In a lecture delivered at Dr Williams's Library in 1990, Nicholas Tyacke drew timely attention to the ramifications of a godly network, clerical and lay, by means of which the continued existence of ‘a radical puritan continuum’, stretching from the 1590s to the civil war, could profitably be traced. ‘Money, organization and ideology’, Tyacke concluded, ‘give shape and substance to puritanism under the early Stuarts.’
The intention of this essay is to amplify Tyacke's findings by examining some further sources of that ‘money’ and the origins of that ‘organization’ – ‘ideology’ is left to fend largely for itself – by reference to a series of alliances firmly in place in Elizabethan London no later than the early 1570s. Its focal point is the will of Thomas Crooke, preacher at Gray's Inn from 1581, who was born about 1545 in Cransley, Northamptonshire, evidently of poor parents of whom no record seems to survive. After schooling at Stamford, Lincolnshire, Crooke matriculated sizar at Trinity College, Cambridge, in May 1560. Graduating BA in 1563 he was elected to a fellowship and commenced an MA in 1566. While continuing his studies, he probably quitted Cambridge thereafter for by the time that he was ordained priest at Norwich (11 June 1568) he had undoubtedly married.
Crooke was instituted rector of Great Waldingfield, Suffolk, on 3 April 1571, on the presentation of Edward Colman. To judge from his will Crooke began to preach widely in the Stour Valley, for there are bequests to the poor of nearby Assington, Suffolk, and to those of Elmstead, Fingringhoe and Wivenhoe, all Essex parishes south of the Stour on the outskirts of Colchester. Crooke was also associated with a coterie of nonconformist preachers within the archdeaconry of Sudbury that came to the attention of John Parkhurst, bishop of Norwich, in January 1574. None of the seven men arraigned had ‘observed thordre, but have promysed a conformitie requiring a respette of tyme’. Crooke also forged a friendship with John Foxe. A Latin letter in Crooke's hand, dated from Waldingfield on 15 September 1575, survives among Foxe's papers, in response to one of thanks from the martyrologist for hospitality when, travelling in the vicinity, he had fallen ill.