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Religion and Politics in John White's Time.

The first half of the 17th century - John White's era - was a time of struggle. Religious, social and political changes caused upheaval across Europe. England was caught up in them. It was a complex struggle between the old and the new, between established rule and a newly confident middle-level, between authoritarianism and freedom of thought and expression. Religion, social change and politics (national and international) intertwined.

Change in England was quick and complex. Henry VIII set England off on the road to total independence by breaking with the Roman Catholic Church in 1534. In Elizabeth I's reign, Spain tried to conquer England for Catholicism, starting in 1588 with the Armada. In the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, frustrated Catholics tried, but failed, to blow up Parliament and King James I, even though he was sympathetic to Catholicism. Between 1629 and 1640 the Catholic-sympathising Charles I tried to rule England without a Parliament, claiming the Divine Right of Kings. Parliament became increasingly Protestant. It linked Catholicism to authoritarianism and foreign influence.

In the Church of England - which was set up by Henry VIII and has always had the monarch as 'Supreme Governor', its earthly head - the balance of power swung between old-style high churchmen and new-style Protestants. The high churchmen had Roman Catholic leanings and wanted old rites and practices restored. The Protestants - which included Puritans - were vehemently against the Roman Catholic church. They wanted to break with past rites, practices and church government. They certainly did not accept the Divine Right of Kings.

Ecclesiastical power and practices changed with the political and religious position of the monarch. Archbishop Cranmer, who, with Henry VIII, had separated the Church of England from Rome, was burnt at the stake in 1556 under Catholic Queen Mary. Elizabeth I pleased neither Puritans nor Catholics by her moderate position. James I angered Puritans at the Hampton Court conference (1604) by refusing their demands, although it was agreed to produce a new translation of the Bible - the Authorised Version. In 1633 Charles I appointed the high church Archbishop Laud to return the Church of England to its former practices and support his authoritarian rule. Laud was executed in 1645 under an Act of Parliament. Groups within the Church of England formed, reformed, resisted and struggled for power. New churches were formed - Congregationalist, Presbyterian and the rest.

Religion and politics affected everyone's life and livelihood. Attitudes, opinions, positions became increasingly polarised. Where one person felt threatened, another saw freedom and opportunity. People had to make choices. Conflict was the inevitable result - the Civil War and the execution of Charles I in 1649. Then, having experienced breakdown in society and dictatorship in the shape of Oliver Cromwell, there was a compromise. The monarchy was restored in 1660 but limited in power and reliant on parliament - the people - for authority. It was a good compromise. England started to settle down.

But England only began to settle down after John White's time. John White lived and died during the period of struggle and turmoil. See the timelines for a picture of how his life fitted into the religious and political events from the English Reformation under Henry VIII to the Civil War.