The Star Chamber, Oversight of Pastor’s Sermons & the Founding of America

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Published on: October 20, 2014

Britain’s William Laud had spies listen to pastors’ sermon to see if they said anything against the King’s ordinances. If they did, the pastors were arrested.

Decisions to punish political enemies of the King were made in the secret “Star Chamber.” No witnesses were allowed in these arbitrary and oppressive inquisitions.

Though started with the intention to cut through the red tape of bureaucracy, Britain’s Court of Star Chamber usurped power to be a political weapon for intimidating and punishing opponents to the King’s policies.

Subject to hostile questioning, if individuals gave unsatisfactory answers they were charged with perjury and it they did not answer for fear of self-incrimination they were held in contempt of court.

The abuses of England’s Star Chamber led America’s founders to include the Fifth Amendment in the U.S. Constitution.

Notoriously favorable to the King, the Star Chamber was used in 1637 by William Laud to punish the religious dissenter William Prynne who objected to the State’s control over religious matters.

William Prynne was tied to a pillory -a public pillar- where he had his ears cut off and was branded on the cheeks with the letters “S.L.” for seditious libel, which Prynne called the “Sign of Laud.”

Laud approved of the Star Chamber’s sentence of dissenting Pastor Henry Burton for his ‘seditious’ sermons, resulting in his ears cut off and imprisonment.

When John Bastwick published religious opinions which opposed government ordinances, he was brought before the Star Chamber and had his ears cut off then thrown in prison.

The Star Chamber forced similar fates on religious dissenter Alexander Leighton, and John Lilburn, who had coined the term “freeborn rights” and was often cited by Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black.

American biographer Edgar Lee Masters (1868-1950) wrote:

“In the Star Chamber the council could inflict any punishment short of death, and frequently sentenced objects of its wrath to the pillory, to whipping and to the cutting off of ears…With each embarrassment to arbitrary power the Star Chamber became emboldened to undertake further usurpation…The Star Chamber finally summoned juries before it for verdicts disagreeable to the government, and fined and imprisoned them. It spread terrorism among those who were called to do constitutional acts. It imposed ruinous fines.”

DVD The Real Intent of Jefferson on Separation of Church & State

One of those thrown in prison by William Laud during this time was Edward Winslow, one of the Pilgrim settlers.

Edward Winslow was the agent for the Pilgrim colony in America and would sail back and forth bringing supplies.

Edward Winslow’s wife had died in the first winter of the Plymouth Colony and he remarried widow Susanna White, whose husband had died that same winter.

Once when Edward Winslow traveled back to England he was thrown in jail for 17 weeks because he had performed marriages in the Plymouth colony without being ordained.

The Pilgrims sought to return to the simplicity of the early church. 

Pilgrims believed that marriage between a man and a woman was created by God for the benefit of their natural and spiritual life: procreation of children to increase Christ’s flock; and to avoid the sin of adultery.

Edward Winslow, born OCTOBER 18, 1595, was the only Pilgrim to have his portrait painted.

A printer, Edward Winslow had joined a group of Christian Separatists who had fled to Leiden, Holland, to escape religious persecution.

Edward Winslow helped their pastor, William Brewster, print illegal religious pamphlets which were smuggled back into England.

The King had actually sent spies and police to Holland where they raided and confiscated the printing press used by Edward Winslow and William Brewster.

After years of trial, at the age of 25, Edward Winslow departed with 102 Pilgrims to the New World.

In 1622, Edward Winslow cured Indian Chief Massaoit of an illness, resulting in the Indians and Pilgrims making a peace treaty which lasted over 50 years.

If the chief had not recovered, the Indians would have killed Winslow.

Edward Winslow served three times as the Plymouth Colony’s Governor.

He kept the finances and often sailed back to England for business with the Colony’s adventurers (investors), bringing back the colony’s first cattle.

On one trip to England in 1625, as described in Governor William Bradford’s History of the Plymouth Settlement, Edward Winslow encountered Turkish Muslim Pirates expanding the Islamic State on the sea:

“The adventurers…sent over two fishing ships…The pinnace was ordered to load with corfish…to bring home to England…and besides she had some 800 lbs. of beaver, as well as other furs, to a good value from the plantation.

The captain seeing so much lading wished to put aboard the bigger ship for greater safety, but Mr. Edward Winslow, their agent in the business, was bound in a bond to send it to London in the small ship…

The captain of the big ship…towed the small ship at his stern all the way over. So they went joyfully home together and had such fine weather that he never cast her off till they were well within the England channel, almost in sight of Plymouth.

But even there she was unhappily taken by a Turkish man-of-war and carried off to Saller (Morocco) where the captain and crew were made slaves.

Thus all their hopes were dashed and the joyful news they meant to carry home was turned to heavy tidings…”

William Bradford added:

“In the big ship Captain Myles Standish…arrived…in London… The friendly adventurers were so reduced by their losses…and now by the ship taken by the Turks…that all trade was dead.”

Edward Winslow sailed back to England after the English Civil War.

He published pamphlets defending the New England colonies, such as:

Hypocrisy Unmasked” (1646);
“New England’s Salamander Discovered” (1647); and
“Introduction to Glorious Progress of the Gospel Amongst the Indians in New England” (1649).
America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations

Edward Winslow served in briefly in Oliver Cromwell‘s army.

Edward Winslow sailed with Admiral Sir William Penn, father of Pennsylvania’s founder, in an attempt to capture Santo Domingo, Hispaniola, from Spain.

They were unsuccessful, but Admiral Sir William Penn sailed to the Island of Jamaica and captured it in 1655.

On the way, Edward Winslow contracted the deadly disease of yellow fever and died.

In Young’s Chronicles, Edward Winslow wrote of the Pilgrims:

“Drought and the like…moved not only every good man privately to enter into examination with his own estate between God…but also to humble ourselves together before the Lord by fasting.”

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