John Bruen (1560–1625) was an English Puritan layman, celebrated in his time for piety. In his youth he was the spoiled son of a very wealthy man. On the death of his father in 1587, Bruen's character changed completely. Thenceforth, Bruen was up every day at 3 or 4 a.m. and engaged in prayer and Bible study. Bruen prayed and read the Bible seven times each day. He destroyed his backgammon table by pitching it forcefully into the fireplace. He marred his deck of cards by tearing up the jacks (which were vital to play the local version of "Noddy") and proclaimed games to be the work of the devil and an idle mind. He made it a point to walk the one mile to church each Sunday, gathering the tenants of his properties and arriving in a large cluster for service. His charitable works were notable: he offered the homeless a place to sleep within his own home, the wool of his sheep provided clothing for the poor, the mutton their food. Corn from his fields fed those who came to his door for comfort.
However there was another side to Bruen. In the winter of 1613 seventeen of Bruen's students and servants were arrested for destroying roadside crosses in Cheshire. Seven of the vandals appeared before the Star Chamber in London. The outcome of the trial resulted in a 500 pound fine, an expense that Bruen covered for his followers. While those charged with the crime denied Bruen’s involvement, it was clear to all that the event was planned at one of his conventicles at Stapleford Hall. According to a complaint by John Savage (Lord of the Manor of Tarvin) in the Star Chamber records, these included four ancient crosses of squared stone eight feet high, one in Delamere Forest, another in Tarvin, another at Christleton, and Ecclestone Cross:
- "All of them beyond the memory of man, boundaries of townships and estates, and were also good direction points for travellers, and places appointed for the payment of certain rents, and for other lawful meetings".
According to other records, there were three other crosses destroyed (or damaged) in the same way in the churchyards of Barrow, Eccleston and Christleton. The Barrow cross possibly partly survives as the column of a sundial in St. Bartholomew's Churchyard. It apparently was Bruen himself, together with John Eaton & Hugh Jones who broke down “Viccars Crosse” (see: Vicar's Cross) and Christleton Churchyard Cross on Ascension Eve 1613. One of the crosses was restored in 2018.
The principal source for Bruen’s life and the foremost reason why he has been accorded such significance is the contemporary biography by William Hinde (1568/9–1629), curate in the parish of Bunbury, and Bruen’s brother-in-law. This was published posthumously in 1641 by Hinde’s son, Samuel, himself a clergyman. Whether the text had been mislaid, simply overlooked, initially under-valued, or held back during the intervening twelve years is not clear. However, 1641, the date chosen for its eventual publication, was significant in various ways, especially when seen in the wider context of events in Cheshire and elsewhere: including events which were to lead to the Civil War. Hinde's account of Bruen's life cannot be taken as an unbiased and isolated account.
Puritanism in Chester
"Puritanism" is difficult to define precisely - there was no centralised Puritan church, denomination or organisation. The term "Puritan" is in many ways akin to the term "Fundamentalist": it refers to views and beliefs rather than an organisation. Puritans were dissatisfied with what they saw as the limited extent of the English Reformation and with the Church of England's toleration of certain "Popish" practices associated with the Roman Catholic Church. Originally, "Puritan" was a pejorative term characterizing certain Protestant groups as extremist: in 1564. Archbishop Matthew Parker used it (and "precisian") with a sense similar to the modern "stickler". Puritans wanted: no "foreign" or "Popish" practices, preaching rather than ceremony, no church heirarchy, a church run by the people and the Bible as the source of all truth - often interpreting it in extreme ways. In such extreme cases they had narrow and severe interpretations of their beliefs, were highly intollerant of anyone who believed otherwise, condemned heresy (which included catholicism), any sports on a Sunday and frowned upon singing in church.
Puritans had no objection to making money: the rise of middle-class trade occurred chiefly among Protestants, who viewed money as a gift from God but also believed in being industrious. A monk's vow of poverty was seen as:
- "madness, a superstitious and wicked presumption, being that they sell this poverty for a work of perfection … which will much prevail for satisfaction and merit before God".
Growth of Puritainism in Chester
Following the English Reformation "enthusiastic" protestantism developed only slowly in late Tudor Chester. The City at first contained no notable protestant laymen, and overseas trade was not with ports where protestantism was entrenched. However, grow it did. Cheshire at the time still retained many of the institutions, social structures and traditions of the Palatinate and was largely used to a high degree of local independence. Henry VIII had become Earl of Chester with the death of his brother Arthur, but took little interest in the city and the county. Power initially lay with the local gentry, for example the Dutton's and the Brereton's and there was effectively a break in the continuity of the Earls of Chester. This coincided with the Reformation and contributed to an intellectual and spiritual space in which extremism could eventually develop.
The entanglement between local administration and local religion is illustrated by the close ties between the Pentice, an important administrative centre, and St Peter. Physically, the Pentice was housed in a lean-to building against the frontage of St Peter. The parish of St Peter was always entirely intramural and had complex boundaries, reflecting it's close links with the early burgess. The absentee rectors between the Reformation and the Civil War provided curates who by the 1590s were unlicensed and generally unsatisfactory.
During the 1560s and 1570s there were attempts to promote "good behaviour" in church and some agitation against the Chester Mystery Plays, but the turning point came only in the 1580s, when Bishop William Chadderton (1579-95) established monthly exercises, dominated by puritans, and encouraged clergy to attend. Among the participants was the Revd. Christopher Goodman, who had returned to Chester in 1571 and soon gathered influential support among the laity. Goodman was to be the driving force behind the banning of the Chester Mystery Plays in 1575. Active at the Cathedral at the same time were Prebendary John Nutter as a preacher (who's religious views swung from one extreme to the other depending on the best way to make money and whose family would later provide one of the Pendle "witches", Alice Nutter) and Thomas Hitchens as a lecturer.
