Cotton’s conversion by Sibbes and his shift to Sibbes’ plain style of evangelical preaching was affirmed when John Preston knocked on his door to tell him how his sermon had converted him and enabled God to speak effectually unto his heart.1

Prior to conversion, Preston thought it below him to be a minister and held the study of Divinity to be a kind of honest silliness.2  In 1604, Preston matriculated a sizar at King’s College, Cambridge, where he studied music, medicine, and astronomy. In 1606, he transferred to Queen’s College, Cambridge, and was appointed a Fellow in 1608. He then experienced conversion with Cotton’s help in 1612.3

Once converted, Preston embraced Cotton as a friend for life and sent him near fledgling students for finishing.4 Preston regularly visited Cotton in Boston and often preached at St. Andrew’s Church in Sempringham, where he was befriended by the family of the Earl of Lincoln. 

In particular, Lady Elizabeth, wife of the 3rd Earl of Lincoln, highly regarded Preston and asked him to mentor her son, Theophilus, in preparation for his accession to Earl of Lincoln.

Preston had the reputation of being the greatest pupil monger in England and easily facilitated Theophilus Clinton’s entry to Cambridge.5 Similarly, Simon Bradstreet, rector of Horbling’s St. Andrew’s Church, befriended Preston, who—with Cotton’s help—arranged his son’s matriculation to Emmanuel College, Cambridge. While young Bradstreet was at Emmanuel, Preston recommended him to the Earl of Warwick as a tutor for his son. 

In 1621, Preston came to the attention of the Duke of Buckingham, the homosexual lover of James I, who was both feared and abhorred by Puritans in Parliament.6

Sir Ralph Freeman told Buckingham that his popularity with Puritan members of Parliament might improve were he to befriend Preston.7 As a result, Buckingham charmed Preston in hopes of gaining Puritan support in Parliament. 

Under Buckingham’s patronage, Preston was elevated to unparalleled status.8 Over the next two years, he was appointed chaplain to Prince Charles, succeeded John Donne as Preacher at Lincoln’s Inn, and replaced Laurence Chaderton as Master of Emmanuel College at Cambridge University.9 

Ultimately, a Royal Decree granted Preston a Doctor of Divinity Degree to accompany Sir Arthur Chichester to Cologne in hopes of negotiating a truce in the Palatinate phase of the Thirty Years’ War.10

When James I died in 1625, Preston and Puritan members of the House of Commons attempted to formalize the results of a Calvinist Synod held at Dort in the Dutch Republic.11 Although James supported the 1619 Dort Decrees, the topic had become sensitive due to the Arminian leanings of his son and successor, Charles I. 

Future Archbishop William Laud lobbied Buckingham to persuade Charles to oppose the Dort Decrees. Calvinists in the  House of Commons countered by censuring Arminian author Richard Montagu for his Appello Caesarem that attacked the Calvinist tenets of predestination and the perseverance of the saints.12 

In an affront to Calvinists in Parliament, Charles ignored the censure and appointed Montagu one of his chaplains. He then commissioned five leading Bishops to advise him on how to resolve the Montagu issue. The five concluded that Montagu’s work conformed with Church of England doctrine.

Although the majority of the Church’s Bishops were Calvinist, William Laud presided over a group of Arminian clerics at the February 1626 coronation of Charles I. Soon after, Laud opened Parliament and attacked Calvinists in the House of Commons. 

In response to Laud’s attack, Lord Saye and the Earl of Warwick rallied Puritan support to exploit the Crown’s desire to champion Protestantism in Europe and lobbied Buckingham to persuade Charles to condemn Montagu’s writings and accept the results of the Dort Synod. When their overtures were again ignored, Warwick demanded that Buckingham redress the issue.

Buckingham responded by organizing the York House Conference at his residence on February 11, 1626. The Conference opened with Buckingham saying that some private speeches that had lately passed between my Lord of Warwick and him concerning sundry matters that were said to be erroneous and dangerous in Mr. Montagu’s works.13

Although Buckingham curried favor with Preston to gain Puritan support in Parliament, he also befriended William Laud and made him his personal chaplain. At the York House Conference, Laud’s Arminianism was pitted against Preston’s Calvinism. By playing both sides against the middle, Buckingham alienated both Preston and the Puritans in Parliament.

Once relations with Buckingham soured, Preston revitalized the Feoffees for Impropriations to encourage Calvinist tradesmen to buy parish livings and install clerics sympathetic to the Puritan cause.14 

Twelve feoffees were appointed to implement the impropriations—four tradesmen, four lawyers, and four clerics.15 Feoffees were selected based on their experience and representation in the Puritan community—or, as one hostile commentator put it—four clergymen to persuade men’s consciences, four lawyers to draw all conveyances, and four citizens, who commanded rich coffers.16 The most influential of the twelve feoffees was Richard Sibbes, the preacher at Gray’s Inn. Later half the feoffees joined the Massachusetts Bay Company.17

• John Davenport, clergy at St. Stephen’s Church in London 

• Samuel Browne, a lawyer at Lincoln’s Inn from Essex

• John ‘Century’ White, a London lawyer at Lincoln’s Inn

• Francis Bridges, a salter from Surrey

• Richard Davis, a vinter from London

• George Harwood, a haberdasher from London

The Feoffees for Impropriations were supported by Lord Saye & Sele and the Earl of Warwick. Saye followed the Feoffees through his close ties with Sibbes and Davenport and organized opposition to aristocratic control of the East India Company by shifting the balance of power from wealthy landed merchants to an alliance of the company’s smaller investors.18 

Under Lord Saye’s leadership, East India Company tradesmen and shopkeepers made the following demands:

• replace annual meetings with quarterly ones

• institute quarterly accounting of finances

• limit governor’s terms to one year 

• implement term limits for directors, and 

• implement the ballot box at all elections.

