A Puritanical movement that challenged the Church of England’s authority.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: English Dissenters
Founder: Henry Barrow
Founded: Late 16th century
Ended: 17th century
Location: England

The Barrowists, followers of Henry Barrow (circa 1550–1593), were a significant group within the Puritan movement during the late 16th century in England. Henry Barrow, the eponymous leader of the Barrowists, was born around 1550. Initially educated at Clare Hall, Cambridge, and later at Gray’s Inn, Barrow was initially indifferent to matters of faith. However, his conversion to Puritanism marked a significant turning point in his life.

The Puritan movement emerged in response to what its members perceived as the incomplete nature of the English Reformation. It emphasized personal piety, strict adherence to Biblical scripture, and a rejection of what they saw as the excesses and corruptions of the established church. Stemming from this worldview, the Puritans sought to “purify” the Church of England from within, advocating for reforms that would strip away Catholic influences and practices.

Influenced by this movement, Barrow opposed the episcopal hierarchy of the Church of England, which he viewed as unbiblical and corrupt. However, while Barrow was influenced by contemporaneous Puritan thinkers, the Barrowists distinguished themselves from other Puritan groups by their approach to church reform. While many Puritans sought to reform the Church of England from within, Barrow and his followers increasingly viewed separation as the only viable path. They believed that the true church was a gathered church, consisting of a congregation of the “godly,” separate from the state and the unconverted masses.

Barrow’s activism led to his imprisonment on multiple occasions. His most famous works, written while in prison, include “A Brief Discovery of the False Church” and “A True Description out of the Word of God of the Visible Church.” In these works, he articulated his vision of a reformed church and critiqued the existing ecclesiastical structure. His writings were influential among Puritans and contributed to the growing call for separation.

The plight of the Barrowists was emblematic of the broader struggle for religious freedom in Elizabethan England. The government, under the influence of the Church of England, was intolerant of religious dissent. Barrowists, like many other nonconformists, were subjected to harassment, imprisonment, and even execution, reflecting a larger pattern of religious intolerance that plagued England during this period.

Henry Barrow’s life came to a tragic end when he was executed in 1593, alongside his fellow Puritan John Greenwood. However, their ideas and commitment to religious principles influenced future generations of dissenters, including those who would eventually establish Puritan communities in the New World.

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