In his book, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England, Christopher Hill outlines the many uses of the term in its early days. As with most words, it was applied to a multitude of people with no real unity of purpose. Hill presents a wide range of opinions on what the term meant in those times. He quotes Henry Parker in defense of the term:

Those who denounce Puritans, said Henry Parker sweepingly in 1641, are “papists, hierarchists, ambidexters and neuters in religion”; also “court-flatterers, time-serving projectors and the rancorous caterpillars of the realm…and the scum of the vulgar…In the mouth of a rude soldier, he which wisheth the Scotch war at an end without blood” is a Puritan.

Hill notes a wide variety of men who were labelled Puritan, including “Archbishop Whitgift, Elizabeth’s Earl of Essex, Sir Walter Raleigh, James Hay, Earl of Carlisle, King James, Prince Charles…Inigo Jones, the Earl of Strafford.”

When contemporaries came to define Puritanism in religious terms, Sabbatarianism, opposition to popery and hostility to oaths were often mentioned. “Men and brethren, I am a Puritan”, cried Donne, if Puritanism means opposing oaths and profanation of the Sabbath. Many found the name a stumbling-block. Zeal in religion is called Puritanism, complained Bishop Bayley.