What was a interesting diversion for James, debating with bishops and puritans, became a matter of life and death for his son, Charles I, and, to be honest, mostly death. James’s refusal to address even the minor issues agreed to at the Hampton Court Conference left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Puritans, a group of people whose numbers and influence increased in the 1620s. A bourgeois middle class was developing, making money through trade, and they began to chafe against the social restrictions that the Elizabeth and Jacobean settlements placed upon them.

When that was combined with a remote and high-handed king, who had been desperately impressed by theological elaborations of Henry VIII’s “I’m in charge” policy (in other words, the divine right of kings), the inevitable result was civil war: or, to be more accurate, a number of civil wars, and cross-border wars, that ripped through the British Isles from 1642 until the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658. The intemperance of the government, both Crown and Church, is shown in Archbishop William Laud’s simple identification of the two:

First came the magistrate, and his power and justice. And resist either of these, and ye resist the power and the ordinance of God.

The impetus to resistance came from the puritans. They were the driving force of Parliament, and managed to persuade Parliament to allow the meeting of the Westminster Assembly, which met more than a thousand times between 1643 and 1652. Its members were thirty parliamentarians (20 from the Commons and 10 from the Lords), 121 English clergymen, and a delegation of Scottish Presbyterians. All were Calvinists in doctrine, but there were a number of different parties with different ideas on church government. The Assembly produced the Larger and Shorter Westminster catechisms, the Westminster Confession, and the presbyterian Directory of Public Worship, which replaced the Book of Common Prayer when it was banned in 1645, all of which are still central to Presbyterian churches worldwide. Between 1645 and 1649 the Church of England was not Anglican (episcopalian): it was the Presbyterian Church of England. But in 1649 Cromwell went further. He purged Parliament of its remaining Presbyterian members, and those left, the Rump, enforced an Independent (Congregationalist) establishment. (It is something to remember that those nice people from the URC, the united presbyterians and congregationalist of England, at one point in their history attacking each other with armed soldiers!).

When Oliver Cromwell died in 1658, his son Richard succeeded as Lord Protector, but he had no power base in army or parliament and was forced to resign within the year. By then it was apparent that the Republican experiment had failed, and those Presbyterians still in the country formed the so-called Convention Parliament of 1660 which invited Charles II to the throne. Once again, the presbyterians were outmanoeuvred: Charles dissolved the Convention Parliament and permitted the election of the Cavalier Parliament in 1661.

Charles II : I'm in charge

It was this long-lasting Parliament (17 years in power!) which undid the damage of the English Republic and added a lot of damage of its own. It enacted the so-called Clarendon Code, which regulated the liberty allowed to the English in religion and conscience (ie. removed it).

  • The Corporation Act (1661) forbade municipal office to dissenters (defined as those not taking the sacraments at a parish church);
  • the Act of Uniformity (1662);
  • the Conventicle Act (1662, revised 1670) made meetings for Nonconformist worship illegal, even in private houses, where more than four outsiders were present;
  • the Five-Mile Act (1665) forbade Nonconformist ministers to live or visit within five miles of a town or any other place where they had ministered.

(Ah happy days!)

Richard BaxterAt the same time, the re-establishment of the Church of England was taking place at another conference in another royal palace. The church needed to worship, and a Book of Common Prayer need to be published. In March 1661, the Savoy Palace a meeting was held between twelve bishops and twelve Puritan ministers, with accompanying assistants. The Presbyterians, led by the learned and holy Richard Baxter, saw that the Anglican writing was on the wall, and sought as generous a prayer book as possible to enable them to remain within the established church. They produced a list of “Exceptions”, and a Reformed liturgy as the basis of discussion. The Bishops refused to compromise. Fifteen years of persecution and exile did not lead them to be generous. Gilbert Sheldon, the Bishop of London, rejected the liturgy and made only seventeen trivial concessions to the “Exceptions”. The conference could not agree on a final form of the Prayer Book and so it was left to the Convocation of the Church and the Cavalier Parliament to come up with the final form of book. It took only twenty-two days to complete, and bears the obvious marks of its hasty production.

Neither Laudians nor Presbyterians had achieved more than a small part of their desires; they had compelled an administrations which would have preferred to reprint the 1604 text intact to make concessions to both sides; but in the end it is the same book that emerges with only minor alterations.1

Parliament seized upon the Prayer Book and attached it as an appendix to the Act of Uniformity, which came into effect on St Bartholomew’s Day, 24 August, 1662, with “devastating consequences” (Hylson-Smith, p. 240). Almost a thousand parish clergy were ejected from their livings, unable to accept the demands of the Act:

  1. Complete and unqualified assent to the newly published BCP
  2. To subscribe to the Thirty Nine Articles (three of which concerned church government);
  3. To renounce the (Presbyterian) Solemn League and Covenant;
  4. To renounce any attempt to alter the government of church or state
  5. To have received ordination from the hands of bishop.

The Sunday before the Act came into force was a day of leave-taking. Dr William Bates, Rector of St Dunstan’s London, said:

It is neither fancy, faction nor humour that makes me not conform but merely for offending God; and if after the best means used for my illumination, as prayer to God, discourse and study, I am not able to be satisfied concerning the lawfulness of what is required; if it be my unhappiness to be in error, surely men will have no reason to be angry with me in this world, and I hope God will pardon me in the next.

The intention of the Act of Uniformity was to eliminated dissent from the life of the nation. The effect of the Act of Uniformity was to entrench Dissent in the life of the nation. The ejected clergy continued their forms of ministry, and some of the older congregational, baptist and presbyterian churches in the country date their foundation to St Bartholomew’s Day, 1662.

… the loss to the Church of England of so many godly men, a large proportion of whom had received a university education, and in some instances had attained to considerable scholarship, was profound.2

  1. Geoffrey Cuming, A history of Anglican liturgy (London: Macmillan, 1982), p. 127. []
  2. Kenneth Hylson-Smith, The Churches in England from Elizabeth I to Elizabeth II: 1558-1688 v. 1 (London: SCM Press, 1996), p. 242 []