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The Puritan movement was a broad trend toward a militant, biblically based Calvinistic Protestantism -- with emphasis upon the "purification" of church and society of the remnants of "corrupt" and "unscriptural" "papist" ritual and dogma -- which developed within the late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Church of England. Puritanism first emerged as an organized force in England among elements -- Presbyterians, Independents, and Baptists, for example -- dissatisfied with the compromises inherent in the religious settlement carried out under Queen Elizabeth in 1559. They sought a complete reformation both of religious and of secular life, and advocated, in consequence, the attacks upon the Anglican establishment, the emphasis upon a disciplined, godly life, and the energetic evangelical activities which characterized their movement. The Presbyterian wing of the Puritan party was eventually defeated in Parliament, and after the suppression in 1583 of Nonconformist ministers, a minority moved to separate from the church and sought refuge first in the Netherlands and later in New England .

By the 1660s Puritanism was firmly established amongst the gentry and the emerging middle classes of southern and eastern England, and during the Civil Wars the Puritan "Roundheads" fought for the parliamentary cause and formed the backbone of Cromwell's forces during the Commonwealth period. After 1646, however, the Puritan emphasis upon individualism and the individual conscience made it impossible for the movement to form a national Presbyterian church, and by 1662, when the Anglican church was re-established, Puritanism had become a loose confederation of various Dissenting sects. The growing pressure for religious toleration within Britain itself was to a considerable degree a legacy of Puritanism, and its emphasis on self-discipline, individualism, responsibility, work, and asceticism was also an important influence upon the values and attitudes of the emerging middle classes.

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Last modified 1988; link last added 29 December 2009