In 1583 the corporation established a weekly Friday lecture at St Peter's, which became a centre of puritan preaching. After Goodman associated himself with St Bridget's it too displayed puritan leanings, and in other parishes, Holy Trinity for example, there were complaints about incumbents who failed to preach regularly. The growing attachment to puritan teachings was both reflected in, and encouraged by, the Corporation's eventual concern with personal behaviour, and civil obedience. It repeatedly attempted to curb excessive drinking and vice, attacking "church ales", "Welsh weddings", unlawful games, bowling, football, and bull and bear baiting. A short piece printed in the Manchester Times in 1870 quoted from Jefferson's Book about the Clergy and described the "church ale":
- Of the Church-ale, often called the Whitsun-ale, from being generally held at Whitsuntide, it is necessary to speak at greater length, for it is a far more important institution than the bid-ale or clerk-ale. The ordinary official givers of the church-ale were two wardens who, after collecting subscriptions in money or kind from every one of their fairly well-to-do parishioners, provided a revel that not infrequently passed the wake in costliness and diversity of amusements. The board, at which everyone received a welcome who could pay for his entertainment, was loaded with good cheer; and after the feasters had eaten and drunk to contentment, if not to excess, they took part in sport on the turf of the churchyard, or on the sward of the village green. The athletes of the parish distinguished themselves in wrestling, boxing, quoit throwing; the children cheered the mummers and the morris dancers; and round a maypole decorated with ribbons, the lads and lasses plied their nimble feet to the music of the fifes, bagpipes, drums and fiddles. When they had wearied themselves by exercise, the revellers returned to the replenished board; and not seldom the feast, designed to begin and end in a day, was protracted into a demoralising debauch of a week's or even a month's duration. The Manchester Times (26 February 1870)
In 1583 the authorities banned Sunday trading and exhorted Cestrians to attend church whenever sermons were preached and twice on Sundays and holy days; the Corporation set an example by attending services with due formality - mostly at St Peter's. Opposition to Mayor Henry Hardware's interference with the Midsummer Watch Parade in 1600, however, suggests that the citizens' enthusiasm for high-minded reforms did have limits. From 1610 to 1612 successive mayors ordered strict observance of the Sabbath, encouraged the corporation to attend sermons at St. Peter's, and took control of the races on St. George's Day in order to prevent misbehaviour. A distinctive lay puritan temper thus steadily developed before 1620, and it was not effectively countered by openly conservative opinion or by outright recusancy.
Clerical support for puritanism in Chester is not easy to measure. William Barlow, dean at the Cathedral in 1603-5, was a prominent and strongly anti-puritan member of the Hampton Court conference in 1604, but Bishop Richard Vaughan (1597-1604) sympathized with many puritan opinions. The next bishop, George Lloyd (1604-15), a former divinity lecturer at the Cathedral, was an active preacher and apparently a moderate who tolerated puritan clergy in Chester. Lloyd's portrain hangs in the "Puritan Room" at the Grosvenor Museum and his supposed residence, Bishop Lloyd's House, still exists in Watergate Street, but has been much altered over the years.
His successor, Thomas Morton (1616-19), however, was of firmly Anglican views and pressed the puritans to conform. His task was made more difficult by the ministrations of Nicholas Byfield, a Calvinist polemicist and a powerful preacher, who was rector of St. Peter's 1608-15, where his congregation included the well known puritan gentleman John Bruen of Bruen Stapleford, a supporter of private prayer meetings in the parish. Byfield was educated at Exeter College, Oxford, but did not emerge with a degree. He intended to exercise his ministry in Ireland; but on his way there he preached at Chester, and was prevailed on to remain as one of the city preachers, without cure.
Morton's successor was Bishop Bridgeman (1619-1652) who was at first lenient towards puritans but initialised suspensions against the puritans Thomas Paget, John Angier and Samuel Eaton. Paget was later exiled to Amsterdam (where he lived off the profits of his family slave-trading). Angier was twice excommunicated. Easton, from Crowley near Great Budworth, eventually fled to New England. By the late 1630s, Puritans were in alliance with the growing commercial world, with the parliamentary opposition to the royal prerogative, and with the Scottish Presbyterians with whom they had much in common.
In many ways the problems started with the Reformation. The church was previously wealthy, which was why Henry VIII stripped it's lands and other property. These were sold to the gentry. By the 1630's most churches in England were plain and undecorated, and most services were simple. Land was in the hands of the gentry. Archbishop William Laud became concerned that most people found the services dull, so he promoted robes, statues and stained glass. Many ordinary people, nobles and gentry approved of these measures. However, there were opponents: local lords and gentry did not want to give lands back to the church. They also disliked clergy being given important jobs in the government instead of them. The loudest critics of all were the Puritans, who believed that services should be even simpler. The Puritans were a small minority, but they were powerful and influential. Most came from the gentry or merchant class. They were usually well educated and successful in business.
Another member of the puritan clergy in Chester was John Ley, an active pamphleteer, a prebendary by 1627, and later subdean at the Cathedral, who was appointed city preacher at St. Peter's in 1630. Ley was on good terms with Bridgeman and James Ussher, archbishop of Armagh, and was himself a moderate reformer, though a strong Sabbatarian whose sermons in defence of Byfield's teachings led to his temporary removal from the lectureship. Ley had three close allies: John Glendal, chosen and paid by the parishioners of St. Peter's as a stipendiary preacher; John Bruen's nephew Nathaniel Lancaster, a follower of Byfield and another lecturer at St Peter's who also preached at St Michael's and St Olave's; and Nicholas Conney, divinity lecturer at the Cathedral, vicar of both St Johns and (after 1634) St Oswald's.
John Bruen (1560–1625) was the son of a Cheshire squire of Bruen Stapleford; the elder John Bruen was three time married. His union with Anne, the sister of Sir John Done, was childless, but his second wife brought him fourteen children, of whom Katharine, afterwards the wife of William Brettargh, and John, who, although not the eldest born, became by survivorship his heir, were noted for the fervour of their Puritanism. The Bruen family of Stapleford first emerge in the 13thCent when Robert le Brun is named on a deed of 1230, but seem to have had little impact on history until the 16th Century.
When John Bruen was young he was sent to live with his uncle Dutton, where for three years he was taught by the schoolmaster James Roe. The Dutton family had by charter the control of the minstrels of the county and traditionally held the Minstrel Court in Chester. Young Bruen became an expert dancer. He wrote:
- "At that time, the holy Sabbaths of the Lord were wholly spent, in all places about us, in May-games and May-poles, pipings and dancings, for it was a rare thing to hear of a preacher, or to have one sermon in a year."
