Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Clarendon Code

The Code was associated with Charles's chief minister, and Lord Chancellor, the earl of Clarendon, but he was not its originator and it did not reflect his policy. It was a series of statutes designed to impose severe penalties on religious nonconformists (Dissenters), and it was the policy of an enthusiastic Restoration Church. The archbishop of Canterbury was William Juxton, who had stood by Charles on the scaffold, but the real power lay with the bishop of London, Gilbert Sheldon. Sheldon was a ‘tough-minded, practical man’ who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1663 (Kishlansky, 233). The restored Church of England erected Charles I into the status of martyr, and, in the words of a sermon by Dr Robert South, declared the Church to be ‘the truest friend of kings and kingly government’ (Coward, 295). Many Anglican clergy in their sermons preached the divine right of kings, a position enthusiastically adopted by the Vicar of Bray!

In good King Charles's golden days,
When Loyalty no harm meant;
A Furious High-Church man I was,
And so I gain'd Preferment.
Unto my Flock I daily Preach'd,
Kings are by God appointed,
And Damn'd are those who dare resist,
Or touch the Lord's Anointed.
And this is law, I will maintain
Unto my Dying Day, Sir.
That whatsoever King may reign,
I will be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!

(a) The Corporation Act (1661) (remained on the statute book until 1824): set up commissions empowered to evict all the municipal officials who did not swear oaths of allegiance and non-resistance, declare the Solemn League and Covenant invalid and take the Anglican sacrament.

(b) The Act of Uniformity (1662): restricted all positions in the Church, schools and universities to Anglicans; all teachers and holders of ecclesiastical posts who did not make the necessary oaths and declarations by St Bartholomew’s Day (24 August) were to be ejected. Nearly 1,000 clergy, schoolmasters and university teachers were ejected.

(c) The Conventicle Act (1664): prohibited all assemblies not held in accordance with the Prayer Book and attended by five or more adults who were not members of the household in which the service was conducted. Offenders were subject successively to fines, imprisonment and transportation as an indentured labourer. For the purposes of the act ‘moderate’ Presbyterians were treated on the same level as ‘extreme’ Quakers.

(d) The Five Mile Act (1665): forbade all preachers and teachers who lived within five miles of any town or city and all ejected clergy from travelling within five miles of the parish where they had been incumbents.

This most ‘loyal’ of parliaments had imposed a religious policy contrary to the wishes of the king and his chief minister. Acquiescence was the price Charles II had to pay for his grants of parliamentary supplies.

The First Declaration of Indulgence
Despite the evidence of the Parliament’s fervent Anglicanism, Charles on 26 December 1662 issued a declaration announcing that he intended to adhere to his Breda promise of ‘liberty to tender consciences’ and requested that Parliament prepare a bill which would allow him to suspend enforcement of the act on an individual basis. This was in response to his own desire for inclusivity, to pressure from his mother and to petitions from Presbyterians and Independents. However, his Declaration caused a parliamentary storm which could have been foreseen. When the new parliamentary session met in February 1663 the bishops began co co-ordinate opposition. The Commons refused to discuss a bill granting freedom of worship and at the beginning of April Charles was forced to withdraw it and issue a new proclamation against priests and Jesuits.

This highlights a major problem in assessing Charles II’s policy.
(a) It was clear that his power base lay in the Church of England and the royalist Anglican squires.
(b) Charles in effect rebuffed this power base by introducing his Declaration of Indulgence.
(c) He was unable to stand firm by his policy of toleration and forced to back track. He was in a classic no-win situation.

It is possible that, resentful of his dependence on the Church of England he toyed with a policy of building up another power base of Dissenters and Roman Catholics.

