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Background Information for Milton's Anti-Prelatical Tracts


In getting involved in the controversy between Puritan advocates of a Presbyterian church government and Episcopalian advocates of the Church of England, Milton is a relative latecomer to a debate that has been raging for over sixty years.  What follows is a brief rundown of some of the key figures and their basic positions in this debate.

Richard Hooker

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Hooker (1554?-1600) was born in Exeter, and educated at Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford.  He became a prominent English theologian, taking holy orders in 1581 to become a clergyman in the Church of England. Afterwards, he lived in London, then later at Boscombe and, finally, Bishopsbourne. He is most famous for his Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (8 vol., 1594-1662).  Hooker's immense work was intended to demonstrate the advantages of the episcopal organization of the Church of England over the presbyterian form used by its opponents. The work argues that natural law is eternal, but that positive law (the law of the state), can be changed when necessary or expedient.

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1593--Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity

  1. Contradicts the Puritan notion that Scripture was the only guide either to man's conduct or his construction of Church government.
  2. Beyond, and before, Scripture is another source of truth--the law of nature: "an infallible knowledge imprinted in the mindes of all the children of men, whereby both generall principles for directing humane actions are comprehended, and conclusions derived from them" (Polity , I, viii, 3 1611 edition).
  3. Even without Scripture the law of nature acts to spur man to perfection and to show him his obligations to other men in society.
  4. With the law of nature God "illuminateth every one which cometh into the world,"
  5. An action by the law of nature is one  "that being proposed no man can reject it as unreasonable or unjust" (Polity, I, viii, 9)

Hooker's broad charity toward other faiths and erring man stands in sharp contrast to the rigidities of Puritan theology.

  1. Of Catholics: he would "gladly acknowledge them to be of the familie of Jesus Christ" (Polity, III, I, 10)
  2. Also of Catholics: "I doubt not but God was merciful to save thousands of our fathers living in popish superstitions, inasmuch as they sinned ignorantly" ("A Learned Discourse of Justification" in Polity).

Martin Marprelate

The Marprelate Controversy was a religious controversy of the late 16th century that developed in England. It stemmed from an assault on the authoritarianism of the Church of England; this assult took the form of satirical pamphlets published in 1588/89 by a group of Puritan writers, under the pen name Martin Marprelate.   John Penry (1559-93) is thought to have been the primary writer of the Marprelate tracts; John Lyly and Thomas Nashe were among the many who responded in defense of the Church of England.

Robert Browne

(1550-1633) Browne was an English Separatist clergyman, and a predecessor of the religious group known as Independents or Congregationalists. In 1580 he founded a Separatist congregation in Norwich, but after continual conflicts with the law, he and a group of followers (known as Brownists) emigrated to Middelburg, Holland. The primary argument between the Brownists and the Church of England was the Brownists' insistence that Christians had a duty to share in the choice of those entrusted to instruct them in the Scriptures. In 1582 Browne published several controversial works, including A Booke Which Sheweth the Life and Manners of All True Christians and A Treatise of Reformation Without Tarying for Anie. The Holland congregation dissolved, and Browne went to Scotland in 1583 , where he preached against Presbyterianism. In 1584, he returned to England, where he was imprisoned for several months, and eventually became reconciled with the Church of England.

1582--Reformation without Tarrying for Anie

  1. Demanded a Church without tithes.
  2. Demanded a Church without a professional ministry.
  3. Church to rest entirely on voluntary offerings.
  4. Church to elect preachers.
  5. Cooperation among congregations to be voluntary.

56 members of the London Brownist congregation were put in prison, and many died after long imprisonment. Barrow, Greenwood, and Penry were executed at Tyburn.

Francis Bacon


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From Luminarium
Bacon was first elected to the House of Commons in 1584, and he served until 1614. In 1589, he wrote, and privately circulated, a work entitled An Advertisement Touching the Controversies of the Church of England. He lost the favor of Elizabeth I in 1593, when he opposed a bill for a royal subsidy. He regained his standing with the court after the accession of James I in 1603. Bacon proposed schemes for the union of England and Scotland and recommended measures for dealing with Roman Catholics. For these efforts he was knighted on July 23, 1603, was made a commissioner for the union of Scotland and England, and was given a pension in 1604. His Advancement of Learning was published and presented to the king in 1605. He was appointed solicitor general in 1607.


