The only remaining wing of the original Scrooby Manor House. William Brewster resided here and this is the place where the Pilgrims first met in secret following their separation from the Church of England. (Photo by Eugene A. Fortine.)

Scrooby Separatists were a mixed congregation of early English Protestants that evolved into the group of Pilgrims who in 1620 sailed on the Mayflower to found Plymouth Colony. In the early 17th century they were living near the English town of Scrooby, on the outskirts of Bawtry, a small market town at the border of South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire. They were called "Separatists" because of their rebellion against the religious authority of the Church of England, the official state religion. In 1607/8 the Congregation emigrated to Netherlands in search of the freedom to worship as they chose. They founded the "English separatist church at Leiden", one of several English separatist groups in the Netherlands at the time.


Several church priesthood leaders and lay leaders in the area started teaching non-conformity in the period of 1604-1608. These men and their families and followers then suffered significant persecution by local church authorities, were relieved of their church duties and excommunicated by the church. There were several local groups that soon began to associate with one another, hold church meetings in private homes and then in late 1607 and early 1608 migrated to Leiden and Amsterdam to seek religious freedom.

King James I of England (1566-1625) started to punish the people who did not follow the Church of England. They were called Separatists. By 1607 many members of the Separatists were arrested. Brewster was made to pay a fine for going to the church. Some members were put into prison and others were watched night and day. The people also learned that other Separatists in London had been put into prison and left to starve to death.

The Separatists decided to leave England for the Dutch Republic (where religious freedom was permitted).


The core of the group that came to be known as the Pilgrims were brought together between 1586 and 1605 by a common belief in the ideas promoted by Richard Clyfton, a Wikipedia:Brownist parson at All Saints' Parish Church in Babworth, near East Retford, Nottinghamshire.

The Scrooby Separatists had long been controversial. Under the 1559 Act of Uniformity, it was illegal not to attend official Church of England services (unless the church was a signatory to the allegiance to the Church of England, as the Puritan church was, for example), with a fine of one shilling (£0.05; about £12 today[1]) for each missed Sunday and holy day. The penalties for conducting unofficial services included imprisonment and larger fines. Under the policy of this time, Barrowe and Greenwood were executed for sedition in 1593.

During much of Brewster's tenure (1595–1606), the Archbishop was Matthew Hutton. He displayed some sympathy to the Puritan cause, writing to Robert Cecil, Secretary of State to James I in 1604:

The Puritans though they differ in Ceremonies and accidentes, yet they agree with us in substance of religion, and I thinke all or the moste parte of them love his Majestie, and the presente state, and I hope will yield to conformitie. But the Papistes are opposite and contrarie in very many substantiall pointes of religion, and cannot but wishe the Popes authoritie and popish religion to be established.[2]

It had been hoped, when James came to power, that a reconciliation would be possible which allowed independence, but the Hampton Court Conference of 1604 denied substantially all the concessions requested by Puritans, save for an English translation of the Bible. Following the Conference in 1605, Clyfton was declared a nonconformist and stripped of his position at Babworth. Brewster invited Clyfton to live at his home.

Upon Hutton's death in 1606, Tobias Matthew was appointed as his replacement. Matthew was one of James' chief supporters at the 1604 conference,[3] and he promptly began a campaign to purge the archdiocese of nonconforming influences, both English Dissenters and those wishing to return to the Catholic faith. Disobedient clergy were replaced, and prominent Separatists were confronted, fined, and imprisoned. He is credited with driving recusants out of the country, those who refused to attend Anglican services.[4][5]

At about the same time, Brewster arranged for a congregation to meet privately at the Scrooby manor house. Services were held beginning in 1606, with Clyfton as pastor, John Robinson as teacher, and Brewster as the presiding elder. Shortly thereafter, Smyth and members of the Gainsborough group moved on to Amsterdam.[6] Brewster is known to have been fined £20 (about £2.96 thousand today[1]) in absentia for his non-compliance with the church.[7] This followed his September 1607 resignation from the postmaster position,[8] about the time that the congregation had decided to follow the Smyth party to Amsterdam.[9][10]

