First Day, 14 January




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THE HAMPTON COURT CONFERENCE 1604
A description of the conference by William Barlow, Dean of Chester.

First Day, 14 January


The King assured us that he called not this Assembly for any innovation, acknowledging the government [of the church] .as it now is to have been approved by the manifold blessings from God himself... and in that he had received many complaints... through dissensions in the Church ... and much disobedience to the laws. .. with a great falling away to Popery; his purpose was, like a good physician, to examine and try the complaints.

Second Day 16 January


Dr Reynolds reduced all matters disliked … into four heads:
1. That the doctrine of the Church might be preserved in purity, according to God's word.

2. That good pastors might be planted in all Churches to preach the same.

3. That the Church government might be seriously ministered, according to God's Word.

4. That the Book of Common Prayer might be fitted to more increase of piety.


Dr Reynolds... desired that... they of the Clergy might have meetings once every three weeks; first in Rural Deaneries... and that things, as could not be resolved upon there might be referred to the Archdeacon's Visitation; and from thence to the Episcopal Synod, where the Bishop with his Presbytery should determine all such points as before could not be decided...
At which speech his Majesty was somewhat stirred … thinking, that they aimed at a Scottish Presbytery, ‘which’, said he, ‘as well agreeth with a Monarchy as God with the Devil. Then Jack and Tom, and Will and Dick, shall meet, and at their pleasure censure me and my Council …
And then putting this... his Majesty said, ‘My Lords the Bishops. I may thank you, that these men Dr Reynolds etc] do thus plead for my Supremacy... But if once you were out, and they in place, I know what would become of my Supremacy. No Bishop, no King, as I said before ….’ ‘If this be all ... that they have to say, I shall make them conform themselves, or I will harry them out of the land, or else do worse.’

Third Day 18 January


His Majesty shut up all with a most pithy exhortation to both sides for unity. To which they all gave their unanimous assent. . .

An anonymous account of the Conference


His Majesty: utterly distasting [Reynolds'scheme] said that this was rightly the presbytery of Scotland, wherein John and William and Richard and such like must have their censure … and so all the matter is ordered by simple ignorant men. Mr Knewstubbs [said that Reynolds meant] a presbytery only of ministers and not of lay men. To whom said his Majesty: I ken [understand] him well enough; and when I mean to live under a presbytery, I will go into Scotland again. But while I am in England, I will have bishops for I had not been so quietly settled in my seat but for them, adding that he had sufficiently tasted of the mischiefs of a presbytery in Scotland.
Use evidence from both sources to explain differences in points of view about Church government.

Use evidence from the first source to show that despite James’ comments, the conference ended amicably (harmoniously)?



How important was the Hampton Court Conference?
While historians such as David Willson believe that James mishandled the Conference and alienated the Puritans, the King was elated by his success. He wrote to the Earl of Northampton that he had soundly 'peppered' the Puritans. James I was now aware of the fact that his future lay with the bishops, and that any British Church would have to be along Episcopalian (government by bishops) lines.
The importance of the Hampton Court Conference lies more in what followed the discussions than in the meeting itself. It is also significant that Bancroft succeeded Whitgift as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1604. Both he and James showed an urgent drive to conformity after the Conference. This is seen in three sources dating from 1604:

  • In a speech to the House of Commons, James referred to the Puritans as a ‘sect rather than a religion … who do not so far differ from us in points of religion, as in their confused form of policy and parity; being ever so discontented with the present government, and impatient to suffer any superiority; which maketh their sect unable to be suffered in any well governed Commonwealth’.

  • James issued a proclamation in 1604 ‘enjoining (urging) conformity to the established form of the service of God’.

  • The King approved Bancroft's Canons (church laws or rules) in 1604. Convocation drew up these Canons in an attempt to define the laws of the Church so that the Puritans could see whether they were either ‘Joined with them or severed from them’. Of over 100 Canons, number 36 was the key one. It required the clergy to sign their agreement to three articles:

1. That the King's Majesty, under God, is the only supreme governor of this realm, and of all other his Highness's dominions and countries, as well in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things or causes temporal.

2. That the Book of Common Prayer, and of ordering of bishops, priests and deacons, containeth in it nothing contrary to the Word of God. .. and that he himself will use the form in the said Book prescribed in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, and none other.

3. That he acknowledgeth all and every the articles... being in number thirty and nine, to be agreeable to the Word of God.


In some respects these Canons were the most important outcome of the Hampton Court Conference.
In requiring conformity or loss of benefice, the Canons urged the moderates to conform. Few Puritans challenged royal supremacy, but some refused to subscribe to the Prayer Book and the Thirty-Nine Articles. A number of petitions followed either against subscription to the Canons or asking for a longer period of grace. James was determined to take a tough line with nonconformists as potential trouble-makers, but was prepared to be lenient to those who conformed. Contemporaries estimated that there were about 300 Silenced Brethren. Recent research suggests that about 90 out of over 9,000 ministers were deprived of their living. It would appear that James had learned lessons from the Millenary Petition and the Hampton Court Conference. In his own way he put his stamp upon the Church of England with the Canons. The statement of the Venetian Ambassador, in a letter home in 1605 shows his success:
“Articles have been drawn up, and the Puritan ministers are called upon to sign them or to lose their benefices... Many ministers and many justices refused to subscribe, in the hope that the King would mitigate [soften] his orders, but seeing that he stands firm they have finally yielded and obeyed.”

The supporters of the ‘Silenced Brethren’ caused problems for the King in the form of petitions for their reinstatement. In marginal notes to one such request for toleration, which had included a request for the removal of bishops, James showed his anger. He referred to the Puritans, in 1609, as ‘prickles in our side. There can be no unity in the Church if there be no orders [hierarchy] nor obedience to superiors.’ It is also possible that ministers who lost their benefices became ‘lecturers’ or freelance preachers, with the ability to spread radical ideas.


Moderate Puritans remained an issue throughout the reign. Separatists were more serious in that they would not accept the royal authority over the Church, yet they were much less dangerous as their numbers were small during the reign of James I. Also, they were not seeking a reform from within the Church that James did not favour.

What is historian David Willson’s verdict on James’ handling of the Hampton Court Conference?

What was James’ clear preference for the form of Church government for England?

What is the evidence for the writer’s claim that James and Bancroft strove to achieve “conformity” in the English Church?


What impact did Bancroft’s Canons have upon moderate clergy?


What was meant by the term “Silenced Brethren”?


How successful were James and Bancroft in enforcing clerical conformity? Provide evidence to support your conclusion.




What evidence is there that James was intolerant of Godly Protestant attempts to evade these Canons?


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