise of Methodism
8 Descendents of Puritanism


Puritanism arose in the 1560s out of the discontent of radical protestants over the Elizabethan Religious Settlement of the Church of England. The radicals opposed the settlement, claiming it established a Catholic Church under the control of the Monarch (they described Anglicanism as a "Mingle Mangle").

"Puritan" was originally a derogatory term, used by Anglo Catholics to mock the radicals' belief that the Church was corrupt and needed to be purified. However, within a few years radicals used the term "Puritan" as a badge of honour. Puritans were also known as "Dissenters".


The central tenet of Puritanism was that by following the teachings of the Bible (in particular that of the New Testament), people live holier lives and stand a better chance of salvation.

Other important beliefs included:

Denominations of Puritanism

Puritanism was never a coherent, organised movement. Instead, it was a loose coalition of radical churches opposed to the Anglican Church. The largest of these groups were the Independents; the most influential in Parliament (and a thorn in the side of the Monarchy), were the Presbyterians. Other groups included the Society of Friends and the Separatists.


Puritanism was regarded as dangerously revolutionary by the Monarchy, who were particulary disturbed by the Puritans efforts to educate the poor and the Puritans' pamphlets attacking the power of Bishops (especially the Marprelate Tracts). Puritan members of parliament were taken to the Tower when they disagreed with the official line, known Puritans were spied on by Elizabeth's secret police, and Puritan meetings were broken up by the militia, all of which stiffened the Puritans' morale and made bloody revolution more likely. Because of this persecution, many Puritans fled to America, where they founded several colonies in New England.

It may be noted that persecution in America was sometimes carried out by the Puritans against others. Besides the infamous Salem witch trials, a notable example is the persecution of the Maryland colony by the Puritans, who had first fled to Maryland seeking refuge from Virginia.

Revolution and the Commonwealth

The English Civil War was a religious and political revolution between the Puritans and the Monarchy allied with Church. It became inevitable, because of the continued persecution of the Puritans, the extreme arrogance of Charles I and the reactionary policies of Archbishop William Laud. The Parliamentary and Puritan forces of Oliver Cromwell defeated and executed Charles I. Cromwell then established, for the first time in British history, a government that was tolerant of other religions (it allowed Jews to return to England for example), and also one that tried to help and educate the poor. When Cromwell died, the Restoration of the Monarchy also saw the restoration of persecution.

Puritans to Non Conformists

After the restoration, Puritans became known as Non Conformists and were persecuted by a hostile Monarchy, although as a result of the Commonwealth, there were now many Puritans inside the Anglican Church. They became known as Low Church Anglicans, but had little influence in the High Church Anglican dominated Church until the twentieth century. Non Conformist means to "not conform" with the teachings of the Church, and that is how the Puritans are usually referred to today. Because of the persecution, Puritanism began to decline from about 1680.

The rise of Methodism

In the 17th century, Puritanism began to revive under the teachings of a man who argued that people should live their lives according to the method of the Bible. That man was John Wesley and Methodism was born. Despite some initial persecution, Methodism soon grew to become the largest of the Puritan denominations, a position it still holds.

Descendents of Puritanism

The following denominations of Christainity are descended from the Puritans:

Further reading