FREEDOM GROWS SLOWLY
(The flow of English blood is stopped.)
Martin Luther is the first “protestant,” or the first to protest against certain practices of the Roman Catholic Church (1517). Luther took seriously what he called the “four last things.” These were: death, judgment by God, heaven and eternal fire.
Luther admitted he trembled before God’s power. He was, he said, no more than “a miserable pygmy…dust and ashes full of sin.” On one occasion he spent six hours confessing his many sins.
Luther argued that the individual must understand the Bible and the teachings of Christ for himself. For this reason he insisted that the Bible must be translated from Latin into languages the common people understood. No priest or sacrament could wipe out sin. A man or woman could be saved by faith alone. Followers of Luther were soon battling it out with Catholics and a flood of Christian blood would be unleashed.
Protestant ideas began entering England at this time. At first, Henry VIII was against these new teachings. Those who read copies of an English-language Bible were arrested. The book was burned. A second offense meant readers were burned at the stake.
During the 1520s Henry grew increasingly unhappy with his queen’s failure to produce a male child who could inherit the throne. Henry slept with other women and two mistresses produced boys. (Neither “bastard” was eligible for the crown.) So the king plotted to divorce his wife. The pope denied him permission.
Henry responded by starting his own church, the Church of England or Anglican Church.
In 1533 Henry married Anne Boleyn. English law now made it a crime to insult the queen or question Anglican teachings. When Henry quickly tired of Anne and wanted to rid himself of another wife he ordered “witnesses” tortured till they admitted to various crimes involving the queen. Boleyn was found guilty and her head was chopped off at the Tower of London.
In 1536 thousands of Catholics rose up and prepared to revolt. Henry made promises to rebel leaders he never intended to keep. Then he ordered his top general to make “dreadful execution” against these troublesome Englishmen. A “fearful spectacle” and plenty of spilled blood would teach them a lesson.
After 1547 most links to Catholic religious practice were ended. Stained glass windows were removed from churches, sometimes by angry mobs throwing rocks. Bells came down from steeples. Statues of the saints were broken up. Priests and ministers were ordered not to wear fancy garments during services. A New Book of Common Prayer was introduced, making English the language of all religious activities. Battles over the use of this book led to the death of 4,000 Catholics and Anglicans.
By this time Henry VIII had died.
Edward VI, the new king, was calling the pope “the true son of the devil.”
His half-sister Mary, however, was a devoted Catholic. She cared for nothing in the world, she once said, “but only for God’s service and my conscience.” Told she could not attend Catholic mass she ignored everyone and went to church two and three times a day.
So long as Edward lived the Protestants were in control. When he died in 1553 Mary took the English throne and Catholics appeared poised to regain power. The next year she declared England to be under the pope’s control. Then she married Philip, a good Catholic and son of the Spanish king. Soon she was ordering the burnings of heretics, this time, those who refused to give up “protestant” ideas. More than 200 died in the flames. Victims included Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, bishops in the Church of England. Another was Joan Waist, a poor blind woman, who saved money to buy a New Testament and paid others to read it to her. The queen has been known as “Bloody Mary” ever since.
Queen Mary died in 1558. She was followed on the throne by Elizabeth I, this time a Protestant queen. For the next fifteen years England seesawed with Protestants and Catholics battling for control and often killing those who stood in the way. In 1579 John Stubbs published a book which angered the queen. As punishment his right hand was amputated. Meanwhile, Pope Pius V offered a reward to anyone who could assassinate the English ruler. The government began using spies to keep watch on religious enemies. When testimony was needed in court the rack (a device to stretch the arms and legs of a victim) and the thumbscrews were employed.
Mary Stuart, Elizabeth’s niece, a Catholic, was executed when it seemed she was plotting to take the throne.
Differences over religion helped stir rivalry between Spain and England. In 1580 Spain gobbled up neighboring Portugal and held power there for sixty years. Eight years later the Spanish sent a mighty fleet, the Spanish Armada, to attack England. The fleet was smashed—opening the door for other nations to found colonies in America.