Scrooby member William Bradford of Austerfield kept a journal of the congregation's events that later was published as Of Plymouth Plantation. Of this time, he wrote:

But after these things they could not long continue in any peaceable condition, but were hunted & persecuted on every side, so as their former afflictions were but as flea-bitings in comparison of these which now came upon them. For some were taken & clapt up in prison, others had their houses besett & watcht night and day, & hardly escaped their hands; and ye most were faine to flie & leave their howses & habitations, and the means of their livelehood.[9]

Netherlands period[]

After arriving at Holland they formed the basis for the group Leiden Pilgrims and they realized that as foreigners, they could only take unskilled jobs and were exempt from working organizations. The congregation also noticed that their children were growing up more Dutch than English. The Congregation decided to emigrate to the Americas, where their children could be English, and they could worship freely.

Between 1620 and 1630, this group mostly migrated to Plymouth Colony with the first group sailing over on the Mayflower.

Notable figures[]

  1. Richard Clyfton - rector of Babworth, from 1605 under suspicion of nonconformity. Suspended, he continued to preach at Bawtry, near Scrooby though just over the county boundary in Yorkshire. From 1606 the congregation around Clyfton met in the house of William Brewster. In 1607 Clyfton was excommunicated; at this time he had already met William Bradford.
  2. William Brewster (1567-1644) - A lay leader who held Separatists church meetings at his home. His manor house has been identified as on the site of the old Scrooby Palace of the archbishops of York, though much of the older building had been demolished by then. His family sailed on the Mayflower
  3. William Bradford (1590-1657) - major leader of the pilgrims, historian - 2nd governor of Plymouth Colony. Sailed on Mayflower and help organize the Mayflower Compact.
  4. John Dunham (1589-1669) - pilgrim separatist from Scrooby, moved to Holland and then in 1629 to Plymouth.
  5. John Robinson (1567-1625) - from Sturton le Steeple, also in northern Nottinghamshire. He had lost his church positions for his views and returned home by about the end of 1604; he made contact with separatist groups in Gainsborough, just over the eastern county boundary in Lincolnshire, as well as Scrooby. The minister at Gainsborough was John Smyth. In this way the two separatist churches were drawn together, with Robinson assuming authority in the Scrooby congregation alongside Clyfton after a process of ordination.
  6. John Smyth (c1570-1612) - an early Baptist minister of England and a defender of the principle of religious liberty. Historians consider John Smyth a founder of the Baptist churches. Smyth was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1594 in England. He preached in the city of Lincoln in 1600 to 1602. Soon after his ordination, he broke with the Church of England and left for Holland where he and his small congregation began to study the Bible ardently. He briefly returned to England.

See Also[]




Scrooby Separatists were a mixed congregation of early English Protestants / non-conformists founding living in the border region of of South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire. They were called "Separatists" because of their rebellion against the religious authority of the Church of England, the official state religion. In 1607/8 the Congregation emigrated to Netherlands in search of the freedom to worship as they chose. Shortly after that they were the basis of the group to sail in the Mayflower to the New World.

  1. ^ a b UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Lawrence H. Officer (2010) "What Were the UK Earnings and Prices Then?" MeasuringWorth.
  2. ^ "The Bawdy Court: Exhibits – Belief and Persecution". University of Nottingham. Retrieved November 23, 2008. 
  3. ^ Luckock, Herbert Mortimer (1882). Studies in the History of the Book of Common Prayer. London: Rivingtons. p. 219. OCLC 1071106. Retrieved November 23, 2008. 
  4. ^ Sheils, William Joseph (2004). "Matthew, Tobie (1544?–1628)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. 
  5. ^ "English Dissenters: Barrowists". Ex Libris. January 1, 2008. Retrieved November 23, 2008. 
  6. ^ Bassetlaw Museum. "Bassetlaw, Pilgrim Fathers Country".{topic}={pilgrim}&filename=words.mdf. Retrieved November 23, 2008. 
  7. ^ Brown (1891), p. 181.
  8. ^ "Brewster, William". Encyclopædia Britannica (11 ed.). Cambridge University Press. 1911. 
  9. ^ a b Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named bradford_1_1
  10. ^ Bradford (1898), Book 1, Chapter 2.