During the last session of James' first Parliament (February 1611), the disagreements between Crown and Commons had become critical, and Bacon took on the role of mediator, despite his distrust of James's chief minister, Robert Cecil, 1st earl of Salisbury. On Salisbury's death in 1612, Bacon wrote several papers on relations between Crown and Commons. In 1613 he was appointed attorney general.

Bacon became a privy councilor in 1616, and he was appointed lord chancellor and raised to the peerage as Baron Verulam in 1618.   In 1620 his Novum Organum was published, and on January 26, 1621, he was created Viscount Saint Albans. Unfortunately for Bacon, he was also charged by Parliament with accepting bribes in that same year. He confessed but tried to apologize by saying that he was "heartily and penitently sorry." He was fined, imprisoned during the king's pleasure, and banished from Parliament and the court. After his release, he retired to his family residence at Gorhambury. James pardoned him in September 1621, but prohibited him from returning to Parliament or the court. Bacon then returned to his writing, completing a Latin translation of The Advancement of Learning (De Augmentis) and his History of Henry VII.  He offered to make a digest of the laws in March 1622, but was refused, despite repeated petitions to James I and James's successor, Charles I. He died in London on April 9, 1626.

"Differentia rituum commenat unitaten doctrinae" (Roughly--"Unity in doctrines conjoins differences in rituals")

Contrast to James I--"I will have one doctrine, one discipline, one religion, in substance and ceremony."

1589--An Advertisement Touching the Controversies of the Church of England --privately circulated.

1641--Above published as A Wise and Moderate Discourse, Concerning Church-Affaires

  1. Justified Puritan resentment of his day.
  2. Deplored the harshness of Puritan retaliation against the bishops.
  3. Argued that more than anyone else, the bishops were the cause of sects and schisms--the bishops "wax worldly, lovers of themselves, and pleasures of men."
  4. When the bishops lose their reputations, the people lose faith in the church.
  5. Censorship is to no avail: "Forbidden writing is thought to be a certaine sparke of truth that flieth up in the faces of them that seeke to choke and tread it out."
  6. "Injuries come from them that have the upper hand."
  7. Bishops had charged sectarians with treason as well as heresy in matters in which the sectarians had been guiltless.
  8. Bishops had exaggerated sectarians' beliefs.
  9. Bishops had sworn men to blank accusations and misused the power of excommunication.
  10. Bishops had silenced ministers for trivial deviations from prescribed ritual or prayer.

"I dislike that lawes bee contemned, or disturbers unpunished, but lawes are compared to the grape, which being too much pressed, yeeldeth an hard and unwholesome wine."

However, Bacon also:

  1. Believed the institution of Bishops to be sanctioned by the Bible.
  2. Opposed any democratization of the Church in the form of synods or presbyteries as hostile to monarchy.
  3. Resisted the Puritan "embasing the authority of the fathers," while accepting Scripture alone as the source of faith.

1603/1604--Certaine Considerations Touching the Better Pacification and Edification of the Church of England (reprinted twice in 1640)

  1. Bishops were too authoritarian, trusting in their own judgments.
  2. In no function such as excommunication, ordination, or silencing should the bishop act without the sanction of advisers and colleagues.
  3. Bishops should not be permitted to delegate others to sit in their places in ecclesiastical courts except in cases of tithes and legacies.
  4. Men should not be forced to condemn themselves.
  5. The liturgy should remain in use.
  6. Set forms of prayer, while preferable, should not be forced on unwilling ministers.
  7. Ministers should reside in the parishes in which they serve.

Bishop Joseph Hall

(July 1, 1574--September 8, 1656)

Joseph Hall was a bishop in the Church of England, as well as being a moral philosopher, and literary satirist.  His Virgidemiarum: Six Books (1597-1602; "A Harvest of Blows") was modeled on Latin satire, while his Characters of Vertues and Vices (1608) emulated the ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus. Hall was famous as a moral philosopher for his Christianization of Stoicism. His other works include Mundus Alter et Idem (c. 1605; "The World Different and the Same"), a Latin satire that influenced Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726), and a book of moral philosophy entitled Heaven upon Earth (1606)

Hall was educated under Puritan influences at the University of Cambridge, where he was elected to the university lectureship in rhetoric. He became rector of Hawstead, Suffolk, in 1601, and later became domestic chaplain to Prince Henry.  He was made dean of Worcester in 1616 and accompanied King James to Scotland in 1617. He was a royal representative at the Synod of Dort (1618-19), and became bishop of Exeter in 1627. Suspected of Puritan leanings by William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury, he counterattacked Puritans on episcopacy's behalf.

