- King Henry VIII converted England to a protestant nation causing deep divisions and conflict among Catholics and Protestants within England until the reign of Queen Elizabeth I who immutably established Protestantism.
- The Great Pilgrim Migration of 1620 – 1640 saw the migration of over twenty thousand Puritans leaving England to practice, according to them, their faith in truth without fear and to benefit from the economic opportunities in the New World.
- The Mayflower Compact was a covenant among the people in the Mayflower to establish pursue their Christian faith and jointly work for the progress of their society.
Protestant Reformation in England
The protestant reformation movement was at its peak in the fifteenth century calling for the church, which at the time was the Catholic Church, to reform and according to Martin Luther, to move from the authority and sole priesthood of the Pope to an authority based on scriptures and priesthood of all. In England, Henry VIII King from 1509 to 1547, married to Catherine of Aragon, had a daughter but desperately wanted the son, and heir to his throne. In 1534, he attempted to convince the Pope, to annul his marriage so that he could marry Anne Boleyn whom he believed world bore him a son. The Pope refused and Henry passed the Act of Succession and the Act of Supremacy. The Act of Supremacy acknowledged him as the only supreme head of the Church of England enabling him to give himself permission to divorce his wife. The Act of Succession compelled the people to take an oath, recognizing Anne Boleyn as his wife and his children as heirs to the throne and anyone who refused was guilty of treason.
Property, including land, ornaments and other objects held by the Catholic Church reverted to the crown and subsequently provided resources for improving the military. His successor King Edward VI governed England as a Protestant nation. Mary I after him reverted to Catholicism, re-introducing the authority of the Pope and other Catholic practices that the previous leaders disallowed and killed people who were openly Protestants. Elizabeth I reintroduced Protestantism, and in her approach, she aimed at decreasing the religious divisions in the Country. By the end of her reign in 1603, Protestantism was widely accepted in England.
The Great Pilgrim Migration (1620 – 1640)
As people embraced Protestantism, there emerged great scholars like John Calvin and subsequently divisions within the Protestant church as to the nature of worship and conduct of services. Puritans, as the name signify, called for a form of purification of the Protestant church with a complete removal of rituals and liturgies traces from the Catholic Church. They pursued the Calvinist theology, a development of Luther’s reformation ideals, which emphasized on justification by faith alone and the doctrine of predestination. Pilgrims were Puritans who wanted to separate themselves from the Church of England, which they thought would not be possible to reform and establish a community strict adherence to bible teachings. In 1625, King Charles I found Puritans in Parliament frustrating his rule. He dissolved Parliament to get rid of Puritans and they took this as persecution and fled to England, seeking religious freedom settling on the Plymouth and Massachusetts colony in 1620.
Originally, the had left England for the Virginia colony to settle near the Hudson River but landed on the shores of Cape Cod in present-day Massachusetts because of a storm over the Atlantic that almost wrecked their ship. The settlers named the area Plymouth Colony because the Mayflower had set sail from the port of Plymouth in England. In addition, there were those who had fled England around 1607 – 1608, for the Netherlands for religious freedom in the New World and were regarded as strangers.
The Mayflower Compact
When the Mayflower docked at Cape Cod, there were tensions and insistence from the strangers especially for release from their contracts, which according to them would only apply in Virginia. Notably, Companies had been given charters to establish colonies in a specific area for the benefit of the crown, transported colonists’ to the New World. In exchange, the colonists were required to work for the respective company until the recovery of their transportation cost. In order to control the discord and to ensure corporation of all, which was important for the survival of any colony upon establishment, the elites and the colonists made an agreement to be bound to a set of rules. This was, until such a time when the King would give another permission to settle in the new area. The agreement made in the ship has been subsequently called the Mayflower Compact.
The compact revealed two strong components over Pilgrims faith. The first was the concept of social contracts that would later be the basis of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke’s discourses on democracy and freedom. The underlying philosophy was that governments draw the legitimacy from the consents of the governed. The second concept was that covenants, which not only exists between God and man but also between man and man. Such covenants were common among the Purists in England when establishing new congregations.
The compact was not a detailed document but outlined five key principles. The first was at the colonists would maintain their loyalty to King James and secondly live according to the Christian faith. Thirdly, they agreed they want to create one society and jointly work to further it. Lastly, they agreed to develop other laws, ordinances, act, constitutions and offices for the good of the colony and all to abide by those laws.
The people elected John Carver as governor of the Plymouth Colony, who some historians identify as the drafter of the Compact. He served as a leader during the voyage and earlier on, had contributed to efforts for securing the financing for the Mayflower expedition. Half the Pilgrims including the governor died during the winter in the first year after settling in the Plymouth and it has been argued that the Compact was instrumental in building their resilience and commitment to each other through this rough time. William Bradford was the second governor of the Plymouth colony and under his leadership; the colony began to thrive, even with other governors, until 1961 when it Crown of England merged to Massachusetts Colony.