What Do the Trials of Prynne, Bastwick and Hampden Reveal About Religious and Political Controversies

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The trials of Prynne, Bastwick and Burton, and Hampden reveal much about the religious and political controversies under Charles’ Personal Rule, the most significant arguably the Divine Right of Kings, a political and religious doctrine of royal absolutism. It asserts that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving his right to rule from God. Closely connected with this was the introduction and often imposition of the Laudian religious policy, which preached that the institution of Bishops was by jure divino. This was openly criticised by William Prynne, Henry Burton and John Bastwick. The determination of the king to enforce retribution on those who opposed religious reform is clearly illustrated by the punishments inflicted on these three puritan pamphleteers. Prosecutions in the Star Chamber invoked sympathy for the victims and unease towards the suspected tyrannical nature of royal authority. Historical interpretations of the trio’s trial, its purpose and significance vary. In F. S. Siebert’s opinion, Prynne’s case illustrated how, “early Stuart kings continued on their way, extending repressive measures as their efforts to convince by argument and exhoration failed.” From historian Anne Patterson’s perspective early modern English writers had to adapt to a political environment in which censorship prevented open political discourse. Charles and Laud, from this perspective, sacrificed “the power of illusion”so that they might “preserve the illusion of power.” She further argues that “by making Prynne a martyr, Charles took and irrevocable step toward civil war and a polarized culture.” She also perceives Prynne’s experience to serve as a sign “that codes governing sociopolitical communication had broken down, that one side or the other has broken the rules. Like Patterson, Kevin Sharpe recognizes the symbolic value of Prynne’s trial but not as a sign of disintegrating political regime. In depicting the reign of Charles I as a time of consensus...
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