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Hampton Court Re-visited James I and the Puritans

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 March 2011


The conference between James i, some of the bishops and representatives of the puritans at Hampton Court palace in January 1604 was one of the most significant events in the political and religious history of England. But at the present time its significance is not clearly understood. The king's puritan policy did not begin or end there, but even in 1604 the conference was understood as a chance for the puritans to gain a measure of toleration or to begin a further reformation of the Church of England. As things turned out neither was the case. The classic accounts of Gardiner and Usher assumed that the conference was a failure for the puritan cause, but in 1961 Mark Curtis, in a widely accepted article, claimed that the king was more sympathetic to the puritans than Gardiner and Usher had allowed. Professor Curtis analysed the creation of the proclamation of October 1603 which announced the conference and claimed that its genesis showed a measure of serious criticism of the Established Church which has never been acknowledged by historians. He pointed out the episcopal bias of the official account of the conference, William Barlow's The Summe and Substance of the Conference… at Hampton Court, and noted the importance of what he felt was a neglected source, an ‘Anonymous Account’, which he believed showed marked differences between the king and the bishops, and emphasised the common ground between the king and the puritans. By considering the decisions made at the conference - whether they were put into effect or not - Professor Curtis was convinced that the conference itself was a puritan success in which the king made important concessions to them.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1982

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1 Curtis, M. H., ‘Hampton Court Conference and its aftermath’, History, xlvi (1961), 116CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Gardiner, S. R., History of England from the Accession of James I to the Outbreak of the Civil War, London 1883–4, i. ch. 4Google Scholar; Usher, R. G., The Reconstruction of the English Church, New York 1910, i. 285333Google Scholar.

2 Barlow, William, The Summe and Substance of the Conference … at Hampton Court, London 1605Google Scholar. The ‘Anonymous Account’ is British Library (hereafter cited as B.L.), Harleian MS 828, fos. 32ff; printed Usher, ii. 341–54.

3 Collinson, P., The Elizabethan Puritan Movement, London 1967, 448–67Google Scholar; McGrath, P., Papists and Puritans under Elizabeth I, London 1967, ch. 12Google Scholar.

4 See Sharpe, K. (ed.), Faction and Parliament: Essays on Early Stuart History, Oxford 1978, 3642Google Scholar; particularly ch. ii: R. C. Munden, ‘James 1 and “the growth of mutual distrust”’, 43–72. Also Russell, C., Parliaments and English Politics 1621–1629, Oxford 1979, 420–1CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 James 1 to Cecil, 27 March 1603, Historical Manuscripts Commission (hereafter cited as HMC), Salisbury MSS, xv. 9–10.

6 Spedding, J., The Letters and Life of Francis Bacon, London 1861–74, iii. 73–4Google Scholar.

7 James to Privy Council, undated (probably April 1603), HMC, Salisbury, xv. 345.

8 HMC, Salisbury, xv. 24.

9 Kenyon, J. P., The Stuart Constitution, Cambridge 1966, 132Google Scholar.

10 The Answere of the Vice Chancelour, the Doctors,… and other the Heads of Houses in the Universitie of Oxford, etc., Oxford 1693, 23Google Scholar.

11 The State of the Church in the Reigns of Elizabeth and James I, ed. C. W. Foster (Lincoln Record Society, xxiii), 245.

12 Ibid. 246.

13 The Registrum Vagum of Anthony Harrison, ed. T. F. Barton (Norfolk Record Society, xxxii), 30–1.

14 See Curtis, ‘Hampton Court Conference’, 6, for his view that the king persisted in his intention.

15 Wilkins, David, Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hibemiae, London 1737, iv. 369Google Scholar.

16 Public Record Office, State Papers (hereafter cited as SP) 14/2/39.1; Whitgift to Cecil, HMC, Salisbury, xv. 177.

17 SP 14/4/33, printed Registrum Vagum, 20–1.

18 Ibid.

19 Spottiswoode, John, History of the Church of Scotland, Edinburgh 1851, iii. 104Google Scholar. Hill, Christopher, Economic Problems of the Church, Oxford 1956, 149, 154Google Scholar, indicates how little voluntary restoration of impropriated tithes there was before the reign of Charles 1; he finds only one instance, in 1638.

