Puritans were not the only critics of the Church. Charles I believed that far from being attracted to the Puritans’ endless preaching, self-examination and warnings of damnation, people were being alienated from the Church. He and Buckingham, whom he had inherited from his father as royal favourite, supported and promoted the career of William Laud, an Arminian priest. He, like many English clergy, was a follower of Jacobus Arminius, a Dutch theologian, who taught that salvation was not absolutely predestined and that God might be convinced by the penitent works of a sinner to allow them into Heaven. Therefore, the distinctions between the saved and the damned were not so hard and fast after all.
Laud and Charles saw the restoration of Catholic spectacle and mystery as a way of bringing people back to a proper engagement with the Church and with God. Laud was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633 and set about restoring ceremonial and ritual and what he described as ‘the beauty of holiness’ in the Church. Charles thought he was broadening the church. The godly Puritans thought Laud and his clergy were disguised papists whose real aim was to take England back to Rome.
Hythe is in the Diocese of Canterbury, so was fully exposed to Archbishop Laud’s reforming zeal, particularly as the Rector of Saltwood, William Kingsley, was one of Laud’s acolytes. Hythe was not then a separate parish, and the magnificent church of St Leonard’s was designated as a ‘chapel’ under the control of Saltwood. Kingsley was not only Rector of Saltwood, to which he was appointed in 1614; he added Great Chart (1615), Ickham (1617) and the Archdeaconry of Canterbury Cathedral (1619) to his portfolio of posts. Kingsley was as ardent as his master in his desire to reform the Church. As Archdeacon, he attempted to banish Puritan preachers from Canterbury and began to enforce kneeling at communion, a practice which had not been used since Catholic Queen Mary’s time. Communion tables were removed from the naves of churches, where they had been since the Reformation, and were railed about in the chancel, like an altar, which only the minister could approach. Even though Kingsley’s presence in Hythe could only have been intermittent, given his commitments elsewhere, his curate Thomas Kingsmill no doubt followed orders. There was not much the Puritans of Hythe could do about the situation, but there was a noticeable increase in defaults on tithe payments after his appointment. Perhaps that was one way of showing disapproval.
By the early 1640s, Kingsley had been removed from office by Parliament, and Kingsmill was dead, replaced by the radical Puritan Scot, William Wallace. By that time, the world had been turned upside down.