(This is a continuation of yesterday’s post on the Pilgrim elder, William Brewster.)
There are many details of the Pilgrims’ stay in Holland, (first in Amsterdam and then in Leyden), that is fairly well known, because they are recorded in William Bradford’s history, Of Plymouth Plantation. However, details that can be learned from other sources show that the Pilgrims had a greater impact on history during their stay in Holland than is widely known.
Life was hard for most of the Separatists who settled in Holland. Many had been poor farmers in England. Here they did not have the resources to buy land, and could only find unskilled labor jobs. Many worked long miserable hours in the textile mills. Most did not know Dutch, so that even those who were literate could not find the kind of work they were used to.
Leyden was a University town. European Universities drew students from several nations, and all classes were conducted in Latin. Many Dutch and German students attended the University at Leyden, as well as students from other nations. William Brewster found himself a niche teaching some of them English. He worked out a method to teach English from the Latin and so was able to privately teach students regardless of their native tongue.
Brewster also made some of his living operating a printing press, although, as we will see later, his motives for operating the press were probably more religious than financial. A young printer’s apprentice named Edward Winslow came from Droitwich, England to work with Brewster and no doubt was in a position to be deeply influenced by Brewster and a part of his lively household. Five Winslow brothers eventually came to New England (including my ancestor Kenelm), but none were as committed to the Pilgrim cause and as prominent in their service to the Plymouth Colony as Edward.
The Pilgrim pastor, John Robinson, regularly attended debates and lectures held at Leyden’s University. In 1611, shortly before the Pilgrims’ arrival in Leyden, the followers of Jacob Arminius had submitted their Remonstrance to the Dutch church. This document stated 5 main objections to the Reformed orthodoxy then held by the Dutch churches. Debates were raging at the University and John Robinson attended debates and lectures held by both sides and became an expert on the issues as presented by both sides.
Bradford records that though Robinson was loath to stand up and take part in the debates, he was an active writer. He began to produce many documents arguing against the Arminians and on other topics such as the Sacraments, the education of children, and predestination.
Polyander, after reading John Robinson’s writings, finally convinced the reluctant John Robinson to debate Episcopius. Robinson is credited by some as turning the tide away from the Arminian position and framing an apologetic for Reformed orthodoxy that greatly influenced the document produced by the Dutch Synod at Dordrecht in 1619 that rejected the Arminian doctrines. That document is know as the Canons of Dordt. It rejects the five points of the Arminian Remonstrance with five opposing points often called the Five Points of Calvinism, and represented by the acronym TULIP. (If you are interested in learning more about the five points of the Canons of Dordt read the Canons of Dordt here, read Scripture support for them here, or see Jollyblogger’s recent posts explaining them here,.)
William Brewster’s printing press was having impact beyond the Arminian debates. While much of what Brewster was printing was legal, what Bradford doesn’t tell us is that much of it was not. He was printing illegal leaflets and books which were smuggled into England. These books were fuelling the reformational spirit and debate in England, and often attacked the position of King James. Needless to say, the king was not pleased. One book in particular, the Perth Assembly, written by a Scottish Presbyterian, was inspiring that nation to rise up in resistance to England’s attempts to impose the English Church on Scotland.
Printing forbidden literature was a crime that had already condemned several of Brewster’s former Cambridge classmates to death. The king sent men to Holland
to find and arrest Brewster and bring him back to England. The Dutch authorities would not interfere with England coming to arrest her own subjects, but neither did they cooperate, as they were not sympathetic to arrests for religious intolerance. Brewster first kept a low profile and then went into hiding as his friends sent the English authorities all over Europe and Britain on various wild goose chases to find him. (Bradford politely never mentions the manhunt or the illegal books.) Brewster’s true whereabouts are never fully accounted for during this time, but it is said that after not being seen publicly for some time, he quietly slipped onto the Mayflower as she departed for the New World.