20 Letter from Stephen Egerton, B.L., Sloane MS 271, fo. 23V.

21 Collinson, Elizabethan Puritan Movement, 452–5; Usher, Reconstruction, i. 292ff.

22 SP 14/3/83.

23 Stuart Royal Proclamations, ed. Larkin, J. F. and Hughes, P. L., Oxford 1973, i. 60–3Google Scholar.

24 SP 14/4/29.

25 Curtis, ‘Hampton Court Conference’, 5.

26 SP 14/4/29.

27 Larkin and Hughes, op. cit., i. 61.

28 Prothero, G. W., Select Statutes, Oxford 1913, 212Google Scholar.

29 John Whitgift, Works, Cambridge 1851–3, i. 23.

30 Larkin and Hughes, Proclamations, i. 60, 63.

31 Ibid. 62. A significant passage follows in the printed text of the proclamation, which is not found in the SP MS: ‘not doubting but that in such an orderly proceeding, we shall have the Prelates and others of our Clergie no less willing, and farre more able to affoord us their duetie and service, then any other, whose zeale goeth so fast before their discretion’.

32 B.L. Add. MS 28571, fos. 177, 179.

33 B.L. Sloane MS 271, fos. 23–4.

34 24 November 1603, SP 14/4/92.

35 Strype, John, The Life and Acts of John Whitgift, Oxford 1822, iii. 391–2Google Scholar.

36 Knappen, M. M., Tudor Puritanism, Chicago 1939, 263Google Scholar; Collinson, Elizabethan Puritan Movement, 455–6, passim.

37 Babbage, S. B., Puritanism and Richard Bancroft, London 1962, 118–19; Collinson, op. cit., 463, passimGoogle Scholar.

38 Collinson, loc. cit.; Knox, S. J., Walter Travers, London 1962, 64Google Scholar.

39 Daniel Featley's life of Reynolds, Fuller, Thomas, Abel Redinivus, Oxford 1867Google Scholar, ii; Fuller, Thomas, Church History of Britain, ed. Brewer, J. S., Oxford 1845, v. 379Google Scholar.

40 The whole passage reads: ‘Such a conference as that, was never desired by the Ministers; and it seemes by the whole managing of it, that it was underhand plotted and procured by the Prelats themselves; abusing therein his Maiestie, and using M. Galloway as a n instrument in the matter, to the end that they might have the more colour for their intended proceedings afterwards. And there is great probabilitie of this, for that the Archbishop professed to the Committees of both Howses, the last session, that he had the letters written from M. Cartwright to M. Galloway about that matter.’ Jacob, Henry, A Christian and Modest Offer, Middelburg? 1606, 28–9Google Scholar.

41 The problem of sources is dealt with below, pp. 64–6.

42 First printed by Barlow, reprinted by Usher, Reconstruction, ii. 338–9.

43 SP 14/6/21.

44 Usher, ii. 351–2.

45 Barlow, in Cardwell, Edward, A History of Conferences, Oxford 1840, 203Google Scholar.

46 Usher, loc. cit.

47 See below, pp. 67–8.

48 The authorities for the following discussion are: (a) A list of 15 items giving the decisions made at the conference (hereafter cited as the ‘PRO List’, SP 14/6/16), printed in Prothero, Statutes, 416–17; (b) A related memorandum assigning various items either to a committee of bishops alone, or to a committee of bishops and councillors, SP 14/6/18; printed in Strype, Whitgift, ii. 503–5; (c) The bishops' answer concerning the matters assigned to them alone, B.L. Add. MS 28571, fos. 187–92, printed in Usher, Reconstruction, ii. 331–5; (d) A list related to the PRO List appended to Patrick Galloway's letter of 10 February 1604 to the Edinburgh presbytery, said by Galloway to have been looked over, revised and added to by the king himself, Calderwood, David, The History of the Kirk of Scotland, Edinburgh 1842–9, vi. 241–6Google Scholar.