France was also torn by religious differences. Blood again flowed. In 1598 the Edict of Nantes was issued. This decree granted religious toleration to all members of Christian churches. Spain took another direction: in 1609, rulers ordered almost a million people driven from the country because of their beliefs.
Meanwhile, people in Scotland were swayed by John Calvin’s ideas and the Presbyterian Church spread in the north. Calvinism insists that the Scriptures are the one rule for life. Each individual must be able to read them for him or herself and must follow them to the letter.
John Knox, a Scottish leader, compared going to Catholic mass to drinking a glass of poison. Lawmakers there made attendance at mass more than twice grounds for execution. Ireland remained strongly Catholic, except in the northeast, where Protestants settled in large numbers. Differences of religion led to fresh conflict and the spilling of fresh blood.
Queen Elizabeth died in 1603. She was followed on the throne by James I, who ordered a new version of the Bible. This King James Bible (1611) would become the standard for almost every Protestant church. James also worked to limit Parliament’s control over his decisions. He refused to call the body into session unless it was absolutely necessary and lawmakers met for only thirty-six months during James’ twenty-two years on the throne. 
Parliament struck back when possible by refusing to raise taxes or give the king the money he needed to run the government.
Differences over religion soon led to fighting between the English and the Scots. At about the same time Robert Filmes argued, “A thing may by the king be commanded contrary to law, and yet obedience to such a command is necessary.” Samuel Rutherford, a Scottish leader, insisted otherwise. The king did not have absolute power. The true idea was “LEX REX:” “The law is king.” Not “REX LEX:” “The king is law.”
For a time England settled down and the killing slowed. Still, groups like the Pilgrims rose up, arguing that the Church of England was too much like the Catholic Church. The Pilgrims were driven out of the country and settled in Holland in 1609. In 1620 they moved to America. There they hoped to worship freely and avoid having their noses split or their foreheads branded. These were typical punishments for heretics at the time.
James died in 1625. Next to wear the crown was Charles I, his son. Charles thought of himself as God’s “lieutenant on earth” and was not inclined to share power. Parliament grew worried and decided to act. In 1629 lawmakers issued the Petition of Right. By this act they claimed the right of all Englishmen to trial by jury, the right of Parliament to control taxation, and outlined other important freedoms.
Officers of the king tried to storm the hall only to be locked out by lawmakers. On March 10, 1629 Charles dissolved the body. Parliament would not be called back into session for eleven years.
In 1633 Bishop William Laud rose to the head of the Anglican Church. Backed by the king, Laud introduced new rules that appeared to take the church back to Catholic practice. He insisted that all church altars be raised above the people in the pews. Altars must be at the east end of the church. All ministers must wear the same kind of vestments or clothing.
Puritans—people who wanted to “purify” the Church of England and rid it of Catholic ideas—were shocked. They argued that all religious ceremonies not mentioned in the Bible (for example: kneeling or celebrating Easter or Christmas) should be abolished. They were arrested by the dozens and filled the jails. William Prynne, for one, was branded on both cheeks and had his ears cut off after calling actresses “whores.” (Charles and his queen pursued acting as a hobby at the time.)
Germany was now torn by religious warfare, in what is known as the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). France, Spain, Sweden and Denmark were drawn into the fight. By the time the bloodbath was ended there were far fewer people left to go to any church. Norman Davies, a modern historian, estimates that German population fell from twenty-one to thirteen million during the war.
During this era a German prince built a special “witch-house” where suspects could be tortured. On the walls he posted Biblical texts. Before he was done he had “rid” the world of 600 witches. One victim wrote his daughter, explaining why he confessed. “They never cease to torture,” he said, “until one says something.”
Over the course of three centuries, beginning in 1484, Davies estimates “millions of innocents” were executed for practicing witchcraft.
Individuals convicted of witchcraft were executed all over Europe and in the American colonies.
The last executions in America came in 1692.
Back in England, the Church of England was splintering. The Pilgrims and others left for America. The Puritans held out hope of “purifying” the Anglican faith—if only they could clean it up. They protested against issues such as these: the use of rings in marriage ceremonies, the sign of the cross during baptism, organs for music, and the wearing of fancy garments by ministers. The Puritans insisted no priest or minister could save members of his flock. Only God could do it and men and women were predestined before birth.
Starting in 1637, Puritans rose up in protest against the Church of England and Charles I. According to one of their leaders, “obedience to God” was far more important than obedience to any earthly king. In 1642 Charles tried to arrest leaders of the Puritan party in Parliament but failed. It was soon clear civil war was coming.
Two years later, Oliver Cromwell and a Puritan army smashed the king’s forces at the battle of Marston Moor (July 2, 1644). Cromwell naturally felt God gave him victory. Cromwell also believed God spoke to him and “instructed” him on how to run the government.
At this same time the Puritans cut off Charles I’s head. He had been their prisoner for months.
The Puritans now set out to strengthen their hold by closing the House of Lords (the upper house of Parliament), which included members of the noble families. They closed down festivals, eliminated holidays like Christmas and Easter and shut down theaters. Citizens who cursed could be arrested and fined, including Henry Gollop who strung forty curses together. Horse racing was banned. So was bowling. The same was true for dancing. Wrestling was out and bear-baiting, too. According to another law, “Children under twelve heard saying something filthy were to be whipped.” Sex before marriage meant prison time.
By 1649 young George Fox had lost faith in Puritan beliefs. He had come to believe each individual was answerable to God alone and not to his fellow man. Each person had an “inner light” which could lead him or her to understand God’s truth. He also insisted predestination was wrong. It was inconsistent with God’s great love. Fox was against war. He was against ministers, believing they were unnecessary, against fancy churches, against marriage services. Now he set out to roam the land and spread his ideas. Fox was the first “Quaker.”
Fox and his followers were often attacked. Fox was hit in the face with a Bible, dragged from a church and thrown over a hedge. A follower, James Nayler, was jailed for speaking his mind. He was pilloried for two hours, branded on the forehead and had his tongue bored with a red-hot iron. Then he was tied to a cart and whipped through the streets.
Quakers suffered in England and in the American colonies. Robert Hodshone was arrested in 1657 in New Amsterdam (the Dutch colony which later became New York). At his trial he was not allowed to speak in his defense. Found guilty, he was sentenced to two years of hard labor. One August day he was brought out of his jail cell and told to go to work. He refused, saying he:
…had done no evil and broken no law, and he would not obey. Then he was stripped to the waist and a [jailer] with a piece of rope beat him until he fell to the ground. This was repeated for several days… [Later] he was kept for two nights and a day without bread or water, and then hung up to the ceiling by his hands while a heavy log of wood was tied to his ankles. In this position he was cruelly beaten with rods.
Hodshone refused to break. The punishment was repeated two days later. At last, the sister of Governor Peter Stuyvesant insisted mercy be shown and Hodshone was set free.
Henry Townsend, another Quaker, was arrested in Flushing. A judge sentenced him to be whipped. Town authorities refused to carry out the punishment. They sent in this protest to the governor:
The law of love, peace, and liberty, extending in the state to Jews, Turks, and Egyptians, forms the true glory of Holland; so love, peace, and liberty, extended to all in Christ Jesus, condemn hatred, strife, and bondage…[Such protection covers] Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist, or Quaker…Should any of these people come in love among us, therefore, we cannot in conscience lay violent hands on them.
