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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 November 2014

University of California, Berkeley
Department of History, University of California, Berkeley, 3229 Dwinelle Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720,


This article presents a new perspective on Elizabethan puritanism. In particular, it examines the ways in which the memory of Marian conformity continued to influence religious and political controversy during the reign of Elizabeth I. Drawing upon extensive archival evidence, it focuses on moments when the chequered pasts of Queen Elizabeth, William Cecil, and other chief officers of English church and state were called into question by puritan critics. In contrast to the prevailing narrative of Elizabethan triumphalism, it argues that late Tudor religion and politics were shaped by lingering puritan distrust of those who had revealed a propensity for idolatry by conforming during the Marian persecution. This fraught history of religious conformity meant that, for some puritans, the Church of England had been built on unstable foundations.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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I am grateful for the encouragement and feedback I received from William Cavert, Samuel Robinson, Ethan Shagan, Jonathan Sheehan, and the anonymous reviewers of the Historical Journal. I would also like to thank the helpful audiences at the Reformation Studies Colloquium at Durham in 2012, and at the Pacific Coast Conference on British Studies at Berkeley, CA, in 2013.


1 British Library (BL) Lansdowne MS 28, fo. 214r.

2 Eire, Carlos, ‘Calvin and Nicodemism: a reappraisal’, Sixteenth Century Journal, 10 (1979), pp. 4469CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Zagorin, Perez, Ways of lying: dissimulation, persecution, and conformity in early modern Europe (Cambridge, MA, 1990), pp. 70–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Calvin, Jean, ‘Excuse à messieurs les Nicodemites’, in Higman, Francis, ed. Three French treatises (London, 1970), pp. 131–53Google Scholar.

4 Pettegree, Andrew, ‘Nicodemism and the English Reformation’, in Marian Protestantism: six studies (Aldershot, 1996), p. 116Google Scholar.

5 Ibid., p. 106.

6 MacCulloch, Diarmaid, Tudor church militant: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation (London, 1999), p. 191Google Scholar.

7 Freeman, Thomas, ‘“As true a subiect being prisoner”: John Foxe's notes on the imprisonment of Princess Elizabeth, 1554–1555’, English Historical Review, 117 (2002), p. 116CrossRefGoogle Scholar; for an argument that Foxe gave Elizabeth's past a providential gloss, see Pettegree, Marian Protestantism, p. 116.

8 For example, see Coffey, John and Lim, Paul, eds., The Cambridge companion to puritanism (Cambridge, 2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Pettegree, Marian Protestantism, pp. 86–128; Overell, M. A., ‘Vergerio's Anti-Nicodemite propaganda and England, 1547–1558’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 51 (2000), pp. 296318CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 Nicholas Ridley, A pituous lamentation of the miserable estate of the churche of Christ in Englande in the time of the late reuolt from the gospel, wherin is conteyned a learned comparison betwene the comfortable doctrine of the gospell, [and] the traditions of the popish religion: with an instruction how the true Christian ought to behaue himself in the tyme of tryall (1566, STC 21052).

11 The dispute between Ridley and Hooper is discussed in detail in Primus, John H., The vestments controversy: an historical study of the earliest tensions within the Church of England in the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth (Kampen, 1960), pp. 1334Google Scholar.

12 Collinson, Patrick, The Elizabethan puritan movement (Berkeley, CA, 1967), p. 77Google Scholar; The chronicler John Stowe claimed the work was produced ‘by the whole multitude of London ministers, every one of them giving their advice in writing unto Robert Crowley’, see: Three fifteenth-century chronicles, with historical memoranda by John Stowe, the antiquary, and contemporary notes of occurrences written by him in the reign of Elizabeth, ed. J. Gairdner (Westminster, 1880), p. 139.

13 Robert Crowley, A briefe discourse against the outwarde apparell and ministring garmentes of the popishe church (1566, STC 6079), sigs. C4v–C5r.

14 Thomas Lever, A treatise of the right way fro[m] danger of sinne & vengeance in this wicked world, vnto godly wealth and saluation in Christe. Made by Th. Leuer, and now newly augmented (1571, STC 15551.5); On Lever's association with Cartwright see: Pearson, A. F. Scott, Thomas Cartwright and Elizabethan puritanism, 1535–1603 (Cambridge, 1925), pp. 57Google Scholar.

15 Lever, A treatise of the right way, sig. A3v.

16 Ibid., sig. A4r.

17 Ibid., sig. A4r.

18 Ibid., sig. H7v.

19 Perne died at Lambeth Palace in 1589, with Whitgift at his side: Patrick Collinson, Elizabethan essays (London, 1994), p. 179.

20 Ibid., pp. 185–91.

21 ‘The Epistle’, in Black, Joseph, ed., The Martin Marprelate tracts: a modernized and annotated edition (Cambridge, 2008), pp. 29, 217Google Scholar.

22 Paule's biography was likely based on Whitgift's first-hand accounts of his life: Dawley, Powel Mills, John Whitgift and the Reformation (New York, New York, 1954), p. 29Google Scholar.

23 George Paule, The life of the most reuerend and religious prelate John Whitgift, lord archbishop of Canterbury (1612, STC 19484), p. 4.

24 ‘The Epistle’, in Black, ed., The Martin Marprelate tracts, pp. 13–14.

25 John Stubbs[?], The life off the 70. archbishopp off Canterbury presentlye sittinge Englished, and to be added to the 69. lately sett forth in Latin. This numbre off seuenty is so compleat a number as it is great pitie ther shold be one more: but that as Augustin was the first, so Mathew might be the last (1574, STC 19292a), sig. A5r–v. The author's radical implications are also clear from the title of the text, which hoped that Parker would be the last archbishop of Canterbury. How or why Parker would be made to be the last primate was left intentionally ambiguous. This work has traditionally been attributed to John Stubbs, the religious pamphleteer who would have his hand chopped off in 1579 for writing against the queen's proposed marriage with the duke of Anjou.

26 Ibid., sig. A5r.

27 Ibid., sig. A5v–A6r.

28 John Coffey and Paul C. H. Lim, ‘Introduction’, in Coffey and Lim, eds., The Cambridge companion to puritanism, p. 1.

29 H. C. Porter, Puritanism in Tudor England (London, 1970), pp. 2–3.

30 Quoted in Collinson, The Elizabethan puritan movement, p. 33.

31 M. M. Knappen, Tudor puritanism (Chicago, IL, 1939), p. 488.

32 Patrick Collinson, ‘Antipuritanism’, in Coffey and Lim, eds., The Cambridge companion to puritanism, p. 19.

33 On the influence of the Decian persecution on the Novatian schism, see Heine, Ronald, ‘Articulating identity’, in Young, Frances, Ayres, Lewis, and Louth, Andrew, eds., The Cambridge history of early Christian literature (Cambridge, 2004), pp. 214–18Google Scholar.

34 Hooper, John, Early writings of John Hooper, ed. Carr, Samuel (Cambridge, 1843), pp. 169, 547Google Scholar.

35 Latimer, Hugh, ‘Sermons on the Lord's prayer, sermon the sixth, 1552’, in Corrie, George, ed., Sermons by Hugh Latimer, i (Cambridge, 1844), p. 425Google Scholar.

36 On Francis Spira as a symbol of the perils of Nicodemism, see Overell, M. A., ‘The exploitation of Francesco Spiera’, Sixteenth Century Journal, 26 (1995), pp. 619–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

37 Latimer, ‘Sermons on the Lord's prayer, sermon the sixth, 1552’, p. 425.

38 Scory, John, Certein workes of blessed Cipriane the martyr, translated out of laten by J. Scory (Emden, 1556, STC 6152)Google Scholar.

39 John Foxe, The unabridged Acts and monuments online (TAMO), 1570 edn (Sheffield, 2011), p. 106. Available from:

40 Dawley, John Whitgift and the English Reformation, p. 136.

41 John Whitgift, ‘The defence of the answer to the admonition, against the reply of Thomas Cartwright: tractates ivi’, in John Ayre, ed., The Works of John Whitgift, i (Cambridge, 1852), p. 172.

