Clément BOYET

Maxime LEGON





Puritanism was a form of Protestantism: they shared the same wish to go back to the original purity of the Church, but puritans were more radical. Indeed, Puritanism took up the thought of the English Reformation but insisted on four points.

First, personal salvation was entirely from God: puritans were the most fervent partisans of predestination.

Then the Bible was the indispensable guide to life. Anglicans thought that Christians shouldn’t do what the Bible prohibited whereas puritans thought that they should only do what the Bible commanded.

Third, the Church should reflect what was taught in the Bible. Consequently, the Puritans were against the supremacy of the monarchy because the only head of the Church was Christ. Besides, they were opposed to bishops and the Episcopal system: they wanted elected councils, presbyteries.

Lastly, society was one unified hole. Therefore, they wanted to turn England into a Puritan country. Consequently, they were renowned for their intolerance, especially towards Catholics.

In concrete terms, the Puritans were in favour of perfect austerity in their religion, with the minimum of ritual and decoration and a lot of simplicity in their worship –neither images nor candles etc. They forbade alcohol, games, dance, theatre, songs… In a nutshell, they were against all types of entertainment. Consequently, they became extremely unpopular. Furthermore, they granted much importance to the family, purity and the spiritualization of their household. The Puritans were recognizable because they were always dressed in black, with very short hair, large hats, a Bible on the hand and their eyes turned down.

The Puritans were against royal intervention in religion and Puritanism became more and more a movement of political opposition. As a consequence, Elisabeth I, King James I and Charles I fought against the doctrine. The Puritans were allies of the parliamentary opposition and the Scottish Presbyterians. During the First Civil War (1642), they had majority at the London Parliament and imposed their dictatorship on England. Cromwell, who succeeded Charles I, permitted its development: it was the Golden Age of Puritanism. But the restoration in 1660-1662, with the return of Charles II, put an end to the flourishing of puritanism. That’s why, in the XVIIth century, a lot of them emigrated because they were forced to leave the Church of England. They went to Northern America and spread their doctrine,such as the Pilgrims and the Quakers who built colonies in New England.

Nowadays, organized Puritanism no longer exists, except in a few sects. Contemporary “puritans” are in fact the most conservative Protestants or the evangelists: “Puritanism” is not a specific religious community. The term “puritan” often refers to someone who has strict views on sexual morality, disapproves of recreation and wishes to impose these beliefs on others.

Nonetheless, Puritanism has influenced mentalities in England and above all in the USA and it is still perceptible nowadays.









            Henry VIII’s breaking-off with the Pope had unexpected consequences. It permitted Protestant ideas based on Martin Luther to enter the Kingdom. In the context of the reformation of the English Church they wanted to go further than a simple independence from Papal authority. Their goal was to purify their church from every tiny Catholic influence. They were the most extreme Protestants and later they would be called Puritans. Within the Anglican Church, Puritans became more and more powerful. They tried to convince James I to grant more reforms for example and to abolish the Bishops, something they failed to obtain. In the face of this rising movement which questioned the king’s authority,  a repressive policy took place in England. Little by little Puritans emigrated to New England; it is the famous trip of the « May Flower ». They built several colonies there, such as Massachussetts in 1628 and New Hampshire in 1629. It is also interesting to mention the Puritan Army which defeated King Charles in 1645 under Cromwell’s leadership. So the Puritans had a real influence on social, political and theological ideas. But let’s focus on New England where they could develop their theories freely.


            What are the main aspects of Puritanism ? To begin with, their belief are based on Election and Predestination, it means that for them God has already chosen who is to be damned and who is to be saved. Puritans, organised in congregations, lived a humble and obedient life so that they can reach god’srequirements. Individualism is deeply rooted in Puritan thought, they believe in justification by faith, a classic protestant belief which leads to the denial of the Pope’s authority. Indeed thanks to this justification by faith, there is no need to have a middle-man. Puritans emphasised personal values and rejected all hierachical systems.  So a soul is free and independent.

They link material wealth with God’s favor, in fact it was a way to get the conviction that they were chosen for the next eternal life. Thus Puritans were known as hardworking people because they wanted to please God. This pursuit of wealth leads to the conquest of nature and the widening of frontiers toward the West.

Puritanism carries a strong sense of mission, which is still noticeable in American people’s behaviours nowadays. First of all they thought they were God’s chosen people, one who would build a New Jerusalem and would spread Justice, Liberty and Democracy. As a matter of fact their escape from the English kingdom is considered as a sort of biblical exodus toward a sacred land.

Puritanism also contributed to American’s trust in popular education. At first sight, it seems like it has nothing to do with puritanism but in fact it is quite logical. We saw that puritans wanted to reached independence and purification. What would be better than a popular religious education? Moreover optimism and opportunities encouraged people to have children. Education was based on bible so that they could escape Adam’s sin. The Puritans’ eagerness to be religiously independent implies that everybody is able to read the holy book.



