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Matthew, Nick's Puritan friend, discovers him in the barn in compromising circumstances.

A Puritan of 16th and 17th century England was an associate of any number of religious groups advocating for more "purity" of worship and doctrine, as well as personal and group piety. Puritans felt that the English Reformation had not gone far enough, and that the Church of England was tolerant of practices which they associated with the Church of Rome. The word "Puritan" was originally a pejorative term used to characterize them as extremists.

Around 1650 A.D., Nick Knight is staying with a Puritan friend, a farmer named Matthew. Secretly, Nick steals out to the barn each night in order to fly off and hunt.
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Unable to believe that Nick is a demon, Matthew prays not to be mad or possessed.

Unfortunately, Matthew repeatedly glimpses him coming and going, and finds it difficult to reconcile what is going on with his friendship with Nick. On the one hand, Nick could be a demon; but Nick scoffs at the suggestion, which Matthew is loathe to believe, since he likes Nick. The only alternatives, though, are that he himself must be insane or possessed.

Nick fails to take seriously the degree to which Matthew is disturbed, since he is far more worried about keeping the secrect of his vampirism. He is appalled when Matthew hangs himself.

Historical BackgroundEdit

Throughout the reign of Elizabeth I, the Puritan movement involved both a political and a social component. Puritans opposed many of the traditions of the Church of England, including the use of the Book of Common Prayer and the retention of many Roman Catholic rituals.

By the end of Elizabeth's reign, the Puritans constituted a distinct social group within the Church of England who regarded themselves as "the godly". Under the rule of King James I of England, they attempted to achieve a peaceful reform of the English church; but James viewed their religious beliefs as close to heresy, and their denial of the Divine Right of Kings as little more than treason. Nevertheless, the size of the Puritan population continued to grow.

396px-King Charles I by Antoon van Dyck

Portrait of Charles I, by Sir Anthony van Dyck, 1636

James I was succeeded by his son Charles I of England in 1625, who was married to a zealous Roman Catholic. Indeed, the queen was so extreme in her devotion that she even refused to attend the coronation of her husband, since it took place in a non-Catholic cathedral. She certainly had no tolerance for Puritans. At the same time, the Bishop of London viewed them as a threat to the Anglican Church.

Charles therefore pursued policies to eliminate the religious practices of Puritans in England, adapting the Star Chamber and Court of High Commission into instruments to persecute them. Since these were courts under the control of the King, they could convict and imprison people who had not violated any law passed by Parliament, but were nevertheless guilty of displeasing the King. Defendants were regularly hauled before the Court without indictment, due process of the law, or right to confront witnesses; and their testimonies were routinely extracted by the Court through torture. As a result, a large number of Puritans emigrated to the American colonies.

Puritan BeliefsEdit

The central tenet of Puritanism was God's supreme authority over human affairs, particularly in the church, and especially as expressed in the Bible.

For full membership, the Puritan church insisted that its congregants lead godly lives and exhibit a clear understanding of the main tenets of their Christian faith. They emphasized private study of the Bible, for which reason they believed in universal literacy. Puritans believed in the need for self-examination, and the strict accounting for feelings as well as deeds.

The Puritans believed that worship in church ought to be strictly regulated by what is commanded in the Bible. They therefore refused to celebrate many traditional holidays, such as Christmas. They believed in simplicity in worship, and rid their churches of such ceremonial rituals as the use of priestly vestments (cap and gown) during services, the use of the Holy Cross during baptism, and kneeling during the sacrament. They got rid of religious images, such as stained glass and statues, in their churches. Like the early church fathers, they also eliminated the use of musical instruments in their services. Puritan reforms emphasized preaching.

Puritans opposed both the Catholic idea that the Pope is supreme in the church and the Church of England hierarchy in which the monarch is supreme. They argued that Christ is the only head of the Church, whether in heaven or on earth. Indeed, the separating Congregationalists (a segment of the Puritan movement more radical than the Anglican Puritans) believed the concept of the Divine Right of Kings was heresy.

English Civil WarEdit

The suppression of Puritanism was a major factor leading to the English Civil War, during which the Puritans formed the backbone of the Parliamentarian forces. Charles' marriage to a Catholic raised the possibility the heir to the throne could be raised as a Catholic, a frightening prospect to Protestant England.

The English Civil War was also about the manner in which the country should be governed. Before the Civil War, the Parliament of England was essentially a temporary advisory committee summoned by the monarch whenever the Crown required additional tax revenue; as a result, it was subject to dissolution by the monarch at any time.

A plate depicting the trial of Charles I on 4 January 1649.

Parliaments allowed representatives of the gentry to meet, confer, and send policy proposals to the monarch in the form of Bills; but they did not have any means of forcing their will upon the king. In 1641, Parliament passed a law making it illegal for the king to impose taxes without Parliamentary consent, and forbidding the King to dissolve it without its consent.

War began in 1642, with members of Parliament themselves split in their loyalties. Initially, much of the country remained neutral, though English cities tended to favour Parliament, and the King tended to find support in rural communities. However, the war quickly spread and eventually involved every level of society. Even when areas attempted to remain neutral, it was difficult for them to protect their localities against the excesses of the armies of both sides.

In 1645, Parliament raised the New Model Army, a professional force that could be sent anywhere in the country to fight. It was heavily Puritan, augmented by conscripts. In 1646, Parliament abolished bishops in the Church of England, and voted to replace the Book of Common Prayer with the Directory of Worship. In 1648, their cause achieved victory in the war. In December 1648, a High Court of Justice was set up to try Charles I for high treason. He was found guilty, and beheaded on 30 January 1649.

Commonwealth of EnglandEdit

Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell, Member of Parliament, one of the commanders of the New Model Army, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, 1653-68.

The Commonwealth of England was the republican government which ruled from 1649 to 1660. Parliament had, to a large degree, encouraged the radical political groups which emerged when the usual social controls broke down during the English Civil War. It had also unwittingly established a new political force when it set up the New Model Army. Not surprisingly, all these groups had their own hopes for the new Commonwealth.

After the Parliamentarian victory in the Civil War, there was freedom of worship for a wide variety of Protestant sects; and, unusually for the time, some rights for Jews, who were encouraged to return to the country, having been exiled from England in the Middle Ages. However, the Puritan views of the majority of Parliament and its supporters began to be imposed on the rest of the country. Puritans advocated an austere lifestyle, and restricted what they saw as the excesses of the previous regime. Most prominently, holidays such as Christmas and Easter, which were thought to have pagan origins, were suppressed. Pastimes such as the theatre and gambling were also banned.

With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 the Church of England attempted to re-assert its authority as the official English church. In 1662, another Act of Uniformity was passed. Around two thousand Puritan ministers were forced to resign from their positions. Persecution of the Puritans in England occurred sporadically thereafter into the early eighteenth century.

Puritans in North AmericaEdit


The Landing of the Pilgrims (Henry A. Bacon, 1877). Many Puritans left England to found colonies in the New World.

With the start of the English Civil War in the 1640s, fewer and fewer immigrants to New England were Puritans. Most immigrants to Virginia, for example, emigrated for economic reasons. By 1660, Puritan migration to the New World had ended and was officially discouraged. In New England, however, the Puritan population grew rapidly, owing to the prosperity of many large Puritan families.

Many immigrants to New England, who had been motivated by a desire for greater religious freedom, actually soon found repression under the Puritan theocracy to be far more repressive than any oppression of their faith that they had experienced back in Britain.

Adapted from the Wikipedia articles on Puritans, the history of the Puritans, the English Civil War, the Commonwealth of England, and the English Interregnum.
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