Hinde gives a slightly different slant on Bruen's youth, and paints him as a virtuous character who shunned:
- "the common and cursed sins of the time as base lying, wanton and wicked swearing, rioting and revelling, drinking and gaming, or that fleshly sin of fornication with which so many of our young gentlemen have now blasted the beauty and glory of their youth, blemished their names, polluted their souls and defiled their bodies"
When about seventeen John Bruen and his brother Thomas were sent as gentlemen-commoners to "St. Alban Hall", Oxford (later Merton College), where they stayed about two years. He left the university in 1579, and in the following year is said to have been married by his parents to Elizabeth (d. January 1595), a daughter of Henry Hardware, who had been twice mayor of Chester (1559/60 and 1575/6), and whose son (Henry Hardware II) was to become famous for his disruption (in 1599-1600) of traditional activities such as the Midsummer Watch Parade. Bruen at this time hunted, and with Ralph Done kept fourteen couple of hounds. Richardson, one of the principal commentators on Bruen states that:
- He returned home at his father’s bidding to enter an arranged marriage with a young widow, Elizabeth Cowper, whose father was one of the aldermanic elite of Chester, and a Puritan reformer noted for the suppression of the medieval mystery plays in the city.
This statement is seemingly problematic given the date of 1580, the Chester Mystery Plays were suppressed in the the 1560's and 70's, but there is little evidence that any Cowper was involved in the suppression of the plays. However it becomes clearer with reference to Bruen's funeral certificate, which identifies his wife as the window of Cowper and actually the daughter of the first Henry Hardware. That would possibly make Elizabeth the widow of the John Cowper who tried to rescue Protestant George Marsh when he was about to be burnt at St Giles Cemetery. Also, there is no evidence of any puritan sentiment on the part of this Henry Hardware I, who appears from Ormerod to have retired to Tarvin where he died in 1584. There is a 1584 brass of him in Tarvin's St Andrew's church.
On the death of his father in 1587 his means were reduced; he cast off his "great-mouthed dogs", killed the game, and disparked the land. Just why he had this sudden change of character is not clear.
The record now gets somewhat confusing. His first wife died suddenly, and after a time he married the "very amiable and beautiful" Ann Foxe (c.1544-1606), whom "he first met at a religious meeting in Manchester". According to George Ormerod's history of Cheshire Anne was the daughter of John Fox. Her children were: Katherine baptized Feb 7 1601, Abigail Apr 3 1603 buried Apr 26 1603, Jonathan Jan 6 1605 buried Jan 13 1605, Obadiah Dec 25 1606, Samuel, Joseph, Margaret Dec 8 1616, and another unknown child. If the last four children are accurate, Anne would have died after 1616, not in 1606. It seems much more likely, given that Ann appears to have been buried on the 29th December 1606 (shortly after the birth of Obidaiah) that the later children were those of Bruen and his third wife. Anne was buried at Tarvin.
Many sources cite Anne as the daughter of John Foxe (1516/17 – 18 April 1587) the author of "Actes and Monuments" (popularly known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs), an account of Christian martyrs throughout Western history, but which particularly emphasises the sufferings of English Protestants and proto-Protestants from the 14th century and throughout the reign of Mary I. Widely owned and read by English Puritans, the book helped to mould British popular opinion about the Catholic Church for several centuries. Unfortunately, Anne was not the daughter of John Foxe of the Book of Martyrs, but the daughter of John Fox of Pilkington, Lancashire (Chetham Society, 54: 113). The historical truth appears to have been corrupted by those seeking to place Bruen on a higher pedestal than he perhaps deserves.
For a year John and Anne dwelt at her mother's house at Rhodes, near Manchester. He then returned to Stapleford, and again his house "became the abode of many scions of gentility". Bruen's second wife supposedly died after ten years of married life, and the widower "broke up his household with its twenty-one boarders and retired to Chester, where he cleared the debt of his estate, saw some of his children settled, and maintained the poor of his parish by the produce of two mills in Stapleford, whither he returned with his third wife, Margaret". Margaret (Allen) and John's marriage licence was issued 13th May 1612, so John's activity in smashing up crosses dates from the time of his third marriage, when he had returned to Stapleford. Margaret was the daughter of John Allen of Chester (died 1610) and the widow of John Rutter of Nantwich (died 1610). Allen may have been sheriff of Chester in 1574-5. Nicholas Byfield would have been preaching in Chester when Bruen was living in the city. Byfield wrote a vast amount, but little if anything in his work suggests iconoclastic activity - he seems mostly concerned with death, perhaps because for the last 15 years of his life (from about 1607 onwards) he was in severe pain from a bladder or kidney stone. Byfield's son Adoniram Byfield may have been born in Chester.
Bruen's children were brought up strictly, and his choice of servants "fell upon the sober and pious". One of these, Robert Pashfield, or 'Old Robert,' though unable to read or write, had acquired so exact a knowledge of the Bible, that he "could almost always tell the book and chapter where any particular sentence was to be found". The old man apparently had a "leathern girdle", which served him as a memoria technica, and was "marked into portions for the several books of the Bible, and with points and knots for the smaller divisions". It is not clear from descriptions whether the "points" were on the outside of the "girdle", or on the inside as in a Cilice - although mortification of the flesh might well have been considered a "Popish" practice by the puritans.
According to his biographer Hinde, Bruen in summer rose between three and four in the morning, and in winter at five, praying for a while before waking the rest of the household with a bell at six. He read prayers to the household twice a day. His own personal seasons for prayer were seven times daily. On the Sunday "he walked from his house, a mile distant, to the church, and was followed by the greater part of his servants, and called upon such of his tenants as lived on the way, so that when he reached the church it was at the head of a procession". His entourage rarely went home to dinner after morning prayers, but remained in the church untill after the evening service, spending their time reading sermons which had been written down. He maintained a preacher (with pulpit) at his own house, and afterwards for the parish. According to his biographer, Bruen's house became celebrated, and a number of "gentlemen of rank became desirous of sojourning under his roof for their better information in the way of God, and the more effectual reclaiming of themselves and their families". William Perkins (1558–1602), a puritan theologian, called Bruen Stapleford, "for the practice and power of religion, the very topsail of all England".