            During the XVIIth century Puritans remained a huge political power but afterwards they became less structured and split in more than 40 churches. Their thought tends to be more a way of thinking than a real religious doctrine. But the puritan worldview shaped American people’s national identity and has influenced their values and lifestyles. For instance we could say that American Capitalism is the outcome of the economic success, industry and energy praised by the puritans. The sense of mission we have already talked about could be linked with the strong will of the United States to spray their culture and to bring democracy in what they consider as deviant systems. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars show religious aspects (« crusades against terrorism ») and the USA has always been the ally of Israël no matter its policy. It really rings a bell and proves that religion is still something which carries weight in the American decision-making process.

            People have often linked former puritans with the current Evangelicalism, and it’s true that Evangelicalism found inspiration in it. In the United States they are called the « Christian Right » or « Religious Right ». They are conservative Christians really close to fundamentalism. They were quite visible during the 1973 political struggle against abortion and terrorist issues gave them a new impetus. Their most famous spokesmen are Jerry Falwell an American Baptist Cleric televangelist and Pat Robertson also televangelist. They have a real influence. It is important not to mistake them and the former puritans, which would be really anachronistic.

The Puritans who came to New England brought ideas of equality and liberty and managed to organise a society according to what they believe in. Their legend and their legacy shaped the American nation and made this uncommon relation between religion and the American people.


Steffie Gravé – Léonie Gindre                                                                   L2 Histoire

The first actions of Elizabeth 1st, after re-establishing Protestantism, disappointed people who aspired to a deep reform of the English Church. Puritanism, no doubt, was born from this dissatisfaction caused by ‘s Religious Settlement (1559). The most radical protestants considered that this settlement was a concession to the Pope. Indeed, the Anglican Church maintained the Church under the control of the monarchy through the episcopal hierarchy, keeping a lot of Catholic practices. The term  « puritans” probably dates from the 1560’s, on account of a controversy about the ceremonial clothes, because the Puritans wanted liturgical clothes to be more sober.

We can now wonder what the main characteristics of Puritanism are and if it has survived the centuries.  

Puritanism refers to a conception of the Christian faith developed in England by a community of radical Protestants, after the Reform. According to Alexis de Tocqueville, it Is a political theory and a religious doctrine. Puritanism relies on four points : personal salvation is entirely from God; the Bible is the indispensable guide for life; the Church should respect the teaching of the Scriptures; and the Society should just form a unified whole. Indeed , for the Puritans , humanity is entirely dependent on God for its salvation. This idea was the one of Luther and Calvin, who knew that the reconciliation with God was a gift of his grace. Besides, Puritans consider that the Bible must be deemed the supreme authority. This Book was a subject of discord between the Puritans and the Anglicans. They didn’t agree over the interpretation of the Bible. Indeed, the Puritans consider that the Christians must do exactly what is written in the book. On the contrary, the Anglicans consider that the Christians can’t do what the Bible forbids. Over this question, the puritans disagreed with the episcopacy. Puritans considered that the Church should be organized in accordance with the Scriptures and not in accordance with that Anglicans had decided. Finally, the puritans say that faith can rely only on the solidarity of the society, wanted by God. They reckon that just a unique coordinated set of authorities should govern life in society. For this reason, the Puritans wanted England to be exclusively Puritan. They seemed to be strictly opposed to religious pluralism.

In the 20th century, puritanism is strongly associated with the social question in ethics and the Protestant spirit of capitalism. Indeed, in his book published in 1905, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber, correlated the Protestant ethic, particularly Calvinism, as it was at its birth in the early 16th century, with the spirit of capitalism. In American society, Puritanism is present under this guise. But it is clear that the religious dimension is still very present in this State. Indeed, the persistence of religiousness, the constant reference to God, the notions of Good and Evil, dear to President George W. Bush, the language of the Bible, are obvious to any observer of American life. An example is the spectacle of the New York crowd after the assassination of the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001: every person, young, old, whites, blacks, workers, employees, voluntarily spoke in religious terms, not to mention obviously the President. Is it reasonable for a state endowed with such clout to do so?

You can also talk about the success of “televangelists” who use television as a vehicle for their religious zeal and the strength of “revivalist”movements, stemming from the old Calvinist Puritanism.

We can conclude that Puritanism, as a form of Christian faith – developed in England by a community of radical Protestants after the Reformation – has grown from a single religious theory, a theory combining religion and politics, as Tocqueville said.

Thus we can still meet Puritans today, as is the case in the United States.

LEBRAS Aurélie

L2 Histoire


Le puritanisme



Puritanism was born in England in the second half of the XVIth century in the Anglican Church. It’s a movement against the Elizabethan Reformation in order to find a compromise between Roman Catholicism and the idea supported by Protestant reformers. The movement survived in the Church until the Restoration of the Stuarts.

