Puritan, an epithet first applied in 1564 to English nonconformists, which continued to designate them during the reigns of Elizabeth and the first two Stuarts. During the reign of Mary the stricter nonconformist element of the church was driven out of the country, and a number of exiles at Frankfort resolved to use in public worship the Genevan service book, in preference to the book of King Edward VI. They were resisted in this by other exiles and failed, but renewed the struggle on their return to England after the accession of Elizabeth. There were different degrees of puritanism, some seeking a moderate reform of the English liturgy and discipline, others wishing to abolish episcopacy, and some declaring against any church authority whatever. Representatives from these three classes formed the bulk of the settlers of New England, and the union of them in the English civil wars effected the overthrow of royalty and the establishment of the commonwealth. At the time of the restoration the name became one of reproach.
Since the relaxation in 1690 of the acts against the nonconformists, it has ceased to designate any particular sect. - See Neal, "The History of the Puritans" (revised ed. by Joshua Toulmin, 5 vols. 8vo, Bath, 1793-'7; American ed., with notes by John O. Choules, 2 vols. 8vo, New York, 1844), and Bacon, "The Genesis of the New England Church" (New York, 1874).