According to his biographer, John Bruen had "an implicit belief in special providences" (extraordinary "divine intervention"), "judgments", witchcraft, &c. He kept a hospitable house, and was kind and charitable to the poor of his neighbourhood and of Chester. He refused to drink healths even at the high sheriff's feast. Towards the end of his life his prayers were twice accompanied by "ravishing sights". He died after an illness, which was seen to be mortal, in 1625, at the age of 65. Parts of this seems like the creation of a legend after his death.
Bruen's Funeral Certificate, produced by Randle Holme reads:
- John Bruen of Bruen Stableford, in the County of Chester, Esquier, departed this mortall life the 18 January 1625[-6], at his hall of Bruen Stableford, and was buried in Tarvin Church, in the County aforsayd. He married 3 wives: the first was Elizabeth, da. to Henry Hardware of Chester, Alderman and Justice of the Peace, after of Peele Co. Cest, the relict of Jo. Couper, of Chester, Alderman, and by her had yssue Gilbert, who dyed yonge; John, second sonne and heyre, of the age of 42 yeares or there about at tyme of his father's death; he married Judeth, daughter of John Amyas of Stotisdon, in the County of Salop, Esqr, and by her hath yssue Jonathan Bruen, of the age of 15 at his grandfather's decease, Sarah, and Mary. Henry, 2 sonn to the defunct, dyed yonge. Caluen Bruenof Chester, 3 sonne to the defunct, married Elizabeth, daughter to Rafe Littler of Walescot, in the County of Chester, gent., and hath issue Johnand Samuell Bruen; Anne, eldest daughter to the defunct by the firstwife, married Edward Puliston of Arlington, in the County of Denbigh, Esq., and hath no yssue; 21y she married Robert Santhy of Burton, and had Samuell, John Nathaniell, and Margret. "Elizabeth, 2 daughter to the defunct married George Mainwaring of Calvely, in the County of Chester, gentleman. "The sayd defunct married to his 2 wife, Anne, daughter to Willm Fox of Rodes, in the County of Lancaster, and hath yssue Samuell, Obadiah, and Kathrine Bruen, all unmarried. "The sayd defunct married to his 3 wife Margret, daughter to John Allen of Chester, draper, somtyme sheriff of Chester, and widow of John Rutterof Nantwich, gent., by whom he had Joseph Bruen, now living, and 10 yearsold at his father's death, and other dyed yonge. "This certificate was taken at Bruen Stableford aforesayd by Randle Holme of the Citty of Chester, Alderman and Deputy to the Office of Armes, upon the 20th day of November, 1637 and testified under the hand of John Bruen of Bruen Stableford, Esq., sonne and heire to ye defunct, being 12 years and more after the death of the sayd John Bruen
Iconoclasm (Eikonoklasmos, "Image-breaking") is here used as the social belief in the importance of the destruction of icons and other images or monuments, most frequently for religious or political reasons. During the sixteenth century England experienced iconoclasm on an unprecedented scale. The largely state-sponsored destruction affected every community as parish churches and cathedrals were stripped of their religious images. Under Henry VIII church images were mostly still permitted but the government of boy-king Edward VI in the mid-sixteenth century was more radical. A regime of systematic iconoclasm was implemented. Orders were given to "utterly extinct and destroy" images "so that there remain no memory of the same". Religious images were accordingly removed, defaced, whitewashed or obliterated to prevent people’s engagement with them. The result was a comprehensive dismantling and eradication of centuries-worth of medieval art and religious and cultural tradition - a huge loss to those who look back to the thought and culture of the past, whether they are of any particular religion or not.
To the Puritans, divine law as laid down in scripture, above all in the ten commandments, prohibited "false worship", everything that represented or smacked of idols, and the idol-service of banned or banished images. Their view was that objects and forms of behaviour that contravened the Decalogue prohibitions against "serving other gods or worshiping images", must be done away with. A cross on a church steeple, as much as a husband telling his wife "I thee worship", both came to seem, to the purest of the purifiers, contraventions of that law. In 1614, Ben Johnson (c.11 June 1572 – c.16 August 1637) would parody this with his character "Zeal-of-the-land Busy" who smashes the wares of a woman selling ginger-bread men as "merchandise of Babylon" in his comedic satire Bartholomew Fair. Busy is a former baker from Banbury - where local people famously pulled down a market cross in 1602 - who has given up his occupation because "those cakes he made were served to bride-ales, maypoles, morrises, and such profane feasts and meetings".
Bruen removed the stained glass in Tarvin Church, and defaced the sculptured images found there. He started with the family chapel and later extended his "purge" to the whole church. He suppressed the revels at Tarvin's St Andrew's day and persuaded the Duttons to change the minstrel licences (handed-out at the Minstrel Court) to ban playing on the sabbath. As biographer Hinde writes:
- "Popery and Profanity, two sisters in Evil, had consented and conspired in this parish, as in many other places, together to advance their Idols against the Ark of God, and to celebrate their solemne feasts of their Popish Sainsts, as being the Dii Tutelares, the special Patrons and Protectors of their Church and Parish, by their WAKES and VIGILS, kept in commemoration and honour of them, in all RIOT and EXCESS of eating and drinking, dalliance and dancing, sporting and gaming, and other abominable impieties and idolatries."
During the English Civil War, Bishop Joseph Hall of Norwich described the events of 1643 when troops and citizens, encouraged by a Parliamentary ordinance against superstition and idolatry, behaved thus:
- Lord what work was here! What clattering of glasses! What beating down of walls! What tearing up of monuments! What pulling down of seats! What wresting out of irons and brass from the windows! What defacing of arms! What demolishing of curious stonework! What tooting and piping upon organ pipes! And what a hideous triumph in the market-place before all the country, when all the mangled organ pipes, vestments, both copes and surplices, together with the leaden cross which had newly been sawn down from the Green-yard pulpit and the service-books and singing books that could be carried to the fire in the public market-place were heaped together.