Hall took part in the pamphleteering campaign between Anglican supporters of the episcopal government of the Church of England and Puritan supporters of a presbyterian form of church government at the beginning of the English Civil War. Milton wrote Animadversions against a Defence of Hall's. In 1641 Hall was given the bishopric of Norwich but was imprisoned for four months before finally arriving. Hall was stripped of his episcopal revenues in 1643, and was eventually dislodged from his palace and forcibly retired to a life of poverty.

1625--Pharisaisme and Christianity--pp. 407-418 of The Works of Joseph Hall, London: Printed for Nath. Butter, dwelling neere Saint Austins Gate, 1625.

"A great Jesuite (at least that thinks himselfe so) writes thus in great earnest: The Pharises (saith he) may not unfitly be compared to our Catholicks. Some men speake truth ignorantly, some unwillingly; Caiphas never spake truer, when he meant it not: one egge is not liker to another, than the Tridentine Fathers to these Pharises in this point, besides that of free-will, merit, full performance of the Law, which they absolutely received from them: For marke, With the same reverence and devotion doe we receive and respect Traditions, that wee doe the Bookes of the Old and New Testament, say those Fathers in their fourth Session: Heare both of thses speake, and see neither; if thou canst discerne whether is the Pharise, refuse me in a greater truth. Not that we did ever say with that Arrian in Hilarie: Wee debarre all words that are not written: or would thinke fit with those phanaticall Anabaptists of Munster, that all bookes should be burnt besides the Bible: some Traditions must have place in every Church; but, Their place: they may not take wall of Scripture: Substance may not in our valuation give way to circumstance, God forbid. If any man expect that my speech on this opportunity should descend to the discourse of our contradicted ceremonies, let him know that I had rather mourne for this breach than meddle with it." (413)

1640--Episcopacie by Divine Right

  1. Traces the origin of bishops and justifies hierarchy by the practice of the early church.
  2. Bishops justified by the Holy Ghost.
  3. Episcopacy--"an eminent order of sacred function, appointed by the Holy Ghost, in the Evangelicall Church, for the governing and overseeing thereof; and for that purpose, besides the Administration of the Word and Sacraments, indued with the power of imposition of hands, and perpetuity of Jurisdiction." (Part II, p. 4)
  4. In any single church, all is done with the consent of the presbyters, but with the power of the bishops who receive their power in a direct line from the apostles.
  5. "The apostles, by the direction of the Spirit of God, found it requisite and necessary for the avoyding of schisme and disorder that some eminent persons should every where be lifted up above the rest." (Part II, pp. 21,22)

1641--The butt of Milton's and the Smectymnuus group's war against the prelates. Hall's positions:

  1. All men should worship in the Church of England.
  2. Within this unity, an infinite variety of beliefs, customs, and rituals may be accepted: "If ever you find perfect unitie anywhere but above: either goe thither, and seeke it amongst those that triumph, or be content with what estate you finde in this warfaring number. Truth is in diferences, as gold in drosse, wheat in chafe; will you cast away the best metall, the best graine, because it is mingled with this offall?" (A Recollection of Select Treatises, 1615, p. 468)
  3. The world is inevitably a commingling of truth and falsehood.
  4. "It had been a thousand times better to swallow a Ceremony, than to rend a Church" (453).
  5. From A Common Apology against the Brownists (1610): "Whosoever wilfully forsakes the communion, government, ministry, or worship of the Church of England, are enemies to the sceptre of Christ, and rebels against his Church and anointed" (Works, 1863, IX, 116)
  6. From The Sixt Decade of Epistles (1610): "How Senceless are these two extreames? Of the Papists that one man hath the Keyes: Of the Brownists, that everie man hath them"(47,48).