The triumph of Anglicanism
The anachronistic term ‘Anglican’ is not helpful in the period up to 1640 because of the legal fiction that everybody was a member of the Church of England. However, after 1660 it was one church among others, though it was the only one with full legal recognition. The experience of the Interregnum, when the Church was banned, showed that it had become deeply rooted in popular culture, and that many people felt a great attachment to their parish church and to the prayer book (Coward, 458-9). During the Interregnum a minority of ministers were ejected from their livings and often found refuge in the houses of sympathetic landowners. The Church did not die. Though reduced to ruins in the early 1640s it emerged triumphant in the early 1660s, restored on a tidal wave of Anglican loyalism, which, as has been shown, neither Charles II nor Clarendon could resist.. Its lands and revenues were restored, its courts again active. So too were the problems, especially lay impropriation of tithes and clerical poverty.

From 1660 to 1688 there was a remarkable degree of loyalty among the ecclesiastical hierarchy led by Sheldon and William Sancroft, his successor from 1677 to 1690. With the support of the parish clergy they defined the nature of Restoration Anglicanism:
(a) The restored Church of England should play a major political role. They offered support to the Crown against its rivals by proclaiming the ideology of non-resistance from its pulpits.
(b) Many Anglicans believed the Church should be narrowly defined and that no concessions should be made to those Protestants who could not accept the Anglican sacraments and Prayer Book.
(c) The restored Church was ‘high church’ - a term that came into use in the period. It followed the Laudian tradition of distancing the Church from continental Protestantism and stressing its continuity with the early Church. It was reinforced by patristic scholarship.

This was not the only type of Anglicanism on offer, but it was the dominant type in the reign of Charles II.

The survival of Dissent
However, Anglicanism was no longer the only product on the market. For all its harshness, the Clarendon Code gave legal recognition to Protestant dissent, which flourished despite efforts to eradicate it.

The term ‘Dissent’ can be misleading if it is given a spurious unity. In fact it encompassed groups and individuals of varying beliefs. The pre-1640 dominance of Calvinism had gone: for example the Particular and the General Baptists were split over predestination and free will.

The Civil War sects (Quakers, Baptists, Independents) survived. Presbyterians remained important. They even had the patronage of some powerful laymen, as the Conventicle Act of 1670 (enacting penalties against those who turned a blind eye to the activities of dissenters).

The localism of English government meant that central government could only work with gentry co-operation - and not all gentry were bigoted Anglicans.

In 1676 the government ordered a religious census of the adult population to be carried out by Henry Compton, bishop of London. It calculated
2,477, 254 conformists (Anglicans)
108,676 nonconformists (5%)
13, 656 papists
It also calculated that nonconformists were stronger in the south and east than the north and west. But the census was a serious underestimate as in the main it enumerated only those who had separated completely from the Church of England, such as Baptists and Quakers.

Puritanism had survived in the guise of Protestant dissent (Coward, 297; Harris, 28-9, 55). It was able to make use of the weakness of church provision in some areas and to establish meeting houses in areas where there were few churches, such as Halifax (Coward, 464). Some areas had particularly heavy concentrations; between 25 and 40% of the inhabitants of Coventry were nonconformists as were over 33% of the inhabitants of Lewes. There were significant numbers of Dissenters in Norwich and Bristol and among the rural clothworkers of Wiltshire.

But this should not underestimate the sufferings of Dissenters, of whom John Bunyan is the best known. Quakers and Baptists suffered especially because of their refusal to take the oath of allegiance. Quakers were also vulnerable because of their refusal to give ‘hat honour’, to say ‘you’ to superiors and to pay tithes. It has been estimated that more than 15,000 were fined, imprisoned or transported between 1660 and 1685. In 1664 Margaret Fell was imprisoned for refusing to tender the oath of allegiance before the local judges at Lancaster; this oath-trial became regarded as a show-trial for nonconformity. In 1666 she wrote to Charles rebuking him for his broken promises to sectarians. A typical incident involving Margaret Fell took place in 1667 at the Cheshire home of William Gandy when she was distrained of £20 for worshipping against the principles of the Conventicle Act.

The Clarendon Code was an attempt to impose an Anglican monopoly. Neither the king nor his chief minister wanted it but they were unable to stand against a fiercely royalist parliament. But far from outlawing Dissent, the Code was an acknowledgement of its existence. The Elizabethan vision of a united Protestant Church was no longer a reflection of reality. The Church-Chapel divide was entrenched in English life.