Recently we went back to the events leading to the Mayflower’s voyage and looked at how the Separatists decided to leave England. The Separatists, a group of Puritan Christians who wanted to see the reformed church in England go through further reform, were having to meet in secret, which was against the law in England. This led to their persecution and a number of members from the Scrooby congregation leaving England for Holland where there was a greater level of religious tolerance.
In 1607 the congregation from Scrooby, led by John Robinson, had travelled by foot the 60 miles to Boston and after being betrayed to the authorities by the captain of the ship they were going to escape on they spent a short time in the cells of Boston’s Guildhall. There is however no record of any convictions of offence. The second escape attempt wasn’t much more successful. Attempting to leave via the coastal town of Immingham in Lincolnshire, the Sepratists attempted to board a Dutch ship, Hoy. However, with the men aboard the ship the boat carrying the woman and children got stuck in the tidal mud. As they tried to free themselves a group of armed horseman came to seized them. The captain of the Hoy panicked and fled, leaving the woman and children to be captured and sent to prison.
Meanwhile the men on Hoy sailing to Holland were not having an easy time and were caught in a North Sea storm. The storm was so severe that even the crew came below board, leaving the ship to its fate. The ship was blown of course ending up near Norway. Eventually the men arrived in Holland. Back in England the woman and children were set free following protests by the locals and they later joined the men in Holland. William Brewster, who would become a senior colonist in North America, arrived in Holland in autumn 1608 with another future Mayflower passenger, John Robinson, following a few months later.
Initially the Separatists set up their new lives in Amsterdam. However, there was tension in the Separatist church with different factions falling out over matters of belief. In 1609 Brewster and Robinsion applied for residency in Leiden. They were welcomed in the religiously tolerant city and were able to find work there through their skills as textile workers. After a few years they were able to collect enough money to buy a building in the south-west area of Leiden near the Pieterskerk/St Peters Church. They used the building as accommodation and a meeting hall and built a row of single cottages for their poorer members, which became known as Engelse poort (English Alley) and dubbed by the locals as ‘Stink Alley’.
Along with their textile work, Brewster and Robinson a worked spreading their views, holding lectures and publishing respectively. Much of the Separatists literature made its way to England and Scotland when in 1618 he published De regimine Ecclesianae Scoticanae, a piece of work by Scottish minister David Calderwood. Due to the critical nature towards King James VI of Scotland and I of England and his government of the Kirk, King James ordered an international manhunt for the writer and publisher. Brewster and Calderwood went underground.
Furthermore, the religious tolerance that initially attracted them to Leiden began to trouble them. The Separatists disapproved of Leiden’s officials turning a blind eye to the presence of a small Catholic community as well as the city’s lax observance of Sabbath observations. In an attempt to counter this within their community they banned their youngsters marrying outside the congregation. This led the authorities to ban the Separatists from carrying out their own marriages. This led some of the Separatists to believe that they had fled one set of persecutions for another. At the same time there was a growing threat of war recommencing with Spain as the Twelve Year Truce was due to end in 1621.
This combination of factors led the Separatists to reconsider life in Leiden. England was not an option and so they looked further afield to North America. The search for a ship was on. Yet despite their growing dissatisfaction with Holland, their time in Leiden would influence their ideas about their future society. For example, they bought to civil marriage to America, which was a Dutch invention brought in to allow those outside the state church to be married.
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