The High Cross in Chester had served as a rallying point for the Royalist citizens, but after their eventual surrender to Parliamentary forces at the end of the siege in 1646, it was feared they would destroy it, the iconoclastic ordinance of 1643 having called for the "utter demolishing of all monuments of superstition and idolatry". Parliament's order of 1641 for the removal and abolition of idolatrous images had been limited to the interior of places of public worship, and crosses had not been cited as offending objects. In August 1643 - three months after Cheapside Cross had been pulled down - the Commons ordered that plain crosses were to be demolished in 'any open place', whether religious or non-religious sites. After their surrender, the citizens had received reassurances that "no church within the city, evidences or writings belonging to the same shall be defaced" and assumed this also applied to the Cross. They were wrong, and it was demolished in 1646.
- We are now fairly arrived at the High Cross and close to the spot where that sacred emblem of the faith in old time stood This ancient landmark which was of stone and elaborately carved had for centuries ornamented this part of the city and was a relic much and deservedly prized by the citizens The Puritans however on obtaining possession of the city in 1646 with their characteristic abhorrence of the beautiful and in direct breach of the articles of surrender demolished this fayre crosse No cross no crown was in a perverted sense the motto of these fanatics whose organs of destructiveness must beyond doubt have been largely developed Some fragments of the Cross were picked up at the time and hidden within the porch of St Peter's Church hard by where a century or so afterwards they were discovered and now ornament the grounds of Netherlegh House near this city.
In the Civil War, because of its proximity to Chester, Tarvin did not escape. The village changed hands several times before Tarvin remained in Parliamentary hands until the end of the war. The original St Andrew's church on the site was built in the 12th century. It was remodelled in the 14th century and the south wall and south arcade date from this time. The remainder of the church was rebuilt in the 15th century and the chancel was restored in the 18th century. The church is said to show signs of its part in the battles: with cannonball and musketball holes in the wall of the church tower next to the west door. It has been said that prisoners were shot against this wall, which explains some of the bullet holes. The church was also used as a refuge by soldiers and the tower was probably used as a lookout post. A broken Anglo-Saxon cross head, which dates from the 10th to 11th Century was discovered in a 17th Century ditch during excavations in 2006. It is now exhibited at St Andrew's. It may well be one of the crosses broken up by Bruen.
William Prynne (1600 – 24 October 1669) was an English lawyer, author, polemicist, and political figure. He was a prominent Puritan opponent of the church policy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud. In theology, Laud was accused of being an Arminian and opponent of Calvinism, as well as covertly favouring Roman Catholic doctrines. On all three grounds, Laud was regarded by Puritan clerics and laymen as a formidable and dangerous opponent. Like many Puritans abhorring decadent celebrations, Prynne was strongly opposed to religious feast days, including Christmas, and revelry such as stage plays. He wrote:
- "Our Christmas lords of misrule, together with dancing, masks, mummeries, state players, and such other Christmas disorders, now in use with Christians, were derived from these Roman Saturnalia and Bacchanalian festivals, which should cause all pious Christians eternally to abominate them."
After arguing that the custom of drinking healths was sinful, he asserted that for men to wear their hair long was "unseemly and unlawful unto Christians", while it was "mannish, unnatural, impudent, and unchristian" for women to cut it short.
On 31 May 1630 Prynne obtained a licence to print his book against stage-plays, and about November 1632 it was published. "Histriomastix" or, as it was otherwise known, "A whip for stage-players" - a volume of over a thousand pages, showing that plays were unlawful, incentives to immorality, and condemned by the scriptures, Church Fathers, modern Christian writers, and pagan philosophers. By chance, the queen and her ladies, in January 1633, took part in the performance of Walter Montagu's "The Shepherd's Paradise": this was an innovation at court. A passage reflecting on the character of female actors in general was construed as an aspersion on the queen; passages which attacked the spectators of plays and magistrates who failed to suppress them, pointed by references to Nero and other tyrants, were taken as attacks on the king, Charles I.
William Noy as attorney-general instituted proceedings against Prynne in the Star-chamber. After a year's imprisonment in the Tower of London, he was sentenced (17 February 1634) to be imprisoned during life, to be fined £5,000, to be expelled from Lincoln's Inn, to be deprived of his degree by the University of Oxford, and to lose parts of both his ears in the pillory. Prynne was pilloried on 7 May and 10 May. Some of the judges outbid each other in suggesting refinements or additions to Prynne’s punishment. Lord Dorset urged greater violence against Prynne’s body, to have him "branded in the forehead, slit in the nose, and his ears cropped too", so that he could not hide his disfigurement with a periwig. Others suggested that the author and printer should be pilloried in St Paul’s churchyard, as a warning to the London book trade, but Archbishop Laud vetoed this as misuse of a consecrated place. King Charles, it seems, was content with Prynne’s treatment, though Henrietta Maria had made some intercessions for mercy and pardon. William Noy, the Attorney General, was said to have laughed so hard while Prynne was suffering on the pillory that he was:
- "..struck with an issue of blood in his privy part, which by all art of man could never be stopped unto the day of his death, which was not long after"
Prynne could not later resist telling this story, which could be read as a providential judgement.
On 11 June he addressed to Archbishop Laud, whom he regarded as his chief persecutor, a letter charging him with illegality and injustice. Laud handed the letter to the attorney-general as material for a new prosecution, but when Prynne was required to own his handwriting, he contrived to get hold of the letter and tore it to pieces. In the Tower Prynne wrote and published anonymous tracts against episcopacy and against the Book of Sports. In one he introduced Noy's recent death as a warning. Elsewhere he attacked prelates in general (1635). An anonymous attack on Matthew Wren, bishop of Norwich brought him again before the Star-chamber. On 14 June 1637 Prynne was sentenced once more to a fine of £5,000, to imprisonment for life, and to lose the remaining stumps of his ears. At the proposal of Chief-justice John Finch he was also to be branded on the cheeks with the letters S. L., signifying 'seditious libeller'. Prynne was pilloried for the third time on 30 June in company with Henry Burton and John Bastwick, and Prynne was "handled barbarously by the executioner". He made, as he returned to his prison, a couple of Latin verses explaining the 'S. L.' with which he was branded to mean 'stigmata laudis' ("sign of praise", or "sign of Laud").