49 Brightman, F. E., The English Rite, London 1915, i. p. clxxxGoogle Scholar. Letters Patent 9 February 1605 authorising the changes were issued before the opening of parliament, demonstrating the royal supremacy and emphasising the limited nature of the changes: Cardwell, Conference, 217—25.

50 Usher, Reconstruction, ii. 333; B.L. Add. MS 28571, fos. 187–92.

51 Foster, E. R., Proceedings in Parliament 1610, New Haven 1966, i. 235Google Scholar; n. 9; Usher, Reconstruction, ii. 53–73, 257–9

52 See canons 41 to 47 in Cardwell, Edward, Synodalia, Oxford 1842, 271–4Google Scholar; Usher, ii. 278–9; Hill, Economic Problems, 224–41.

53 Protherto, Select Statutes, 416; Holdsworth, W. S., A History of English Law, London 1922–6, i. 630–2Google Scholar; Usher, Reconstruction, ii. 1 19f; Foster, Proceedings, ii. 294.

54 Prothero, loc. cit.

55 Cardwell, Synodalia, 267.

56 A good example of the way one of the potentially dangerous reforms requested by the Millenary Petition was carried out within the established structure of the Church.

57 Prothero, 417.

58 Cardwell, Conferences, 207–8. The use of the oath may have been considered under the general subject of the reform of the High Commission. Galloway's list indicates that the oath is to be used only for ‘great and publict’ slanders, and, as noted in the text, the jurisdiction was to be limited to ‘higher causes’.

59 Lambeth Palace Library MS 879, described in Bennet, Thomas, Essay on the Thirty-nine Articles, London 1715, 358–65Google Scholar. The matter did come up again during the parliament held in the spring of 1604, but was dropped; R. C. Munden, ‘James 1’, in Sharpe, Faction and Parliament, 67. See below, p. 66.

60 HMC, Salisbury, xv. 95, 242.

61 B.L. Cotton MS Vespasian F iii. 76 (formerly fo. 35); printed in garbled form in Strype, Whitgift, iii. 407–8, and elsewhere: Gardiner, i. 159, n. 1.

62 Larkin and Hughes, Proclamations, i. 74–7, 87–90; the former in Kenyon, Stuart Constitution, 134–7. Bancroft to Sir Thomas Lake, 14 July 1604: ‘I suppose his Majestie hathe acquainted you with his pleasure for a proclamation. In regard whereof I have sent unto you some particulars not unfitt to be remembered in the said proclamation.’ SP 14/8/106. See also letters from Bancroft and Lake to Cecil, HMC, Salisbury, xvi. 172–3; and from Bancroft to Lake, SP 14/6/83.

63 The Political Works of James I, ed. McIlwain, C. H., Cambridge, Mass. 1918, 274Google Scholar.

64 Sharpe, Faction, 57, 66–8.

65 Usher, Reconstruction, i. 417ff; Babbage, Bancroft, 131–4; Quintrell, B. W., ‘The Royal Hunt and the Puritans’, this Journal, xxxi (1980), 4158Google Scholar.

66 ‘Anonymous Account’, Usher, ii. 353, which also recounts the king's refusal to grant Knewstub's similar request for the nonconforming clergy of Suffolk.

67 King to Council, undated, HMC, Salisbury, xvi. 399. The letter also contains these bitter words: ‘I thought that if they presently conformed themselves and after that would refuse to subscribe to that which indeed they had already performed it would be a means to make their vanity appear, and every man to pity them the less.’

68 Ibid., 363.

69 SP 14/12/74. 94–6.

70 SP 14/12/73.

71 SP 14/12/87, printed Strype, Whitgift, iii. 420.

72 Bancroft to the bishops, 12 March 1605, Wilkins, Concilia, iv. 412; also Montague to Chaderton, 24 February 1605, informing him that the king wished the deprived vicar of Louth to remain in house and living until 1 August:' not that Mr. Cooke should therby claim anie Interest or possession in his place by this Course, but that hee may have somewhat to releive himself by, untill hee bee ether otherwise mynded, or better provided'; SP 14/12/90.

73 SP.4/67/58.

74 Foster, Proceedings, ii. 294.