42 Vice-Chancellor Byng to the lord treasurer, 2 Feb. 1572, BL Lansdowne MS 16, fo. 59r; Cecil papers (CP), Hatfield House, MS 138/123, fo. 123r; Whitgift was Browning's master at Trinity.

43 ‘Chymaryns’, or Chemarim, is in reference to the priests of Baal: Zephaniah 1:4.

44 CP MS, 138/123, fo. 123r.

45 BL Lansdowne MS 16, fo. 59r.

46 Cambridge University Archives MS Lett. 9 C.5.b; Browning's recantation is CP MS 138/127; in 1584, the earl of Bedford would ask Cecil to restore favour to Browning: BL Lansdowne 42, fo. 93r.

47 John Bradford to Joyce Hales, 8 Aug. 1554, Townsend, Aubrey, ed., The writings of John Bradford, ii (Cambridge, 1853), p. 108Google Scholar.

48 Foxe, TAMO, 1563 edn (Sheffield, 2011), p. 1679.

49 Garrett, Christina, The Marian exiles (Cambridge, 1938), p. 262Google Scholar.

50 The churchwarden, Thomas Flavell, even refused to receive communion from Proude: Anthony Upton, ‘Parochial clergy of the archdeaconry of Coventry, c. 1500–c.1600’ (D.Phil. thesis, Leicester, 2003), p. 77. Despite Proude's non-compliance, he remained parson until at least 1586, when he was listed in a puritan survey of the ministry as being ‘in danger about subscription, which he refused’: The seconde parte of a register: being a calendar of manuscripts under that title intended for publication by the puritans about 1593, and now in Dr. Williams's Library, London, Volume II, ed. Albert Peel (Cambridge, 1915), p. 172.

51 See, for example, McLaren, Anne, Political culture in the reign of Elizabeth I: queen and commonwealth, 1558–1585 (Cambridge, 1999), pp. 3941CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

52 Strype, John, Annals of the Reformation, ii (Oxford, 1824), pp. 662–5Google Scholar.

53 In particular, Strype manipulated his transcription in order to make it appear that Proude was referring to the exile congregations during the time of Mary, and not the secret London congregation in the beginning of Elizabeth's reign. S. R. Maitland noticed in the mid-nineteenth century that Strype routinely made mistakes in his manuscript transcriptions, in large part because he was often working from notes that had been made many years before he prepared his books for publication. In this instance, however, Strype's dubious editorial work cannot simply be blamed on poor note-taking, because the manuscript in question was in his possession. It appears more likely that this was an intentional manipulation of the text. As W. D. J. Cargill Thompson argued, Strype often allowed for his personal biases as a ‘staunch and complacent anglican’ to colour his editorial views, especially when he was discussing puritan critiques of the Elizabethan establishment: ‘John Strype and English church history’, in Derek Baker, ed., The materials, sources and methods of ecclesiastical history (Oxford, 1975), pp. 237–47; I will be addressing Strype's editorial practices more fully in the future.

54 BL Lansdowne MS 28, fo. 214r.

55 Puritan polemicists often compared Queen Mary to the Old Testament King Manasseh. For example, see Anthony Gilby, A pleasant dialogue, betweene a souldior of Barwicke, and an English chaplaine wherein are largely handled & laide open, such reasons as are brought in for maintenaunce of popishe traditions in our Eng. church (1581, STC 11888), sig. E3r.

56 Martin, J. W., Religious radicals in Tudor England (London, 1989), p. 138Google Scholar.

57 For example, Foxe appears to have left this detail out of his discussion of the congregation in the Acts and monuments: Usher, Brett, ‘“In a time of persecution”: new light on the secret Protestant congregation in Marian London’, in Loades, David, ed., John Foxe and the English Reformation (Aldershot, 1997), pp. 233–51Google Scholar.

58 Thomas Lever to Henry Bullinger, 8 Aug. 1559, in Hastings Robinson, ed., The Zurich letters: comprising the correspondence of several English bishops and others with some of the Helvetian reformers, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth (Second Series, Cambridge, 1845), pp. 28–30.