Calvin (Calvyn) Bruen, a mercer of Chester (and sheriff 1635-6), was one son of John Bruen and his first wife, Elizabeth. He was born in c.1591/2, christened 7 Jan 1592 in St. Andrew, Tarvin. When John Bruen died in 1825 Calvin took over as a leader of the puritans at Chester. Ormerod, in his " History of Cheshire," writes that:
- "Tarvin was for a long time after John Bruen's death, the seat of Puritanism, and that his son, Calvin Bruen, was brought into trouble on account of his attention to the famous Mr. Prynne, when conveyed through Chester to the castle of Caernarvon."
Prynne was moved through Chester in the summer of 1637, on his way to a more isolated prision at Caernarvon Castle. The men of Chester supposedly cheered him on his way and even helped him with a shopping trip to equip his Welsh prison with furniture and bedding. The state of the road from Chester into Wales (and the laxity of the jailers) may be gathered from the fact, as reported by Hanshall that when:
- Maister Prynne went through Chester to Carnarvon Castle to be imprisoned there it is recorded When he departed out of Chester none of his conductors knowing the way some three or four of his friends conducted them over the washes at Saltney, which are dangerous, and brought him onwards some three or four miles.
In an article for the Chester Historical society Cannon Bloomfield sheds some further light on Prynne's activities in Chester:
- "In the course of their walk they brought Prynne to the house of Alderman Aldersey, who seems to havebeen a leading man in the city, and was mayor twoyears afterwards. There they found not, as it appears, thealderman himself; or, if he were there, he was quite second in consideration to his wife, whom they found in her parlour sitting with a small coterie of female gossips, and enjoying a bottle of wine. She vows, in her defence before the Bishop, that it was only a pint, but it was probably, like her politics, of liberal measure; and they were, she admits too, only a party of females making themselves jolly. Of course she invited the visitors, who dropped in quite accidentally, as she affirms (but, as the Bishop thinks, by express invitation), to take a glass, and Mr. Prynne and his two friends sat down and were jolly like the rest; interlarding their merry gossip, no doubt, with occasional abuse of the bishops and the church, and adding some spiritual salt to give it a becoming character."
Bruen was accused of engaging in prayer with Prynne and employing an artist, Thomas Pulford, to sketch him. Chester's Bishop Bridgeman informed on Calvin to Archbishop Laud and Bruen was imprisoned and fined. Hemingway writes, in his "Panorama":
- In the year 1636 the celebrated William Prynne, who, by his hostility to the hierarchy and the measures of government, had incurred the hatred of the court, and become popular through the country by the severe persesecution of the star chamber, was conveyed through Chester, on his way to Carnarvon, to be imprisoned in the castle there. On his approach to the city, he was met by numbers, who had imbibed like sentiments with himself, and who testified towards him the most unmeasured sympathy and approbation. This conduct was narrowly watched, and eagerly represented by the emissaries of the court, and some were fined £500 some £300 and others £250.
Calvin was only released after making a public confession both in the Cathedral (17th December 1637) and in the Commonhall in Chester, of how he had behaved "audaciously and wickedly". The sketches of Prynne were destroyed by the authorities in Chester. In order to destroy any trace of the sketches the now-empty frame were ceremoniously burned at the High Cross on 12th December 1637 - before (it is said) a large crowd shouting "burn them! burn them!". As Prynne himself put it:
- "these High Commissioners not satisfied with the defacing of the pictures, would needs proceed to burn them for heretics; and since they could not burn Mr. Prynne in person as they desired, being then on the sea sailing to Jersey, they would do it at least by effigy; and to show the extravagance of their unlimited malice, not only the pictures but the very frames wherein they stood (poor innocents) must to the fire".
Bishop Bridgeman may have had a personal reason to dislike the Bruens. His daughter Elizabeth had died, aged about six months, on Ascension Eve 1613: the very day that John Bruen was busy smashing crosses in and around Tarvin.
Prynne was not only entertained by Calvin Bruen but also by Peter Ince, a Chester stationer, who disseminated puritan literature. Remarkably, even modern sources seem to take sides on this issue, as different sources give wildly divergent descriptions of events. Some play up Prynne's position that this was a chance encounter, but Ince had visited Prynne when he was incarcerated in the Tower. Writing on 20 Aug. 1637, to the Archbishop of York on the subject of Wm. Prynne and Peter Ince, Bishop Bridgeman of Chester says:
- "We have no other stationer in that city, yet no Puritanicall bookes [appear] but our citizens get them as soon as any, which I suppose come by his means, tho' he be so cunning as it will hardly be discovered unless by his own answers upon his oath."
On 20 Nov. 1637, the Bishop writes that Ince had visited Prynne in the Tower and that the Privy Council ordered a search to be made in Ince's house for seditious books. This the mayor (probably the Royalist Thomas Thropp) did, "but all the birds were flown ere the nest was searched" (a reference to a quote from Charles I). There must have been an element of farce in this, as Ince held the lease on the "long shop under the Pentice and next to the high Cross" (ZCHD/6/8). Peter Ince was the cousin of Royalist mayor William Ince (1642-3) who protected William Brereton from a Royalist mob and so survived the purge of the Corporation at the end of the Civil War siege, married Thropp's daughter and was elected MP for Chester in 1660. Hanshall informs use that:
- "There were several other prosecutions but it is said the offenders bought peace of the Archbishop (Laud) for two butts of sack"
Much of the hilarious correspondence on this case can be read in "CROMWELLIANA" from 1997 (see sources and links), and from this we learn that Thomas Pulford, the unfortunate artist was slung into jail at York: his further fate is unknown.
Prynne must have had other connections with Chester: Bishop Bridgeman had installed a stone "altar" in the Lady Chapel and in 1641 Prynne (by then out of prison) mentioned it as:
- "one in the Cathedral at Chester used in times of popery, which he caused to be digged up out of the ground where it was formerly buried".
In early 1641 Samuel Hinde published his father's biography of John Bruen. As the biography is the only detailed record of Bruen we do not know how much of it is accurate, or whether it was modified for publication in 1641. There was certainly a flurry of such publications either first issued or reprinted in that year as part of what appears to be a concerted and co-ordinated campaign. At around the same time, prior to February 1641, Calvin Bruen got up a local petition calling for a root and branch Reform of the church. Bruen counted on the backing of the Protestant "patriot" party among the county gentry led by Sir Richard Grosvenor and Sir Richard Wilbraham - a relative of the Hardwares and Bruens - who ensured that the petition was passed on to Sir William Brereton, who read it before the House of Commons in February 1641. This enraged the local pro-ceremonialist crypto-Catholic faction led by Viscount Cholmondeley and Earl Rivers, of which Thomas Aston (A rival of Brereton) was a part. Chester lawyer John Werden was the most outspoken of Aston's supporters, he detested Bruen's faction and fulminated against members such as "Mr Boden", curate of Wydenbury and "a notorious adulterer". Werden was also scandalised by the iconoclasm inflicted on the windows of Neston church by Brereton's niece.