The basis of Puritanism lies in the intense engagement of its members towards  morality and a society that strictly conforms to God’s commandments. Puritan theology is derived from Calvinism, it states that nobody can be sure of his « eternal destiny » and that humankind is totally guilty. But it also says that God deemed that some Humans were worthy of being saved. However the experience of conversion signals that people belong to the chosen ones because “the soul touched by the holy spirit shifts from sinfulness to holiness”.

The first form of puritanism is, firstly, a rejection of the Prayer Book (the official book of prayers of the Anglican Church and of the episcopal Church). In fact, it entails a rejection of uniformity and episcopal hierarchy. This movement called for a reformation stronger than the protestant one.

In the Millenary Petition (march 1604), we learn a little more about their own claims. They grant a tremendous importance to the respect of the Sabbath, a day of rest (like the Jewish). They advocate a more efficient training for ministers and hold that bishops shouldn’t have a lot of benefits. Above all, they ask for fewer songs an more sermons because they are very important according to them. They understood that sermons are the best mass-media form of communication, and  so, they used it as a weapon against the monarchy.

This movement has changed. In the beginning, they only wanted a more serious reformation  of religion, then, they criticized the episcopate because he thought it clashed with the Holy Scriptures.

With the Stuarts’ reformation, a lot of puritans accepted the book of common Prayer, and the  authority of bishops. Puritanism persisted through the Methodism of the XVIIIth century and the evangelism of the XIXth century.

Nowadays, puritanism isn’t as widespread as it used to be, however it still exists though it is much less visible. Lots of historians or sociologists consider contemporary America as a puritan society, because it is God-minded. Moreover it’s to America, with the famous May Flower and the Pilgrim Fathers, that Puritans, in 1620, emigrated to flee religious persecutions.

Nevertheless, and we can conclude on that point, the definition of Puritanism nowadays doesn’t match the historical reality. Indeed, for us, a puritan person is just a very rigid, narrow-minded person while puritanism was ,firstly, a doctrine which conformed itself to the  Holy Scriptures.








            Puritans was the name given to the most extreme Protestants within the Church of England in the 16th century, those who thought the English Reformation had not gone far enough in reforming the doctrines and structure of the church; they wanted to purify their national church by eliminating every shred of Catholic influence. It is a political and religious doctrine. It belongs to the Presbyterian community. We know that they have a rigid moral and they constituted a remarkable obstacle for the policy of the Stuarts. That is why, they have been persecuted from 1570 onwards. A lot of Puritans have emigrated from Holland to America. A certain number of them were aboard the famous boat, the Mayflower, in 1620.

            We have read that the Puritans are more interested in biblical literature than the Anglicans, and on top of this, they were hostile to the Anglican church. Above all, they are considered as a sect. They hold that religious laws should be more important than civil laws. In 1644, they abolished the celebration of Christmas day.              Puritans came to argue that Christians should do only what the Bible commanded. Anglicans contended that Christians should not do what the Bible prohibited. To promote their opinions, they published pamphlets, or led predications. When it comes to religious practices, they refuse the sign of the cross, holy  festivals, and beautiful clothes. In 1604, in the millenary petition, they summarized their claims. They wanted longer sermons and argued that pluralism should be prohibited. They wanted no one to work on Sundays.

            Now when we are talking about puritanism, it’s neo-Victorian puritanism, different from the one that blossomed during the Victorian period. One of the outstanding symbols of that period was the chastity ring, “Purity. This ring was invented by the Christian Conservatives, the members of the “Silver Ring Thing”, supporters of sexual abstinence, in the 90’s. The ring is worn on the left hand and symbolizes the wish to be chaste until wedding. Then it’s replaced by the alliance during the wedding. However, according to recent research, these chastity rings aren’t effective. According to Yale University researchers, 88% of young American girls who wear the ring didn’t respect their commitment, and worse stil, 50% of them were found infected with STDs. The new upsurge of chastity promises and the emphasis put by the media on teenage celebrities wearing such rings is striking. We can wonder if this is not a marketing trick that clearly mediates the celebrities who have now more and more influence on teenagers.         

To sum up, puritanism is a political and religious doctrine initially supporting a reform of the structure of the church. They were in favour of a more rigid moral and more sober religious practices. Nowadays it still influences young people.


S.  FOSTER, Their Solidarity Way : the Puritan Social Ethic in the First Century of Settlement in New England, New Haven-Londres, 1971

C. HILL, Puritanism and Revolution, Londres, 1958, rééd. 1969 ; The World Turned upside down, Londres, 1972 (Le Monde à l’envers. Les idées radicales au cours de la Révolution anglaise, Payot, Paris, 1977)

J.-P. MARTIN, Le Puritanisme américain en Nouvelle-Angleterre : 1620-1693, Presses univ. de Bordeaux, 1989

G. F. NUTTALL, The Puritan Spirit, Londres, 1967

D. E. STANNARD, The Puritan Way of Death, New York, 1977