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William Prynne

Prynne, William (prĭn) [key], 1600–1669, English political figure and Puritan pamphleteer. Beginning his attacks on Arminian doctrine in 1627, he soon earned the enmity of William Laud. When Prynne's strictures on the theater in his book, Historiomastix (1632), were interpreted as an attack on Charles I and his queen, he was fined, imprisoned (1633), pilloried (1634), and partly shorn of his ears. He continued his pamphleteering in jail and in 1637 was again fined, sentenced to life imprisonment, deprived of the remainder of his ears, and branded with the letters S.L. (for seditious libeler). He was released from prison by the Long Parliament in 1640 and was voted financial reparation. During the English civil war, Prynne strongly supported the parliamentary cause in his writings and took a vindictive part in prosecuting his old enemy, Laud. In defending his moderate theological position, however, he found himself opposing both Presbyterians and Independents. He also came into conflict with John Milton over Milton's advocacy of divorce. Prynne entered Parliament in 1648; but he opposed the demand of the army for the execution of Charles I and so was expelled in Pride's Purge. He wrote attacks against the Commonwealth, for which he was imprisoned (1650–53), and against the Protectorate, and later supported the Restoration of Charles II. In 1660 he became keeper of the records of the Tower of London.

See biography by E. W. Kirby (1931, repr. 1972); W. M. Lamont, Marginal Prynne, 1600–1669 (1963).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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