On 1 September 1641, the first order against "innovations" (including communion rails, as well as images), was passed in the House of Commons. Hinde may have also had personal reasons for a publication that could harm Bishop Bridgeman: after his father's death, Samuel's mother was prosecuted by Bridgeman for the customary "mortuary dues" which the Cathedral extracted from the estates of dead priests.
The Civil War - and after..
At the heart of the national conflict lay the policies and personality of the King himself. Charles I was a reserved, slightly diffident figure whose abilities as a monarch left a good deal to be desired - he was, after all, the younger son of James I and would never have been king but for the death (1612) of his older brother Henry Frederick, who had been raised to be king. During the 1630s, Charles' felt that he could rule England without the assistance of Parliament, a tradition in line with his native Scotland. Another important difference between the two countries was that the Scottish Reformation had taken a quite different course to the English one. Charles favoured an episcopal system, or rule by bishops, while the majority of Scots advocated a presbyterian system, without bishops. In 1637, Charles attempted to introduce a new form of prayer book in Scotland, so as to have one uniform church in both countries and a major rebellion erupted. Charles lost the Bishop's War and, short of money, was forced to summon parliament in an attempt to raise more. The resulting "Long Parliament" tried to impeach some of Charles' favorites and went on to abolish the high courts of the Star Chamber and the High Commission which could arrest opponents and punish them without a proper trial.
In May 1641 Parliament accused the king’s chief minister, Thomas Wentworth, Lord Strafford, of treason and executed him. Wentworth was one of the patrons of Philip Mainwaring who seems to have had a gift for backing the wrong side. Many MPs were disgusted by the way the puritans headed by John Pym twisted the laws to get Strafford executed. The evidence against him was very weak. Pym used biased witnesses and prevented Strafford from talking to his lawyers. The trial collapsed, but Parliament then passed an Act that said Strafford was guilty of treason (rather than actually proving it), and off came his head. In October 1641 rebellion broke out in Ireland. All MPs agreed that an army had to be raised to fight the Catholic rebels. However, Royalists and Parliamentarians argued about who should command this army. As the arguments continued, Charles became impatient. In January 1642 he took troops into Parliament and tried to arrest five leading MPs (John Pym, John Hampden, Denzil Holles, William Strode and Sir Arthur Hesilrige - not Cromwell as shown in the well-known movie). His attempt failed, but his actions started a civil war. The Parliamentarians said Charles could not be trusted. Royalists rallied round Charles. Both sides prepared their forces. Charles declared war on Parliament in August 1642.
The Bruens did not cause the Civil War, but the events of Prynne's passage through Chester may well have provoked the younger Hinde's publication of the biography of John Bruen. Calvin Bruen was certainly in touch with Prynne, and may well have been the person who informed him of the popish "altar" being restored to the Cathedral by the same Bishop Bridgeman who had persecuted Calvin. This was all fuel on the puritan fire that was soon to consume the country and bring ruin and plague to Chester. The "Breeches Bible" which Nicholas Byfield, a preacher without cure, almost certainly used as the source for his sermons to the Bruens is still on display in St Peter.
Prynne was transferred from Caernafon to Mont Orgueil in Jersey before being released from prison during the Long Parliament in 1640. The House of Commons declared the two sentences against him illegal, restored him to his degree and to his membership of Lincoln's Inn, and voted him pecuniary reparation (as late as October 1648 he was still trying to collect it). At first he had used his freedom to prosecute his attack on episcopacy (The Antipathy of the English Lordly Prelacy both to Regal Monarchy and Civil Unity; A New Discovery of the Prelates Tyranny, 1641). He now showed that the bishops and the king's ministers had been fellow-workers in the design of introducing popery (The Popish Royal Favourite; Rome's Masterpiece, 1643 ; cf. Laud's Works, iv. 463). He proved by historical precedents that the parliament's cause was legal, that the parliament had the supreme control of the armed forces and of the great seal of the realm, and that the text 'Touch not Mine anointed' did not prohibit Christian subjects from defending themselves against their kings, but kings from oppressing their Christian subjects (A Sovereign Antidote ; Vindication of Psalm 105, ver. 15, 1642; The Sovereign Power of Parliaments and Kingdoms; The Opening of the Great Seal of England, 1643).
The notorious book which cost Prynne his ears was never fully suppressed: in the next generation, even King Charles II had a copy in his library. In the rapidly shifting climate of opinion of the time, Prynne, having been at the forefront of radical opposition, soon found himself a conservative figure, defending Presbyterianism against the Independents favoured by Oliver Cromwell and the army.
The Long Parliament of 1640 accused Laud of treason and, in the Grand Remonstrance of 1641, called for his imprisonment. Laud was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he remained throughout the early stages of the English Civil War. Apart from a few personal enemies like William Prynne (and possibly Archbishop Williams), Parliament showed little anxiety to proceed against Laud; given his age, most members would probably have preferred to leave him to die of natural causes. In the spring of 1644 he was brought to trial which, however, ended without a verdict: as with Strafford, it proved impossible to point to any specific action which could be seen as treasonable. Parliament took up the issue and eventually passed a bill of attainder under which he was beheaded on 10 January 1645 on Tower Hill, notwithstanding being granted a royal pardon. Following his death, William Prynne wrote and published "Canterburies Doom, Or the first part of a compleat history of the commitment, charge, tryall, condemnation, execution of William Laud late Archbishop of Canterbury." which recorded Laud's trial and downfall.
