The old symbols of doctrine were gone, and the lawyers had not yet stepped in to protect the clergy by defining the exact limits of the new. The result was that at the Commission-board at Lambeth the Primates created their own tests of doctrine with an utter indifference to those created by law. In one instance Parker deprived a vicar of his benefice for a denial of the verbal inspiration of the Bible. Nor did the successive Archbishops care greatly if the test was a varying or a conflicting one. Whitgift strove to force on the Church the Calvinistic supralapsarianism of his Lambeth Articles. Bancroft, who followed him, was as earnest in enforcing his anti-Calvinistic dogma of the Divine right of the episcopate. Abbot had no mercy for Arminianism. Laud had none for its opponents. It is no wonder that the Ecclesiastical Commission, which these men represented, soon stank in the nostrils of the English clergy. Its establishment however marked the adoption of a more resolute policy on the part of the Crown, and its efforts were backed by stern measures of repression.
All preaching or reading in private houses was forbidden; and in spite of the refusal of Parliament to enforce the requirement of them by law, subscription to the Three Articles was exacted from every member of the clergy.
For the moment these measures were crowned with success. The movement under Cartwright was checked; Cartwright himself was driven from his Professorship; and an outer uniformity of worship was more and more brought about by the steady pressure of the Commission. The old liberty which had been allowed in London and the other Protestant parts of the kingdom was no longer permitted to exist. The leading Puritan clergy, whose nonconformity had hitherto been winked at, were called upon to submit to the surplice, and to make the sign of the cross in baptism. The remonstrances of the country gentry availed as little as the protest of Lord Burleigh himself to protect two hundred of the best ministers from being driven from their parsonages on a refusal to subscribe to the Three Articles. But the persecution only gave fresh I life and popularity to the doctrines which it aimed at crushing, by drawing together two currents of opinion which were in themselves perfectly distinct. The Presbyterian platform of Church discipline had as yet been embraced by the clergy only, and by few among the clergy.
On the other hand, the wish of the Puritans for a reform in the Liturgy, the dislike of "superstitious usages," of the use of the surplice, the sign of the cross in baptism, the gift of the ring in marriage, the posture of kneeling at the Lord's Supper, was shared by a large number of the clergy and laity alike. At the opening of Elizabeth's reign almost all the higher Churchmen save Parker were opposed to them, and a motion in Convocation for their abolition was lost but by a single vote. The temper of the country gentlemen on this subject was indicated by that of Parliament; and it was well known that the wisest of the Queen's Councillors, Burleigh, Walsing-ham, and Knollys, were at one in this matter with the gentry. If their common persecution did not wholly succeed in fusing these two sections of religious opinion into one, it at any rate gained for the Presbyterians a general sympathy on the part of the Puritans, which raised them from a clerical clique into a popular party. Nor were the consequences of the persecution limited to the strengthening of the Presbyterians. The "Separatists " who were beginning to withdraw from attendance at public worship on the ground that the very existence of a national Church was contrary to the Word of God, grew quickly from a few scattered zealots to twenty thousand souls.
Presbyterian and Puritan felt as bitter an abhorrence as Elizabeth herself of the "Brownists," as they were nicknamed after their founder Robert Brown. Parliament, Puritan as it was, passed a statute against them. Brown himself was forced to fly to the Netherlands, and of his followers many were driven into exile. So great a future awaited one of these congregations that we may pause to get a glimpse of "a poor people" in Lincolnshire and the neighbourhood, who "being enlightened by the Word of God," and their members "urged with the yoke of subscription," had been led " to see further." They rejected ceremonies as relics of idolatry, the rule of bishops as unscriptural, and joined themselves, "as the Lord's free people," into "a church estate on the fellowship of the Gospel." Feeling their way forward to the great principle of liberty of conscience, they asserted their Christian right "to walk in all the ways which God had made known or should make known to them." Their meetings or "conventicles " soon drew down the heavy hand of the law, and the little company resolved to seek a refuge in other lands; but their first attempt at flight was prevented, and when they made another, their wives and children were seized at the very moment of entering the ship.
At last, however, the magistrates gave a contemptuous assent to their project; they were in fact "glad to be rid of them at any price;" and the fugitives found shelter at Amsterdam, from whence some of them, choosing John Robinson as their minister, took refuge in 1609 at Leyden. "They knew they were pilgrims and looked not much on these things, but lifted up their eyes to Heaven, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits." Among this little band of exiles were those who were to become famous at a later time as the Pilgrim Fathers of the Mayflower.
It was easy to be "rid " of the Brownists; but the political clanger of the course on which the Crown had enterel was seen in the rise of a spirit of vigorous opposition, such as had not made its appearance since the accession of the Tudors. The growing power of public opinion received a striking recognition in the struggle which bears the name of the "Martin Marprelate controversy." The Puritans had from the first appealed by their pamphlets from the Crown to the people, and Whitgift bore witness to their influence on opinion by his efforts to gag the Press. The regulations of the Star-Chamber for this purpose are memorable as the first step in the long struggle of government after government to check the liberty of printing. The irregular censorship which had long existed was now finally organized. Printing was restricted to London and the two Universities, the number of printers reduced, and all candidates for licence to print were placed under the supervision of the Company of Stationers. Every publication too, great or small, had to receive the approbation of the Primate or the Bishop of London. The first result of this system of repression was the appearance, in the very year of the Armada, of a series of anonymous pamphlets bearing the significant name of "Martin Marprelate," and issued from a secret press which found refuge from the royal pursuivants in the country-houses of the gentry.
The press was at last seized; and the suspected authors of these scurrilous libels, Penry, a young Welshman, and a minister named Udall, died, the one in prison, the other on the scaffold. But the virulence and boldness of their language produced a powerful effect, for it was impossible under the system of Elizabeth to "mar " the bishops without attacking the Crown; and a new age of political liberty was felt to be at hand when Martin Marprelate forced the political and ecclesiastical measures of the Government into the arena of public discussion. The suppression, indeed, of these pamphlets was far from damping the courage of the Presbyterians. Cartwright, who had been appointed by Lord Leicester to the mastership of an hospital at Warwick, was bold enough to organize his system of Church discipline among the clergy of that county and of Northamptonshire. His example was widely followed; and the general gatherings of the whole ministerial body of the clergy, and the smaller assemblies for each diocese or shire, which in the Presbyterian scheme bore the name of Synods and Classes, began to be held in many parts of England for the purposes of debate and consultation.
The new organization was quickly suppressed indeed, but Cartwright was saved from the banishment which Whitgift demanded by a promise of submission; his influence steadily increased; and the struggle, transferred to the higher sphere of the Parliament, widened into the great contest for liberty under James, and the Civil War under his successor.