The Millenary Petition was presented to James I by clergymen as he moved from Scotland to London in 1603. The Millenary Petition was so-called as 1000 clergymen were said to have signed it.
At the death of Elizabeth in 1603, the Church of England still retained features that to some were too reminiscent of the church pre-Reformation. To some clergymen, the format of services prescribed in the Prayer Book was too similar to the form of services done by the Roman Catholic Church. They had convinced themselves that James had let the Presbyterian Church dominate all aspects of life in Scotland creating what Richard Bancroft described as ‘an ecclesiastical tyranny…..such as neither the law of God or man could tolerate’. This attitude greatly angered James who prided himself on bringing the Presbyterian Church to heel so that it was obedient to him. In ‘Basilikon Doron’, written in 1599 but only published in England in 1603, James criticised those who held Puritan beliefs. He stated bluntly that Puritans thought that the most minor of religious issues had to be dealt with as if they were the most important ones. Such ‘fantasies’ were, according to James, unacceptable. However, on issues such as the format of services, James wanted to remain moderate. In ‘Basilikon Doron’ James wrote that he valued the views of both parties – those who wanted a simple form of service and those who wanted a service that was more visual as James did not view the more decorated services as being ‘popish’.
By taking this stance, James hoped to appeal to both sides in this particular religious issue, possibly without realising that both sides were unlikely to compromise. There were those clergymen who wanted to use the opportunity presented by the start of a new reign to put forward their views to James in the hope of pushing for a process that would lead to a simplification of church services across England and Wales. This led to the Millenary Petition.
The petition stated at the start that those who signed it were not men who wanted to be seen as the cause of trouble or friction. They also made it clear that they had no desire to see a split in the Church. The signatories claimed to be “Your Majesty’s subjects and ministers all groaning under a common burden of human rites and ceremonies”. They implored James to relieve them of such a burden.
The Millenary Petition clearly stated what the signatories objected to. These included the signing of the cross during baptism, the use of women during the administration of baptism, bowing at the name of Jesus, the use of the words ‘priest’ and ‘absolution’, the wearing of the square cap and the surplice – both of which were deemed to be ‘popish’. The signatories also wanted the Sabbath to be better observed and the quality of the clergy in England and Wales to be improved. They also called for resident clergy as opposed to those who worked in a number of parishes. More and better educated clergy would be paid for by the retrieval of tithes the collection of which had got into the hands of secular figures. The Millenary Petition also stated that the use of excommunication should be rarely used and only in important cases. At no time in the petition did the signatories complain about royal supremacy. In fact, they asked James to be “our physician to heal these diseases”.