During the reign of James I. and that of his son, Charles I. (1625-1649) a worse ruler on the same lines, thousands of Englishmen came to New England to enjoy religious liberty. The Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth in 1620. The exodus was very rapid during the next twenty years, since those who insisted on worshiping God as they chose were thrown into prison and sometimes had their ears cut off and their noses mutilated. In the sixteenth century, the religious struggle was between Catholics and Protestants, but in this age both of the contestants were Protestant. The Church of England (Episcopal church) was persecuting those who would not conform to its beliefs.
Side by side with the religious strife was a struggle for constitutional government, for legal taxes, for the right of freedom of speech in Parliament. James I. and Charles I. both collected illegal taxes. Finally, when Charles became involved in war with Spain, Parliament forced him in return for a grant of money to sign the Petition of Right (1628), which was in some respects a new Magna Charta.
Charles did not keep his promises. For eleven years he ruled in a despotic way without Parliament. In 1642 civil war broke out between the Puritans, on one side, and the king, nobles, landed gentry, and adherents of the Church of England, on the other. The Puritans under the great Oliver Cromwell were victorious, and in 1649 they beheaded Charles as a “tyrant, traitor and murderer.” Cromwell finally became Protector of the Commonwealth of England. The greatest Puritan writer, John Milton, not only upheld the Commonwealth with powerful argumentative prose, but also became the government’s most important secretary. Though his blindness would not allow him to write after 1652, he used to translate aloud, either into Latin or the language of the foreign country, what Cromwell dictated or suggested. Milton’s under-secretary, Andrew Marvel, wrote down this translation.
[Illustration: CROMWELL DICTATING TO MILTON DISPATCHES TO THE KING OF FRANCE CONCERNING THE MASSACRE IN PIEDMONT. From the painting by Ford Madox Brown.]
The Puritans remained in the ascendancy until 1660, when the Stuart line was restored in the person of Charles II.
The Puritan Ideals.—The Renaissance had at first seemed to promise everything, the power to reveal the secrets of Nature, to cause her to gratify man’s every wish, and to furnish a perpetual fountain of happy youth. These expectations had not been fulfilled. There were still poverty, disease, and a longing for something that earth had not given. The English, naturally a religious race, reflected much on this. Those who concluded that life could never yield the pleasure which man anticipates, who determines by purity of living to win a perfect land beyond the shores of mortality, who made the New World of earlier dreams a term synonymous with the New Jerusalem, were called Puritans.