We have heard the story of the brave Pilgrims since we were young. Each Thanksgiving, we celebrate their triumphs over tyranny and the elements in helping to build America. However, some of there story had remained in obscurity and we now know that the Pilgrims plan to journey to the New World actually took form in Holland.
Era of Discontent
Early in the sixteenth century people around the world began to show with the Roman Catholic Church. Eventually, the Church of England formally challenged the authority of Rome. King Henry VIII was declared the Supreme Head of the Church of England by Parliament in 1534 and by 1536, King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and abbeys. King Henry’s actions set the stage for continued problems with the merger of religion worship with the power of the ruling government.
Under English Rule, the Crown controlled everything from land grants and religious affiliation. The faith of the ruling King or Queen became the faith of all the people. And as such, each citizen of England was required to attend religious services in the Anglican Church each Sunday or face persecution. Those who did not abide by these laws were arrested and persecuted.
John Calvin was an influential French pastor, theologian and lawyer who was a leader during the Protestant Reformation. His philosophy on Christian theology is commonly referred to as Calvinism. According to Calvinism, God and not other entities are the arbiter of judgment. Calvin also exposed that worship should be simple and specifically for the glory of God. He did not support many of the sacraments and rituals of the powerful Roman Catholic Church.
As England became more progressive, the people had more widespread access to the Bible, now translated in English, and these new thoughts about religious practice. Many English Christians began to be concerned that current form of worship did not conform to the edicts of the Bible.
English Calvinists or Puritans believed that England was on a road to godlessness. They did not agree with the Church of England which stressed the use of the Book of Common Prayers and not the Bible. They also did not agree with the State Church which made it illegal for non-ordained priest to lead worship. Many Puritans wanted to change religious practices of the Anglican Church, which were similar to those of the Roman Catholic faith. They desired to purify the religious practice of Christianity in England.
Puritans and the Separatists
While the Puritan faction was growing in the Church of England, members disagreed on how they could reform the Anglican Christian practices. Puritans believed that the Bible was the true law of God and that the Bible should also shape how government behaved. Puritans sought political and religious reform in England. The Puritans continued to challenge the political and religious policies of the Crown- namely the Stuart rulers King James I and his son, King Charles I.
The Puritan factions also had internal conflicts. Some Puritans sought to reform from within and maintain their society. Others, a minority faction of Puritans, sought simply to leave England and start afresh in another country. This faction felt that reformation of the Anglican Church was impossible. In either case, Church of England became less tolerate of the Puritans and they were often harassed and jailed for what the Crown saw as blasphemies.
The Scrooby Manor Separatists
The Puritans were undaunted by the Anglican Church’s efforts to silence them. They continued to worship in private. One such private faction was lead by pastor Richard Clyfton, a leader and appointee of the archbishop of the Anglican Church. These meetings, however, were illegal in the eyes of the Crown and the Anglican Church, which discovered the actions of Clyfton and removed him from his office. Clyfton’s followers were also targeted. Their homes were raided and possessions taken.
In spite of this treatment, the congregation continued to meet in private. With the help of the local postmaster and Puritan leader, William Brewster, the Separatists continued to meet in private at Brewster’s home in Scrooby Manor.
Elsewhere, The Scrooby congregation realized that they had to make a change. Other similar congregations were being fined and some members were being imprisoned and executed for their direct challenges to the Church of England and their King’s authority.
In 1607, the Scrooby Separatist decided that they needed to emigrate from England and find a home that was more tolerate of their religious beliefs. They chose Amsterdam, Holland. However, they would need to escape England first, which ruled that it was illegal to leave the country without permission.
Religion reform, and in some cases religious civil wars, were being fought all over the world. Holland was one of the few countries that offered refuge and religious tolerance.
Holland offered a new start for the Separatists. During the 17th century, Amsterdam was a city where immigrants formed the majority. During the European age of religious wars and many oppressed people fled to the Dutch Republic and many settled in its port City of Amsterdam. Jews from the Iberian peninsula, merchants from Belgium and the Huguenots from France all sought safety in Amsterdam. Even the Lutheran-Protestant Germans, similar to Calvinists, found refuge in Amsterdam.
Other Separatists and their leaders, such as William Bradford, Pilgrim and leader in the Plymouth Colony, had settled in Amsterdam. As a result, in August 1608, the Separatists lead by William Brewster headed to Holland some seventy miles from England. Almost 150 of their congregation, which included women and children, found their way to Amsterdam.
The Separatists would eventually move from Amsterdam to Leiden Holland within a few years and from Leiden, the Separatists devised their plan that culminated in the establishment of the Plymouth Colony.
In an era of religious intolerance, Puritans, thinking that they could not reform the Anglican Church from within, fled their homes in search of more religious freedom and better lives. IN this age, few countries were tolerant of those who contested the Catholicism and they found a place in Amsterdam, Holland. Just as much as religious intolerance motivated these English Separatists, these future Pilgrims’ lives in Holland inspired them to move on and eventually make history by landing on Plymouth Rock.
For more information regarding this subject, you can find great resources at the local library and in bookstores. Additional information can be found on the web at the following sites: