The Journey to the Mayflower by Stephen Tompkins – Review

The Journey to The Mayflower Stephen Tompkins Book Review logo main

By Sandra Callard

The Journey to The Mayflower is a complicated and erudite tome regarding the years following Henry VIII’s founding of the Church of England and his ban on Catholicism. Protestant England was not an easy transfer and spawned a plethora of small groups who thought the new religion still too close to the Roman church.

Stephen Tompkins’ book is jam-packed with a steady flow of pertinent names who contributed, for good or bad, and albeit excruciatingly slowly, towards the founding of a state that tolerated freedom of religion. England was way behind the Continent in this respect, because as early as 1575 William of Orange had granted toleration in the Dutch territories to the despised Anabaptists. It would be 1613 in England before the last burning for heresy took place.

The book is packed with a bewildering array of names of men and women who played a part, lived and died for their individual faiths. There were eventually so many splinter groups who fought amongst themselves for precedence for their particular choice of faith, that the list of names is enormous, with Puritans, Brownists, Separatists, Anabaptists, Calvanists and Presbyterians being just the tip of the iceberg of sects.

The Journey to The Mayflower Stephen Tompkins Book Review coverSome died for their faiths, others escaped punishment abroad or through friends in England, and they were a worrisome and constant pain in the side of Elizabeth the First. But, nevertheless, a toleration to some small extent was emerging. Enough anyhow for a daring pamphleteer, under the pseudonym of Martin Murprelate, to write disrespectful and jeering pieces regarding the mass of differing faiths, which were printed and distributed to the populace at large, and thus presaging the age of the racketing and scurrilous leaflets prevalent in late Stuart and early Georgian times.


The Journey to The Mayfair has useful notes against each chapter which help hugely in identifying the various leaders of the diverse religions, and understand what separated them. These could be very simple things such as wearing the wrong clothes, or baptising babies instead of waiting until they were of age, but which could tear apart whole communities.

The book practically ignores the well-known story of the Pilgrim Fathers setting sail in The Mayflower from Boston to find a new life in America. It sets out quite clearly the tumultuous and impossible situation the various sects suffered, until departure from the shores of England was their only course. But the title of the book is The Journey TO the Mayflower not The Journey OF The Mayflower.

This is not a book for the fainthearted. If you have some knowledge of the age and its circumstances then you will have a chance of gaining some valuable and interesting knowledge, but someone with simply a passing interest in the old story of The Mayflower will undoubtedly struggle. But it fleshes out the many years prior to the famous Mayflower, and brings a sense of wonder and admiration for those long ago Pilgrims who risked everything for their beliefs.

Strangely enough The Mayflower is only mentioned towards the end of the book. The Pilgrims were struggling to find a boat large enough for them but were only two days away from settling with a smaller boat when they came across The Mayflower. It had done two journeys previously to America, it had a capacity of 180 tons, was around ninety foot long with three masts and twelve guns. They switched to her and, although they were blown dangerously off route, they did make it to Virginia.

‘The Journey to the Mayflower’ by Stephen Tompkins is published by John Murray, £20 hardback


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