The stakes could not have been higher for London’s elite merchant class as they controlled London’s wholesale prices that kept small retailers and shopkeepers in their place. The East India Company’s special province was rightfully theirs, and they fought attempts by Lord Saye to end their ability to manipulate wholesale prices.19

Together Warwick and Lord Saye facilitated broad cooperation among Calvinist-leaning gentry and middle to lower-class Puritans that included London craftsmen and shopkeepers aspiring to become merchants. 

By advocating the plight of craftsmen and shopkeepers, Lord Saye and Warwick popularized the Calvinist cause and gained many small investors for their colonial ventures.20 

Warwick, whose Calvinist faith justified the plunder of Spanish gold, provided funds for twenty-two parish livings to support the cause and further countered the Crown’s patronage of Arminian clerics by organizing Puritan clergy to do the same. 

Warwick and his cousin, Sir Nathanial Rich, 

played an active role—indeed a leadership role—in almost every colonial venture of the early Stuart period, including the Virginia Company.21 

Though a devoted Puritan, Warwick was a notorious privateering pirate whose colonial ventures were distinguished by:

The establishment of godly communities, the plundering of Spanish trade, and a return of profits for investors.22

Of all the privateering ships that sailed from 1626 to 1631, it is estimated that more than half sailed for Warwick.23 


1 Moore, Jonathan D. 2007. English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. 5

2 Ball, Thomas. The Life of the Renowned Doctor Preston (Authored 1628). Edited by E W Harcourt, London: Parker and Co, 1885. 7

3 Venn, John. “Alumni Cantabrigienses.” Cambridge University Library, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

4 Mather, Cotton. 1855. Magnalia Christi Americana. Vol. I. Hartford: Silas Andrus and Son. 261

5 Fuller, Thomas, D.D. The History of the Worthies of England. Edited by P Austin Nuttal LL.D. Second. Vol. III, London: Thomas Tegg, 73 Cheapside, 1840. p51

6 Young, M. King James VI and I and the History of Homosexuality, Basingstoke: Springer, 1999.

7 “Preston, John (1587-1628)”. Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. Sir Ralph Freeman was related to John Preston and married a relative of  Buckingham.

8 Lockyer, Roger. Buckingham, Routledge, 2014. 114. “Those they called puritans were growing, and in Parliament were thought considerable…such that the King’s affection might cool, and he [Buckingham] needed friends.”

9 Ball, Thomas. The Life of the Renowned Doctor Preston (Authored 1628). Edited by E W Harcourt, London: Parker and Co, 1885. 94 and 167-176

Lincoln Inn is one of four institutions that constitute the Inns of Court.  The other three are the Inner Temple, the Middle Temple and Grey’s Inn.

Preston continued as Master of  Emmanuel College until his death from tuberculosis in July 1628 at the age of forty.

10 Moore, Jonathan D. English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2007.

11 Gonzalez, Justo L. (2014). The Story of Christianity. Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day. HarperOne. ISBN 978-0-06-236490-6.

Arminianism is related to Calvinism historically. However, because of their differences over the doctrines of divine predestination and election, many people view these schools of thought as opposed to each other. The distinction is whether God allows His desire to save all to be resisted by an individual’s will (in the Arminian doctrine) or if God only desires to save some people, and that his grace is irresistible to those God chooses to save.

12 Kenneth Fincham, Nicholas Tyacke, Altars Restored: The Changing Face of English Religious Worship, 1547-c.1700 (2007), p. 130

13 Lockyer, Roger. Buckingham, Routledge, 2014. P306

14 Moore, J. D. English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology. (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2007).

15 Feoffees for impropriations (act. 1625–1633), were a London-based group formally associated as a committee to buy up and dispense patronage of parish livings and to create new preaching appointments in the Church of England. Frustrated by what they saw as a lack of progress since the Reformation in supplying cures with educated and godly ministers, and pulpits with frequent and effective sermons, the feoffees tapped a longstanding tradition of fund-raising for pious charitable causes and exploited the large-scale sixteenth-century transfer of monastic property onto the open market and hence into lay hands. Their activities bypassed the episcopal hierarchy and especially antagonized those bishops who were of the increasingly influential ceremonialist or Arminian persuasion. This eventually led to their prosecution and suppression.  ((Link to source)

16 Fuller, T. The church-history of Britain from the birth of Jesus Christ until the year M.DC.XLVIII. (1655).

17 Larminie, Vivienne. “Feofees for Impropriations.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, May 28, 2015.

18 This was possible due to an oversight in the East India Company’s Charter that gave each investor one vote rather than allocating votes by shares owned.

19 Brenner, Robert. Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London’s Overseas Traders, 1550-1653, New York: Verso first published by University of Princeton Press, 2003. 262 & 684

20 Ibid. 273-274

21 Ibid. p. 100

22 Van Duinen, Jared. “Prosopography and the Providence Island Company: the Nature of Puritan Opposition in 1630s England.” In Prosopography Approaches and Applications, edited by K S B Keats-Rohan, 527–40, Oxford: Occasional Publications UPR, 2007.

23 Ibid.

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