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Religious Toleration and its Enemies: The Independent Divines and the Issue of Toleration during the English Civil War*


“Patterns sanctified by great historiographic traditions,” wrote J. H. Hexter, “tend to become fixed. Frequently these patterns are neither logical nor coherent, but the sanction of use and wont behind them is so powerful that researchers tend to force new materials into the time-honored model.” This contention is nowhere more manifest than in the historiography of the Puritan Revolution, where studies of religious developments and struggles during the English Civil War indeed reveal a “time honored model” and tend to convey an almost univocal argument concerning the Independents and the rise of the idea of religious toleration. “As early as 1643,” wrote one expert on the issue of toleration, “when the English Parliament was obliged to ally with the Scots in the Solemn League and Covenant … the issue of toleration came to the fore.” Consequently, because “the Presbyterian Scots wished to impose their Calvinist order on England, against the opposition on the parliamentary side of a core of Independents led by Oliver Cromwell and Sir Henry Vane the Younger,” the Independents “became the leading opponents of Presbyterianism and supporters of a general toleration.”

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This study was supported in part by an American Philosophical Society Research Grant, and an American Studies Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies. An earlier version of this essay was presented to Professor J. G. A. Pocock's Seminar on “English Historical Thought,” The Johns Hopkins University, 1980. I am grateful to Professors Pocock, John R. Pankratz, and to anonymous readers for Albion, for their valuable comments and insights in preparing this essay for publication.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

David Walker , “Thomas Goodwin and the Debate on Church Government,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 34, no. 1, (January 1983): 8599.

Herbert Butterfield , “Toleration in Early Modern Times,” Journal of the History of Ideas 38 (Oct.-Dec. 1977): 573

David Underdown , “The Independents Reconsidered,” The Journal of British Studies 3 (1965): 5784

Yule's reply “Independents and Revolutionaries,” The Journal of British Studies 7 (1968): 1132

The Independents Again,” The Journal of British Studies 8 (1968): 8393

Stephen Foster , “The Presbyterian Independents Exorcized,” Past and Present 44 (August 1969): 5277

Rosemary D. Bradley , “The Failure of Accommodation: Religious Conflicts between Presbyterians and Independents in the Westminster Assembly, 1643–1646,” Journal of Religious History 12, no. 1 (June 1982): 2347

Puritanism as History and Historiography,” Past and Present 44 (August 1969):133146

Reformation, History, and Eschatology in English Protestantism,” History and Theory 26, no. 3 (October 1987): 300318.

Samuel C. Pearson Jr., “Reluctant Radicals: The Independents at the Westminster Assembly,” Journal of Church and State 11 (1969): 484.

Puritan Millennialism and Theocracy in Early Massachusetts,” History of European Ideas 8, no. 3 (1987): 309–18

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  • ISSN: 0095-1390
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