Conditions were no better in England. William Penn was arrested on a variety of charges for speaking out about his Quaker beliefs. Among other charges he was accused of touching off a riot and speaking to an “unlawful assembly.” At his trial, Penn defended himself with skill and courage. The jury of twelve studied the facts but could not agree. The judge sent them back to continue their work. They returned and announced they had found Penn, “Guilty of speaking in Gracechurch Street.” This verdict ignored the charges. The judge locked up the jury without food, drink or heat for the night. John Fiske, the great historian, continues the story. The next morning they were returned to court and:
The question was put to them, “Guilty, or not guilty?” The foreman replied, “Guilty of speaking in Gracechurch Street,” and stopped, whereupon the Lord Mayor added, “to an unlawful assembly.” “No, my lord,” said the foreman, “we give no other verdict than we gave last night.” So these brave men were scolded again, locked up again for several hours and brought into court [again]…“Is William Penn, the prisoner, guilty or not guilty?” asked the mayor. “Not guilty, my lord.” Then the mayor, quite beside himself with rage, proceeded to fine each of the jurors [a large sum] with jail time until it should be paid.
A higher court threw out the mayor’s decision soon after. Penn’s freedom—and the English jury system were both upheld.
Meanwhile, the Puritans lost control of the government. Charles II regained the throne in 1661 and promised “liberty to tender consciences.” Puritan leaders, however, paid for executing Charles I thirteen years before. Several were hanged. Others fled to America. One of Charles’ first acts as king was to require printers to apply for a license to print any book or newspaper.
France also continued to struggle with religious issues. Starting in 1685, religious freedom was denied to Huguenots, as French Protestants were called. Their churches were closed. They could no longer serve as lawyers or doctors or print or sell books. Troops were placed in their homes. New laws made it easy to take young children from Protestant families in order to raise them in the Catholic faith.
After Charles II died in England, he was replaced by his brother James II, like Charles, a secret Catholic. James tried to take greater power into his hands but succeeded only in making new enemies. At his order, several American colonies were combined under one governor. This governor took the power to tax into his hands. In Massachusetts the assembly was abolished. Reverend John Wise protested. For speaking out he was arrested, jailed and fined. Then he was suspended from preaching.
James II lasted till 1688 when he was driven from the throne. He was replaced by William III, a good Protestant, and Queen Mary II, James’ own daughter, also a Protestant.
After a hundred and fifty years of bloodshed and beatings, the English were ready for a change. The ideas of John Locke were spreading. Locke argued that government was the creation of men and not God.
Therefore the first job of government was not to uphold religious views. It was to protect “the safety of the people in all that it can.”
The Declaration of Right was issued in 1689. It included protections for basic liberties. Among them:
· Limits on the power to tax
· Protection of rights in court
· Right to petition
· Free elections
· Annual meetings of Parliament
· An end to standing armies (that is: troops kept on duty so that they might put down any protests by the people.
The same year an Act of Toleration was passed granting freedom of religion to most Christians.
|Even in the American colonies freedom of religion was limited at first.|
Roger Williams was thrown out of Massachusetts for questioning Puritan ideas.
|In many colonies, Quakers could be arrested for speaking about their beliefs.|
 As early as 1554 Sebastian Castellio argued that Christians did not know enough to justify killing those with different opinions. Instead, he believed God would care more about sincere belief than minor matters like which prayers were used and what a priest or minister wore.
 At this same time the Netherlands were controlled by Spain and bitter religious fighting erupted between the Dutch (mostly Protestant) and the Spanish (Catholic). When Philip II returned to Spain after leading the fight in the Netherlands he was greeted by a great celebration. As part of the festivities a huge “auto da fe” was held. This was an “act of faith” and involved the strangling and burning of large numbers of heretics.
 James I firmly believed in witchcraft and warnings against the practice are included in the Bible. Hunting witches became more common.
 Germany was then divided into hundreds of small states or principalities. The modern nation did not yet exist.
 Cromwell had no love for Catholics. Fighting in Ireland in 1649, he ordered thousands of Catholic prisoners slaughtered after the Battle of Drogheda. But he did believe in toleration for most Protestant faiths. He compared various sects to different kinds of trees, all offering comfortable shade. He allowed Jews to reenter England, the first time they had been welcome since 1290.
 John Bunyan, another Puritan, was sent to jail. There he began to write his famous book: Pilgrim’s Progress.