The Restoration Settlement in England

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The Restoration Settlement in England

The King Returns.

In 1660, Charles II (r. 1660–1685), son of the beheaded Charles I, was invited to return to England to claim his throne, and as part of the settlement that "restored" the monarchy, the Church of England was again established throughout the country. The legislation that in the Puritan years had established a Presbyterian style of church government was rescinded and English bishops were given back control over their dioceses. As part of the Restoration Settlement, those surviving members of the Long Parliament (1640–1660) were officially dismissed, and in their place a new body that became known as the "Cavalier" Parliament was summoned. Over the next few years it considered many questions about religion. In many of its pronouncements the Cavalier Parliament sought to turn back the clock as much as possible and re-establish the Church of England so that it resembled the church that had existed in the 1630s. Thus in 1662, a revised Book of Common Prayer, similar to that of Elizabeth I's reign, was reissued and made mandatory throughout England. As a result Puritans were forced to consider whether they could in good conscience remain in the Church of England, and deep splits emerged in the movement between those who accepted the restored prayer book, and those who rejected it. For those who rejected it, they were increasingly isolated into the same ranks of dissenters and sectarian groups that had flourished with such vigor and been so problematic to their movement during the period of Cromwell's Protectorate. All those who now rejected the national church—whether they were Puritan, Quaker, Baptist, or from any of a number of other dissenting groups—now came to be known as Nonconformists. This designation developed as a result of the "Act of Uniformity" of 1662 that restored the Book of Common Prayer to its hallowed place in the Church of England. Anyone who refused to conform to the requirements of the act—which included swearing allegiance to the monarch and taking communion according to the prayer book's ritual—was now considered a Nonconformist. In tandem, the stipulations of this measure and the Corporation Act that had preceded it one year earlier deprived Nonconformists of any role in English government, the church, and the universities. This legislation thus had a devastating effect on Nonconformists, as more than 1,900 clergymen refused to take the required oath and to receive communion according to the Anglican rite, and were ejected from their positions.


introduction: During the seventeenth century, Protestant societies in northern Europe witnessed an explosion of literary achievement. Prompted by the quiet introspection that Protestantism advocated, preachers, ministers, and lay Protestants began to produce devotional writings of unparalleled beauty and depth. John Bunyan (1628–1688), a Puritan who had fought in the English Civil Wars on the side of Parliament, was one of these great literary figures. With the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy, he was imprisoned for his religious dissent, but later freed. During his imprisonment he wrote his masterpiece, Pilgrim's Progress, which was first published in 1678. It became an immediate success. The work tells of the progress of the character Pilgrim through the trials of this world and his eventual reception into Heaven. In the present passage Bunyan styles the world as "Vanity Fair," the realm of the devil. Thus he repeats a central message Protestantism had propounded since the earliest days of the Reformation: that the human realm is controlled by Satan, and as the Christian travels through this depravity he can only be redeemed through God's grace. In recounting the woes of the world, or "Vanity Fair," Bunyan is careful to include England among the few countries that have stood up to the Devil's henchman, the pope, but he nevertheless insists that even the Protestant countries of Europe are controlled by Satan's minions. Pilgrim's Progress had an enormous impact on English literature, and in the nineteenth century, the great novelist William Makepeace Thackeray alluded to "Vanity Fair" in his famous novel of the same name.

Then I saw in my Dream, that when they were got out of the Wilderness, they presently saw a Town before them, and the name of that town is Vanity; and at the Town there is a fair kept, called Vanity-Fair. It is kept all the year long; it beareth the name of Vanity-Fair, because the Town where it is kept is lighter than Vanity, and also because all that is there sold, or that cometh thither, is Vanity. As is the saying of the wise, "All that cometh is vanity."

This Fair is no new-erected business, but a thing of ancient standing. I will show you the original of it.

Almost five thousand years agone, there were Pilgrims walking to the Celestial City, as these two honest persons are: and Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion, with their Companions, perceiving by the path that the Pilgrims made, that their way to the City lay through this Town of Vanity, they contrived here to set up a Fair; a Fair wherein should be sold all sorts of Vanity, and that it should last all the year long. Therefore, at this Fair are all such Merchandize sold as Houses, Lands, Trades, Places, Honors, Preferments, Titles, Countries, Kingdoms, Lusts, Pleasures; and Delights of all sorts, as Harlots, Wives, Husbands, Children, Masters, Servants, Lives, Blood, Bodies, Souls, Silver, Gold, Pearls, Precious Stones, and what not.

And moreover, at this Fair there is at all times to be seen Jugglings, Cheats, Games, Plays, Fools, Apes, Knaves, and Rogues, and that of every kind.

Here are to be seen, too, and that for nothing, Thefts, Murders, Adulteries, False-swearers, and that of a blood-red colour.

And, as in other Fairs of less moment, there are the several rows and Streets under their proper names, where such and such Wares are vended; so here, likewise, you have the proper places, Rows, Streets, (viz. Countries and Kingdoms,) where the Wares of this Fair are soonest to be found. Here is the Britain Row, the French Row, the Italian Row, the Spanish Row, the German Row, where several sorts of Vanities are to be sold. But, as in other Fairs, some one commodity is as the chief of all the Fair; so the Ware of Rome and her Merchandise is greatly promoted in this Fair; only our English nation, with some others, have taken a dislike thereat.

source: John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress. (London: Nathanael Ponder, 1681): 147–150.

The Clarendon Code.

To make sure that these Nonconformist clergy did not begin to lead churches that would compete with the Church of England, the Cavalier Parliament passed two more statutes. The Conventicle Act (1664) prohibited all Nonconformist religious services, outlawing all religious assemblies of more than five unrelated adults in which the Book of Common Prayer was not followed. Despite these measures Nonconformists continued to practice their religion, but as dissenters they came to be increasingly reliant on their neighbors, who often decided not to report their offenses, or on the tolerance of local authorities that might refuse to uphold the laws. To try to eliminate Nonconformism, Parliament pioneered new measures. In the Five Mile Act of 1665 the body aimed to sever any connection between Puritan preachers and their former congregations. This measure prohibited clergymen who had been removed from a church for nonconformity from preaching anywhere within five miles of that church. And in the Second Conventicle Act of 1670 they adopted a page from the handbook of the medieval Inquisition. They lured Englishmen and women into informing on Nonconformists by promising them a share of the profits that accrued from the confiscation of dissenters' estates as well as those of anyone who was convicted of aiding them. In sum these measures came to be known collectively as the Clarendon Code, after the Earl of Clarendon, then Charles II's first minister, who had formulated them.

Charles II's Opposition.

The chief opposition to the religious policies of the Cavalier Parliament came not from the ranks of defeated Nonconformists, but from King Charles II. How deep Charles' Catholic convictions ran has remained a subject of debate among historians for generations, but he does appear to have been determined to bring about some degree of toleration for Catholics, and in exchange for this, he was willing to offer some degree of toleration to Nonconformists. In 1660, before he was invited to return to England, Charles had issued a "Declaration" from his residence in the Dutch city of Breda, an outline of the agenda he might follow if restored to the monarchy. There he set out freedom of religion for "tender consciences" as one of the measures he would pursue. Throughout his reign he continued to return to Parliament regularly with a request for a general amnesty for Protestant dissenters as well as Catholics, but the body always turned down these measures. In 1672 Charles felt strongly enough on the matter to pronounce his own Declaration of Indulgence that rescinded the penal laws against Nonconformists, including Catholics. This Declaration of Indulgence allowed Catholics to worship privately at home, while insisting that Protestant Nonconformists acquire a license to hold public worship services. One notable beneficiary of Charles' initiative was the writer and Nonconformist minister John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress, the most profound and influential religious parable ever written in English. In 1672, Bunyan had already been in jail for twelve years for holding a service that was not in conformity with the rites of the Church of England. He was set free and permitted to purchase a license to preach. He then took over duties as the pastor of the separatist or Independent Church of Bedford. While the Declaration of Indulgence helped some Protestants like Bunyan, it was throughout the country as a ploy allowing for the outright practice of Catholicism, a suspicion that was confirmed for many in 1673 when the king's brother and heir, the future James II, publicly declared himself a Catholic. When Parliament met again that same year, it declared that only it had the right to "suspend" penal statutes that touched on religious issues. Around the country attacks on Catholics increased, and so Charles II, correctly reading the political climate, canceled his Declaration. The most significant consequence of Charles' initiative was that from this point forward, various Protestant groups throughout England began to see that they had a common cause in keeping England free of Catholicism. In 1673, these perceptions were not yet strong enough to wipe away the great animosity that still existed between the Nonconformists and Anglicans, but they were to grow over the following decades. Besides moving against Charles II's toleration measures, the Parliament of 1673 also passed the Test Act, a law that required every individual holding government office to pass the test of receiving communion according to the Anglican rite. Another measure put forward in Parliament at this time, but never passed, sought to draw a distinction between Catholics and Protestant Dissenters by granting the latter limited toleration, while continuing to forbid the practices of the former.

The Succession.

