The Puritans and Pilgrims both stem from a Protestant movement in England in the 16th Century. In 1534, King Henry VIII sought an annulment of his marriage but his request is rejected by the pope. King Henry is not satisfied with this, and declares a new “Church of England” with himself as the head. During this period in English History, many civil and religious laws are at the whim of the monarchy. In 1553, Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII, becomes Queen and reinstates Catholicism as the religion of England. This begins the often bloody persecution of the numerous Protestants in the region.
The religious intolerance forces many people to flee England with some finding refuge in Calvinist Holland. Protestantism is already well established in some parts of Europe. This Reformation has been brought on by the teachings of Martin Luther and John Calvin. The simple teachings and practices of Calvinism are widely accepted by the English refugees in Holland, but the change to their English culture is not. When Queen Elizabeth I, a Protestant, is crowned in 1558, she reinstates the Church of England as the national religion.
Many of the English living in Holland see this as an opportunity to return to their homeland but they are unhappy to find that the complex rituals and splendid appointments of the Church of England are as lavish as they had been in the Catholic Church. As stated in the documentary Pilgrims and Puritans – The Struggle for Religious Freedom in England 1517-1692, “The returning Protestants approved of Elizabeth’s hard line against Catholicism, but the most devout among them wished to make the Church of England more like the reformed churches they had attended in Holland. The Puritans wished to cleanse the church of what they viewed as idolatry and overly complex rituals as well as do away with the church hierarchy. They felt the existing church could be simplified and reformed. A number of extremist Puritans feel the church was too corrupt to sufficiently convert and want to separate completely from the Church of England. These “Separatists,” as well as the Puritans press for change within the English Church until 1603 with the coronation of King James I. King James bans private religious practice and books except those used by the Anglican Church.
This religious intolerance from the new king forces the Puritans and Separatists into worshiping in illegal church services at private homes. Many Separatists do not wish to hide and in 1608 they leave for Holland. While now able to worship as they please, this arrangement also proves to be less than ideal due to the slow erosion of their English heritage. The Separatists begin making plans for a pilgrimage to the English colony of Virginia. In 1620, after finalizing their charter and returning to England, the Mayflower leaves for the Americas. The Mayflower does not arrive in Virginia however.
The “Pilgrims” land in New England and, after a survey of the coastline, decide to make Plymouth their home. In 1625, King Charles I takes the throne in England. His intolerance of Puritans is as oppressive as that of his father, King James. The desire of England’s remaining Puritans to reform the church begins to dwindle and in 1629 another charter is issued for the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Settlement begins in 1630, ten years after the establishment of Plymouth. This becomes the first, large Puritan settlement in the New World.
In summation, the Puritans and the Pilgrims have a shared history stemming from a dislike of the Catholic Church. While both are devout in their religious convictions, they have different ideas on what is necessary to purify their church. The Separatists, while a part of the Puritan movement, become known as the Pilgrims and feel that complete separation from the Anglican Church is needed to properly purify it. This segregationist approach expedites their departure from England and results in the establishment of their colony in the Americas prior to that of their Puritan brethren.