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18 September 2014
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The History Detective: Story of George Burdett

By John Arnold
Burdett leaves England

Image of letter
Burdett's letter to Archbishop Laud, 1635 ©
Although we now have a more detailed picture of Burdett, we still do not know exactly why he left England. However, Winthrop has given us a new trail. Burdett was writing letters back to England. Do these survive?

In the Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, we find descriptions of two letters, both from George Burdett to William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. One would appear to be the letter Winthrop refers to as having been uncovered by his spy. It is dated 29 November 1638, and it talks about the political struggles in Massachusetts, suggesting certain ways in which royal authority might be strengthened in the colonies.

'My voluntarie exile is exposed to censure ...'

The other letter is much earlier, and it still exists in the National Archives. It seems to tell us why Burdett originally left Yarmouth.

My Lord, Actions ambiguous capable of crosse limitations, doe rarely meet with inclina[ti]on to the milder part. My voluntarie exile is exposed to censure; levitie, or dissimulacon, or w[hi]ch is worse - is charg'd upon mee: but the trueth is: my practize was regular, and herein obedience eccli[esiastic]all very reall: if some transient defects; Impeccabilitie is not expected; man is vertibly and voca[ci]ons of amulous adversaries herein culpable.
My judg[e]m[en]t in the five Articles was moderate, declara[ci]ons correspondent, the knot of the controversies declined w[ha]t ever malice did ever informe, or perjurie confirme to the contrarie: herein I appeale to him th[a]t judgeth justly: this I thought to impart, to rectifie yor Graces judgement of mee and my wayes (if possibly) and stoppe the mouth of Calumnie for my secession, the ground was, Impetuous and malicious prosecution, importable expense; the end, tranquilitie in distance: w[hi]ch I could yet injoy in my native countrie, it would exceedingly rejoyce mee: not th[a]t any pr[e]sent incompentencie urgeth; for all the topickes of motive Arguments lend theire ayde to p[er]saude content in temporality: but some morall heterodoxies andc.
I humbly pray read and accept these lines from him who much desired a favourable line from your Grace; and still remaines Yr Graces in all humble Observance Geo[rge] Burdett, Sale[m] in New England, December 1635

Published: 2005-01-28

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