Cromwell was a solid member of the gentry and lived the life of a country gentleman. He spent a year at Cambridge where he studied mathematics and law. He was however brought up a Puritan and experienced his spiritual conversion at the age of twenty-eight. He belonged by birth to the English ruling class and came from a family that did not really have a great amount of wealth but certainly wielded much power. He was from a Reformation family and his wealth, such as it was, was relatively new. His family intermarried with other such families when Cromwell sat in the Long Parliament of 1640 (at the time, twenty of his kinsmen sat as well). He married into a wealthy manufacturing family, another puritan trait. Cromwell was opposed to the extreme "leveling" movements within the "Puritan Revolution" itself. He worked to support authority and property and believed that class distinctions were the cornerstone of society.
After his defeat in 1645, Charles I surrendered to a Scottish force that eventually handed him over to the English Parliament. Charles refused to accept his captors' demands for a constitutional monarchy, and temporarily escaped captivity in November 1647. Re-imprisoned on the Isle of Wight, Charles forged an alliance with Scotland, but by the end of 1648 Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army had consolidated its control over England. Charles was tried, convicted, and executed for high treason in January 1649.
When the time came for the temporary overthrow of episcopacy, Bishop Bridgeman disappeared from public view, and seems to have lived quietly in retirement. He died in 1662 at Morton Hall, Shropshire, and was buried at Kinnerley, near Oswestry. His son Orlando (1606-74) presided as lord chief baron at the trial of the regicides. He conducted these trials — at a time when, if ever, political partisanship might have been expected to run riot — with remarkable moderation.
Many of the more extreme puritans emigrated to New England. One of them was Obadiah Bruen, Ann's last child and half-brother to Calvin. On 7 March 1632, Obadiah married Sarah Seeley in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England. The couple immigrated about 1640 with their children (three additional children were born in Gloucester, Essex, Massachusetts). He was a Freeman in Gloucester in 1642 and made a selectman and representative from 1647 to 1651. Obadiah moved to Pequot (now New London), Connecticut where in 1653 he was the town recorder. In 1660 and again 1663-1666 he was appointed Deputy Judge. In 1660 he was empowered by the General Court to administer oaths. His name is frequently mentioned in public records and he filled many positions of public trust. Obadiah was one of nineteen men to petition King Charles II for the Charter of Connecticut and one of the grantees to that instrument on 20 April 1662.
Calvin Bruen was appointed to the new admisistration after the fall of Chester at then end of the Civil War siege. He had been Sheriff of Chester (1635-6) but never became mayor of Chester. He died in c1655.
Prynne died unmarried on 24 October 1669.
The smashing of "icons" and other archeological remains, as well as the "cropping" of ears, facial branding and other mutilations, are hopefully something that at least in Britain is a relic of past times. Nowadays, digging up a buried altar at the Cathedral would not be condemned. However, debates still rage over whether, for example, statues to those who engaged in slavery should be allowed to remain or be removed. In America, the "puritans" have in some ways become a political trope in the dystopian novels of Margaret Atwood. Here in Chester, the echo of this past is largely unheard at the High Cross, where even the frames that held the image of the earless Prynne were burned. The Civil War had many causes, but among them might well be counted the Bruen's of Tarvin. They were to have their revenge. After their surrender, the citizens of Chester had received reassurances that "no church within the city, evidences or writings belonging to the same shall be defaced" and assumed this also applied to the Cross. They were wrong, and it was demolished in 1646.
But the story may have one last twist - the actual identity of the "altar" which Bridgeman had restored in Chester and which Prynne railed against as "popish". Bridgeman had a confrontation with John Ley, the pastor of Great Budworth, Cheshire, another lecturer at St Peter's. Ley's letter (Against the erection of an Altar) Written June 29th 1635, to the Reverend father Iohn L. Bishop of Chester ("Iohn L" appears to be John Lloyd) expressed his opposition to what was variously described as an "altar" or "a funerary monument to St Werburgh". After the Reformation St Werburgh's shrine served as the burial place for Bishop Downham, but in 1635 the base and part of the upper section were adapted to make a throne for the Bishop of Chester. Could it be that the stonework in question was actually Werburgh's shrine, and that it therefore played a small part in the start of the Civil War? If Werburgh's shrine did play a part, however small, in the build-up of tension prior to the Civil War then it is a particular irony: "Werburgh" means "Protector of the City" and the Civil War saw Chester largely ruined by bombardment, the High Cross wrecked by iconoclasts and the populaion ravaged by the plague.
Sources and Links
- St Peter
- High Cross
- Brown: for whether the High Cross is actually original
- On puritanism in Chester, in 1637: an account of the reception of William Prynne, by certain inhabitants of the city of Chester, when on his way to be imprisoned in Caernarvon Castle. Journal of the Chester Archaeological Society 3. Vol 3, pp. 271-288.
- The Culture of English Puritanism 1560-1700;
- Travesties and Transgressions in Tudor and Stuart England: Tales of Discord and Dissension;
- Early modern Chester 1550-1762: Religion, 1550-1642;
- RATCLIFFE, John (-d.1633), of Northgate Street, St. Oswald's, Chester, Cheshire;
- Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theory in Early Modern Europe;
- John Bruen of Stapleford (1560–1625) and his Biographer (Richardson);
- Puritans and Iconoclasm, 1560-1660;
- Altars Restored: The Changing Face of English Religious Worship, 1547-c.1700;
- Religious Space in Reformation England: Contesting the Past;
- Godly Reformers and Their Opponents in Early Modern England;
- Printers and Stationers of Chester;
- The history of Cheshire: Daniel King etc;
- Lancashire: Its Puritanism and Nonconformity: By Robert Halley. In 2 Volumes;
- Puritan Iconoclasm during the English Civil War;
- Townspeople and Nation: English Urban Experiences, 1540-1640;
- PRYNNE'S RECEPTION IN CHESTER - from "CROMWELLIANA" 1997
Tarvin & Elsewhere
- Cheshire - Traditions and History T. A. Coward;
- The family of John Bruen;
- More on the family of John Bruen;
- Cheshire and Lancashire Funeral Certificates A.D. 1600 TO 1678. Edited by John Paul Rylands. First Published in 1882 - reprinted 2018;
- A Restored Cotton Cross on Plough Lane: from Christleton Local History;
- A Millennium Cross – Vicars Cross, Littleton, Chester: from Howard Williams;
- Broken cross found at Tarvin;
- Millennium Cross, Waverton;