From Puritanism to Dissent 1660 – 1700
by Anne Hitchcock
I have struggled with the term ‘dissent’. It has felt to me that it connotes so much more than just disagreement. In researching the word I found the following passage by John Spurr:
What happened to English puritanism and its culture after the puritan revolution? One clue to puritanism’s fate might lie in its change of name for, by the end of the century, those who had been called puritans were referred to as ‘dissenters’, a term which principally denoted their new legal status as dissidents from the re-established Church of England: ‘puritan’ was, as Bunyan observed, what ‘the godly were called in times past’.
Today the deconsecrated Dissenters Chapel in Andover town cemetery is the home of CAS (Chapel Arts Studios).
The history of later seventeenth-century puritanism was a product of external pressures — most notably the church settlement of 1662, recurrent persecution and then, finally, toleration in 1689 — and internal evolution. The English Revolution had splintered ‘the puritans’ into Presbyterians, Independents, Baptists, Fifth-Monarchy Men, Quakers, Ranters, Muggletonians, Familists and many more competing sects. Some of these continued the struggle of earlier puritans for a reformed national church, while others sought only their own religious liberty. After 1662, however, these disparate, hostile groups all found themselves subject to persecution, with surprising results: ‘its effect was to forge the corporate identity of dissent as all the parties in nonconformity shared together in the experience of exclusion and persecution they had hitherto in their history endured separately.’1 As we shall see, there is indeed evidence that these mutually antagonistic groups discovered a community of interest, but there is also evidence of variety, tension and indifference. Life ‘under the cross’ brought the usual problems attendant on persecution — suffering, evasion, compromise — and, for the historian, the difficulties of demarcating one group from another and of distinguishing degrees of nonconformity.
C. Durlston et al. (eds.), The Culture of English Puritanism, 1560-1700 Macmillan Publishers Ltd 1996 pp 234-256
I am particularly taken by the idea of all these disparate groups coming together under the single banner of ‘dissent’. They had so many different ideas and views. Similarly we should not see ‘dissent’ as just one thing. For us it is also many-faceted and will always carry an element of the individual, coloured by personal experience.