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This major new study is an exploration of the Elizabethan Puritan movement through the eyes of its most determined and relentless opponent, Richard Bancroft, later Archbishop of Canterbury. It analyses his obsession with the perceived threat to the stability of the church and state presented by the advocates of radical presbyterian reform. The book forensically examines Bancroft's polemical tracts and archive of documents and letters, casting important new light on religious politics and culture. Focussing on the ways in which anti-Puritanism interacted with Puritanism, it also illuminates the process by which religious identities were forged in the early modern era. The final book of Patrick Collinson, the pre-eminent historian of sixteenth-century England, this is the culmination of a lifetime of seminal work on the English Reformation and its ramifications.
Antipuritanism was antecedent to Puritanism, and so merits prior consideration. 'Puritans' were so identified by Antipuritans, out of an intense dislike of all that those people stood for, and it was some considerable time before this stereotypical, antithetical stigma hardened into something almost tangible, a word which instantly evoked a widely shared set of assumptions and prejudices; longer still before it was acknowledged and accepted as an honourable badge by those to whom it was attached. In the first instance, 'Puritans' were Puritans in the eye of the beholder and it is with the beholder that we should begin. This is, of course, a very common if not universal phenomenon. In the mid seventeenth century 'Independent' was in origin a hostile construction deployed by those who came to be known as 'Presbyterians'. The stigma 'Puritan' was at first a piece of Antiprotestantism, in that it may have originated with exiled Catholic polemicists who found this reference to ancient perfectionist heresies a convenient tar with which to brush the Elizabethan Protestant establishment. According to more than one source, the first Catholic controversialist to use the word was Nicholas Sander. Thomas Stapleton, in a book printed in Antwerp in June 1565, refers, almost incidentally, to 'the Puritans off our countre'. John Martial, in a polemic about reverence for the cross (June 1566), has 'whote [hot] Puritanes of the new clergie' and 'a plaine, puritaine, and notorious protestant'. But these home thoughts from abroad were perhaps already indebted to the domestic and internecine quarrels between nonconformist and conformist elements in the Elizabethan church which had begun in 1565.