Hampton Court Conference

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Hampton Court Facts

The Hampton Court Conference was a meeting in January 1604, convened at Hampton Court Palace between King James I of England and representatives of the English Puritans. While the meeting was originally scheduled for November 1603, an outbreak of plague meant it was postponed until January. The conference was called in response to a series of requests for reform set down in the Millenary Petition by the Puritans, a document which supposedly contained the signatures of 1000 puritan ministers.

The conference was set out in two main parties by James, one party of Archbishop John Whitgift and 8 Bishops who represented the episcopacy, supported by eight deans and one archdeacon, and another party of four or five moderate Puritans. Many historians and contemporary religious radicals have speculated that James, after a consultation with Whitgift, had deliberately arranged to have moderate Puritan reformers attend the conference. The de facto leader of the Puritans was John Rainolds[1] (sometimes Reynolds), the president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. There were three meetings over a period of three days.

The first meeting

The conference set off with a meeting between James and his bishops about some of the Puritan complaints detailed in the Millenary Petition, particularly the complaints about the popish terms Absolution and Confirmation. The King, after ending his talks with the bishops, claimed he was "well satisfied", and declared that "the manner might be changed and some things cleared". Private baptism, especially when administered by women, would prove to be a more intense argument between James and his bishops, but James eventually persuaded them that only ministers should administer baptisms.

James then turned his attention to ecclesiastical discipline. Excommunication for "trifles and twelvepenny matters" was to be abolished, and the often hasty trial policies of the commissaries' court were to be reviewed and amended by the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice. For the Puritan complaint that punishment should be enforced by Christ's own institution, James held the view that bishops should not exercise ecclesiastical discipline solely, though he did not speak of any specific method that he would use to remedy this.

All in all, James was pleased, and had good reason to be, with the first meeting. Not only had he eloquently reached agreements on many of the Puritan demands, he also avoided any major arguments.

The aftermath

Soon after the conference, Archbishop John Whitgift died and the anti-Puritan Richard Bancroft, who had argued against the Puritans at Hampton Court, was appointed to the See of Canterbury, the King's fears led to demands that Puritan ministers adhere to each of the Thirty-Nine Articles.

But the Hampton Court Conference also bore fruit for the Puritans, who insisted that man know God's word without intermediaries, as it led to James's commissioning of that translation of the Christian Bible into the English vernacular, which would be known as the Authorised Version because it alone was authorised to be read in Churches. It is now commonly described as the King James Version. Crucially, the King broadened a base of support, which under his predecessor Elizabeth I had been narrowed through harsh anti-Catholic laws, through his moderate and inclusive approach to the problems of English religion; while alienating the more extreme Puritan and Catholic elements of English Christianity.


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