1641--Humble Remonstrance to the High Court of Parliament

  1. Is astounded at the number of pamphlets being published. "How many furious and malignant spirits every where have burst forth into sclanderous libels, bitter Pasquines, railing Pamphlets!" (6,7)
  2. Quotes King James on the desirability of steadfast institutions in a commonwealth.
  3. Repeats his earlier argument of bishops being justified by an apostolic succession.
  4. Justifies the liturgy of the Church of England.
  5. On the relation between temporal and spiritual power: "Both of them have their proper object, and extent: The office is from God; the place, and station, and power, wherein that office is exercised, is from the King; it is the King that gives the Bishoprick, it is God that makes the Bishop." (27)

1641 (April 12)--A Defence of the Humble Remonstrance, against the Frivolous . . . Exceptions of Smectymnuus

  1. Grants that in the early years of the church "the name of Bishops and Presbyters were at first promiscuously used." (55, 59)
  2. St. Jerome's testimony on the early elections of bishops by presbyters is valid.
  3. With the growth of the church came schism and the necessity of hierarchy, resulting in the appointment of bishops who had the power to ordain ministers.
  4. Does not deny that apostolic succession has been broken and that many bishops have abused their power, but maintains that the fault is with the persons not the institution.


An acronym derived from the initials of Stephen Marshall, Edmund Calamy, Thomas Young, Matthew Newcomen, and William Spurstowe. These Puritan ministers collectively authored a book (published in 1641) upholding the Presbyterian form of church government in answer to Joseph Hall's A Humble Remonstrance (1640-41). Hall's response to Smectymnuus prompted Milton to defend the Smectymnuus position in three tracts written in 1641 and 1642.

1641 (February)--An Anti-Remonstrance to the Late Humble Remonstrance

  1. Antiquity is no argument for Episcopacy
  2. Bishops' fees contrary to the customs of the early church.
  3. The distance between minister and archbishop violates the spirit of the early church.
  4. Bishops have no right to delegate deputies to preach for them or sit as judges in courts.
  5. Reviews the abuses of excommunication, commuting of bodily penance to monetary payment, and argues that the church government cannot claim divine authority because of its numerous violations of the customs of early Christianity.

1641 (March 20)--An Answer to a Booke Entituled, An Humble Remonstrance

  1. Makes preliminary attacks on Hall for his condemnation of Puritan opposition as libelous.
  2. Bishops have oppressed and hindered monarchy.
  3. Asserts that spontaneous prayer is more ancient than liturgical prayer.
  4. Prayer was not channeled into prescribed forms until the danger of the Arian and Pelagian heresies.
  5. Citing St. Jerome, they claim that "bishop" and "presbyter" were originally synonymous terms.
  6. For 290 years after the first conversions, priests and monks without the aid of bishops instructed the Scottish nation.

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1641 (June 26)--A Vindication of the Answer to the Humble Remonstrance, from the Unjust Imputations of Frivolosnesse and Falsehood

  1. Reviews further arguments against a mandatory liturgy, using the liturgies of Justin martyr and Tertullian as examples.
  2. Dissenters to the Church of England created by the Prelates, not the Puritans.
  3. Wide difference between the Reformations on the Continent and in England: "Our first Reformation was onely in doctrine, theirs in doctrine and discipline too." (39)
  4. English bishops must trace their lineage through the hated Catholic Church, drawing "the line of their pedigree through the loynes of Antichrist." (89)
  5. Ancient bishops never sought superior power.
  6. Ancient bishops were preaching bishops.
  7. Question: "What is the Church of England?" The Laudian Canons of 1640? The particular forms and ceremonies used?
  8. Smectymnuuns object to the appropriation by the bishops of the sole right to define the Church of England.

William Laud


Laud is perhaps most famous as the Archbishop of Canterbury under Charles I, and as the force behind the Star Chamber trials of the 1630s and early 1640s.

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Ordained in the Church of England in 1601, he became bishop of Saint David's, Scotland, in 1621. Laud was made bishop of London in 1628, chancellor of Oxford in 1629, and archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. Laud fiercely opposed the church reforms proposed by the Puritans, and he staunchly supported King Charles I in his battle with Parliament.

Laud, with the support of Charles, attempted to introduce the Anglican liturgy in Scotland in 1637. This resulted in a riot in Saint Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. This led to the Solemn League and Covenant of 1638, the First Bishop's War in 1639, and finally to the meeting of the Long Parliament in 1640, by whom Laud was impeached for treason. Laud's impeachment by the House of Commons was nullified by the House of Lords, but soon afterwards he was condemned under a bill of attainder and beheaded on 1/10/1645.


