Today we jump back in our story of the Mayflower Pilgirms to the gatherings that took place at Scrooby in the early 1600s, a significant factor that led to the Mayflower's journey to America.
Over the last few months we’ve been looking at religious reform in England, starting back in the late 1300’s when John Wycliffe and the Lollards started to question and challenge the teachings of the church. The religious reforms in England took their first major steps during the reign of Henry VIII with ongoing religious turmoil in the preceding reigns of Henry’s children, Edward IV, Mary I and Elizabeth I. This religious back-and-forth gripped the church, with England returning to the Catholic faith during Mary's reign and then back to Protestantism in Elizabeth’s. For some these changes were not enough reform and led to the birth of Puritanism. Some groups went even further in their beliefs, calling for more radical reform, they were called Separatists. This group of believers were initially outside of the law and were persecuted by both the state and the church.
Amongst the Separatists in England was a group who worshipped at Gainsborough Old Hall, led by the preacher John Smyth. The group numbered between sixty to seventy people and met in secret aided by the owner of the hall, a merchant called William Hickman. In 1606 two groups formed – one in Gainsborough and a new group in Scrooby, across the Trent, where they were led by Richard Clifton.
Meanwhile the authorities continued their pursuance of separatist groups and those in Gainsborough slowly left England for Holland (where there was greater religious freedom), including Smyth. Meanwhile the group in Scrooby continued to use the home of William Brewster, Scrooby Manor House, where he held the position of the Master of the Queen’s Posts. As with other groups of Separtisits they were united more by their dissatisfaction with the Church established by Elizabeth I, than by matters of doctrine that they agreed on. The group at Scrooby stands out due to their strength of belief and unwillingness to compromise in those beliefs. However this came at a cost with the general populace, who hated Puritans and in particular Separatists, who were subjected to persecution.
This persecution led many members of the group to leave England for Holland. Such a move however was illegal without permission, complicating their plans with the necessity of secrecy. The group from Scrooby Manor first departure saw them betrayed to the authorities by the captain of the ship they were due to leave on and they were imprisoned for about a month. Their second attempt was more successful and so the group made a new life in Holland having made the hard decision to leave friends, family and their place of birth behind in order to live out their faith in freedom. At the time though they did not know this would only be a stage in their onward journey.
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