In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section English Puritans, Quakers, Dissenters, and Recusants

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Primary Sources and Anthologies
  • Collections of Papers
  • Data Sources
  • Journals

Renaissance and Reformation English Puritans, Quakers, Dissenters, and Recusants
Sarah Covington
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0218


The Elizabethan Settlement of 1559 formally reestablished the Church of England as a state institution defined by standardized forms of worship and obedience to the Queen as its supreme governor. A vocal opposition almost immediately emerged, however, with responses to the settlement ranging from wary conformity or assertive nonconformity on the part of Puritans to Catholic refusal to attend church (a decision known as recusancy) to the emergence of more extreme separatist groups, which would give rise to dissenters in the next century. The conflicting intentions and social identities of these groups, in addition to their connection to larger political developments, have made this one of the more tangled areas of English historiography, with puritanism bearing most of the burden. In the 19th century, for example, historians such as S. R. Gardiner equated puritanism with liberty and freedom; in the early 20th century, the sociologist Max Weber famously argued that modern capitalism was directly related to a Calvinist (and particularly English Calvinist) form of Christianity, with the Puritan divine Richard Baxter one of its foremost exponents. Such a view was criticized by, among others, Marxist historians such as Christopher Hill and Katherine George, who, nevertheless, imposed their own somewhat reified concepts onto nonmainstream groups. Recent years have witnessed such scholars as Patrick Collinson and Peter Lake exploring puritanism’s relation to the Elizabethan and early Stuart church and society, while David Como represents a new generation of historians, in this case focused on radicalism within the movement’s underground. This article attempts to encapsulate these trends, though its exclusive emphasis on English puritanism and nonconformity largely omits the important new transatlantic focus promoted by historians such as Francis Bremer, David D. Hall, and Michael P. Winship or, in the case of recusants, transcontinental perspectives. For such a perspective, see the Oxford Bibliographies in Atlantic History article Protestantism by Carla Gardina Pestana.

Reference Works

The following reference works provide useful guidance through the dense thicket of Puritan, dissenter, and recusant historiography, offering bibliographies as well as introductory articles. Coffey and Lim 2008 is a collection of essays by leading scholars ranging across the many facets of Puritan religion and politics, with Bremer and Webster 2006 constituting an exhaustive and thorough encyclopedia with references. Abbott, et al. 2012 is an updated edition of an equally thorough dictionary, in this case relating to Quakers.

  • Abbott, Margery Post, Mary Ellen Chijioke, Pink Dandelion, and John William Oliver, eds. Historical Dictionary of the Friends (Quakers). 2d ed. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2012.

    A useful and expanded edition with more than seven hundred entries together with an introductory essay, bibliography, and chronology. Contributions relate to significant and obscure historical figures as well as events, concepts, and other aspects illuminating Quaker history.

  • Bremer, Francis, and Tom Webster, eds. Puritans and Puritanism in Europe and America: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 2006.

    Contributions by some of the leading historians of puritanism on both sides of the Atlantic, with nearly seven hundred entries covering Puritan biographies, ideas, events, and issues; with glossary, primary sources, and a bibliography.

  • Coffey, John, and Paul Lim, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521860888

    A comprehensive and multidimensional treatment of the subject, with articles covering Puritan and dissenting theology, gender, popular culture, politics, war, and literature. Essays also explore puritanism beyond England, not only in America, but also in Ireland, Scotland, and elsewhere. With articles by Patrick Collinson, John Morrill, Tom Webster, Anthony Milton, Francis Bremer, and other leading scholars.

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