1) Acted without doubts in suspending preachers: "Nor have I by these Suspensions, hindred the Preaching of Gods Word, but of Schism and Sedition" (History of the Troubles and Tryal of . . . William Laud, ed. Henry Wharton, 1695, p. 164).

2) Refugees at fault, not him: "Nor have I caused any of his Majesty's Subjects to forsake the Kingdom; but they forsook it of themselves, being Separatists from the Church of England; as is more than manifest to any Man, that will but consider what kind of Persons went to New-England" (Ibid).

3) "They have thrust themselves out" (p. 509).

4) No middle ground--anyone who did not worship according to prescribed ritual was a Separatist, no matter how small the deviation.

5) From Constitutions and Canons Eclesiastical (1640): "The most High and Sacred order of Kings is of Divine right, being the ordinance of God himself, founded in the prime laws of nature." This was to be read by each parish priest four times during the year.

Alexander Leighton

1628--An Appeal to the Parliament; Or, Sions Plea against the Prelacie

  1. Arrested 2/17/1630--Tried before Star Chamber.
  2. Fined 10,000 pounds; sentenced to the slitting of both nostrils, the cutting off of both ears, and life imprisonment.
  3. Released 11/9/1640 by the Long Parliament.
  4. Called the bishops "knobs & wens and bunchie popish flesh" for whom there was no remedy but the surgeon's knife.
  5. Traced the failures of the English reformation from the time of Henry VIII.
  6. Pointed to origin of ecclesiastical courts, asserting that the prelates had not possessed temporal power to punish violators of their canons until Henry II.
  7. Only since Henry II have bishops sat in the House of Lords.
  8. Denounced the "ex officio" oath which required men to tell the truth in the Star Chamber even at the risk of self-incrimination.
  9. Reviewed the hindrances of the prelates to the monarchy.
  10. Attacked prelatical income--6,000 pounds per year plus funds gathered from lawsuits, probating of wills, and matrimonial cases (amounting to some 150,000 pounds annually).
  11. Viewed the demolishing of hierarchy not as rebellion but as supreme obedience to God and King.

William Prynne

(1600--October 24, 1669)

Prynne was a Puritan pamphleteer whose grotesque punishments by Laud and Charles I both symbolized and intensified the conflict between the king and Parliament.

Prynne was intitally trained to be a lawyer, but began publishing Puritan tracts in 1627. He attacked the ceremonialism of the Anglican church and what he saw as the immorality of the English theatrical stage. In Histrio Mastix: The Players Scourge, or, Actors Tragoedie (1633), he argued that stage plays caused public immorality. It was thought that his energetic denunciations of actresses were directed at Charles I's Catholic (and theatrically-inclined) wife Henrietta Maria, and Laud had him committed to prison in February 1633; he was sentenced on February 17, 1633 to life in prison, a fine of 5,000 pounds, the loss of his Oxford degrees (referred to as being "degraded"), and the loss of both ears (his ears were partially cut off). From his prison cell he wrote anonymous pamphlets attacking Laud and other bishops: for his troubles he was rewarded in 1637 (6/30) with having the stumps of his ears sawed off, and the initials "SL" ("seditious libeller") burned into both cheeks. He referred to the initials as "Stigmata Laudis" ("the marks of Laud").

When Prynne was finally released from prison in November 1640, he began to pursue the conviction and execution of  Laud. Later, as the Parliamentarians split into Presbyterian (moderate) and Independent (radical) factions, Prynne wrote pamphlets attacking both sides and calling for a national Puritan church controlled by the king. For this attack he was expelled from Parliament by the Independents in 1648.  Two years later he was convicted of refusing to pay taxes to the Commonwealth government (which he deemed both unconstitutional and morally lax), and from June 1650 to February 1653 he was imprisoned. He supported the restoration of King Charles II to the throne as a member of the Convention Parliament of 1660; for this support, Charles rewarded him with the office of Keeper of the Records in the Tower of London in 1661. Prynne spent the last nine years of his life writing histories.

1630--lame Giles His Haultings--A pamphlet dedicated to excoriating the mandatory bowing at the name of Jesus.

1637--A Quench-Coale--A pamphlet opposing the Laudian insistence on placing a rail around the communion table, the consecrating of communion cloths and candles, and prescribed bowings and kneelings.

1626-- The Perpetuitie of a Regenerate Mans Estate--Prynne as one of the unchangeable elect.