From the moment he announced his decision to practice as a Catholic in 1673, James's religion became the central dispute in English politics. As a result of the Test Act, the future king had been deprived of a number of his political offices and in the last years of Charles' reign, Protestant fears about the prospective king reached historic proportions. Rising anxieties were capped by the "Popish Plot" of 1678, when two schemers announced that they had come across information about a plot concocted by some Jesuits to assassinate the king, foment rebellion in Ireland, and place a Catholic on the English throne. The identity of this Catholic claimant was not revealed, but there was little doubt in most people's minds that it was James. This "Popish Plot" has since been revealed as a complete fabrication, but that did not stop Parliament from embracing the story, and 35 people from being executed for complicity in the plot. In the aftermath of the Popish Plot, a movement began in the English Parliament to "exclude" James from the succession to the throne. England's first political parties, in fact, coalesced around this very issue. The "Whig" party developed at this time from its support of the exclusion of James from the succession. To garner popular support for their program, the Whigs announced that they were in favor of rights for Protestant dissenters. At about the same time the "Tory" party emerged to support James's right to the throne. For the Tories, the Whigs' attempts to exclude James evoked the specter of the Puritan Civil Wars and the Commonwealth. The fear of revolution proved to be much greater among English elites than the fear of Catholicism. Charles was able to defeat the Whigs and those bills they put forward calling for exclusion of his brother from the throne. But for the first time in English history, a political group had sought the support of the Dissenters. In the years that followed those who hoped to shepherd their plans through Parliament were to realize the powerful support they might amass by playing to the issues that religious dissent posed.


introduction: The French Enlightenment thinker Voltaire spent several years in England while exiled from France. When he returned to his native country, he published a series of letters on his experiences abroad. These letters helped to establish the Enlightenment's deep and abiding affection for English institutions and customs. In the sixth of these Letters on England Voltaire commented on the religious diversity of the country and he identified this plurality of religions as one of England's great strengths.

The Anglican religion only extends to England and Ireland. Presbyterianism is the dominant religion in Scotland. This Presbyterianism is nothing more than pure Calvinism as it was established in France and survives in Geneva. As the priests in this sect receive very small stipends from their churches, and so cannot live in the same luxury as bishops, they have taken the natural course of decrying honours they cannot attain.

Although the Episcopal and Presbyterian sects are the two dominant ones in Great Britain, all the others are perfectly acceptable and live quite harmoniously together, whilst most of their preachers hate each other with almost as much cordiality as a Jansenist damns a Jesuit.

Go into the London Stock Exchange—a more respectable place than many a court—and you will see representatives from all nations gathered together for the utility of men. Here Jew, Mohammedan and Christian deal with each other as though they were all of the same faith, and only apply the word infidel to people who go bankrupt. Here the Presbyterian trusts the Anabaptist and the Anglican accepts a promise from the Quaker. On leaving these peaceful and free assemblies some go to the Synagogue and others for a drink, this one goes to be baptized in a great bath in the name of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, that one has his son's foreskin cut and has some Hebrew words he doesn't understand mumbled over the child, others go to their church and await the inspiration of God with their hats on, and everybody is happy.

If there were only one religion in England there would be danger of despotism, if there were two they would cut each other's throats, but there are thirty, and they live in peace and happiness.

source: Voltaire, Letters on England. Trans. Leonard Tancock (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1980): 40–41.

A Catholic King.

Charles II died in 1685, professing Catholicism on his deathbed. A nation of Protestants watched anxiously as the Catholic James II was crowned king. It became obvious that James was not willing to let things be, pushing whenever and wherever he could to grant legal rights to Catholics, and in the process, Protestant dissenters. After the disaster of the Declaration of the Indulgence, Charles' ministers had followed a strategy of focusing the attentions of Parliament and the nation on the past as well as on the presumed future dangers that Protestant dissenters posed. James reversed this strategy, and sought to make the case to Protestant dissenters that it was in their best interest to join forces with the Catholics. In line with this strategy, he proposed in 1687 a new version of the Declaration of Indulgence, but this, like almost all of James's initiatives, served only to rally opposition against him. His efforts aimed to drive a wedge between Anglicans and Dissenters and prompted the Anglican clergy's protests. They insisted that they did not condemn the king's Declaration from "any want of tenderness" toward the Dissenters, but that they opposed it because they believed James did not have the authority to issue it. Despite this show of opposition, the Declaration was allowed to stand, since at the time, James was in his fifties and without an heir. Most members of England's political elite fully expected that the throne would soon pass to one of the king's Protestant daughters. Soon, though, it was announced that James's second wife, an Italian and Catholic, was expecting, and the thought of a Catholic heir was now too much for the English elite. In 1688, representatives of Parliament invited James's daughter Mary and her husband William, who was the stadtholder of Holland, to take the English throne. James escaped England and found safe haven at the court of Louis XIV in France. Back in England, the Convention Parliament that was called to sit in 1689 passed a Toleration Act. This act permitted Protestant dissenters the right to their own churches and ministers. Dissenters still were not allowedcivil rights, but they were no longer persecuted for their faith. Thus the long battles between Puritans, Anglicans, and Papists in England drew to a close.


Kenneth D. Brown, A Social History of the Nonconformist Ministry in England and Wales (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988).

Kenneth H. D. Haley, Politics in the Reign of Charles II (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985).

James Rees Jones, The First Whigs. The Politics of the Exclusion Crisis, 1678–1683 (London: Oxford University Press, 1961).

—, The Restored Monarchy, 1660–1688 (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1979).

James Munson, The Nonconformists: In Search of a Lost Culture (London: SPCK, 1991).

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The Restoration Settlement in England

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The Restoration Settlement in England