59 Cambridge University Library (CUL) MS Mm. i. 29, fo. 45r.

60 Lever to Bullinger, 8 August 1559, in Robinson, ed., Zurich letters, p. 30.

61 BL Lansdowne MS 28, fo. 214r.

62 BL Lansdowne MS 28, fo. 214r.

63 Collinson, The Elizabethan puritan movement, pp. 29–44.

64 See, for example: Benedict, Philip, ‘England: the unstable settlement of a church “but halfly reformed”’, in Christ's churches purely reformed: a social history of Calvinism (New Haven, CT, and London, 2002), pp. 230–54Google Scholar; Coffey and Lim, eds., The Cambridge companion to puritanism, p. 3.

65 Seconde parte of a register, volume II, pp. 49–64; Knappen, Tudor puritanism, pp. 283–4; Collinson, The Elizabethan puritan movement, p. 29; Danner, Dan, Pilgrimage to puritanism: history and theology of the Marian exiles at Geneva, 1555–1560 (New York, NY, 1999), pp. 7780Google Scholar; Natalie Mears, ‘Fuller, William (d. 1586?)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography.

66 CP MS 284/4. It has likely escaped notice because it was listed as undated, and catalogued with the miscellaneous manuscripts: E. Salisbury, ed., ‘Cecil papers: miscellaneous, 1603’, Calendar of the Cecil papers in Hatfield House, xiv:Addenda, British History Online,

67 Garrett, Marian exiles, p. 158.

68 Fuller attempted to admonish the queen immediately upon his return to England, but was turned away from the court due to his association with Christopher Goodman: CP MS 284/4, fos. 17r–18r.

69 Collinson, Patrick, ‘The Elizabethan puritans and the foreign Reformed churches in London’, in Godly people: essays on English Protestantism and puritanism (London, 1983), p. 262Google Scholar.

70 Thomas Wood to William Whittingham, 15 Feb. 1574, printed in ‘Letters of Thomas Wood, puritan, 1566–1577’, in Collinson, Godly people, pp. 88–9.

71 CUL MS Mm. i. 43, fos. 439–41.

72 CP MS 284/4, fo. 13v; William Fuller's uncle was likely Hugh Fuller, an auditor of the court of augmentations: The National Archives (TNA), State Papers (SP) MS 1/85, fo.193r; TNA SP MS 1/165, fo. 41r; TNA SP MS 5/4, fo. 133r.

73 Fuller's position as an auditor for the court of exchequer has previously gone unnoticed by historians. The distinctive matching autographs at TNA SP 12/73, fo. 5r, and CP MS 284/4, fo. 22v, confirm that William Fuller the auditor and William Fuller the admonisher were one and the same.

74 BL Lansdowne MS 35, fo. 23r.

75 CP MS 284/4, fos. 20v–21r; William Fuller's report on the abuse of revenues has survived in the British Library, but has been misdated and misattributed: BL Add. MS 48101, fos. 192–198r.

76 CP MS 284/4, fo. 21r.

77 CP MS 284/4, fos. 21r–v.

78 CP MS 284/4, fo. 21v.

79 Fuller's connection to Leighton was likely through her father, Francis Knollys, who had been in exile with Fuller: Garrett, Marian exiles, pp. 210–13.

80 CP MS 284/4, fo. 15v.

81 CP MS 284/4, fo. 6v.

82 CP MS 284/4, fo. 7v.

83 Emphasizing the point that the queen's coronation was idolatrous and therefore in violation of God's law, Fuller noted the first commandment in the margin, ‘Thou shalt have no other Gods but me’: CP MS 284/4, fo. 7r.

84 CP MS 284/4, fo. 16r.

85 CP MS 284/4, fo. 7r; for Collinson's use of this quotation, see The Elizabethan puritan movement, p. 29.

86 Fuller's approach here is in accordance with Matthew 18. The sinner should first be admonished privately; however, if he persists in his sin, then the admonisher should ‘tell it to the church’; CP MS 284/4, fo. 14r.

87 This episode was reported by Elizabeth Leighton to Fuller, who included the account in a letter to the queen the following year: Seconde parte of a register, volume II, p. 49.

88 Ibid., p. 64.

89 Wood, Andy, The memory of the people: custom and popular senses of the past in early modern England (Cambridge, 2013), p. 25CrossRefGoogle Scholar.