1629--The Church of Englands Old Antithesis--Attacks Arminian concept of free will (later adopted by Milton).

  1. Arminian standard--All men may choose a life leading to salvation.
  2. Prynne's view--Only the few elect chosen from eternity can hope to be saved.

1629--God No Imposter nor Deluder--Argues that even the blood of Christ can only save those God has already chosen from eternity.

1628--Healthes: Sicknesse--Atacks the "unnaturall, unthrifty, odious, and swinish sinne of Drunkennesse."

1633--Histrio-Mastix--A 1,000 page diatribe against stage plays that manages to leave out any mention of Shakespeare, Marlowe, or Jonson. Plays had a disasterous effect on "beautiful tender Virgins" whose chastity was often the price of attending these lewd and lascivious productions.

1636--Newes from Ipswich--"This is the deploreable News of our present age, that our Presses formerly open onely to Truth and piety, are closed up against them both of late, and patent for the most part, to nought but error superstition, and profanesse."

1636--A Looking-Glasse for All Lordly Prelates--Contrasts the worldliness of the prelates and the ornamentation of the Church service with the simplicity of the primitive Christians.

1637--A Breviate of the Prelates Intolerable Usurpations--Anticipates Milton in denying to the prelates any secular power over religious offenders. It is both unlawful and unchristian for any prelate to hold secular office or to inflict fines and/or imprisonment for religious offenses.

Dr. Henry Burton

1636--Preached two sermons (reproduced, in part, as a pamphlet entitled For God and the King). Protested the imposition of new ceremonies, as well as suspensions, excommunications, threats, and evictions.

  1. Of the Prelates: "They have gotten such a power into their hands, as doth overtop and countermaund the Kings lawes, and the peoples Liberties" (p. 70).
  2. Of freedom of spech: "This liberty, and freedome of speech in such cases, is not without the feare of God, but is the branch and fruit, that springeth of it" (p. 27).

2/1/1637--Laud's charges against Burton having been presented before the High Commission, Burton's house is broken into at 11 PM and Burton is taken to prison (some books and other articles are also confiscated). Before the Star Chamber, Burton is sentenced (6/14/1637) to a fine of 5,000 pounds (never exacted), removal from the ministry, the loss of his degrees, the loss of his ears, life imprisonment, and denial of access to wife, friends, pen, ink, and paper.

When the sentence is executed on 6/30/1637, Burton's ears are cut so close that his temporal artery is opened, causing blood to gush out upon the scafold. On 7/28/1637, between 40,000 and 100,000 people lined the strets to see Burton, and to cheer Burton, as he was taken to be imprisoned at Lancaster Castle.

Released 11/22/1640 by the Long Parliament, at which time 10,000 people accompany him on his journey from Charing Cross to London.

Dr. John Bastwick

(1593--September/October 1654)

About 1633 Bastwick printed two Latin treatises (in the Netherlands), entitled Elenchus Religionis Papisticae and Flagellum Pontificis et Episcoporum Latialium. William Laud thought himself the target of the treatises, and had Bastwick fined, excommunicated, and prohibited from practicing medicine; Bastwick's books were burned, and he was imprisoned. He responded with Apologeticus ad Praesules Anglicanos and another book, in English, The Litany, in which he charged that bishops were the enemies of God and "the tail of the beast." Bastwick, William Prynne, and Henry Burton were prosecuted by the Star Chamber at the same time; they were all censured as turbulent and seditious persons and condemned to pay a fine of 5,000 each, to be set in the pillory, to lose their ears, and to undergo imprisonment for life in remote parts of the kingdom, Bastwick being sent to Scilly. The Parliament in 1640 reversed these proceedings. 

1637--Letany of John Bastwick

  1. "Consider, their magnificent and Stately Palaces . . . great revenues . . . the pomp & state they wallow in" (I, p. 5).
  2. "Christs Gospell is not a Ceremonial Law . . . but a religions to serve God not in the bondage of the figure and shadow, but in he freedome of the Spirit" (II, p. 2)

John Lillburne

(1614--August 29, 1657)

English revolutionary, leader of the Levelers, a radical democratic party prominent during the English Civil Wars.

Lilburne served as an apprentice to a London cloth merchant from about 1630 to 1636. During this time, he joined the Puritan opposition to Charles' support of the Church of England. By 1638 he had adopted Separatist principles hostile to the notion of a state church. He helped to smuggle Puritan pamphlets (printed in the Netherlands) into England. This led to his arrest and trial before the Star Chamber in 1638; he was fined, publicly whipped, pilloried, and imprisoned until he was set free by the Long Parliament (on Oliver Cromwell's motion) in November 1640.

When the first Civil War between Charles and Parliament started in 1642, Lilburne was commissioned as a captain in the Parliamentarian army.   In April 1645 Lilburne, by then a lieutenant colonel, chose to resign from the army rather than subscribe to the Solemn League and Covenant with Scotland, which committed Parliament to reform the Church of England along Presbyterian lines.

Lilburne's later career is linked with the rise of the Levelers. "Free-born John," wrote numerous pamphlets demanding religious liberty, extension of the suffrage to craftsmen and small-property owners, and complete equality before the law. Lilburne fiercely criticized Parliament and the army for failing to meet the Levelers' demands. For his troubles, he was to spent most of the period from August 1645 to August 1647 in prison. The Levelers were crushed after the army seized power in 1648. Lilburne, however, maintained his tremendous popularity with the London people. He was acquited, by a London jury, of high treason in 1649.  Lilburne's second acquittal, in 1653, led to a popular demonstration that made the Cromwell government sit up and take a worried notice. Lilburne was kept safely in prison until 1655, by which time he had become a Quaker.

  1. Refused to take an "ex officio" oath.
  2. Addressed such pamphlets as A Cry for Justice (1639), and Letter to the Apprentices of London (1639) not to intellectuals, after the manner of Burton, Prynne, and Milton, but to apprentices and working people.
  3. Later became a Leveller.
  4. Lacked University education.
  5. Exulted in his whipping--"cheerfull and merry in the Lord."

Robert Baille

(1599--July 1662)

Robert Baille was a Presbyterian minister and theologian who, in 1637, led the Scottish movement to reject the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. He was a member of the 1638 Glasgow Assembly at which the Church of Scotland broke away from the epicopacy of the Church of England.  In 1642, Baillie became a professor of divinity at Glasgow, and in 1661 he became principal of the university.


  1. Prayer book imposed by Laud full of similarities to the mass.
  2. Prelates have removed the table of the Lord's supper from the people.
  3. Prelates have attacked the office of preaching.
  4. Thousands have been cast out of their homes over issues of conscience.
  5. English monarchy limited, not absolute.
  6. Prelates have heightened the secular power of kings.

The Atheist Milton

Michael Bryson
(Ashgate  Press, 2012)

Basing his contention on two different lines of argument, Michael Bryson posits that John Milton–possibly the most famous 'Christian' poet in English literary history–was, in fact, an atheist.

First, based on his association with Arian ideas (denial of the doctrine of the Trinity), his argument for the de Deo theory of creation (which puts him in line with the materialism of Spinoza and Hobbes), and his Mortalist argument that the human soul dies with the human body, Bryson argues that Milton was an atheist by the commonly used definitions of the period. And second, as the poet who takes a reader from the presence of an imperious, monarchical God in Paradise Lost, to the internal-almost Gnostic-conception of God in Paradise Regained, to the absence of any God whatsoever in Samson Agonistes, Milton moves from a theist (with God) to something much more recognizable as a modern atheist position (without God) in his poetry.

Among the author's goals in The Atheist Milton is to account for tensions over the idea of God which, in Bryson's view, go all the way back to Milton's earliest poetry. In this study, he argues such tensions are central to Milton's poetry–and to any attempt to understand that poetry on its own terms.


The Tyranny of Heaven
Milton's Rejection of God as King

Michael Bryson
(U. Delaware Press, 2004)

The Tyranny of Heaven argues for a new way of reading the figure of Milton's God, contending that Milton rejects kings on earth and in heaven. Though Milton portrays God as a king in Paradise Lost, he does this neither to endorse kingship nor to recommend a monarchical model of deity. Instead, he recommends the Son, who in Paradise Regained rejects external rule as the model of politics and theology for Milton's "fit audience though few." The portrait of God in Paradise Lost serves as a scathing critique of the English people and its slow but steady backsliding into the political habits of a nation long used to living under the yoke of kingship, a nation that maintained throughout its brief period of liberty the image of God as a heavenly king, and finally welcomed with open arms the return of a human king.

Review of Tyranny of Heaven